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Best road bike groupsets 2019

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Shimano Dura-Ace R9100 series

Shimano Dura-Ace R9100 series (Image credit: Courtesy Shimano)
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Campagnolo Potenza

Campagnolo Potenza (Image credit: Courtesy)
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Campagnolo Chorus 12-speed

Campagnolo Chorus 12-speed (Image credit: Courtesy)
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Campagnolo Super Record 12-speed

Campagnolo Super Record 12-speed (Image credit: Courtesy)
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SRAM Force eTap AXS

SRAM Force eTap AXS (Image credit: Courtesy)
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SRAM RED eTap AX

SRAM RED eTap AX (Image credit: Courtesy)
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Shimano Ultegra R8000 series

Shimano Ultegra R8000 series (Image credit: Shimano)
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Shimano 105 R7000 series

Shimano 105 R7000 series (Image credit: Shimano)
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Shimano have launched the GRX gravel-specific groupset

Shimano have launched the GRX gravel-specific groupset (Image credit: Shimano)

Eleven-speed or 12-speed, disc or rim, electric or mechanical; there are more options for groupsets than ever.

Often listed as one of the main features of a bike, the groupset ultimately determines how you interact with your bike – how you’re shifting and braking.

Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo are the three leading players when it comes to groupsets, and while each has its nuanced differences in the way it works, they all ultimately perform the same duties. Here we've listed our top choices for performance road groupsets you can buy in 2019.

What to look for in a road groupset

Your budget and the bike you're planning to bolt the groupset onto will be the most significant factors in determining what you may choose. It's possible to spend thousands on a groupset alone, and that doesn't take into account the other parts you'll need to complete a bike. It may seem obvious, but your bike will be designed around either rim or disc brakes, and no matter how skilled you are with a Dremel tool or a tig welder, you're not going to be able to swap.

The other consideration is whether you're after electronic or mechanical shifting. Each component company has a different name for its digital shifting, but all three use batteries and motors to move derailleurs, communicating with wires or a proprietary wireless protocol. The advantage to electronic shifting is there are no (shift) cables and housing to replace (which is handy if your bike has fully hidden or internally routed cables), that they have programmable shifting, including supplementary 'satellite' or 'sprint' shifters, and precise shifting that shouldn't degrade over time. The major downsides are that you have to remember to keep the battery or batteries charged, and the price.

Mechanical shifting, on the other hand, is cable driven, with no junction boxes or batteries to keep track of, providing a more traditional shifting feel. Usually a bit cheaper than their electronic counterparts at a similar performance level, mechanical shifting does require a bit more tuning and maintenance.

As you move up into higher echelons of groupsets, the materials will become lighter and more exotic, the shifting action will become crisper, and the braking more powerful.

Consisting of cranks, a chain, chainrings, cassette, derailleurs, shifters, brakes, and bottom brackets, all three of the major manufacturers – Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo – offer groupsets at varying performance levels and price ranges.

The significant differences between them really come down to the shifting mechanism and slight variations in ergonomics. Which one is best for you ultimately comes down to personal preference.

Beyond the big three, component brands like FSA and Rotor have also thrown their hats into the groupset ring; however, they haven't quite caught up to the main players just yet.

Scroll down as we take a look at the best road cycling groupsets you can buy in 2019.

Shimano

Shimano Dura-Ace R9100 series

Overview: Arguably the gold standard in groupsets, Dura-Ace R9100 series doesn't miss a beat

  • Shifting: Electronic and mechanical
  • Brakes: Disc and rim
  • Front gearing: 2x
  • Price: starting at £1862 / US$2029 / AU$2100

+ Reliability and improved ergonomics
- Not a significant performance improvement over the R9000 series, not much tactile feedback with mechanical shifting

Offering both rim and disc options, Shimano was the first to jump into electronic drivetrains with is Di2 shifting, spurring Campagnolo and, later, SRAM to follow suit.

The latest Dura-Ace Di2 offers synchro and semi-synchro shift, allowing a single shift lever to be used to control both derailleurs for optimum chain line while minimising the jumps in gear ratio.

Arguably the biggest addition to the latest Dura-Ace groupset is the option for a dual-sided power meter with strain gauges built into each crank arm which are hardwired together inside the spindle. Any Shimano Dura-Ace groupset followed with a ‘-P’ suffix denotes this option (e.g. Shimano Dura-Ace R9150-P).

According to Shimano, the rear derailleur can handle up to an 11-30t cassette – many GC riders now choose this option – and receives the Shadow' moniker, meaning it's a lower profile design that is more protected in the event of a crash. At the front, all the Dura-Ace chainrings use the same bolt circle diameter, so the four arm crank will accept rings from 34t on the inside up to 55t (and even bigger for the pro’s) on the outside.

