First-time buyers and seasoned cyclists alike could be forgiven for feeling daunted by the prospect of choosing components for their bike given the wide variety that is available these days.
In this article we’re going to focus specifically on the hierarchy of road bike components manufactured by Shimano, taking a close look at the six different groupsets that are on offer.
What is in a Groupset?
The term ‘groupset’ is widely used in the world of bicycle components to essentially describe the hierarchy or levels of each set of components, and moving up or down in this hierarchy will determine the weight and ease of handling of the components; not to mention the price.
Bike component groupsets will typically include the following items:
- 2 Gear Levers or Shifters
- 2 Brake Levers or Shifters
- 2 Brakes
- 2 Derailleurs
- 1 Crankset
- 1 Chain
- 1 Bottom Bracket
- 1 Freewheel, or Cassette
Although less common, some groupsets will also include items such as pedals, cables, headsets, and so on.
Shimano Road Bike Groupsets Explained
Let’s begin by looking at the lower-end, more entry-level Shimano road bike components before working our way up through the ranks to the high-end professional equipment.
Claris is Shimano’s entry-level groupset, providing an affordable option for beginners or those on a tight budget while still delivering all of the quality and durability one would expect from the brand.
With its 8-speed dual control gearshift setup and choice of a compact or triple chainring setup, the Claris is a great choice for casual cyclists and city commuters who aren’t looking to break the bank but that want something that is going to offer dependability in the long term.
Moving up from the Claris groupset we have Shimano’s Sora component range, which has received a makeover in recent years with its sleek, blackened design and a new 9-speed, dual control shifting system.
As with Claris, the Sora groupset is available in compact or triple chainring configuration, depending on the level of resistance you’re seeking from the front end.
Based on the type of terrain you’re going to be tackling you can choose from cassettes in this groupset ranging from 14 – 25 to 11 – 32.
Although the Shimano Tiagra groupset is designed as an entry-level option, one might consider it to be more in the mid-range of Shimano’s component offerings.
In 2012 Shimano introduced a 10-speed variation of the Tiagra groupset, which means that you now have the choice of 8, 9, or 10-speed shifting systems.
What’s more, the added variety offered by the Tiagra range extends to its chainrings which are available in compact, double, and triple configurations.
We’re now at a sufficient level in the Shimano road bike hierarchy for the differences in quality and weight to really become more noticeable.
The 105 groupset isn’t exactly leaps and bounds ahead of the Tiagra groupset in terms of price, but it is certainly not an entry-level option by any stretch of the imagination.
It is interesting to note that as of 2015 Shimano will be releasing the 105 groupset as an 11-speed configuration, with some of previous years’ component designs being utilized from higher-spec groupsets.
The gearshift setup is quite different in the 105 groupset, with no clear display to let you know which gear you’re in but a far greater emphasis on rapid shifting; this makes the 105 a potentially sound option for amateur competitive cyclists.
Available with Di2 electronic gear shifting in the 6870 variant and providing 11 speeds is the race-orientated Ultegra groupset.
The chainset is sturdier than ever while the cassette offers a fairly wide ratio ranging from 11 - 23 to 11 – 32.
Actually using the gearshift lever in the Ultegra groupset is something that has to be experienced firsthand because the swiftness and overall responsiveness of the setup is truly a marvel of modern engineering. The other major difference with 105 is the reduced weight of the Ultegra Groupset.
Moving up to the high-end Dura-Ace we see yet another leap in quality, longevity, and of course the performance of not just the individual components themselves but the groupset as a cohesive system.
The Shimano Dura-Ace is the groupset of choice for professional racers around the world, and with its use of incredibly lightweight materials such as titanium and carbon fiber, Di2 electronic gearshift compatibility, and lightning-fast clicking gearshift, this is hardly surprising.
Choosing the Right Shimano Road Bike Groupset
Before making your final decision about which road bike groupset to choose from Shimano's extensive range, it is important to make sure you give plenty of consideration to the context you'll be using your bicycle in.
Generally speaking, cyclists simply in the market for a bike that will handle their daily commute or for occasional trips aren't likely to go too high on the component hierarchy, but the number of gears is a factor worth looking at.
The kind of locale you live in might affect which lower-end groupset you opt for because the 8-speed Claris might prove to be insufficient relative to the Sora, or even the Tiagra which is available with as many as 10 speeds.
A 10-speed Tiagra or 105 setup with a triple chainring configuration could be just what you need to tackle hilly neighbourhoods, while also enjoying a system that can handle the stop-start nature of suburban cycling.
Something we haven’t quite touched on yet is the subject of brakes.
With more recent developments in brake technology there are now four types of braking systems available on the market:
- Traditional Cable-Operated Rim Brakes
- Cable-Operated Disc Brakes
- Hydraulic Rim Brakes
- Hydraulic Disc Brakes
Unfortunately Shimano do not offer hydraulic rim brakes on any of their groupsets, but the rest are available across the range.
Also bear in mind that the weight of your bike will largely dictate its responsiveness to your braking system, so one might argue that a standard cable-operated rim brake would be more than adequate when used in conjunction with a more lightweight frame and groupset.
Which brings us onto…
Weight is one of the biggest factors that will contribute to the differences in price between one groupset and another.
Sometimes there is little difference in actual performance, with the added cost simply being due to the use of expensive lightweight materials such as titanium and aluminum, or more elaborate manufacturing techniques designed to produce a more refined component.
At the high end of the price spectrum the difference in weight between groupsets may be as little as a couple hundred grams, so it is up to you to decide if the extra expense is justified based on what you plan on using your bicycle for.
Of course the advanced competitive cyclist will be looking for any additional edge that can be gained, so a few hundred grams in saved weight could shave valuable seconds off of a trail time.
The longevity or durability of road bike components is an interesting subject because more expensive models are typically made of lighter materials, which means that the metals used such as titanium and aluminum are actually softer than their steelier counterparts.
Having said this, it really depends on the specific components we are talking about.
For example, an item such as a cassette is subject to greater wear and tear than, say, a gear shifter, so while a softer lightweight (and more expensive) cassette may not last as long as a cheaper alternative, the gear shifter will offer dependable functionality for far longer due to more precise manufacturing methods.
Although not always the case, some of the higher-end Shimano groupsets offer smaller, more minor features that are designed to improve the overall performance and ergonomic nature of the components.
Examples of this are the Ultegra and Dura-Ace gear shifters which can be screwed in for adjustable positioning.
Again, a feature such as this may seem inconsequential to the beginner or casual rider, but for a professional racer it could make a world of difference.
We would recommend that you look at these small additional features on a case-by-case basis depending on your specific needs, and if you are looking for a more professional groupset then you will of course want to experiment to find what kind of configuration you get on best with.
The other thing I haven’t mentioned is obviously price. The difference between a Sora and a Dura Ace Groupset is quite large, both in terms of price and functionality. You should try to find a groupset that strikes the balance between the riding you will be doing, and the price you can afford.
I hope that gives you a better insight into the differences between Shimano groupsets, if you may be considering an upgrade soon. If you do need any help or further advice, please leave a comment below, or give me a ring on 02 9509 1000. Until next time – Enjoy Your Ride!