A road bike groupset is the collection of components that make you stop and go – in other words, the drivetrain, shifters and brakes.
Plenty of companies make bike components, but the market is dominated by three main brands: Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo.
Despite the differences between the brands, the components all do the same job, even if there are some subtle variations in how they approach their specific tasks.
We’ll start this buyer’s guide by explaining the different groupsets available in their hierarchies, then go into greater detail on the individual components, and how they differ between brands. We’ll finish by explaining the benefits of the more expensive groupsets and discussing compatibility.
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If the precise differences between bike components don’t interest you and you’re just looking for some straightforward bike buying advice, start here with our beginner-friendly guide to different types of bike.
If you’re sure you want a road bike, but need some general advice on what to look out for, head over to our best road bikes guide.
Happy to talk groupsets? Keep reading.
What is a groupset?
A groupset comprises all the mechanical parts for your bike – so basically everything except the frame, fork, wheels, handlebar, seatpost and saddle.
You can buy a complete groupset or the individual components and there’s some possibility to mix and match between groupsets, although many items are not intercompatible.
When you buy a new bike, a bike maker will often sub in some cheaper parts with a groupset, so you might for example get a chainset that’s from a different level or even a different brand from the rest of the groupset.
The components of a full groupset are:
- Crankset (also called the chainset)
- Bottom bracket (the bearings in the frame on which the crankset spins)
- Brake levers/shift levers, usually combined
- Rear derailleur
- Front derailleur
- Cassette (the gear sprockets at the rear of the bike)
There’s an explainer of each component and more groupset specifics later in this post.
Shimano groupsets: different levels explained
Shimano is the oldest and most widely used of the three main brands. It began life in Japan in 1921 when Shozaburo Shimano decided to start making freewheels in a rented corner of a demolished celluloid factory.
Fast-forward to today, and it’s become so successful that Shimano now accounts for half of the global bike components industry.
Shimano road groupset hierarchy:
- Claris: 8-speed
- Sora: 9-speed
- Tiagra: 10-speed
- 105: 11-speed
- Ultegra: 11-speed
- Ultegra Di2: 11-speed electronic
- Dura-Ace: 11-speed
- Dura-Ace Di2: 11-speed electronic
Shimano gravel groupset hierarchy:
- GRX RX400: 10-speed
- GRX RX600: 11-speed (apart from 10-speed version of crank)
- GRX RX810: 11-speed
- GRX RX815: 11-speed electronic
Entry-level Shimano groupsets: Claris, Sora and Tiagra
The Shimano component range starts with the budget-priced Claris, which is usually found on the most affordable bikes available.
Claris is an 8-speed system (eight gears at the rear) combined with either a double or triple crankset (two or three gears at the front).
Next is Sora, which can also be found on entry-level bikes and is a 9-speed system available in either standard double cranksets or a wide-range triple.
Then comes Tiagra, a 10-speed groupset that offers a near-105 experience, but economises in specific areas, for example with one-piece brake pads rather than higher quality cartridge pads.
Since 2019, Tiagra has included its own hydraulic disc brakes with levers that resemble those of 105. These replaced the lumpy non-series RS405 option.
The latest Shimano Tiagra 4700 groupset deals
Performance Shimano groupsets: 105 and Ultegra
Shimano 105 is the most affordable performance-focused groupset from the Japanese firm, and comes on many mid-market road bikes.
This 11-speed group is considered by many riders to be the best combination of performance, durability and value.
The launch of the latest 105 R7000 groupset brought matching hydraulic levers and disc brakes. Previously, the unlovely RS505 levers were considered 105-equivalent.
The latest Shimano 105 R7000 groupset deals
Shimano Ultegra sits one level below the professional-level Dura-Ace.
This 11-speed groupset has many of the same design features as the range-topping Dura-Ace and offers all the performance most riders will ever need, but is slightly heavier than Dura-Ace.
Like Dura-Ace, Ultegra includes both Di2 electronic shifting and hydraulic disc options in addition to traditional mechanical shifting and rim brakes.
Ultegra previously included RX clutch-equipped versions of its mechanical and electronic derailleurs, but dedicated gravel functionality can now be found with Shimano’s GRX range (see below).
The latest Shimano Ultegra R8000 groupset deals
Pro-level Shimano groupsets: Dura-Ace
Shimano Dura-Ace is the pinnacle of Shimano’s range and features on many top-level pro machines.
It offers 11-speed gearing and combines top-end design with lightweight materials, such as high-grade alloys, carbon fibre and titanium.
It is available in rim brake, disc brake, mechanical shifting and Di2 electronic shifting configurations. There is also an optional power meter, the R9100-P.
Shimano is the only brand at present whose range-topping road groupset is still 11-speed. A new 12-speed Shimano Dura-Ace groupset has been in the rumour mill for several years and, while it’s yet to be released, it has now been spotted in the wild.
