Better Bike Components Cost More
By Sheila Ascroft
Shimano Ultegra triple crankset
So you’re in the bike shop and you have found two road bikes you like. Both appear identical—same aluminum frame with carbon fibre forks—but one is $800 more expensive than the other. What’s going on? A quick look shows that the wheels have the same stickers and even the handlebars and saddle are alike. What gives?
Well, it’s something called the drive train, or in cycling lingo the gruppo, which is Italian for group and refers to the components group. This includes the brakes, shifters, derailleurs, crank set, cog set or cassette, and the chain that every bike needs to function. Basically, the gruppo that is the smoothest to shift, the lightest in weight and the most durable, also has the highest price. So that bike that was $800 more may have a component group that will last you forever or it may be more than you really need.
For many years, the Italian company Campagnolo (cyclists say “Campy”) was considered the best. It had very good reputation (and still does) with its classy, dependable high-end components that pro road racers used and that many wanna-be racers coveted. Then Shimano, originally famous for its fishing gear, came charging out of Japan with some good quality and less costly component groups that included a smooth index shifting system that replaced the old friction style. More recently, SRAM, which bought out a few other smaller companies and did lots of its own R&D, jumped into the fray with its own quality components.
While fluctuating currency (Euro, Yen and US dollar), innovations and mass marketing can put one company ahead of the others for a while, all three offer very good products. Some say that SRAM is a slightly better value, but it really depends on what you like and how you use a gruppo. For example, I am not keen on SRAM’s double-tap; one-lever system for shifting gears, but that could simply because I’ve always used Shimano’s two-lever system. (And, for what it’s worth, I never like the shape of Campy’s shifters; they never felt comfortable in my hands.)
Logically, the most expensive road bikes carry the highest quality components and are usually intended for competition. Fortunately, these manufacturers have brought in a range of gruppos to match cyclists’ needs. Except for the pro racers and those with big bank accounts, not many cyclists I know use Shimano’s top of the line Dura Ace or Campy’s Super Record or SRAM’s Red gruppo. Most club and century riders like me buy bikes with the next level (Shimano Ultegra) or lower (Shimano 105) of components and still reap the rewards of durability along with a little extra weight, at less cost. For new or recreational cyclists, a bike with say Shimano Sora or Tiagra may be adequate for your needs and easier on the wallet.
While you can mix various components, for example Shimano Ultegra and 105, not all that many components are interchangeable. Shimano’s Dura Ace is a gruppo on to itself. Also, it is tricky to mix 8 or 9 speed with 10 speed components without having gears skipping or having to buy new shifters or derailleurs. It’s too bad that Shimano is notorious for not making compatible parts; Campy is much better at this. It is usually not advisable to mix Shimano and Campy (the tolerances for things are just enough different that it won’t function as smoothly). SRAM is a bit more forgiving in this area.
In short, I’d recommend sticking with whatever components comes on your bike—until you put more miles under your wheels. Then, you’ll know how the various parts work and whether you need/want a higher level of quality in shifters or derailleurs, or whether you want a better bike altogether.
So, here’s the list of what gruppos are being offered in 2011. Just remember: the better the quality the higher the price. The list starts from the basic parts often found on the lower-end steel and aluminium frames up to the highest level found on those carbon and titanium frames.
The speed number refers to the number of cogs on the rear wheel. With two front chain rings, a “9 speed” then provides 18 gears from which to choose. If you have three front chain rings, then your “9 speed” actually gives you 27 gears.
Shimano in road groups from the lowest quality to the best:
- 2200 (8-speed)
- Sora (9-speed)
- Tiagra (9-speed)
- New 105(10-speed)
- Ultegra (6700 10-speed)
- Dura Ace/Di2 (electronic shifting)
SRAM road component groups from lowest quality to best:
- Rival (10-speed)
- Force (10-speed)
- Red (10-speed) actually it is now also available in black!
Campagnolo road component groups from lowest quality to best:
- Veloce (10-speed)
- Centaur (10-speed)
- Athena (11 speed)
- Chorus (11-speed)
- Record (11-speed)
- Super Record (11-speed)
For the mountain bike crowd:
Shimano mountain bike components (from lowest quality to best):
- Altus (8-speed)
- Acera (8-speed)
- Alivio (8-speed)
- Deore (9-speed)
- SLX (9 speed)
- Deore XT (10 speed)
- Saint (10 speed)
- XTR (10-speed)
Here are the rankings for SRAM mountain bike components (from lowest quality to best) :
- 3.0 (8-speed)
- 5.0 (9-speed)
- 7.0 (9-speed)
- 9.0 (9-speed)
- XX (10-speed)
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