SRAM Trial by RAGBRAI Fire

Our customer Tom had quite the adventure on an All-City Space Horse Disc Apex at RAGBRAI this year and he was gracious enough to let us share it with the world! We frequently get asked about how difficult it is to get used to SRAM road shifting if you haven't used it before, and while Tom's experience was a bumpy one, we think it's worth sharing because he concluded it was worth it! Enjoy! 

 Image credit: All-City

Image credit: All-City

I don’t need anyone to tell me it was a bad idea to buy a bike with new, unfamiliar shifters and have it shipped straight from the store to Iowa, where I was about to do the famous RAGBRAI ride -- 411 miles across the state in seven days. I loved the look and feel of the All-City Space Horse from the moment I saw it and rode it, and I figured I would quickly get used to the SRAM single/double tap shifters.

So I ignored the trouble I had on my test ride when I tried to shift lower on the rear rings, even though I had to return to the store halfway through for another shifting lesson. Becky warned me the double tap move might take some practice. I could upshift easily enough with the single tap, but my derailleur continually interpreted my double tap as two single taps, so I ended up on lower and lower rings. Sometimes I did something like a triple tap move, going first to a smaller ring and only then to a bigger ring, but that just meant I was back where I’d started.

The bike otherwise felt fabulous--strong and stable, like a touring bike should feel--and I had no trouble with the front rings. I was certain I’d get quickly accustomed to the SRAM shifters, especially because the first couple days of the RAGBRAI ride would be on relatively flat roads, so I had BicycleSpace box up the bike and send it to Iowa. I was thrilled when I found it there, and the RAGBRAI mechanic who put it together complimented me on what a beautiful bike it was. Each day, I met other riders who had made the switch from integrated Shimano shifters, and they were all enthusiastic SRAM users.

Unfortunately, my troubles persisted. Each SRAM rider I met seemed to have different advice. One told me to hesitate longer between the first and second tap, while others told me the opposite, that the second tap just needed to be deeper. On the third day, I met a bike mechanic from Princeton who told me I was probably too tentative in my shifting.

“Don’t ask it to shift, demand it,” he told me.

I think he just meant I needed to shift more confidently, but I took it too literally, and the next time I couldn’t get it smoothly into a lower gear, I jammed the lever mightily. Bang! The derailleur hanger had broken in two. I was on a country road in the middle of Iowa with no shifting capability. I had no choice but to hitch a ride on the SAG van to the next overnight town, Clear Lake.


It was my great fortune there to find a brilliant bike mechanic, Russell Rayburn, who told me there were a couple hundred hangers that could go with a derailleur like mine, but that only one would be a perfect match for my All-City Space Horse frame. As I feared, he did not have it in stock.

But they don’t call Russell “The Bike Whisperer” for nothing. He managed to find an emergency hanger replacement, advising me only that I shouldn’t put too much stress on the gears or stand up for more power. Meanwhile, BicycleSpaceDC happened to have the correct hanger in stock, and Scott overnighted the part to the next Iowa town with a good bike shop. I was ready to ride again.

But Russell wouldn’t let me leave until he was satisfied I could do the SRAM shifting properly. Maybe it was something he said, or maybe it was the cumulative effect of all the advice I’d gotten, or maybe it just took me three days of practice, but when I left Russell’s shop, I had the double tap move down. I think it was just something I had to feel. One thought I had was that the double tap was like a two-step lamp switch, where you click past the first stop to get the brighter light on the second.

To my joy, I finally understood why SRAM users feel so strongly about the shifters. Once I had the feel, I found the shifting to be smoother and quicker and quieter than anything I had experienced before. For the rest of the trip, over the hilliest portions of the RAGBRAI ride, every shift was silent and instantaneous.

What was the secret? I actually have no idea, and I’m not sure I could tell any other SRAM user how I got there. In the end, it’s between you and your bike. But the trial was worth it.  Becky had told me she could replace the SRAM with Shimano shifters if I wasn’t satisfied, but my RAGBRAI experience turned me into one more committed SRAM user.

Customer Tom