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Road bike groupsets: a comprehensive guide

best road bike groupsets
(Image credit: Cyclingnews)

Road bike groupsets should offer seamless performance without a glitch. Crisp and smooth shifting is a must and durability should be an essential consideration; a well-maintained groupset should last a few thousand miles before parts begin to wear. 

Disc or rim, 11- or 12-speed, electric or mechanical; there are more options for groupsets than ever and the pros and cons of each can be overwhelming. To help you understand the options, we've outlined a roundup of the best road bike groupsets available from Shimano, SRAM, Campagnolo, FSA and Rotor. 

Skip to: Our roundup of the groupsets

Alternatively, if you're unsure what to look for in your next road groupset, we've explained everything you need to know at the bottom.

Skip to: What to look for in your next road bike groupset

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

Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo are the three leading players and while each has its nuanced differences in the way it works, they all ultimately perform the same duties of changing gear and slowing you down. 

Electric

Electric groupsets are commonplace on WorldTour bikes now, in fact, the technology has evolved to the point that it's now considered 'news' if a pro rider doesn't use it.

The three major players all have at least one electronic groupset offering, and it's plain to see that electric shifting is here to stay. 

Shimano Dura-Ace R9170 Di2 disc brake road bike groupset

(Image credit: Shimano)

Shimano Dura-Ace Di2

Speeds: 2x11
Chainrings:
50-34T, 52-36T, 53-39T, 54-42T, 55-42T
Cassettes: 11-25T, 11-28T, 11-30T, 12-25T, 12-28T
Brakes:
Disc / Rim
RRP Disc: Starting from £3,098 / $3,486 / AU$4,699
RRP Rim: Starting from £3,590 / $3,776 / AU$4,499

Offering both rim and disc options, Shimano was the first of the big three to jump into electronic drivetrains with its Di2 shifting which spurred Campagnolo and later, SRAM, to follow suit. Though it wasn't the first-ever with Mavic's Zap having been released some 16 years prior.

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.

Dura-Ace is still 11 speed, and the rear derailleur is capable of turning an 11-30T cassette. Shimano has also used its Shadow design for the rear mech, meaning its svelte profile is more out of the way should you hit the deck drive side down. The cranks are hollow aluminium, and all the chainrings use the same bolt circle diameter — you can have an inner chainring as small as 34t and a big ring with up to 55T. The Dura-Ace crank is also available with an integrated power meter, which utilises strain gauges built into each arm which are hardwired together in the spindle. 

Campagnolo Super Record EPS

Speeds: 2x12
Chainrings:
53/39T, 52/36T, 50/34T
Cassettes: 11-29T, 11-32T, 11-34T
Brakes:
Disc / Rim
RRP Disc: Starting from £3,809 / $3,939 / AU$7,199
RRP Rim: Starting from £4,099 / $3,194 / AU$7,709

Campagnolo was fashionably late to the disc brake party, but this tardiness allowed them to avoid the performance and aesthetic growing pains SRAM and Shimano experienced. Using flat-mount callipers, the front comes with fittings for 160mm and 140mm rotors.

As the most expensive drivetrain you can buy, Super Record is heavy on carbon fibre, titanium, and ceramic bearings which drives the price up. The latest EPS V4 features an upgraded junction box, more compact and longer-lasting battery, and an upgraded front derailleur with more shifting 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 three cassette options 11-34T, 11-32T and 11-29T, the one derailleur can handle both, and front chainrings are available in 34T up to 52T.

SRAM Red Etap AXS

Speeds: 2x12, 1x12
Chainrings:
46/33T, 48/35T, 50/37T, 36T, 38T, 40T, 42T, 44T, 46T, 48T, 50T
Cassettes: 10-26T, 10-28T, 10-33T
Brakes:
Disc / Rim
RRP Disc: Starting from £3,349 / $3,648 / AU$3,929 (no chainset) 2x
RRP Rim: Starting from £3,159 / $3,488 / AU$3,142 (no chainset) 2x

Launched at the beginning of 2019, RED eTap AXS is SRAM's top group. It's wireless and electronic and there are 12 gears at the back. It’s available in 1x or 2x versions and features a built-in Quarq power meter, with the extra sprocket at the rear SRAM has removed a few teeth from the front chainring; the biggest commercially available double-ring option is now a 50/37T — though the pros have been riding 54/41T rings. 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 — but some reports suggest it adds some friction to the equation.

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 and allowing for 1x or 2x setups with the same components. 

Red 22 is another electric road bike groupset from SRAM

(Image credit: SRAM)

SRAM Red eTap

Speeds: 2x11
Chainrings: 46/36T, 50/34T, 52/36T, 53/39T, 55/42T 
Cassettes: 11-25T, 11-26T, 11-28T, 11-30T, 11-32T
Brakes: Disc / Rim
RRP Disc: Starting from £2,758 / $2,150 / AU$3,700 
RRP Rim: Starting from £2,059 / $2,719 / AU$3,440

Red eTap was the first modern wireless group to hit the market (Mavic was first here too with Mektronic), and it built the foundation for AXS. It no longer sits at the tippy top of SRAM's hierarchy, but it's still a top-performing group. eTap was also the first instance we saw of SRAM's intuitive shifting system - press one shifter for a harder gear, the other for an easier one, and both to shift at the front system. 

