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The design of SRAM Red 2012

Road Bike 18 4619

SRAM Red 2012 final concept boardI am assuming that the majority of you have already seen images of the new SRAM Red 2012 group, which was unveiled last week after several months of anticipation. If you somehow missed it, see the posts at Bike Radar,, BikeRumor, and this video at VeloNews (just to name a few). I was pretty impressed when I finally saw the redesigned group in its entirety, so I shot an email over to the designers at SRAM to find out more about it. Earlier this week, I had the chance to talk with a few of the industrial designers who worked on the project- Paul, Nathan, and Jochen. It was a very interesting conversation from which I can only share a limited amount in one blog post, but I want to try and give you a brief glimpse into the development process behind this new group.

SRAM Red Skinteque inspiration boardThe Industrial Design group started the Red update project with a few key new technologies that came directly from SRAM’s advanced engineering group (including trim-less front shifting and a multi-link brake design). From the onset of the project, the industrial designers set out to use efficient, aerodynamic forms that exemplified those underlying technologies. The global design team for the project included industrial designers, graphic designers, design engineers, and finish engineers in the US (Chicago and San Luis Obispo), Germany (Schweinfurt), and Taiwan (Taichung). In order to create a cohesive group and maintain consistency between the emerging forms, it was critical for each member of the design team to work within a defined form language. Several years ago, SRAM designers had coined the term “Skinteque” to refer to a design language “defined by clean surface detail complimented by dynamic curves, fading surface features, and crisply defined edges.” Each member of the team used that predetermined form language, and the associated image boards, as a visual guide as they conceptualized the various components within the gruppo.

SRAM Red 2012 Concept board 1On a weekly basis, the team met virtually to view and discuss the components, at various stages of development, as a group. That “live-updated virtual gruppo” (as seen in the sample image here) allowed the design team to work together from points all around the globe to create a group with a unified aesthetic. One of the common elements that tie the parts within this new Red group together as a cohesive whole is the finish treatment. Because it is SRAM’s top tier “pro-level” group, the design team focused on creating a cohesive, high-end finish from the very beginning of the project. The finish and graphic treatment on each of the components was not an afterthought, but was an integral part of the process as the forms were developed. The industrial designers, graphic designers, and finish engineers worked together with the various factories to maintain that integral finish treatment throughout the gruppo, despite different materials and manufacturing processes.

SRAM Red 2012 brake development boardThe board shown here illustrates the progression of the “Aero Link” multilink brake calipers, which is a good component to discuss a bit further. The design development team started the brake redesign with the CNCed functional prototype from the advanced engineering team that you see on the far left. They sketched and 3d modeled forms to refine the rough engineering sample, and used 3d printed parts (as shown in the 2nd position) to verify the form and check interference. Once the basic shapes were defined, they created working prototypes from machined aluminum and continually refined the form to the final one. Even with the forms almost finalized though, there were still quite a few detail issues for the team to work through. Seemingly small details like the black paint detail in the recessed section of the caliper required multiple drawing revisions from the industrial designers, graphic designers, and finish engineers. Maintaining precise placement of the black painted section, with a reversed out logo, on forged parts that are tumbled, polished, and anodized is trickier than it seems, and required the designers to work very closely with the manufacturers to get it just right.  The brakes are just one example, but you can look at the relationship between finish and form on other parts, like the rear derailleur or chainring, and find the same subtle complexities.

SRAM Red old and new comparision The image board which shows the older group and the new group side by side does a good job of illustrating the cohesive design language that was achieved with the redesign. The common forms, finishes, and graphic treatment give the new Red group a much more unified appearance than its predecessor, and I think put it ahead of Dura-Ace 7900 as the best looking gruppo on the market. That is just my opinion of course, but I think most would agree that the designers and engineers at SRAM did a good job improving on Red from both a technical and aesthetic standpoint. Personally, I have been riding Dura-Ace for a long time, but this new group, and hints of components soon to come, may be enough to convince me to “make the leap.”

See a few more of the design development boards from the Red project below.

SRAM Red 2012 rear deraillieur development board

SRAM Red 2012 front deraillieur development board

SRAM Red 2012 shifter development board

SRAM Red 2012 skinteque inspiration board

SRAM Red 2012 design concept board

SRAM Red 2012 design concept board

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  1. Paolo Polledri February 9, 2012 at 8:32 pm -  Reply

    Nice and v. interesting.

