SRAM's wireless AXS drivetrain delivers cutting-edge technology flawless shifting, but the standard shift lever takes some getting used to compared to a traditional unit. This optional alternative makes the experience much more familiar.
When SRAM’s ground-breaking, and wallet-depleting wireless AXS drivetrain came out a few years ago one of the only disappointing aspects was the paddle you pressed to actually shift gears. So while it’s one of the best mountain bike drivetrains on the market, a small piece of plastic stopped it from being perfect for old timers like me. After 30 years of underbar trigger shifting with both SRAM and Shimano, my ageing muscle memory occasionally struggled to hit the right section of the rocker pad – mostly when my brain was preoccupied with trying to navigate some technical section of trail. I’d either fumble for the pad itself, or hit the target but forget which part I needed to press to shift in the right direction. Sure, it didn’t happen that often, and with habit (I’m constantly changing between bikes and shifters) the frequency may well have reduced even further, but it was a slight annoyance. As was the fact that I had to unwind my thumb quite a long way around the grip to operate it.
Judging by how quickly SRAM came out with this revised paddle alternative, I can’t have been the only one feeling this was an area ripe for improvement. The new paddle has been around for just over a year now and can be bought as a hop-up kit for your existing AXS drivetrain – it fits XX1, XO1 and GX AXS drivetrains – (standard aftermarket drivetrains still come with the old paddle, although some complete bikes use this version instead) and it costs just £20.
It’s simple to install using a 3mm Allen key and comprises the moulded plastic paddle, a new pin and a new spring. Compared to the original piece, the difference in shape is striking, with a stepped pad that mimics the traditional dual paddle design used on most cable-operated trigger shifters. The larger of the two surfaces gets a concave profile, textured surface and is set within easy striking distance of your thumb for shifting into an easier gear, while the smaller pad sits slightly lower and in front, roughly where the release paddle would be on a cable shifter. This lets you keep more of a wrap around the bar while shifting up into a harder gear, which is typically when you need that extra security of a firm grip (the AXS app also lets you customise the action of the control unit). Being a rocker paddle design – it simply presses two hidden buttons to tell the control unit what to do – there are a couple of other ways you can use it. By tapping the front of the lower extension with your index finger you can shift into a harder gear – when you get out of the saddle to sprint, for instance. And you can also nudge the back of the larger thumb paddle to shift into an easier gear, removing the need to unwrap your thumb from the bars.
There is a problem with this paddle though; it extends further into the grip area than the original design. To compensate for this, reclaim grip space and stop it rubbing against your thumb, you’ll need to do one of two things; either move your brake levers further inboard, or run the AXS control unit on a left-hand Matchmaker clamp. This moves the unit back towards the stem by about 20mm and solves the problem (you can also use the second shifter bolt position to half that distance). Unfortunately, unless you have one knocking around, you’ll have to buy a pair of Matchmakers at the not insignificant cost of around £30.
If you’ve been riding a long time and have years of trigger-shifting experience under your belt, the AXS paddle is a worthwhile upgrade, but ultimately I’d like to see SRAM offer it as standard fit on its complete drivetrains, negating the need to buy it separately.