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SRAM Force and Apex Cassette Review

Perfect cassettes for climbing

This SRAM Force and Apex Cassette Review will discuss why these cassettes are perfect for climbing and ideally suited for Etape du Tour, Haute Route, Marmotte and more.

I’ve had a few emails about improving climbing (which I’ve covered in this post on How to Improve Your Climbing for Etape and the Mountains) as well as proper gearing (also covered in the aforementioned post).

So today we look at the SRAM Force 11-28 rear cassette.

SRAM Force 11-28

SRAM Force 11-28

Bang for buck, gram for gram, I think SRAM Force is hands down the perfect nexus of weight, price, quality and durability (though Contador seemed happy with the Apex 11-32 in the 2011 Giro, which we will talk about later).

I’ve been using SRAM’s Force 11-28 cassette on my race bike for about a year now, and whilst the spacing between gears is quite large, making the cadence between gears quite awkward sometimes (i.e. one gear is too high a cadence and the next up is too low, and vice versa), it it is a pretty good compromise.

What I like about this groupset is you can run a standard rear derailleur (I use SRAM Red, but have used this cassette with Shimano Ultegra), and front chainrings 53/39, 52/36 and standard compacts 50/34 and get a good range of gears.

The shifting is reliable, the cassettes have excellent durability (e.g. Bang for Buck) and are really only a little bit heavier than SRAM Red.

You can’t go wrong with SRAM Force (for those interested, my entire groupset except rear D/R and crankset – which are SRAM Red – is all SRAM Force).

Now we’ll look at specific gearing combinations.

Gear Combinations and Recommendations with SRAM Force Rear Cassettes

50/34 Compacts
Personally, I think running compacts on the front leaves you a little short at high speeds; even a 50×11 will leave you looking for more gears smashing down some of the Cols in France.

However, for those not accustomed to serious climbing, then this will probably serve you well.

Personally, I’d rather be comfortable spinning up the mountain, than be cursing the lack of gears uphill but having adequate gears downhill.

53/39 Standard Chainrings
Running the SRAM 11-28 with standard full size chain rings is a good option, but will leave some people ill-prepared (or poorly geared) for the type of climbs we’ll see in Etape (think: Galibier) with adequate training and strong legs, in some trouble.

For those intent on running 53/39 and not used to a lot of climbing, I strongly recommend SRAM Apex’s 11-32, 12-32 or 12-36 gears. You can run a more standard 39×25 or 39×27 gearing ratio, but be prepared for some hard slog up the Galibier. It is truly a long climb.

52/36 SRAM Red Chainrings
Hands down I love these chain rings paired with 11-28 or 12-27. I think they offer the best compromise between gear range at both ends of the range. 52×11 will be enough for 95% of descending, and the 36×28 will be enough for the uphills, for most people.

As with the 53/39 chain rings, if you’re not reasonably experienced in climbing hills, I think the 52/36 chain rings will still leave you looking for more gears uphill, unless paired with an 11-32 cassette.

Moreover SRAM only produces 52/36 in SRAM Red, which is a little pricey for most.

SRAM Apex Options

If SRAM’s Apex is good enough for Alberto Contador in the Giro it is good enough for you.

Honestly, a SRAM Force 11-28 cassette when paired with compact (50/34) chain rings will be adequate for most people Tackling Etape.

For those in any doubt, or who haven’t been training, or don’t have strong legs or experience climbing the truly monstrous climbs of the Alpes, I strongly recommend you grab a SRAM Apex cassette. An 11-32 will be oodles of gears, but 12-36 is available too.

Ming comments below that for an 11/12-36, the “SRAM Apex mid-length cage derailleur is NOT long enough – you have to use an MTB derailleur like the X7, X9 or XX series. They will work fine.” (Thanks Ming!).

Reader Rudolph asks:
Just purchased a SRAM Force groupset with a 50-34 compact crank and 11-28 cassette. I ride in a hilly/mountainous area and would like to use an 11-32. Question: Can I use the short cage Force rear derailleur that comes with the gruppo or do I need use the Apex WiFli mid-cage derailleur? Also, does chain model matter? Thank you in advance

Rudolph you need an Apex mid cage (other readers feel free to correct me). Also, just get a KMC or Durace 10 speed chain from Wiggle.

Where to Buy SRAM Force and SRAM Apex cassettes

You can get the SRAM Force and Apex cassettes mentioned in this post, using the links below.

SRAM Force PG-1070:

  • Quality
  • Value for money
  • Practicality/utility

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by Tim Marsh

Tim is an ex Melbournite now living near Byron Bay on 10 acres, happily growing mangos, avocados and lots of other stuff, with his wife Kate, son Arthur and adorable Golden Retriever, Whiskey (RIP our 1YO G/R Poppins :( ).

