Sep 28, 2023
Sep 28, 2023

Road bike groupsets: Which one is right for you?

There are many road bike groupsets available. But which one is suitable for you?

Road bike groupsets: Which one is right for you? Road bike groupsets: Which one is right for you?

Whether it's Shimano, SRAM or Campagnolo: We'll fill you in on everything you need to know about road bike groupsets, covering topics such as how they operate, their components, and the diverse mechanical and electronic models available from the top three manufacturers. So, whether you're a seasoned roadie or a newbie, we've got the information you need to take your rides to the next level!

What is included in a road bike groupset?

A road bike groupset comprises of brakes and drivetrain components. The drivetrain consists of the rear derailleur, usually front derailleur, and shifters, as well as the crankset, bottom bracket, chainrings, cassette, and chain. It moves the bike forward with your pedalling force. The brakes (hydraulic or mechanical disc or rim brakes) consist of brake callipers and levers. They slow down the bike and bring it to a controlled stop.

What is included in a road bike groupset? What is included in a road bike groupset?

How does a road bike group set work?

Well, it's all about the brake-shift levers, which combine braking and shifting in one lever for convenience. These levers are ergonomically placed on the curved part of your road bike handlebars. When you want to shift gears or brake, simply press the levers and the shifting or braking impulse will be sent to the appropriate part of your bike: the rear derailleur and front derailleur for shifting, and the brake callipers for braking.

For many decades, mechanical shifting was the only option for road bikes. However, in recent years, electronic road bike shifting has become available as alternative, providing a consistently precise function with perfect gear changes that don't require any readjustment.

2-by groupsets have two chainrings on the crankset. In this case, a signal from one of the brake/gear levers is sent to the front derailleur via a cable, wire or wireless mechanism. This pushes the chain onto the desired chainring. SRAM currently offers a 1-by option for road bikes as well. With a 1-by option, the front derailleur is obsolete. The 1-by option has the simplest mechanical system, resulting in robust functionality with very low susceptibility to errors.

Most road bikes use a double crankset. With the now common 11-speed or 12-speed cassettes, a triple crankset is no longer necessary to be able to ride at the appropriate gearing for every speed. Compact, Mid-Compact and Standard are common size options for 2-by cranksets.

  • Compact has 50 teeth on the large chainring and 34 on the small chainring. The gears therefore offer a more pleasant ride, especially on climbs.
  • Mid-Compact has 52 teeth on the large chainring and 36 on the small chainring.
  • Standard has 53 teeth on the large chainring and 39 teeth on the small chainring. The standard crankset is often used by professionals.

Tip: If you want to brush up on some basics before diving into the topic of road bike group sets, head over to our beginner's road bike buying guide.

Mechanical or electronic road bike shifting?

Mechanical shifting
Electronic shifting
Mechanical shifting
Electronic shifting

You can currently choose between two gear-shifting systems available in the market, which differ in the way the shifting signal is transmitted:

  • mechanical: The signal is transmitted using a system of gear cables
  • electronic: A wireless signal or cable transmits the shifting signal
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Mechanical shifting

Mechanical shifting is a classic choice for cyclists. These systems are lightweight and easier to repair than other systems if a cable breaks. They are also more affordable. However, the cables tend to wear out after many thousands of gear changes, and the shifting can become heavy if the cables are not routed perfectly. Regular readjustment is necessary to keep the system in good working condition, as the cables stretch over time. After a certain period of use, the cables and outer casings will need to be replaced.

Electronic shifting

An electronic shifting setup carries out the gear change process using a small electric motor. Once set up, the system works precisely without the need for readjustment. Unlike mechanical systems, practically no effort is required to change gear. There is no need to replace cable wires. Electronic gear-shifting systems enable a very sleek and "clean" look for road bikes.

However, electronic shifting systems require a battery that must be sufficiently charged to operate. A single charge usually lasts for many thousands of gear changes, so you should be safe if you regularly charge the battery. If you run out of battery or the signal isn’t reaching the derailleurs, there’s often no roadside fix available while you’re out.

