Re-Building my 2018 rim brake Ridley Noah SL with SRAM Red eTap AXS & Shimano Ultegra Drivetrain
I recently rebuilt my 2018 Ridley Noah SL (rim brake) bike. I talked about it privately with a few customers who found the build interesting and asked me to write a blog post about it.
I will be transparent about how much I spent on this project and provide commentary about whether it was worth the price.
I hope you enjoy this read. It's definitely something different from this blog.
The Ridley Noah SL's History
I purchased this gorgeous thing back in November 2018. It was my first high end road bike and a present to myself after quite a good year of selling bibshorts at RedWhite Apparel.
Prior to purchasing this Ridley, I was riding a chinese OEM carbon bicycle built using a mix of second hand Shimano Ultegra parts and OEM chinese wheels. It was a budget build that I owned for over 6 years.
I got a good deal on this Ridley. It's the same frameset raced by Lotto-Soudal at the 2018 Tour de France. It was on clearance sale for S$ 4250. It came with :
- Shimano Ultegra R8000 (11 speed) rim brake groupset
- Rotor 3D30 Crankset (52-36)
- Entry level Fulcrum aluminium wheels
- Price : S$ 4250 singapore dollars (US$ 3550 based on exchange rates in 2018)
I suspect it was on clearance sale because the new disc brake Ridley Noah Fast was launched.
The only change I made was to swap out the heavy Fulcrum wheels for a pair of 50mm carbon clinchers from Farsports in china. These weighed 1400gms and cost me S$ 750. Prices have definitely gone up since then.
I sold the heavy Fulcrums for S$ 300.
TOTAL OUTLAY : S$ 4250 + S$ 750 - S$ 300 = S$ 4700 / US$ 3920
January 2023 Rebuild Reason - Cracked Shifters & Worn out Derailleurs
4 years had passed and the Ridley was really showing its age. While the frameset was still incredible (rides like it is on rails), the Shimano Ultegra groupset was on its final legs.
I sweat a lot and Singapore is humid. This combination accelerated corrosion on the shifters and derailleurs. Missed shifts were common and no longer crisp. With mechanical springs undergoing fatigue, I was advised to swap out the derailleurs.
The final straw came when I was replacing my bartape and noticed a crack on the shifter along the bit where the shifter gets attached to the handlebar. The crack surprised me since I always tighten my bolts to 7nm as specified by Shimano.
I could epoxy it in place, but decided to just purchase a brand new groupset.
Why not a new bike?
It is incredibly wasteful to toss a perfectly good frameset when I could rebuild it with new moving parts.
That's why I decided to embark on this project.
The Rebuild Thought Process
The initial plan was to purchase a brand new Ultegra R8000 groupset. These were going relatively cheaply since the market for rim brake groupsets was declining. I could pick up a brand new (old stock) for about S$ 900 with a big of haggling. Not a bad deal at all.
However, I was really curious to try an electronic groupset to see what the fuss was all about.
So I made the decision to rebuild the bike with an electronic conversion kit.
SRAM Red eTap AXS Rim Brake Conversion Kit
SRAM sells something called a rim brake conversion kit. It contains the following :
- eTap Shifters
- eTap Derailleurs
That's it. No crankset, no chain and no brake calipers. Available in Force and Red versions only.
The reason I decided to get SRAM eTap rather than Shimano Di2 was the lack of wiring on eTap. I didn't want to muck about with wiring the Shimano front and rear derailleurs through the frameset. I also liked the swappability of SRAM's front and read derailleur batteries. If one battery dies, you could swap them and keep shifting an essential derailleur.
I also chose Red over Force because I just liked the silver detailing on Red. You only live once and it was a treat to myself.
If you're reading this and wondering which one to pick, definitely save the dollars and get Force eTap. Use the savings on a lighter crankset.