26 comments… add one

  1. I run SRAM Apex 50/34 compact up front and the 11-32 on the back on my Audax bike. Just finished PBP with it and actually never used the 32T cog – only the 28T, but it was nice to know it was there after more than 1000 km!
    However, there are no alpine climbs on PBP, worst gradient was about 10% for short stretches. For ridiculous climbs like the Zoncolan or Angliru, then the 11-36T would be necessary. A word of warning though – the SRAM Apex mid-length cage derailleur is NOT long enough – you have to use an MTB derailleur like the X7, X9 or XX series. They will work fine.

    1. Hi Ming, AWESOME effort on PBP! Got a trip report and photos?

      Thanks for the info on the long cage D/R, I will add it to the post!


  2. hi Tim,
    absolutely agree with you i think 52/36 is the best ratio, i hace specialized sirrus i hit 48/11 let me out of the gear and for gradual climbing i use 34/25 or i think even lower than 25 at the rear.

    therefore i needed a new bike a just bought cervelo s1 just to be flying on it, i was thinking of getting sram red 52/36 cranckset but it is expensive, and the rest of the group should be rival and not higher, rival will do it for me.

    here are some questions hope you help me:
    1. what bottom bracket i should buy to fit my frame and sram red cranck.
    2. i was thinking to get 11-32 cassett just incase sometime i face big hill.
    3. are the combination works thanks.

    1. Hi Zindu
      For your S1, you’ll need to check the specs from Cervelo for the BB shell to see what BB you need to buy. The SRAM Red cranks come in GXP and BB30 (get them from Chain Reaction Cycles or Wiggle). There’s also a 52×38 crank.

      If a big hill is your problem why not get 50/34 and 11/26?

      For your rear DR you’ll need a long cage if you get an 11-32 cassette I am pretty sure.

      PS, some more training will make you a lot stronger!

  3. Thanks Tim for quick reply.

    i am really fit always training, but some area if the hill is tough i need to be relax not to force myself that much.

    i really dnt like 52/38 to me it is not much different from standard 53/39.

    i can build my bike with 52/36 and rear 11/25 but i am thinking of different scenarios and longer investment.

    thanks alot for your help, i think i will stick with 52/36 if i get good deal right now it is for £270 from chain reaction, other sites do not have this ratio, only wiggle has it but the length of the cranckset is 177mm i need 170 or 172.5.

    but can red crankset gpx work with rival groupset.

    many thanks Tim.


    1. Hi Zindu, the Red cranks will work with Rival groupset. They should all work together, the difference is just in the quality.


  4. Hi Tim again, i would like to have your opinion on if i build this bike will it make me faster than sirrus, because i asked in another forum about this frame and 1 guy replied to me , it doese not make you any faster, may be 5 second on the hill.

    so i replied to him with my experience
    ” well thanks for your honesty, but i just changed the tyre of my bike from 28mm to 25 and only lowered 2 cm the handlebar,believe it or not i gained i gained 25% without feeling tired, ofcourse that was not on the flat but rather on the way back home which is quiet gradual hilly, before that adjustment it usually take me around 35 to 40 minutes after adjustment i felt i was going faster and took me only 30 minutes so that is gain of %12.5-25

    i was thinking with this bike i am going to get thiner tyre 23m , better wheel, better gear shifting, so if i save 5 minutes more i will be happy.

    if i save 5 minute in my journy it means very comfortable ride and no tiredness at all, i can see the difference betwen 40 minutes and 30 minutes durtion.

    for me i do not care that much about bike’s weight, but some parts are important to me:
    1. frame weight
    2. tyre and tube size and weight.
    3. crank size and weight
    the rest is fine.

    but thanks for your believes, if i be sure i do not gain any more speed specially on the way back home where is quiet hilly, then i will sell my new frame, as i did not bought any part yet, or i hold to it and build it in future, anyway the frame always is a good asset. ”

    please let me know if you think the same, because in my opinion it will make 5 minutes different especially on hill, but if you think differently let me know please, before i buy other components, i may build it anyway because i am not willing to sell it at lose.

    what i was thinking to keep sirrus for local use and this bike for work.

    thanks for your time.


    1. Hi Zindu, whilst the tyres and other changes incrementally make a marginal difference, in my opinion the biggest gain in speed is through targeted training especially when you’re talking about hills. Let me know if you want some specific information as VeloNomad has a hill-specific training guide.

      With regard to being tired, this is just more and more riding. The more you do, the fitter you get. If you just ride your route to work yes you will get more efficient at it, but the best thing to do is lots of different types of training as you’ll force your body to adapt to the changes thus bringing much more effective changes.

