ROAD BIKE GROUPSETS – BUYERS GUIDE

Shaun George BOTS Guides

What’s a groupset? Which one is right for me? Why pay so much? What’s the difference? These are all probably questions that popped up in your head when you opened this article. Worry not, we’re here to answer all these questions and more. we’re going to take your through everything you need to know about road bike groupsets.

WHAT IS A GROUPSET?

​A groupset is a collection of bike components designed to work together to drive and stop your bike. It usually refers to the gears and brakes on your bike.

Groupsets are categorized by manufacturers and also by name into different levels of price and performance to form hierarchies. This makes buying replacement parts easier and also is a way of identifying the level of performance a bike is aimed at.

Groupset components are often not made by bicycle manufacturers themselves. Instead, they are made by groupset specific manufacturers such as Shimano, SRAM, and Campagnolo, each of who have driven the development of cycling for many decades. 

COMPONENTS IN A GROUPSET

  1. Shifters
  2. Chainset
  3. Cassette
  4. Derailleurs
  5. Brakes
  6. Bottom bracket
  7. Chain

TOP GROUPSET MANUFACTURERS

Whilst we know that it’s primarily Shimano, SRAM, and Campagnolo that are dominating the groupset market, it’s worth mentioning that there are other smaller players in this market.

Japanese giant Shimano is the most popular groupset manufacturer with a range of groupsets at different prices. They also happen to be the world’s biggest cycle groupset manufacturer. They make components for Tour de France-winning machines through to shopping bikes and everything in between.

Shimano Ultegra

They’re constantly updating their groupsets too, with the newest features debuting first on its top-end groupset, Dura-Ace, before eventually trickling down through the range.

Chances are, that your bicycle is running a Shimano groupset too (at least partially). Why do we say partially? Well, that’s because most bicycles, even the high-end ones, don’t have a “complete groupset”. What this means is that manufacturers will often mix and match components on their bicycles.

A “complete groupset” is rare on a bike as mixing and matching save costs for bicycle manufacturers. If you look closely at your own bicycle, you’ll see that it’s drivetrain is either Shimano or Sram. The brakes, hubs, cassette, and chain are most likely from different, smaller manufacturers.

SRAM RED eTap

SRAM are the newest players in the market but have quickly come up with a series of high-performance bicycle parts that have quickly gained a wide fan base from recreational to professional usage.

Campagnolo on the other hand, are the world’s oldest manufacturer of cycle gears and they are the company that actually invented the rear derailleur! They’re seen as more of a boutique brand thanks to their well reputed premium offerings.

Campagnolo Potenza

They produce professional-level components for some of the world’s top cycling teams, but they also make stuff for regular ‘weekend warriors’ like most of us.

FUN FACT: A Campagnolo Chorus chain and cassette (if well looked after) can easily last upto 13,000-15,000Kms. To put things into perspective, a Shimano Tiagra chain will last upto a maximum of around 2,000-4,000Kms.

GROUPSET HIERARCHIES

Credits – Bike Exchange

SHIMANO GROUPSET HEIRARCHY

  1. Claris
  2. Sora
  3. Tiagra
  4. 105
  5. Ultegra
  6. Ultegra Di2 (electronic shifting)
  7. Dura-Ace
  8. Dura-Ace Di2 (electronic shifting)

SRAM GROUPSET HEIRARCHY

  1. Apex
  2. Rival
  3. Force
  4. Force eTap/eTap AXS (electronic shifting)
  5. Red
  6. Red eTap/eTap AXS (electronic shifting)

CAMPAGNOLO GROUPSET HIERARCHY

  1. Veloce
  2. Centaur
  3. Athena
  4. Chorus
  5. Chorus EPS (electronic shifting)
  6. Record
  7. Record EPS (electronic shifting)
  8. Super Record
  9. Super Record EPS (electronic shifting)

WHAT IS ELECTRONIC SHIFTING?

You’ve probably heard of electronic shifting these days. Electronic shifting essentially works via wires attached to the shifters and derailleurs that transfer a signal, or via wireless technology similar to Bluetooth or ANT+ devices.

SRAM’s RED eTap – look, no cables!

The benefits of electronic shifting are the precise shifting, the lack of deviation from the set adjustment, easier shifting at the lever, decreased cable routing difficulty, programmable shifting, and downloadable information on shifting habits and efficiency.

The downside of electronic shifting is the system breaking down if batteries are not charged, high prices, and generally heavier weight when compared to their mechanical counterparts.

FUN FACT: SRAM’s electronic eTap system is completely wireless whereas, Shimano’s electronic Di2 groupsets do have wired cables.

WHICH ONE DO I NEED?

Road bikes are built with performance and sheer speed in mind, at least most of them are. The great thing about road bikes is that you don’t need to be a super-strong, fast, or powerful to ride one. Anyone can get into road cycling. Road bike and groupset manufacturers have realized that, which is why there’s a groupset for everyone.

LEISURE/FITNESS RIDERS

It’s more about ease of use than finish and weight. As these bikes don’t usually see a great deal of sustained use. You might want to consider a basic/low-end groupset here, they are perfect for leisure riders. They offer impressive performance at an inexpensive price. Gearing also tends to be lower so although there will be fewer gears there will be a good enough spread to cover most gradients and terrain.

REGULAR/ENTHUSIAST RIDERS

Durability with good performance will be the key. A mid-price groupset will offer great rewards. Anything a couple of tiers from the top-end will offer lots of trickle-down technology with only a slight weight penalty and a more wallet-friendly price.

Performance is usually on a par with the top-end. The only difference that’s noticeable will be in back-to-back tests. Cassettes and chains are often more hard-wearing then top-end with minimal weight penalties making them much more attractive to racers also.

RACERS

The lightest best performing groupset is the goal. Top-end groupsets are packed with all the latest features in the lightest package. Performance is better with gears and brakes much more precise and smoother. Chainsets often tend to be stiffer for better power transfer.

However, consumable parts such as chains and cassettes can wear out at an alarming rate on high-end groupsets so many riders use lower tier chains and cassettes for better wear and money-saving.

WHAT DO YOU PAY FOR?

After seeing all that, you’re probably wondering, what’s the difference?

All kinds of groupsets are aimed at different levels of riders and usage – their price reflects this. Materials and finish are also a factor, with exotic, lightweight materials saved for the top-end versions, where performance and weight reduction is paramount over price.

Almost all of the innovation and R&D goes into the top flight groupsets which then trickle down over the years through to the lower groupsets. This means that most of today’s mid-price groupsets have features that were only available to professional riders a few years ago. Even low-end groupsets are now packed with features that were unthinkable of, a few years ago.


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