SRAM RED ETAP AXS RIM BRAKE CONVERSION KIT PRICE : S$ 2300 (ridiculously expensive)
Shimano Ultegra R8100 Drivetrain
I'm quite picky about the gear ratios on my bike. While I understand that SRAM has an interesting ratio, I just preferred a traditional 52-36T chain ring paired with a 11-30T cassette.
Having experimented with 53-39, 50-34 chainrings with 11-23, 11-25, 11-28 and 11-30 cassettes, I just find that 52-36 with 11-30T combo my favourite from years of riding. The simplest way to get this was to buy a Shimano road drive train.
Now, here's the interesting thing - SRAM derailleurs work with Shimano drivetrains. You do need to match your chain with your cassette at the very least though. For myself, i'm running a 12 speed Shimano XTR chain with Ultegra 11-30 cassette.
Up front, I have an Ultegra R8100 crankset. I chose this because I just wanted to match the Shimano theme in the drivetrain.
The whole system shifts beautifully.
- SHIMANO XTR 12S CHAIN : S$ 65
- SHIMANO ULTEGRA R8100 CRANKSET : S$ 350
- SHIMANO ULTEGRA 12S CASSETTE : S$ 130
TOTAL DRIVE TRAIN PRICE : S$ 545
The Build Process
Working on a non-integrated, rim-brake road bike is easy.
I didn't have to remove the stem and handlebar to work on the brakes. They just came off easily and I could save the housings and reuse them.
Installing cables for rim-brake shifters are super easy too. Thread the cable through the shifter, tension it up to the brake caliper and you're done!
Ease of maintenance is definitely one highlight of rim-brake bikes. That being said, i'd prefer owning a disc brake bike in future because carbon rim braking surfaces warp over time. A carbon wheel with a disc braking surface lasts much longer.
Carbon braking surfaces are inherently flawed. Peak Torque has an excellent video explaining that.
I could get a high profile wheel with an aluminium braking surface, but those tend to be heavy with the rotational mass located on the rim rather than on the hubs. This increases angular momentum and makes the wheel feel sluggish.
You also get superior braking performance in wet weather with discs.
I live in a government flat called a HDB. I'm lucky enough to have a kind neighbour who tolerates my taking over the common corridor when working on my bike.
I did not do this build completely alone.
I needed a new Bottom Bracket and also help to install it since I didn't have a compatible bearing press. Thankfully, the Ridley dealer in Singapore sorted me out. Unfortunately Ridley designed the Noah SL with a rather odd PF 4630 format. This meant I had limited options for bottom brackets that could be pressed into the BB shell and fit a 24mm Shimano crank.
Kogel makes them and they are mightily expensive since I was short on time and needed it asap. If I could wait a few weeks, I could shop for alternatives elsewhere without expensive, overpriced ceramic bearings.
NEW KOGEL CERAMIC BOTTOM BRACKET : S$324 (I definitely overspent on this)
Getting the SRAM eTap AXS front derailleur to work was ridiculously easy.
SRAM gives you a plastic guidance tool to set up the derailleur's height relative to the crankset. Screw it in place, make some simply screw adjustments and it just works.
Since it's not cable actuated, there's nothing that will reduce shift performance over time. In the past, i've had to re-tension / replace cables to maintain crisp shifting performance.
The ease-of-installation story continues with the rear derailleur.
Just screw it on and adjust the limit screws according to instructions given by SRAM. The setup process does require some fine tuning to get the shifts perfect. This was easily done using eTap's micro-adjustment feature.
Here's a video explaining the process.
Finally Done. SRAM-Shimano Combo works well!
I took my time with this build. I worked on and off on it for about a week with a few test rides thrown in.
I highly recommend anyone who's building up a new bike to do a test ride as early as possible. You quickly discover mistakes that can be fixed before they ruin a part. In my case, I discovered that I hadn't tightened the Shimano crank bolt adequately and there was a tiny bit of lateral play in the crankset.
An experienced mechanic would have not made this mistake. One reason you may wish to pay someone to do this for you.
