Shimano Road Groupsets: The Hierarchy

 

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.

 

 >>Shop Shimano Groupsets<<

 

Before we begin, here’s a brief explanation of gearing systems:

Front gears

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.

Rear gears

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.<<

 

>> Shimano 105, Ultegra or Dura-Ace? <<

 

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:

SHIMANO CLARIS:

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.

SHIMANO SORA:

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.

SHIMANO TIAGRA:

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.

SHIMANO 105:

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.

>>Check out the Shimano 105 components available here.<<<

 

SHIMANO ULTEGRA:

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.

>>Check out the Shimano Ultegra components available here.<<<

 

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.

>> Check out the Shimano Dura Ace components available here.<<<

 

 Got questions? Post them in the comments below, and we’ll answer as soon as we can… 

 

>>Shop all Shimano components<< 

 

Comments

Cliff 28/09/2014

Excellent article – saved me hours of research. Thank you. How about including disk brake options to complete the picture, particularly given their increasing popularity?

Reply
    ao văn thinh 7/03/2016

    The struggle between trade mark but manufacture now in some where in the world beside japan for shimano.most is in china so the price reduce as same as quality!

    Reply
Jan 7/11/2014

I think this is really helpful for people who are new to cycling.
Hope to see more articles like this one.
 
Jan,
CyclingLocations.com

Reply
Michael 3/01/2015

This was really interesting, I like the idea of a 52/36 front change, prices would be interesting, no mention of which are faster though. Am I right in assuming that more expensive means faster change?  I have been caught out on speep hills when the change has been too slow.

Reply
Shamoun Malik 3/02/2016

I think this is very useful for people who are new to cycling. When i started there was so much to read. I never knew
there were three tyes of tyres until the other week. Lol!!

Reply
Tony 15/02/2016

Am planning to buy a new bike. Currently am riding a Shimano Tiagra set of components. Av been quoted on a
Shimano 2400 and shimano 4600 both rear and front deraullers. No more information was provided. Please advise if am getting better or not

Reply
Ed 24/02/2016

Tony,

The 2400 is a Claris groupset which is on the bottom of the hierarchy for the road components offered. The Tiagra is the 4600 you are talking about, but was upgraded to the 4700 Tiagra in 2015 after a much needed overhaul. The Shimano Road Bike groupset hierarchy is as follows:

Claris 2400 (8 speed only)
Sora 3500 (9 speed only)
Tiagra 4700 (10 speed only)
105 5800 (11 speed only)
Ultegra 6800 (11 speed only)
Ultegra Di2 6870 (11 speed only, electronic shifting)
Dura-Ace 9000
Dura-Ace 9070 (11 speed only, electronic shifting)

As for compatability and upgrading here’s what you need to know:

CLARIS
You can only have eight sprockets on this cassette. However, this rear derailleur can allow sprockets containing anything up to 32 teeth, so there is still a great range of gear sizes to offer. To assist with climbing, you have a choice of compact chainset (chainrings having 50 and 34 teeth), or a triple (chainrings having 50, 39 and 30 teeth).

SORA
One step up from Claris, Shimano Sora is a nine-speed system. Again it uses Dual Control STI levers and, as with Claris, gearing options include 32t sprockets at the back as well as compact and triple chainsets. Possibly Sora’s biggest weakness is the unimpressive stock brake blocks found in its dual-pivot caliper brakes, however these can be easily and cheaply upgraded. That said, its almost bombproof nature means that Sora is still an excellent choice on bikes where reliability is paramount — it feels tough and very rarely goes wrong.

TIAGRA
Shimano Tiagra underwent an upgrade last year, bringing it slightly more inline with the groupsets above it. Tiagra has traditionally been seen as marking the crossover point between leisure road bikes and enthusiast road bikes — that is to say, it has always outwardly displayed many of the qualities of Shimano’s better groupsets, but never quite matched the performance. New Tiagra also follows in that trend to some extent, with a very pretty four-arm chainset, sleeker Dual Control STI levers and a rear derailleur that can cope with sprockets of up to 34t, which is great for climbing. However, Tiagra remains a 10-speed system, meaning it can’t match — and isn’t compatible with — 105, Ultegra or Dura-Ace. And while gear changes are good, its new brake calipers aren’t quite as impressive.

105
The newest version of Shimano 105 appeared on last year’s bikes and it was a true revelation, offering essentially all the ability and performance of Ultegra with only a slight weight disadvantage justifying its lower place in Shimano’s groupset hierarchy. As with its posher siblings, 105 is now 11-speed and gear changes are supremely impressive, with the chain switching from sprocket to sprocket almost imperceptibly. There’s the option of using up to 32-tooth sprockets, meaning easy riding up the hill. Meanwhile, 105’s new dual-pivot rim brake calipers are superb and not only offer excellent power but also very good modulation, meaning you really can feel just how much braking force you need to exert. They also come in direct mount versions for integrated and aero frame designs. In fact, all in all 105 is possibly the best value for money road groupset in Shimano’s stable.

