SHIMANO VS SRAM

Shaun George BOTS Guides

The fight to dominate the cycling component industry has had stiff competition from, primarily SRAM and SHIMANO over the years. Campagnolo – the latest entrant to the bicycle componentry industry has proved itself but has not hit the kind of popularity levels that SRAM and Shimano have. Representing the Japanese is Shimano – representing the Americans is SRAM. Shimano is the worldwide leader in bicycle components with a 50% share of the global market. They do however also extend their product range to sport fishing and rowing equipment, although the biggest portion of their revenue comes from bicycle components. SRAM on the other hand, sells only bicycle components and offers them primarily to the high-end segment of riders. They have gained a stronger foothold in the mountain biking community in recent years.

FIGHT FOR THE CROWN

In present times, Shimano has had somewhat of a stronger hold on the bicycling market than SRAM has. Constant innovation and the nature of a competitive market has pulled us out of the primitive ages of the 3×7 drivetrains and cantilever brakes. Both companies offer highly advanced drivetrains and groupsets. Recently, though, SRAM had taken Shimano by surprise by launching its much-awaited 12-speed drivetrains. Shimano was lethargic to react and launched their 12-speed drivetrains only much later.

Shimano Dura-ace Vs SRAM RED

While Shimano has an overall larger market share, it’s SRAM that is dominating the high-end bicycle market. Shimano, on the other hand, is catering primarily to the entry-level and mid-range market. Especially here in India, a majority of the bikes sold come equipped with Shimano groupsets. This is mainly because of the fact that a majority of the bikes sold in India are entry-level and mid-range bikes.

The latest fad with component manufacturers is electronic drivetrains. While both manufacturers have road and MTB electronic drivetrains. It’s the electric road drivetrains that have really gained popularity, especially amongst the professionals. Currently, SRAM’s main competition in this domain is Shimano’s Di2 drivelines.

Shimano Di2 can effectively turn a 2×11 groupset into a single-shifter set-up by the use of a programmable automatic front derailleur. SRAM’s comeback is the development of a wireless eTap Eagle, which has already been used to effect at many World Cup races.

WHO’S BETTER?

This is a question every rider wants to know the answer to. It’s something you can’t really answer – every rider will have their own preference. Both manufacturers are doing a stellar job at groupsets and the numbers speak for themselves. At some point in life, all riders have come across/used both Shimano and SRAM equipped bikes. In doing so, you’ve formed your own impressions and likes/dislikes towards a manufacturer. That’s why this is a very subjective topic.

We can, however, tell you what separates the two apart.

SRAM's 1:1 actuation

The key difference between SRAM and Shimano groupsets is the shifting actuation – the distance between shifts relative to the lever index.

SRAM’s design uses a 1:1 actuation ratio. This means that for each millimeter of cable moved in the shifter, an equal millimeter will be moved in the derailleur. This allows a greater acceptance in off-road conditions.

On the other hand, Shimano uses a 1:2 actuation ratio for it’s shifting systems. This means that for every one millimeter of movement in the cable there will be two millimeters of corresponding movement in the rear derailleur. 
SRAM enthusiasts believe that SRAM’s shifting technology is crisp and extremely accurate. The Shimano fans believe that Shimano’s shifting technology is far superior in terms of lever-action and smoothness. Both manufacturers have their own strengths and weaknesses – every rider too, has his/her own personal preferences.

KEY COMPONENT DIFFERENCES

SHIFTERS

Shimano and SRAM use different lever designs to accomplish upshifts and downshifts. Shimano uses its proprietary STI shifters that separate the control of up and downshifts between two different shift levers. The brake lever itself pivots inwards to act as an up/downshift lever.

SRAM RED shifters

Instead of two separate levers, SRAM’s DoubleTap system uses a single paddle-shaped lever behind the brake lever to handles both up and downshifts. Pushing this lever one click inward shifts the drivetrain in one direction. Pushing the lever further in, past the first click, causes the drivetrain to shift in the opposite direction. 