      Hope this helps.

  5. hi Tim

    i was so foolish, i thought middle gear on specialized sirrus was 34 but it is actually 38, so my guess that is make it easier for me to go for standard 53/39 or 52/38 and rear may be 11/32 or 11/28

  6. Hello Tim,

    Thanks for your advice, now i sold my sirrus, i will let you know about my new bike and speed test, but that is will be 2-3 weeks as i do not have a bike now.

    many thanks.


  7. Hi Tim,

    i will post that on forum aswel, it is look like i am building my bike, but i think i go for flat-bar because i feel it is easier when you reach trafik light and pulling of, on my route i have about 10-12 stop, and also it is cheaper to build and cheaper maintainance.
    i know that flat bar is not aero position, but i have keept the clip-on aerobar and mounted to my new flatbar, will that not giving me enough aero position.

    already tried it and for 6 mile it saved me 7 minutes and or 1-2 gears higher, here is the picture.

    that was my bike i keept the aerobar i really love it.

    now i think with this aero bar mounted on flatbar on cervelo s1 will make me much faster and my bike will suit for multipurpose.

    i am intend to have sram rival group on my bike but normal flatbar shifter on my bike, i think drop bar just waist of money for me, dafenately better than flat bar, but i do not think it is better than flat with clip on aerobar especialy with agressive geometry like cervelo s1.

    do you think it is good idea, but trust me this clip-on saved me 7-10 minutes in 40 minutes duration.

    and will think of going to 11-28 cassett and maybe 50-34 because 52/36 is expensive now due to amount of availability and in future if needed will replace the crank for suiter 1.

    many thanks.


    1. Hi Zindu, just go with whatever suits your purposes, I’d say, for the handlebars. You are right, the Red cranks are expensive. Why not go with Force or Rival 53/39 and an 11/28? It’s a good range and what I used to have on my commuting/training bike. It’s what I will run on my next bike (my race bike is 52/36-11/28 as I usually race very hilly races).

  8. Good article on cassettes for L’Etape. I’m probably one of many who have studied the course for this year with a sense of mild panic and my question is this. You make the point that 11-28 is suitable for most, but given that most time will be lost slogging up rather than flying downhill, is it worth playing it safe and opting for an 11-32 or 12-32? Like you mention, if it’s ok for Alberto, there’s no shame in it! Secondly, can you run a 32 at the back (compact frank at the front) without changing the dérailleur? Clearly a 36 requires this, just unsure about at 32.
    Osh Richardson

    1. Hi Osh, thanks for the comment! No need to panic! With a combination of training and sensible gearing you’ll be fine. I think an 11-32 will be fine. An 11/34 means on downhill you’ll be out of gears, if you’re a fast descender. I am pretty sure the 32 will be ok with std derailleaur. You’ll need a long cage D/R (e.g. MTB D/R) for a 36 though! You can get the cassettes cheap on Wiggle and CRC.

  9. Thanks Tim,

    that is absolutely what i am inted to do i will go with standard 39/53 and the back 11/28 and will be very happy and flying.

    i have recieved my frame today, i will build it with drop bar and mount on them tri bar will fly man, do you want to race me 🙂

    i may get bb30 sram crank its lighter and they say its better, so right now i am gathering where is the cheapest place to buy them, planetx have some items cheaper than others, and halford guys were very pleased to bild my bike when i told them i have cervelo, and offered me to go joing their groups for training.

    thanks Tim update when i completed with photos.

    but now i am thinking to get a good reliable light wheel kysrium elite costs £390 Fulcrum Racing 3 cost £300 but some they say race 3 need service and true them regulary i am 80 kg do not know which one to choose, but dafenately very happy with standard, even if 39 tooth is big i can easily replace them with 36, but i think 39 is supper because on my sirrus always was on 38 tooth but always i thought it was 34 tooth, so will be soon flying 🙂

    many thanks for your advice.