ULTEGRA
Traditionally seen as the benchmark groupset for high-end but not necessarily racing road bikes, Shimano Ultegra is an 11-speed system with a lot of the same technology as Dura-Ace, just wrapped in a less weight-conscious packaging. It’s still lighter than 105, though, and features the same performance benefits such as smooth gear changes and excellent braking. The rear cassette will work with sprockets of up to 32-tooth, and again the dual-pivot brake calipers also come in direct-mount versions. So it’s a great system that’s only been slightly overshadowed by the emergence of the cheaper 105 set-up.

ULTEGRA (Di2 electronic shifting)
All the benefits of Ultegra but with the excitement of electronic shifting. That means there are a few more components and options, such as frame or seatpost-mounted batteries and remote gear shift buttons designed specifically for triathletes or sprinters. The beauty of electronic gears is that the derailleurs self-feather, giving perfect, quick shifting every time. They make a rather satisfying little ‘zip’ noise when they move, too. And that’s not the only exciting thing about Ultegra Di2: you can also specify Ultegra Dual Control STI levers which come with a hydraulic capability, meaning Ultegra Di2 hydraulic disc brakes are available, too.

DURA-ACE
While Dura-Ace Di2 rules the roost absolutely, there is still a very definite market for a sublimely built mechanical groupset. Dura-Ace is Shimano’s lightest and most refined cable-operated option for road bikes and it really does work about as well as anyone would expect, with smooth accurate gear shifts and superb brake feel. It’s an 11-speed set-up with dual-pivot caliper brakes and a range of chainset options, although the rear derailleur has a maximum capacity of a 28t sprocket, so it’s slightly higher geared than Ultegra and other Shimano groupsets, hinting at its race-orientated nature.

DURA-ACE (Di2 electronic shifting)

Making the best just a little better (if you like the idea of electronic gear shifts), Dura-Ace Di2 is the flagship Shimano groupset and demonstrates the current zenith of groupset technology. It’s light, it works well, and it’s used by pro riders in the world’s biggest races. Of course, it’s not cheap and, as with Ultegra Di2, there is a need for batteries and different STI levers. But it’s as close to perfect as you will find.

Reply
    Matt 26/12/2016

    Hi there,

    I have a Raleigh Revenio C1 with a Claris groupset which i would really like to upgrade, i was just wondering whether the casette hub for the Ultegra groupset is compatible with that of the Claris. I really like the bike and would like to keep it.

    Many Thanks

    Reply
    gill 22/03/2017

    Hay, thanks for the article. Im new to the sport, looking forward to this spring…
    As far as mtb , which derailleur set should i be looking at ?
    I know i dont want the low grade stuff.
    Also, im.looking at a hardtail with disk breakes..
    Probably a specialized or cannondale. . Not sure..
    Any suggestions ?

    Thanks again.

    Reply
    Jacqui Fletcher 5/09/2017

    Great answer! Really helped me make sense of it. Thanks.

    Reply
Derek 15/03/2016

Where can you purchase a Claris or Sora groupset?

Reply
Telelsky 20/03/2016

Very informative for a newbie like me. Tnx a lot for the info.

Reply
Celeste 17/04/2016

Excellent article for a bike novice like myself. Training for my first super sprint triathlon and considering upgrading from a very old, used road bike someone sold me for next to nothing. Thanks!

Reply
Mongoose gsx 9.0 10/05/2016

My mongoose that I just bought at a yard sale for $25 is acting weird the chain on the rear gears close to the 6th gear setting it just jumps when I apply pressure to the pedals. It has pure Shimano guts it says could anyone help. When it is in 1st gear it jumps off ( the chain) to the extent of cutting the spokes off. contact me on Facebook (my name is Jason Morgan) if you can help. Thank you in advance.:)

Reply
    mongoose gsx 9.0 10/05/2016

    my next does the same thing but does not cut the spokes. what is that about?

    Reply
Jo 5/07/2016

Hi, I wonder if you can tell me where shimano ‘tourney’ sits on the quality hierarchy of shimano parts please? I understand it may sit below the acera but not sure if it if better or less quality than the altus?

Reply
    Mark Gregory 15/07/2016

    In Shimano’s hierarchy Tourney is below Altus, sometimes it’s hard to keep up with all the latest versions but I believe Tourney is upto 8 speed compared to 9 speed being available on the latest version Altus.

    Reply
Kathleen forde 17/07/2016

I had a bike with shimaro sora but I bought a new bike with shimaro Altegra. But I can’t seem to cycle with the same ease even on the flat. .. De hills are disaster,. Any suggestions what I am doing wrong..

Reply
Dan 8/08/2016

Hi There

I have a 2012 Boardman CX with a Claris group on it that I am keen on upgrading to Tiagra, do I need to replace the wheels on this bike in order to do this or can I just swap out the groupset?

Thank you

Reply
    Magdalena Schoerner 10/08/2016

    Hello Dan,

    Just double-checked you should actually be fine with your wheels, 8-10 speed cassettes are compatible, just 11 speed isn’t. Hope this helps, Magdalena 🙂

    Reply
Martin Bulmer 24/06/2017

Where does Alivio come in this hierarchy?

Reply
Mark 12/10/2017

Which groupset ratio is better for climbing steep hills (Cornwall) ?.. 50t-39t-30t ~ 12t-28t, or 50t-34t ~ 11t-32t..
Reason for asking is that my Alloy, Raleigh Criterium Sport feels, (running the compact) a lot easier than my full carbon, KTM Revelator 3300, (running the triple)..

Reply

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