Shimano Ultegra R8000 series

Overview: there is a reason you often see Pro Continental teams and privateer road racers bikes equipped with Ultegra, it is pretty darn good

  • Shifting: Electronic and mechanical
  • Brakes: Disc and rim
  • Front gearing: 2x
  • Price: starting at £935.99 / US$900 / AU$1130

+ Nearly the same level of performance as Dura-Ace, rear mech available in clutched version for 1X setups, plus larger gear ranges
- Still need to trim with front mech, sharp bend at shifter can advance cable wear

Shimano Ultegra is a favourite groupset of the avid racer as it offers nearly the same performance as Shimano's flagship groupset – Shimano Dura-Ace – at a fraction of the price, with only a minor weight penalty.

With 11-speeds at the back, Ultegra is available in both mechanical and Di2 electronic shifting options, and there's hydraulic disc braking on offer too in addition to standard rim brakes. When it comes to shifting quality, the difference between Ultegra and Dura-Ace is negligible.

Ultegra also gets the Shadow rear-derailleur, however with gearing up to 11-34t you will require a mid-cage mech. Shimano also offers a clutched version of the latest Ultegra rear mech for improved chain retention when the tarmac road ends — the Japanese outfit has also just launched a gravel specific GRX group (see below).

Like Dura-Ace, the hollow cranks are only available in one bolt-circle diameter, meaning they will work with chainrings from 34-teeth all the way up to 55. But, if you're after a power meter, you'll have to look for a third party option.

Shimano 105 R7000 series

Overview: The workhorse groupset in Shimano's performance range

  • Shifting: Mechanical
  • Brakes: Disc and rim
  • Front gearing: 2x
  • Price: starting at £570 / US$615 / AU$1024

+ Price, performance and durability
- Weight, no Di2 option

It's the most budget-friendly group in Shimano's range that offers 11-speeds on the back although is a bit heavier compared to its more expensive bigger siblings. At this point in time, there is no electronic shifting at the 105 level; however, we would venture a guess it could be coming in the near future.

The latest 105 R7000 versions do get the 'shadow' rear derailleur and come in short cage (SS) and long cage (GS) versions, with cassettes as big as 11-31t on offer. This is also the first version of 105 to get its own hydraulic disc brake callipers and levers; previously there was a nearly equivalent 'non-series' version.

Shimano GRX

Overview: Shimano's answer to hitting the sweet-spot between on-road and off-road

  • Shifting: Electronic wireless, mechanical
  • Brakes: Disc
  • Front gearing: 1x, 2x
  • Price: starting at £367/ US$762 / AU$TBC

+ Gravel-specific components can be mixed and matched dependent on your preference

- No Dura-Ace level specification

Just launched in May 2019, GRX is Shimano’s gravel-specific groupset. With 1x and 2x versions, the GRX components span across the Ultegra (RX800), 105 (RX600) and Tiagra (RX400) levels, however, there isn’t a full suite of components at every performance level — they are all cross compatible and will also work with Shimano’s other road components.

The most significant difference between the GRX groups and the road versions is in the levers. The brake lever pivot has been raised by 18mm which Shimano says make it easier to brake with your hands on the hoods. Shimano also updated the shape of the hoods and used a tackier rubber to offer a more secure hold, while the levers are angled to work better with flared bars. For those running 1x the left lever is available with no shifting mechanism or one that uses the lever to active a dropper post.

The GRX front derailleur has been tweaked to play nice with fat tyres, while at the back Shimano has given the rear mech the Shadow RD+ tension adjuster (clutch) for better performance over rough terrain.

SRAM

SRAM RED

Overview: Crisp tactile shifting in 11- and 12-speed with the option to ditch the wires, if your pockets are deep enough

  • Shifting: Electronic wireless, mechanical
  • Brakes: Rim, disc
  • Front gearing: 1x, 2x
  • Price: starting at £2120 / US$2618 / AU$3099

+ Lightest groupset of the bunch, shift lever feel even in eTap versions, Yaw front derailleur
- eTap wireless shifting means multiple batteries to keep track of, price

Launched at the beginning of 2019, RED eTap AXS is SRAM's top group. It's wireless, it's electronic, and there are 12-gears at the back. Available in 1x or 2x versions with a built-in Quarq power meter, with the extra rear sprocket as a 10t, SRAM has, in turn, removed a few teeth from the front chainrings, and the biggest double ring option is now a 50/37T. However, there is no loss in gear range, which equates to smaller jumps between the cogs.

The chain is also new, with a flat top, it’s narrower and also claimed to be stronger and quieter.

The rear derailleur is clutched using a fluid based damper, which SRAM says doesn't add shifting resistance like a roller bearing clutch system, while also significantly reducing chain bounce.

Regular RED eTap loses a cog, with only 11-speeds at the back, and it's still wire-free. However, eTap derailleurs and shifters are not compatible with eTap AXS. It's on this system that SRAM introduced the new intuitive shifting system, using the right shifter to go into a harder gear, the left to go easier and both at the same time to shift the front chainrings — AXS uses the same system.

Here you don't get a clutched rear derailleur, nor is there a 1x version on offer. However, the WiFli rear derailleur can handle up to a 32t cog, and there are front chainring options from 36t up to 55t.

Finally, there is the humble mechanical RED group, available in 11-speed, with plenty of the 10-speed parts still kicking around online. You'll need cables here, and the shifters utilised the tactile satisfying Double Tap system – throw the lever halfway, and you shift up, and the whole way the move the chain down.

SRAM Force

Overview: SRAM's mid-range groupset adds a bit of weight but doesn't sacrifice performance

  • Shifting: Electronic, mechanical
  • Brakes: Rim, disc
  • Front gearing: 1x, 2x
  • Price: starting at £1240 / US$1321 / AU$1499

+ Benefits greatly from trickle down tech, lighter than Ultegra
- Rim brakes lack power

SRAM's second-tier Force gets the 12-speed AXS treatment as well as a standard 11-speed mechanical version, both available in hydraulic disc and rim brake versions. Occupying the same space as Shimano Ultegra, SRAM Force is still a high-performance group; there's a bit less carbon, no ceramic bearings to be found and a small weight penalty from Red.

Force eTap AXS gets the same motors moving the derailleurs and high-speed chipset as its more expensive sibling, however, the crankset is a bit less elaborate and subs in a spider-based power meter for the direct mount version. It's available in 1x or 2x varieties, though both use the same rear derailleur, which gets the Orbit clutch system.

The mechanical version is split into Force 22 and Force 1. Both are 11-speed, and like the AXS version, borrows the majority of the design features from its more expensive sibling. The main difference between the two is in the rear derailleur, with the 1x version equipped with a Roller Bearing Clutch and wide, narrow teeth on the jockey wheels for chain retention. It's available in long, medium and short cage varieties, allowing for a max cog of 42t. The Force 22 derailleur is a bit lighter and comes in short and WiFli versions enabling for a max cog of 32t.

Campagnolo

Campagnolo Super Record 12-speed

Overview: Nothing else on the market shifts with the same tactile feel as Campagnolo Super Record mechanical

  • Shifting: Mechanical, electronic
  • Brakes: Rim, disc
  • Front gearing: 2x
  • Price: starting at £2615 / US$2175 / AU$3480

+ The best looking group of the bunch, thumb shifter
- HALO pricing

Campagnolo were, however, extremely late to the disc brake party, but didn't suffer the performance and aesthetic growing pains the other two have experienced over the years. Using flat mount callipers, the front comes with fittings for 160mm and 140mm rotors.

Taking the cake for the most expensive drivetrain you can buy, the Super Record group is heavy on carbon fibre, titanium, and ceramic bearings which drives the price up, and the latest EPS V4 features an upgraded junction box, more compact and longer lasting battery, and an upgraded front derailleur with more power. Both the mechanical and electronic shifters also feature the famous thumb shifter, and a carbon brake lever complete with reach adjustment.

To make the jump to 12-speed, Campagnolo moved each cog closer together, so the cassette occupies the same space as an 11-speed, which also means a skinnier chain. With two cassette options 11-32t and 11-29t, the one derailleur can handle both, and front chainrings are available in 34t up to 52t.

Campagnolo Chorus 12-speed

Overview: Benefactor of trickle down tech – high performance with considerably less cost

  • Shifting: Mechanical
  • Brakes: rim, disc
  • Front gearing: 2x
  • Price: starting at £1,120 / US$1,288 / AU$1930

+ Nearly the same shift performance as Record and Super Record, 12-speed
- No EPS

There is only one rear derailleur which can take up to a 34t cog, and Campagnolo is offering cassettes in 12-29t, 11-32t and 11-34t gearing. At the front, the crank is still carbon and uses a four bolt mounting circle, with chainrings from 32t up to 52t.

Chorus gets the same flat mount disc callipers as its pricier sibling, but the rotors are all steel.

The Skeleton rim brakes are dual pivot and are a bit more robust than the previous version for more stopping power.

Campagnolo Potenza

Overview: All of the Campagnolo mechanical feel, without the price tag

  • Shifting: mechanical
  • Brakes: rim, disc
  • Front gearing: 2x
  • Price: starting at £900 / US$1050 / AU$1205

+ 11-speed, excellent ergonomics, short lever throw
- Still more expensive than Ultegra

With Campagnolo's rage of groupsets tilted toward the upper end of the market, the Potenza group occupies roughly the same space as Ultegra or Force – although Campagnolo will argue their products are not a like-for-like comparison.

Unlike the other Italian drivetrains above, there's no carbon to be found here, but for those who still crave a bit of bling factor, the Potenza groups do come in a polished silver version too.

You still get 11 speeds at the back, with cassettes going as big as 32t; however, you'll need the medium cage version to run the larger gear. At the front, the crankset is made from aluminium, and the four arm design has corresponding chainrings from 34t up to 53t.

With both rim and disc brake options available, the Potenza group sees the same disc brake callipers as the higher end Chorus and Super Record groups.

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