Groupset is the collective name for the parts in the transmission and braking systems on a bike. Components include: bottom bracket; brake calipers (or brake discs for cross and touring bikes); brake levers; cables; cassette; chain; chainset (cranks & chainrings); gear levers (or ‘STI’ combined gear and brake levers); and gear mechanisms – often referred to as mechs or derailleurs - for front & rear.
Groupsets are categorised by name with all new innovation coming in at the top then trickling down several layers in following years. Today's mid-price groupsets have features which were only available to professional riders several years ago. The latest innovation from Shimano and Campagnolo is electronic shifting for road bikes; this was introduced into their top end groupsets but is now also available in lower down versions for more reasonable prices, with a slight weight gain being the only penalty.
There are three main companies which produce road groupsets; Shimano, Campagnolo and SRAM, which may look and operate very similar, are unfortunately incompatible with each other’s gear systems. This is because each gear system has a certain amount of movement from gear levers and differs slightly with each manufacturer. As an aside, they do work with each other to a certain degree but it is not as slick and not recommended for long term use. Brake calipers can be switched between manufacturers but you may lose certain useful elements such as the quick release mechanism in Shimano and SRAM systems are in the calipers but in Campagnolo they are in the lever.
Each manufacturer also recommends only using similar groupset components as some mechs may not work with differing numbers of gears, i.e. Shimano Dura Ace 11 speed must use an 11 speed rear or front mech as it is different in size to some of its lower tier groupsets.
Shimano are the world’s biggest cycle groupset manufacturer making components for Tour de France riders to shopping bikes and everything in between.
The hierarchy of Shimano road groupsets from professional to entry level is as follows:
Campagnolo are the world’s oldest manufacturer of cycle gears and the company which actually invented the rear derailleur. They produce professional level components for some of the world’s top cycling teams down to weekend warrior suitable gears with prices to suit
The hierarchy of Campagnolo groupsets from professional to entry level is as follows:
SRAM are the newest groupset manufacturer and have come up with a series of ingenious inventions which have quickly gained a wide fan base from professional to recreational with their alternative view on operating systems.
The hierarchy of SRAM road groupsets from professional to entry level is as follows: