COMPLETE GUIDE TO SHIMANO ROAD & MOUNTAIN GROUPSETS

Shaun George BOTS Guides

You’ve probably heard of Shimano at some point in your life. Originally established as “Shimano Iron Works“, Shozaburo Shimano began manufacturing bicycle freewheels – over the decades laid the foundation for a company now that is the largest bicycle component manufacturer in the world. Shimano is now known for its bicycle drivetrains and groupsets. A majority of the bicycles produced today feature either a Shimano drivetrain or some other Shimano groupset component.

Today we’re going to talk groupsets. Shimano groupsets to be specific.

GROUPSET?

A groupset or Gruppo (Italian for “group”) is a component manufacturer’s organized collection of mechanical parts. It generally refers to all of the components that make up a bicycle excluding the bicycle frame, fork, stem, wheels, tires, and rider contact points, like the saddle and handlebars.

The groupset enables you to transfer power from your legs to the rear wheel to move and also slow down. Groupsets vary significantly with discipline, with road and mountain bikes requiring different features from their respective groupsets.

Road groupsets and mountain bike groupsets have significant differences, catering to their riding styles, with strength, weight and gear ratios varying in between the two.

Pricing can vary enormously between groupsets and reflects the performance gains to be made. The greater the price, the more features, lighter weight, and better materials. 

COMPONENTS IN A GROUPSET

A groupset typically includes the following:

  1. Chainset
  2. Bottom Bracket
  3. Brakes
  4. Brake levers/ shifters
  5. Derailleurs
  6. Chain
  7. Cassette

At the entry-level end of the road bike market, Shimano’s Claris and Sora groupsets provide reliable performance and durability as a low-cost alternative. These groupsets have been benefiting from technology and performance that trickles down from the more premium groupsets such as the Ultegra variant.

On the other end of the spectrum, the brand’s range-topping Dura-Ace series provides the ultimate in road bike performance, fit for the biggest races in the world – it’s the Ultegra and 105 groupsets that cater for more budget-conscious racers and endurance riders.

SHIMANO ROAD GROUPSET HIERARCHY

Claris – The Shimano Claris groupset is one of the lower-priced gearing options in the brand’s hierarchy. Sporting dual-control levers like the Tiagra above, Claris keeps things very simple with a triple or compact cassette set-up that focuses on low gear ratios to make hills relatively easy. There are eight sprockets on the cassette so there are always going to be bigger shift jumps between gears, compared to the nine-speed Shimano Sora or the 10-speed Shimano Tiagra. A majority of the bikes sold in India at an entry-level price point come equipped with the Shimano Claris. It’s easy to maintain and provides crisp performance.

Sora – The Sora groupset had a major facelift in 2017. It now resembles the higher groups in the range visually, with its four-arm crankset, and a similar grey finish. Though It’s a 9-speed groupset, it’s still excellent for the money; it just weighs a bit more than the higher end groupsets.

You have double and triple chainset options in the front – the rear derailleur can accommodate an 11-32t cassette along with a 50/34t compact chainset. Other similarities with the more expensive groupsets include the Hollowtech 2 bottom bracket, with outboard bearings.

Tiagra – In 2019, Shimano brought about some changes to the Tiagra groupset. These changes bring with it the appearance of the Shimano 105, with the same four-arm crankset and new shifters. The brake and gear cables are hidden underneath the bar tape. Along with the drop-bar kit, Tiagra will also be available with flat bar levers and shifters, so you’ll see it on commuter and city bikes as well.

105 – The workhorse of the group and the middle point of the road hierarchy, 105 is the perfect groupset for the weekend rider or beginner in the world of road racing. Due to its versatility, 105 components can be found on bikes across a plethora of price points and are often combined with other, cheaper components. For 2019 the 105 received a facelift with a sleek, angular look.

The Shimano Sora vs Tiagra vs 105 is one of the most debated arguments that roadies have before considering a bike with either of the entry-level groupsets. Rightfully so, these groupsets are very similar to each other and even performance wise offer very similar performance.

Ultegra/Ultegra Di2 Another Shimano groupset offered with either electronic and mechanical shifting, Ultegra offers very high performance without busting the bank. Ultegra has become the favorite of the amateur racers and all-rounders that require fantastic performance but aren’t as fussed about shaving off as many grams as possible. Ultegra is ridiculously versatile, allowing cassettes from 11-23t all the way to 11-34t and ensuring Ultegra can be utilized by racers and adventure riders and everyone else in between.

The Ultegra Di2 is the Shimano entry-level for electronic shifting and is a brilliant option for those looking for their first bike with Di2.

Dura-Ace/Dura-Ace Di2 At the top of the pile is Dura-Ace, the original 11-speed and Shimano’s premium groupset. There is the option for electronic Di2 or mechanical gearing, with both varieties sporting the same brakes, chains, and other non-shifting components.

What sets Dura-Ace Di2 apart is the new ‘Synchronised Shift’ feature, taken from Shimano MTB Di2 systems. Synchronized shift allows the rider to change gears on both the front and rear derailleurs rapidly from a single shift

SHIMANO MTB GROUPSET HIERARCHY

Acera – At the foot of the lineup you have the Acera that is found on budget mountain and hybrid bikes. It’s limited by its 9-speed set-up, heavyweight, old-style bottom bracket and its lower cassette capacity of 36t. That being said, it’s not designed to be a performer, it’s designed to be the most user-friendly, versatile and durable groupset out there due to its target market of new cyclists/beginners.

Alivio – Offering a 9-speed cassette able to fit sprocket sizes up to and including 36t, Alivio groupsets are available with hydraulic, mechanical (discs)or V brake set-ups and differentiate itself from the lowest-level Acera by sporting RapidFire shifters, lighter overall weight and an upgraded rear derailleur system for smoother, quicker shifting.

Deore The Deore groupset remains 10-speed, but it counters this effectively via the ability to support 42t on the cassette, giving the groupset a high gear range that falls out of the usual capabilities of a 10-speed.

SLX – The SLX is equipped with many of the best features from the Deore XT and XTR groupsets, SLX is another that can be run with triple, double or single chainsets. It’s an 11-speed cassette that can be paired with a 1-by, 2-by or the old school 3-by chainrings.

Deore XT/Deore XT Di2 – Deore XT is available in a 12-speed format (through the use of Shimano’s “Micro Spline” technology, with a wide range cassette and a twin or single pot brake caliper option.

Deore XTR/Deore XTR Di2 The top of the MTB hierarchy, Deore XTR is offered in both mechanical and electronic Di2 concepts that both give the rider incredibly precise and quick-fire shifting. It works off a single shifter, allowing you to focus more on the technique without having to concern yourself with finding the right gear.

The Di2 option rocks ANT Bluetooth connectivity, digital display, and Synchronised shifting.

There is a huge gear range of up to 42t, enhanced further by the inclusion of a Shadow RD plus rear derailleur improving shifting considerably.

Strong hydraulic disc brakes and Hollowtech II cranksets complete a truly excellent off-roading package that balances durability and performance brilliantly to offer a smooth and responsive riding experience. 


Shimano certainly knows a thing or two when it comes to groupsets and quality bicycle components. Shimano has spent almost 100 years meticulously innovating and developing products available on the cycling market. It’s no surprise that a majority of the bikes manufactured these days come with Shimano OEM components.

It’s interesting to note that there are plenty of Shimano fakes available in the Indian market which retails at lower price points and is also notorious for low quality, mechanical failures and is an overall threat to your safety while you’re out on a ride. Make sure you purchase these items from trusted sources which are authorized Shimano reseller points.

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