CRANKSETS

Shimano has its own crankset standard known as HollowTech. This technology basically consists of a hollow, aluminum crank arm, generally made from two halves joined together. It maintains the stiffness of a solid crank arm while significantly decreasing the weight.

SRAM, on the other hand, uses carbon fiber cranks for its higher-end offerings. Both materials and crank designs perform well. Carbon is currently more common for high-end cranks. Shimano is one of the few manufacturers that stick to aluminum. It claims the Hollowtech II design offers the same performance as carbon with greater durability.

DRIVETRAINS

In the world of road biking, Shimano has and still is dominating the market. This is primarily due to the fact that Shimano components have higher availability all over the world than compared to SRAM. Shimano has also successfully been able to dominate the entry-level – enthusiast section of the cycling market; a majority of Shimano’s popularity is due to its share in the beginner level groupsets for roadies. SRAM does not have road drivetrains in the beginner level category yet. Shimano also manufacturers on a much larger scale than compared to SRAM as Shimano components are cheaper to use as OEM parts.

When it comes to MTB driveline technologies SRAM has always been one step ahead of the game. Shimano initially resisted the move to 1x drivetrains, believing that more traditional 2x drivetrains provided a more usable range when riding off-road. Shimano was able to eliminate many of the issues mountain bikers had with front derailleurs (vague feeling shifting, dropped chains) with its side-swing front derailleurs.

But it was SRAM that brought 1x drivetrains into the mainstream with its innovative XX1 group. Single-chainring drivetrains are now the most popular option for modern mountain bikes because of their increased simplicity and reliability. These drivetrains have even found a place on many cyclocross and gravel bikes.

SRAM MTB groupset

The only minor downside for some riders using 11-speed 1x drivetrains is the reduced gear range.  The release of SRAM’s Eagle technology drivetrains solved this issue by introducing an ample 500% gear range that has largely eliminated this issue.

GROUPSET HIERARCHY

SHIMANO (Road)

  • Entry-level Shimano groupsets: Claris, Sora, and Tiagra
  • Performance Shimano groupsets: 105 and Ultegra
  • Pro-level Shimano groupsets: Dura-Ace

SRAM (Road)

  • Entry-level SRAM groupsets: Apex
  • Performance SRAM groupsets: Rival, Force, and Force eTap AXS
  • Pro-level SRAM groupsets: RED, RED eTap and RED eTap AXS

SHIMANO (MTB)

  • Entry-level SHIMANO groupsets: Alivio, Deore
  • Performance SHIMANO groupsets: SLX (1/2/3×11), and Deore XT (1/2/3×11)
  • Pro-level SHIMANO groupsets: XTR (1/2/3×11), XTR Di2 (1/2/3×11), and XTR 12-speed (M9100)

SRAM (MTB)

  • Entry-level SRAM groupsets: X5, X7, and X9
  • Performance SRAM groupsets: NX (1×11), NX Eagle (1×12)
  • GX (1×11), and GX Eagle (1×12)
  • Pro-level SRAM groupsets: XO (10-speed), XO1 (1×11), XO Eagle (1×12), XX (10-speed), XX1 (1×11), XX Eagle (1×12), and Eagle eTap

POPULARITY

CategoryShimanoSRAM
Road Bikes76.0%18.5%
Cyclocross / Gravel Bikes51.1%46.9%
Mountain Bikes27.7%71.5%

Here is some data collected by The Pro’s Closet. It clearly shows that Shimano and SRAM make up over 90% of all bike groupsets sold. Campagnolo is the next largest but only contributes to a small fraction of worldwide sales.

The data also shows trends such as SRAM having become the dominant choice for mountain bikers – which is likely due to the increased popularity of its 1x drivetrains. Shimano, however, has maintained its firm hold over the roadies, which it has dominated for decades.

In conclusion, we’d like to say that both brands have established themselves very well amongst cyclists here in India. Shimano has managed to gain a stronger foothold here, especially with their road bike groupsets. SRAM has also done very well amongst the likes of MTB riders. Over the last decade, SRAM has pursued drivetrain innovation more aggressively than Shimano and it is yet to be seen as to what 2020 has in store for us cyclists.

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