Whether you’re buying a new bike, or upgrading your current steed, the groupset will make a big difference to your enjoyment and speed. More expensive components mean less weight, easier shifting and greater comfort, but there are options available at every price point.
The leading manufacturers for these essential elements – the chainset, cassette, shifters, chain and derailleurs, are Shimano, SRAM and Campagnalo. Of the three, Shimano is most popular among our customers.
Before we begin, here’s a brief explanation of gearing systems:
Shifting between front gears makes for the greatest change in effort and speed. You can opt for a compact chain ring, a larger compact, a double, or a triple. The more teeth in the chainset, the higher the resistance, and the harder a pedal stroke will be – but do remember you’ll also have the assistance of your rear gears.
These days, the high majority of built bikes and components sold have 50/34 teeth. This ‘compact’ chainset has 50 teeth on the big ring, and 34 on the small.
The new kid on the block is the 52/36, and it’s becoming more and more popular, especially on higher end bikes, which in the past often used a standard double – a 53/39.
The triple is best for hilly terrain, and usually has around 50/39/30 teeth – giving you an extra gear for those steep inclines.
The rear gears are for fine tuning resistance. These can be 8, 9, 10 or 11 speed. You can give yourself more choice with a wider ratio cassette.
For example, if you have Ultegra chainset, the two ends of the scale would be an 11-32 and an 11-23. An 11-32 cassette will give you more gears for tackling hills, but the jump between gears will be much greater. Comparatively, an 11-23 won’t have so many ‘get out of jail’ gears for steep hills, but the shifting will be very smooth as the number of teeth on each cog goes up in smaller increments.
If you’re new to cycling, and just getting used to shifting on a road bike, check out our post on using your gears.
>>This article is from 2014. View our 2017 ‘complete guide to Shimano road groupsets and their hierarchy’ here.<<
The Shimano Hierarchy
Shimano make quality components that fit out a good percentage of bikes in the pro peloton. However, they are fully aware that not everyone is willing or able to fork out for pro-worthy components. Groupsets begin with Claris – which is still good quality and hard-working, then work up to Dura Ace, which has a strong presence on the professional racing scene, and there are plenty of options along the way. Here’s a look at what you get for your cash at each level:
Introduced around this time last year, Shimano Claris 2400 replaced the simply named entry-level ‘2300’ groupset. With more and more people buying bikes for commuting and sportives, it became important for Shimano to focus on and at last provide a name for their entry level range.
Claris is 8 speed and comes in various configurations, with compact and triple options available. The range includes everything from shifters (shaped as per the next step up, Tiagra), to hubs and brake callipers. Shimano hope this will encourage bike manufacturers to spec a bike with the full Claris range, rather than swapping out components such as brakes for cheaper options.
Fitted on the high majority of bikes in the £600 to £850 range, Sora groupsets have come on in leaps and bounds in recent years.
What was once an 8 speed shifting system which used a lever to swipe to a bigger cog and a button to shift to a smaller cog, is now a 9 speed system with dual control. Dual control also features on the lower spec Claris, and just means all the shifting comes from the levers – which is simpler to use.
The Sora groupset can come in a compact or triple chainring configuration, and cassettes available range from a 14-25, through to the 11-32 which will have you sorted on a hilly ride.
Reach on the levers can be adjusted with extra spacers, and the entire system is painted in black.
Tiagra has long been the gearing of choice for sub £1k road bikes. Tiagra comes in 8, 9 and 10 speed (the addition of 10 speed came in 2012), and is available in double, triple and compact options.
Designed for entry level riders, Tiagra still offers crisp and sharp gear changes, and is robust enough to survive years of commuting, and tough sportives.
Moving up the scale, 105 is a popular choice that is ahead of the entry level options in terms of quality, weight and longevity, but not so much so that the price is too much of a deterrent. The most affordable of the Shimamo road groupsets not classed as ‘entry level’, 105 is a big seller and the difference from Tiagra will be noticeable with quicker shifting and stiffer crankset.
A 105 groupset isn’t too posh for commuting, but it won’t look out of place on the start line of a race. It’s a 10 speed groupset, and can be combined with a double, compact or triple chain ring. For 2015, 105 is going 11 speed, and a fair amount of 2012 Dura Ace technology has filtered down to the newest 105 systems.
At the 105 price point, you won’t have a window on the shifter to show you which gear you are in:
A carbon framed bike with Shimano 105 groupset will probably set you back about £1,500, whilst an alloy with 105 will probably come in at around £1,000.
On the next rung of the ladder comes Shimano Ultegra, a strong favourite amongst racers and those after a strong, crisp shift, stiff cranks on the chianset, and prompt braking that bites the wheel rim.
The newest version of Ultegra is designed to be tuned to the rider – with an 11 speed cassette that can go from 11-23 (small gaps between gears, but smaller big ring so fewer low gears) to 11-32 – which will give a good range of smaller gears and would be used for either a very hilly sportive or cyclocross riding.
The Ultegra groupset is lighter than the cheaper options, and a shorter stroke at the lever makes shifting more effortless. Ultegra shifters offer a decisive click at the point of gear change for confidence inspiring assurance.
For those looking to step out of the mechanical world, and into electronic shifting, Ultegra is available with Di2 shifting.
SHIMANO DURA ACE:
Top of the range Dura Ace offers notably improved shifting which clicks securely into place at the effortless ping of the lever. Dura Ace, however, comes with a price tag to match its excellence.
Used by professional racers, Dura Ace offers the lightest Shimano components in the range, and the shifters are the most comfortable to ride due to careful ergonomic shaping.
For those wanting absolute perfection, Dura Ace can come equipped for electronic Di2 shifting, too.
Got questions? Post them in the comments below, and we’ll answer as soon as we can…