Having ridden this bike for about 1500km, I can confidently recommend mixing SRAM shifters and derailleurs with a Shimano drivetrain. The result is the best of both worlds :
- Wireless shifting with swappable batteries (can't do that on Di2).
- A smooth Shimano Hyperglide drive train.
Total Cost of Build (Including new Wheels)
This was a very expensive build. I also changed my wheels since the old OEM chinese ones from Farsport had warped rims from years of braking. Here's a breakdown of every cost :
- SRAM Red eTap AXS Conversion Kit : S$ 2300
- Shimano Ultegra R8100 Crankset : S$ 350
- Shimano XTR 12s chain : S$ 65
- Shimano Ultegra 12s cassette : S$ 130
- Kogel ceramic bottom bracket : S$ 324
- Elite Drive 50V 50mm carbon wheelset : S$ 1400
GRAND TOTAL : S$ 4569 (US$ 3410)
I overspent on 2 items - The Red eTap Conversion Kit and the Kogel ceramic bottom bracket. An equivalent Force eTap cost S$ 1700 and a non ceramic BB would have been about $100.
Backing these out, the savings would have been S$ 824.
I cannot provide commentary on affordability other than acknowledge that this was an expensive rebuild. If you can find a brand new bike of similar specifications for about S$ 5000, i'd recommend you to buy that instead of upgrading an old frameset.
Do note that high end road bike parts are still quite expensive as of March 2023 but if you attempt such a rebuild later on in 2023, there's potential for you to get good deals on parts. Highly recommend you to revisit the numbers before committing to a build like this.
Notes on Bike Shopping on a Budget
If you have the coin, nothing wrong spending on something you really want.
However, if you are on a tight budget, i'd recommend a second hand bike. We're lapping the Covid bike exuberance years and second hand market places are getting filled with great deals from cyclists leaving the hobby.
If you're willing to look for something that's older with rim brakes, there are some fantastic deals to be had.
I'm riding a bike that is entering its 5th year of service and the frameset is absolutely fantastic. Nothing wrong purchasing high quality framesets that are as old as mine if you find them at a good price.
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Happy to answer any questions you may have. Please leave them in the comment section below 👇.
@BOB BANKS : I set them up as clinchers. I have a lot of inner tubes and clincher tyres in storage. I probably won’t go tubeless because it comes with the hassle of needing to buy sealant and a blast pump. No issues riding clinchers and I’m fairly comfortable changing tubes in the event of a puncture. I also replace my tyres frequently which reduces my chances of a puncture. I have a bunch of expensive GP5000s but I will likely purchase cheap Lifeline Prime Race tyres from Wiggle / CRC. They’re 20W slower than GP5000s but honestly that’s fine. No trouble following fast rides on them and they’re cheap.
@BOB BANKS : The Elite are wide but I fitted old school 25mm tyres on them because my frameset can’t handle anything larger than that. I tried a 28mm but it ended up rubbing my brake calipers. There just isn’t enough tyre clearance on these old aero bikes for wider tyres.
Regarding the ratio, you’re right. Singapore is mostly flat and I rarely get above 500m elevation in 100km.
If you live somewhere hilly with a lot of climbs (like Chiang Mai, Thailand), I’d actually go with a 36T cassette and a 50-34 in the front. You would need a derailleur capable of handling that 36T though.
For me, 50-34 in front and 28 at the back isn’t enough for long steep climbs in excess of 7% average. I’m grinding when I should be spinning up. I’d want a 36T as a bailout gear.
Great writeup and nice work on the rebuild, also glad you didn’t toss that nice frame into the landfill.
Was curious to know if you went to larger tires with the new rims, i see they can handle upto 33mm, and also whether you went tubeless.
Also, are most of your rides relatively flat (<500meters per 100k) or with short hills, or are your knees just fine pushing a 36×30 up lots of hills? I know that’s not too extreme a ratio, but i’m pushing similar ratio of 34×28 up 500-1000m climbs and find it a bit hard on the knees, but also feel like the larger cranks as you bought would be better for the downhills!