The latest Shimano Dura-Ace R9100 groupset deals
Shimano GRX gravel components
In May 2019, Shimano announced a range of components under the name GRX aimed at gravel, adventure and bikepacking.
Shimano GRX offers lower gears better suited to these riding disciplines and, in a first for Shimano, ready-made 1× gearing options (i.e. with a single chainring at the front).
GRX isn’t a groupset per se, it’s a range of components that complements Shimano’s existing groupsets, with components at Tiagra, 105, Ultegra and Ultegra Di2 levels. The naming scheme looks like this:
- Tiagra level: RX400
- 105 level: RX600
- Ultegra level: RX800 (Ultegra mechanical shifters are ST-RX810, Ultegra Di2 shifters are ST-RX815)
GRX includes dedicated hydraulic levers, cyclocross-style inline levers, clutch-equipped Shadow RD+ rear derailleurs, front derailleurs and 1× and 2× cranks.
The latest Shimano GRX groupset deals
SRAM groupsets: different levels explained
SRAM came to the fore during the mountain biking boom of the late eighties and established itself off the back of its lightweight GripShift shifters.
SRAM introduced its lightweight RED road groupset in 2007 and now produces an extensive range of components for road and cyclocross bikes alongside its mountain bike groupsets.
SRAM’s road groupset range comprises four main groups: Apex, Rival, Force and RED (in ascending order of price). All of its road groupsets now include a hydraulic disc brake option. Its three top-tier groupsets – Rival, Force and RED – are also available in 12-speed wireless electronic variants.
With the focus on electronic groupsets, SRAM hasn’t made major updates to its mechanical groupset range for some years now and, as a result, it’s looking a little long in the tooth.
SRAM groupset hierarchy:
- Apex: 10-speed
- Apex 1: 11-speed
- Rival: 11-speed
- Rival eTap AXS: 12-speed wireless electronic
- Force: 11-speed
- Force eTap AXS: 12-speed wireless electronic
- RED: 11-speed
- RED eTap: 11-speed
- RED eTap AXS: 12-speed wireless electronic
SRAM XPLR gravel groupset hierarchy:
- Rival eTap AXS XPLR: 12-speed wireless electronic
- Force eTap AXS XPLR: 12-speed wireless electronic
- RED eTap AXS XPLR: 12-speed wireless electronic
Entry-level SRAM groupsets: Apex
Apex is a 10-speed group that features SRAM’s WiFli system. WiFli offers a wide gear range – between 11 and 32 teeth – for the rear cassette (certain SRAM road derailleurs will go as high as a 36t big cog).
That allows SRAM to offer the wide range of gears usually found by using a triple front chainring setup without the extra weight and complexity of a triple. Once a unique selling point for SRAM, other manufacturers are now offering similar setups.
SRAM also offers its Apex group in 1×11 gearing, calling it Apex 1. That is to say, just one chainring at the front and 11 gears at the rear. An Apex 1 rear derailleur can accommodate a cassette with a large 42-tooth cog.
The latest SRAM Apex groupsets deals
Performance SRAM groupsets: Rival, Rival eTap AXS, Force, and Force eTap AXS
Next up the line is Rival, which can also use a wide range WiFli rear derailleur and cassette, but is made from lighter materials than Apex.
Rival is 11-speed and it can be found with a more common two chainrings at the front (2×11) or just one (1×11).
In 2021 SRAM launched Rival eTap AXS. It adds a third tier to SRAM’s wireless electronic 12-speed groupset line-up and uses much of the same tech as SRAM’s pricier options, offering app-based configuration via a smartphone and a power meter. It’s the cheapest option if you want to go electronic, significantly undercutting Shimano Ultegra Di2.
The latest SRAM Rival groupset deals
Going up in spec one level, SRAM’s Force group uses lightweight materials such as high-grade alloys and carbon fibre to be a very competitive gear setup.
Like Rival, it’s an 11-speed groupset that can be configured with two chainrings at the front for more gearing range, or one chainring at the front for simplicity. It is still a very popular OEM spec option on gravel and cyclocross bikes.
In 2019, SRAM added Force eTap AXS to its range, a 12-speed wireless groupset that competes directly with Shimano Ultegra Di2 and offers a power meter option.
Force eTap AXS was initially launched as a pure road groupset but, in 2020, SRAM added lower and wider-range gearing options to cater to gravel and adventure riders. These compete directly with Shimano’s GRX range.
The latest SRAM Force eTap AXS groupset deals
Pro-level SRAM groupsets: RED, RED eTap and RED eTap AXS
SRAM’s RED group is a proven pro-level 11-speed groupset and has been ridden to victory in the Tour de France on numerous occasions. It was launched as a direct competitor to Shimano Dura-Ace and Campagnolo Super Record.
SRAM RED components use super-light materials throughout, including high-grade alloys, plenty of carbon fibre, titanium and even ceramic bearings. SRAM RED is also available in a WiFli option, allowing for an ultra-wide range of gears.
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Esta nota fué publicada originalmente el día: 2021-08-25 16:00:00