  2. Liam February 9, 2012 at 11:32 pm -  Reply

    Great job gathering these images!

    I always love seeing the iterations that these products go through during the design stages and how they hint at the influences which determined their final form.

  3. Erik Eagleman February 10, 2012 at 10:35 am -  Reply

    Love it! It is so cool to finally see some concept ideations from Sram. i have always wanted to see the develpoment of an RD or FD or any other part. This helps show people that every thing has design in it, even the most technical and critical parts! From a bike designer from Cannondale, Kudos!!!

  4. Andy February 10, 2012 at 2:39 pm -  Reply

    Neat photos, and looks like good design. For some reason I’ve always thought of SRAM as “not-quite-Shimano” so I’ve never considered buying their products other than a cassette. But I appreciate that there are multiple companies (well, really only 2 that most people are able to buy) making these products.

  5. TS February 10, 2012 at 2:45 pm -  Reply

    As an industrial designer myself, I think this is one of the most interesting posts you’ve made. I hope you’d concentrate even more (and don’t get me wrong – you do a good job now) on the ID side of biking, as I understand you’re a designer yourself. Thanks!

    • James Thomas February 10, 2012 at 2:58 pm -  Reply

      Thanks TS, I do appreciate the feedback. I would like to do more posts like this that are focused on the ID process, but time is the usually limiting factor though. With a busy day job as a designer, I often only have time to quickly pass along links without much elaboration. I’ll try to do more like this in the future though…when I can find some of that elusive free time.

      • KsY February 19, 2012 at 1:31 pm -  Reply

        I agree with TS, this is one of my favorite posts so far.
        Seeing how other designers work through problems within different companies is fascinating.
        Definitely would love to see more of these…

        Thanks to SRAM for sharing their internal process slides.

  6. kfg. February 11, 2012 at 10:54 pm -  Reply

    And to think that some of the most aesthetically beautiful and world beating Grand Prix cars have been fully “conceptualized” by one man sitting in an office with some pencils and paper and not even a “design language” to guide him on his way.

    • art February 22, 2012 at 8:41 am -  Reply

      Those classic Grand Prix cars were designed much the same way as the brake caliper pictured above. The engineers built a rolling chassis, then it was sent off the the guy with the pencil to figure out how to get sheet metal over it. And everyone involved knew that it wasn’t the sheet metal that was going to win races. It’s an important lesson: design language is nice, but the thing’s still gotta work.

  7. littleman February 16, 2012 at 12:01 pm -  Reply

    too fancy for me, no thank you.

    • functionfirst March 21, 2012 at 2:35 pm -  Reply

      yup makes me want to take up barefoot hiking

  8. Mechanics Matter February 20, 2012 at 11:36 am -  Reply

    Wow… and so many people think Campag’s new stuff is ugly…….

  9. Charles Ramsey February 27, 2012 at 6:54 pm -  Reply

    The gearing is stupid bicycle makers are trying to reach a compromise between one that shifts well and one that is ergonomic. I’m using a 12 13 15 17 20 24 30 39 tooth combination on the rear with 9 cog spacing though I can use 10 cog or even sub 10 cog spacing if I want and make it work with a 10 cog chain. My wheel has zerodish and fits in 135mm spacing. Sram should borrow the design of the Huret doupar and get rid of an unnecessary gear.

  10. RD March 19, 2012 at 12:56 pm -  Reply

    That is awesome. I’ll bet that the design team readily unloaded this information to you. I know I would want to after all of that work that, typically, other than by the appearance of the final product, goes unseen by the public. Very nice inside look on what actually goes on in developments like these.

  11. Don Macrae March 19, 2012 at 8:37 pm -  Reply

    I am sure that this focus on appearance is commercially effective: my road bike has a Red group which is completely satisfactory, but quite irrationally, I’d like to upgrade to the new one! But I’m wondering what a group as designed by the engineers to optimize performance would look like, ie with no ‘ID’? In principle at least I’d buy that one.

  12. Pete Schmitt May 2, 2012 at 8:59 am -  Reply

    …looks less Klingon than DA but the chainring is ugly compared to the graceful flowing form of the crankarm…the brake caliper is functionally advanced but the forms are brutal, non-flowing & truncated…whatever happened to clean, simple,& elegant?? The rest of the group is stellar in engineering & looks good as well…There’s hope for the future..

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