A groupset is the collective name for the components for gearing, braking and drivetrain. Three main manufacturers, Shimano, Campagnolo and Sram produce a range of groupsets for different types of bikes, from entry level to the high-end components seen on bikes in races such as the Tour De France. Groupsets typically include; Chainset, Shift Levers, Chain, Cassette, Brakes, Derailleurs, Bottom Bracket and Cables.
There are two main things to think about when considering purchasing a new groupset. Firstly, the type of bike it is going to be fitted too, and secondly, your budget for the new groupset.
Different Types of Groupset Groupsets vary hugely, depending on the type of bike they are manufactured for. Road, MTB and gravel bike groupsets have unique attributes which tailor them to their specific type of bike. Pricing also varies hugely with groupsets. Generally speaking, more features, lighter weight and nicer finishes to components all add cost to groupsets.
Groupsets designed for road bikes feature relatively lightweight components which allow smooth power transfer from rider to the road. Brakes offer consistent stopping, with either rim or disc braking, and levers integrate perfectly with gear shifting, so all bike controls are easy at hand. Most road groupsets feature a double (2X) chainset with a rear cassette offering between 9 – 12 sprockets, depending on the groupset. Road bikes tend to feature larger chainrings and a narrower spread of sprockets on the rear cassette. This is because road bikes tend to travel on smoother, faster terrain than other types of bike. Road groupsets are manufactured by Shimano, Campagnolo and Sram.
Mountain bike groupsets have grown further apart from their road bike cousins in recent years. The emphasis on MTB groupsets has focused on flexibility of design (to suit the very wide range of MTB's), strength, wide gear range, ease of use and reliability in all conditions. Single chainring (1X) groupsets with wide range cassette and clutch rear derailleur have become more popular, simplifying the gearing and reducing components. Gearing has gradually increased up to 12 speed. Hydraulic braking is the only option for mountain bike groupsets. Shimano and Sram both manufacture MTB groupsets.
Gravel bike groupsets in a way sit in-between elements of MTB and road bike groupsets, with different manufacturers picking the best, most suited attributes from both. All gravel groupsets feature relatively lightweight but hard-wearing components, powerful hydraulic braking and options for a double (2X) or single front chainring (1X) set up. Because gravel bikes have drop handle bars, combined brake and shift levers feature on all gravel bike groupsets. Shimano, Sram and Campagnolo manufacture gravel bike groupsets.
Groupsets which feature electronic gear shift components use tiny motors and batteries to activate gear shifts, rather than the cables and springs of traditional cable operated derailleurs. All groupset manufacturers manufacture electronic groupset options in their groupsets. Sram were the first manufacturer to offer wireless shifting technology, for the time being at least, Campagnolo and Shimano both utilise wires in their electronic systems. While electronic gearing speeds up shifting, the downside is that batteries need charging or replacing.
Who makes What?
Shimano Sram Campagnolo
Top Road Dura Ace Red Super Record
Mid Road Ultegra Force Record / Chorus
Entry Road 105 Rival / Apex Potenza / Centaur
Top MTB XTR X1 / XX1 /AXS
Mid MTB XT/SLX NX
Entry MTB Deore / LX x9/GX
Top Gravel GRX810 Red AXS / Red Ekar
Mid Gravel GRX600 Force AXS / Force
Entry Gravel GRX400 Rival AXS / Rival
Which Road Groupset Should I Buy?
General road riding
For general road riding, lower range groupsets (such as Shimano Tiagra, Campagnolo Potenza or Sram Apex) offer reliable shifting and braking, they are reasonably lightweight. Entry level groupsets borrow heavily from the design styles and functionality of higher tier groupsets. Technology gradually trickles down the groups, meaning that today’s entry level may well offer better performance than top tier groupsets of a few years ago.
Road racing demands higher level of performance, both in terms of rider, and from an equipment perspective. Mid-range groupsets offer a higher level of performance (less weight, more rigidity, nicer finish) without the significantly higher price tag of the top tier groupsets. Mid-range groupset components are much less costly to replace too, should you damage your bike and need a part replacing. Many racers would opt for a mid-range groupset with better wheels, rather than a top of the range groupset with budget wheels. If you have an unlimited budget and want maximum performance, then go for a top tier groupset.
Sportive / endurance riding
Reliability and ease of use often figure highly on what sportive / endurance riders look for in a groupset. Low to mid-range groupsets offer reliability and performance, combined with being relatively light and affordable. If you need to build in extra flexibility for hillier rides and events, look for a medium-cage rear derailleur to allow for a cassette with bigger sprockets to make life easier when the roads head upwards.
Which MTB Groupset Should I Buy?
Entry level MTB groupsets offer a good level of performance, are relatively user friendly and hard wearing. Groupsets such as Sram X9 / GX or Shimano Deore offer a cost effective option for a general riding MTB build. Features such as 1X or 2X drivetrain, reliable shifting and powerful hydraulic brakes, mean that budget MTB groupsets feel and perform better than you might think.
Cross Country Riding
Mid-range groupsets are ideal for cross country and trail bike builds. Offering lighter weight components and reliable, accurate shifting and powerful braking, groupsets such as Shimano SLX/XT and Sram NX are well suited for a Cross Country build.
MTB Performance / Race Bike
For racing and competing, mid to upper level groupsets will deliver high level performance and lower weight. Higher level components such as Shimano XT/XTR and Sram X1 / X11 will provide reliable solid performance.
Which Gravel Bike Groupset Should I Buy?
General Riding / Budget
Entry level groupsets, such as Sram Rival or Shimano GRX400 offer decent performance, on and off road.
Longer rides / events
Mid-Range Spending more money on a mid-range groupset, such as Sram Force or GRX600 / 800, will see groupset weight reduce and a nicer finish on components.
Dream Gravel Bike
For an ultimate gravel build, a mix of lightweight, high end components will provide the ultimate gravel riding experience. Groupsets such as GRX Di2, Campagnolo Ekar or Sram Red AXS will make for a very special gravel bike, almost a shame to get it dusty & dirty!
Groupset Nitty Gritty
As components progress upwards through the groupset hierarchy, materials used and precision engineering levels also rise, unfortunately, so does the price. The good news for the average rider, is that the high level engineering development and the use of more specialist materials gradually filters down through the groupsets. This means that the mid-range groupsets of today could out perform the top level groupsets from a few years ago.
There are more important things than groupset weight. Functionality, longevity, looks, feel and cost all come into play for many riders. In any case, a lighter frameset or wheels can easily wash away any weight savings on the groupset.
The ‘feel’ of a groupset often comes down to how gear shifts feel through the levers. Are they solid, clucnky, consistent, reliable, crisp, snappy, virtually instant, or require more ‘throw’ of the lever? The feel of the groupset is a very personal choice. Some riders stick to their favorite manufacturer’s for their groupset’s, primarily for the feel and look of the components.