How do Shimano and SRAM mechanical road bike shifting systems differ?

The operation of the mechanical groupsets from SRAM and Shimano is what sets them apart. Shimano uses a lateral movement of the whole brake lever to shift down, while shifting up is done using an additional smaller lever on the same lever. In contrast, SRAM separates the brake and shifting functions, so the shifter works in both directions. The technology known as "DoubleTap" by SRAM allows for shifting up by tapping the shifter. To shift down, you move the shifter beyond a certain point. Both systems have their advantages and disadvantages.

What is Shimano's best groupset?

Shimano Dura-Ace is the flagship among Shimano's road bike groupsets. It's no coincidence that the majority of professional bikes for the Tour de France and other major tours are equipped with Dura-Ace. Compared to Shimano's other groupsets, the material used for the Dura-Ace components makes the difference. A combination of aluminium, carbon, and titanium is used for the Dura-Ace. The complete groupset usually weighs less than 2,000 grams.

With Dura-Ace, you get the best of the best – but this comes at a price. You can choose between the mechanical or electronic (Di2) version of Dura-Ace. In comparison to Ultegra, the electronic shifting does not require cables.

These are the strengths of Shimano Dura-Ace at a glance:

  • Latest component generation with high innovation
  • Lightest weight
  • Professional equipment
  • Highest quality and manufacturing standards

Shimano, SRAM, Campagnolo: What’s the difference between the three major manufacturers?

The Japanese company Shimano is the largest manufacturer of shifting components. The high-quality Shimano road bike groupsets Dura-Ace, Ultegra and 105 are available in both mechanical and electronic versions. The electronic models are labelled "Di2".

SRAM is a US-based manufacturer of bicycle components. About 10 years after its founding in 1987, SRAM acquired the bicycle division of the German manufacturer Sachs, which had many years of experience in the production of shifting components. After serving mainly the mountain bike market for a long time, SRAM introduced two road bike and cyclocross groupsets for the first time in 2006: the SRAM Force and SRAM Rival. SRAM has repeatedly diversified and was the first provider to offer road bike groupsets with disc brakes, as well as 1-by groupsets. SRAM offers a wireless electronic version for every road bike groupset. These models are labelled “AXS”.

The Italian company Campagnolo, founded in the 1930s, is a symbol of tradition and specialises in road bike groupsets. The top models shift 12 gears at the back, which was one gear more than the competition for a long time.

Road bike groupsets overview - Shimano, SRAM, and Campagnolo

All three manufacturers offer multiple groupsets in different quality and price levels. Below you will find each manufacturer's road bike groupsets, sorted from the highest quality to the most affordable. The top groups of the manufacturers are Shimano Dura-Ace, SRAM Red, and Campagnolo Super Record.

In addition to the groupset names, the number of chainrings the crankset has is indicated for each one e.g. 1-by or 2-by, and how many cogs the cassette has. Currently, the three major manufacturers offer cassettes with up to 12 cogs. If some models have an electric counterpart, they will have the addition Di2 (Shimano), eTap AXS (SRAM), and EPS (Campagnolo) in their name.

Shimano road bike groupsets

Shimano's model range is the most extensive. From Dura-Ace to Tiagra, the groupsets are also available with disc brakes as an alternative to rim brakes:

  • Dura-Ace (Di2) with 2x11 or 2x12
  • Ultegra (Di2) with 2x11 or 2x12
  • 105 (Di2) with 2x11
  • Tiagra with 3x10 or 2x10
  • Sora with 3x9 or 2x9
  • Claris with 3x8 or 2x8
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Good to know: The compatibility of the individual groupsets within the Shimano range is especially interesting for those who want to upgrade their road bike themselves. As long as they have the same number of gears, elements of the different group sets can be combined with each other.

Shimano road bike groupsets Shimano road bike groupsets
SRAM road bike groupsets

SRAM has four models in its range and was the first manufacturer to offer a 1by system, which means a crankset with only one chainring. All models are also available with hydraulic disc brakes:

  • Red (eTap AXS): 1-by and 2-by, 11 and 12 speed options
  • Force (eTap AXS): 1-by and 2-by, 11 and 12 speed options
  • Rival (eTap AXS): 1-by and 2-by, 11 and 12 speed options
  • Apex: 1-by and 2-by, 10 and 11 speed options, new in 2023: Apex 12 speed and Apex AXS
SRAM road bike groupsets SRAM road bike groupsets
Campagnolo road bike group sets

Campagnolo offers five models and was the first manufacturer on the market to install cassettes with 12 cogs. From Super Record to Potenza, the models are also available with disc brakes as an option.

  • Super Record (EPS) with 2x12
  • Record (EPS) with 2x12
  • Chorus (EPS) with 2x11
  • Potenza with 2x11
  • Centaur with 2x11

Which road bike groupset is the best?

There is no single best road bike groupset as the quality levels of all three manufacturers are generally high. In terms of their functions, the shifting systems within their respective quality levels or price ranges are very similar. This is particularly true for electronic shifting.

When it comes to choosing the right road bike groupset for your desired bike, the principle applies: the more you invest, the better quality you get. Higher-priced groupsets have a lower weight, work more efficiently, and provide an even smoother shifting process. Entry-level models often use aluminium, which is sufficient for solid function. More expensive groupsets are made of high-quality aluminium alloys, with top models made of lightweight carbon or titanium.

The purchase and potential repair costs are higher for electronic shifting systems than for mechanical systems. However, both Shimano's Di2 and SRAM's eTap AXS technology are known for their robustness. Campagnolo's EPS shifting systems also have a reputation for reliable performance. Many riders who have experienced the benefits of a road bike with electronic shifting struggle to go back to mechanical setups due to the smooth and quick gear changes.

Which road bike groupset is the best? Which road bike groupset is the best?

Which road bike groupset should you buy?

To select the best road bike groupset available in the market, you should have a clear idea of your intended use. In the mid-range of the product lineups, you usually get the best value for your money. In the top models, you pay more but get high precision and performance with minimal weight. In general, you can expect that all components withing a groupset will work together well. If it ever becomes necessary to replace one of the bike parts, you should generally remain loyal to the groupset.

Low weight, higher price

The different ranges of road bike groupsets also come with different price tags. The significantly more expensive top models of the manufacturers are primarily lighter in weight.

With a lighter bike, you can accelerate and climb faster. However, the lightweight components must be correspondingly stiff and stable so that you can always ride safely. To ensure stiffness, strength, and durability at very low weight, the parts must be made of expensive materials and manufactured to very high-quality standards. While steel chains and aluminium dominate in entry-level groupsets, top models have titanium chains, high-quality aluminium, and carbon parts.

For example, Shimano’s three highest-quality model levels, Dura-Ace, Ultegra, and 105, are quite comparable in terms of function. The difference is the weight. Many professionals, therefore, use Ultegra or 105 on their training bikes.

Electronic systems for perfect shifting

When it comes to performance and comfort, high-end models have advantages as they shift more precisely, quickly, and smoothly. Perfect shifting is possible with electronic groupsets. In addition, shifting under load is significantly smoother. For many riders, this is an important criterion when climbing or riding in a standing position. In entry-level models, such a situation can result in a clunky and cumbersome shifting process.

The crankset, bottom bracket including bearings, and chainset in top models are generally lighter and stiffer. In particular, perfect crankset stiffness is required to efficiently transfer power from the pedals into forward movement. The same applies to the chainring. Large sprinters, therefore, prefer very stiff chainsets.

Spare parts, maintenance, lifespan, and total cost

The high-quality components of the mid-range groupsets last for a long time with proper maintenance. The chain and cassette are likely to be replaced multiple times over the entire lifespan of the road bike. You should take this into account because spare parts for top models, such as Shimano Dura-Ace, are more expensive than those for 105.

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