  10. Hello Tim,


    i did not build s1 but because of the cost, but i bought scott speedester s40 for now costs £500 which is great, now my experience with it.

    as you know i had sirrus sport with cog 38t in the middle of crank and relaxed geometry, but now scott is agressive geometry and it has compact crank so majority time is on 34t.

    my decision on delay build was based on:
    1. the cost, because i can now and on my times look for better deal.
    2. never ride drop bar before so like to try it first get used to it.
    3. also scott cost cheaper i can take it to some places without concern that much about been robbed.
    4, also i fitted mudguard on scott which is more difficult on s1.

    now the test and experment.
    i am missing the 38t on crank so dafenatly do not like 34t on compact because yes it is light but i am out of gear most of times, therfore have to change to 50t on compact but 50t need lots power and it actually slow me down even i use lower gear at the back, but it is great for down the hill.

    when i assembled my bike a lowered handlebar to the lowest possible, but man! was very ancomfortable and actually made me tired and my neck hert, so what i did i upside down the stem and positioned handlebar tho the highest point, but yet did not try it with new setup.

    agressive geometry may work for some but not for me.

    compare scott to sirrus with clip-on
    scott was about 3 minutes faster on half an hour jorney, but felt more tired and i did not like 34t because as i said i am out of gear, so i believe the agrresive geometry and 34t make me tired, cos 34t you have to peddal all the times while do not go as speed as 38t front and 11t at the back, and as i mentioned 50t is option for descenting some situation otherwise it is harder to push.

    but if some one wants to compare a drop bar with flat bar road bike, dafenately drop bar is much faster by about 15-20% but my case was different, because i had clip-on on my sirrus so it is like triathlone, and tt is faster than drop bar.

    so now dafenatley if i buld my bike will go for flat bar with clip-on without any regret and i will put standard 39/50 and 11/32 so i can face any hill, also will set geometry as comfortable, because it is hard you cycle in the city and always rise your head that will hert the neck. or if i get good deal on 52/36 will be good aswell any crank no lower than 36 will do.

  11. I am just a slow recreational rider who doesn’t mind a bit of climbing and last year did the etape on a 50/34 Ultegra compact and 12/27 105 Cassette. It did take me 7 hours but I did have trouble with my Ksyrium rear wheel bearing and had to pedal ALL the way down Galibier on the brakes (max speed only 60kph) to stop it from making a death squeal and avoiding a catastrophic failure. None of this worrying about placings for me (I finished in the top 5500 riders, lol).

    Anyway, any thoughts on how the max gradients of the cols this year will compare with last year?

    There is more climbing and the average gradients are a little steeper so I have started training according to the plan in your ebook already (last year I only had 6 weeks notice), but I was really wondering about the max gradients.

    I was happy enough riding up the Galibier and Alpe d’Huez grades in my 34/27 gear but if there are going to be longer and steeper sections this year then perhaps I need to take things a little further.

    I have had a look at climb by bike and think I will be OK but the 1km average gradients never really tell the whole story. They certainly made Tourmalet sound easier than it was. 🙂



    1. Thanks for your comment, Alex, AND for buying the Etape guide.

      This year’s Etapes are tough, very tough. It sounds like you’re doing Etape Pyrenees, and if so, be prepared for a shellacking. Here’s my 2010 Etape report (Cols du Marie Blanque, Soulor et l’infer du Tourmalet).

      To be honest though, if you run 34×27 and have done some training, you’ll be fine. The key will be the training in the guide, but also to make sure you eat well, and maybe do some cross training beforehand. I’d do a few long rides too – think 200km + in the hills.


  12. I have the APEX gruppo setup up with the 11-32t cassette, I dont ride that many hills, and honestly don’t need that big a range of gears. If i got an PG 1070 11-25t cassette would i need to get a new rear derauiller?

    1. Hey Nate
      Without knowing your entire group, I think so!


  13. I’m going for a standard compact 50/34 and the new Tiagra 12-30. I know this won’t give me big gears for the downhill, but as this is my first attempt at l’Etape du Tour, I want to be on the safe side going up.

    If I find a lack of gears, I will just have to practice my aero position and high cadence descending ;-).

    1. Hi Kasper, you’ve made the right choice. Fast downhill or adequate gears uphill so you don’t blow up. Pretty good decision by you.


  14. Hi Tim,so let me get this straight,if Im using a red 53/39 crankset and have a sram force Sram PG 1050 11/32 10 speed cassette on the back i would need an apex mid cage derailleur?My regular Sram force derailleur wouldn’t work?

    1. Hi Glen, I would, yes. I run an 11-28 and std Red derailleur and on the 28 the d/r jockey can almost rub on the ring, unless you tweak the B tension screw way out which loosens the chain a bit.

      Can I suggest, if you can afford it, switching your front crank? Always good having a compact or semi compact around. I run FSA/Power2Max with a 110BCD spider and Praxis 52/36 rings normally, and can switch out to 50/34 for overseas.


  15. Hi I just wanted to know I use a 50/36 and 11/28 SRAM ,but are think of getting 11/32 cassette because I live in hilly country to help with heavier wheels do I need to get a different derailleur

    1. Hi Dean
      50/36 is a strange combo. Rather than get an 11/32 and a long cage derailleur, why don’t you change your front cog from a 36 to 34?



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