The Birth of WiFLi The Birth of WiFLi

The Birth of WiFLi

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Wednesday, February 1, 2017

The equipment needs of a World Tour racer are often not the same as those of an ordinary mortal  – although sometimes meeting the special needs of top pros leads to cycling innovations for all. In 2010, SRAM introduced its first WiFLi™ rear derailleur. WiFLi refers to the main benefits of the system: the medium cage derailleur, paired with an 11-32 cassette and a 50-34 chainring combo, is the ultimate solution for a rider who requires the wider range of a traditional triple crankset, but wants the faster shifting and lighter weight of a double. Initially part of the Apex® group, WiFLi aimed to replace the triple crankset on bikes where it most commonly appeared: touring and moderately priced road bikes.

Released in 2010, SRAM Apex was the first road group with a wide range cassette and medium cage WiFLi rear derailleur.

The triple crankset had been around for decades, but was not without its problems. Putting three chainrings on the crank required a wider pedal stance, or Q factor, and frames had to be designed to accommodate the triple. Front shifting was notoriously slower and sloppier than on a double. And three chainrings with a narrow range cassette created numerous gear redundancies.

WiFLi solved the issues inherent to a triple. The new rear derailleur design, with technology taken from popular SRAM MTB groups, like XX and X.0, had an optimized angle of attack to clear the large cogs on a wide range cassette, and a longer cage to handle the increased chain length that was required. An 11-32 cassette and 50-34 chainring not only dropped weight and shifted better, but eliminated most gear redundancies and actually increased gear range compared to the most common triple setups.

Tony Martin winning Stage 20 of the 2014 Tour de France with a WiFLi derailleur. Photo © BrakeThrough Media

WiFLi was the ultimate triple killer, and conventional wisdom at the time held that such a wide range of gearing simply wasn’t necessary at the top end of the sport. However, WiFLi’s genesis was actually in professional racing. At the 2008 Giro d’Italia, Alberto Contador was looking for ways to keep his cadence high and save his legs during the mountain time trial to Kronplatz. Astana mechanics used a compact crank, parts from a mountain bike rear derailleur, and custom 11-30 cassette to prevent Contador from redlining on the stage, keeping him fresh during a grueling final week as he eked out a narrow GC victory. In 2010 and 2011, Apex RDs on otherwise RED equipped bikes were a common sight on SRAM sponsored teams when tackling the brutal climbs of the Giro and Vuelta.

Alberto Contador, Kronplatz 2008. Photo © Tim De Waele

As WiFLi technology has trickled upward to Rival, Force and RED, riders of all levels have discovered benefits to a wide range cassette beyond tackling the steepest pitches. Knowing that a front shift can often force a rider to briefly slow, Tony Martin used an 11-32 cassette to win the time trial at the 2014 Tour de France. The cassette’s range allowed him to stay in his big ring for the entire ride. A similar philosophy has been employed by SRAM sponsored climbers and GC contenders at the Tour. On the gentle lower slopes of many Alpine climbs, the “big-big” gear combo of 53x32 can keep a racer on their big ring while rivals are slowing to execute front shifts. Accelerating to attack can be done with a few clicks of the rear shifter. And for the flat days, the WiFLi RD works with cassettes as small as 11-26, making WiFLi the default derailleur option for many of our pro teams.

Team Axeon Hagens Berman will be riding WiFLi on all their road bikes on 2017. Photo © Wil Matthews

WiFLi is now a part of the revolutionary SRAM RED eTap group. With an updated design that optimizes chain gap across all cogs, it is now possible to run a 30 or 32t large cog on the world’s only fully wireless drivetrain. Shipping to retailers now, expect to see eTap WiFLi at the front of the professional peloton, or wherever the road goes up.

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