Each component uses its own battery, with the shifters powered by coin cell batteries and the derailleurs using rechargeable versions. Unfortunately, AXS and eTap don't speak the same language and the parts are not compatible with one another. 

Available in rim or disc brake varieties eTap has 11 speeds at the back and is compatible with SRAM's standard brakes, cranks, cassettes and chains. That said, there is no clutched rear derailleur or 1x solution. 

FSA K-Force WE

(Image credit: FSA)

FSA K-Force WE

Speeds: 2x11
Chainrings:
53/39T, 52/36T, 50/34T
Cassettes: 11-25T, 11-28T, 11-32T
Brakes:
Disc / Rim
RRP Disc: Starting from £2,980 / $TBC / €3,270
RRP Rim: Starting from £2,600 / $2,760 / €2,859

FSA's first groupset has been years in the making and the component brand has employed a semi-wireless system to wrangle your gears. The front and rear derailleurs are connected to a battery hidden in the seat post and talk to the shifters via a ANT+ — standard coin cell 2032 batteries power the shifters.

Available in both rim and disc brake options, the shift buttons take the form of a rocker. Instead of trying to build adjustability into the shifters for different sized hands, FSA instead opted for small and large-sized levers. 

With 11 speeds at the back, FSA offers its own cassette made from titanium and heat-treated steel and available in three versions; 11-25T, 11-28T and 11-32T. The K-Force crank features hollow carbon arms and is based around a four-arm 110BCD with chainrings ranging from 34T to 53T.

Shimano Ultegra R8050 Di2 rim brake road bike groupset

(Image credit: Courtesy)

Shimano Ultegra Di2

Speeds: 2x12
Chainrings:
46-36T, 50-34T, 52-36T, 53-39T
Cassettes: 11-25T, 11-28T, 11-30T, 11-32T, 11-34T, 12-25T, 14-28T
Brakes:
Disc / Rim
RRP Disc: Starting from £2,000 / $2,229 / AU$2,999
RRP Rim: Starting from £1,700 / $1,870 / AU$2,650

Shimano's Ultegra Di2 offers nearly the same performance as the flagship Dura-Ace, with only a small weight penalty and a substantially lower price tag. 

With 11 speeds at the back, Ultegra is available with hydraulic disc or standard rim brakes. When it comes to shifting quality and speed, (especially with Di2) the difference between Ultegra and Dura-Ace is negligible and the second tier group also offers Syncro and semi-Syncro shifting.

Ultegra also gets the low profile 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 ends — the Japanese outfit has also recently launched a gravel-specific GRX group 

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.

SRAM Force Etap AXS

Speeds: 2x12, 1x12
Chainrings:
48-35T / 46-33T / 36T, 38T, 40T, 42T, 44T, 46T, 48T
Cassettes: 10-26T, 10-28T, 10-33T
Brakes:
Disc / Rim
RRP Disc: Starting from £2,164 / $2,478 / AU$2,593 2x
RRP Rim: Starting from £2,274 / $2,678 / AU$3,143 2x

Much the same as Ultegra is to Dura-Ace, so SRAM's Force group is to Red. Force AXS is 12 speed, sees the same motors and highspeed chipset in the wireless derailleurs, and the Orbit fluid-based damper too, however, there's a bit less carbon, no ceramic bearings to be found and a small weight penalty over Red.

While the Force AXS chainset is a few grams heavier than the elaborate one-piece Red version, for the consumer we would argue it's a better option. Not only are the one-piece Red chainrings expensive but if you wear one out, or want to go bigger or smaller, you have to replace the integrated power meter too — SRAM does have an exchange program, but it adds a few steps and doesn't reduce the cost all that much. 

Force AXS also uses a flat top chain which some friction testing has shown to actually be about half a watt faster than its Red-branded compatriot. 

Mechanical

While electronic shifting is one of the most wizbang things you can bolt onto a bike, mechanical shifting is still as good as ever. Yes, you will have to replace a gear cable or housing every so often, but it will never run out of battery when you are miles from home. 

Shimano Dura-Ace

Speeds: 2x11
Chainrings: 50-34T, 52-36T, 53-39T, 54-42T, 55-42T
Cassettes: 11-25T, 11-28T, 11-30T, 12-25T, 12-28T
Brakes: Disc / Rim
RRP Disc: Starting from £1,875 / $2,599 / AU$3,199
RRP Rim: Starting from £2,000 / $1,970 / AU$3,000

Di2 gets much of the fanfare when it comes to Shimano's groupsets but its mechanical shifting is no slouch, and it's a touch cheaper too. They're available in both rim and hydraulic disc brake versions and the ergonomics match their electronic counterparts. The Di2 rear derailleur features the same Shadow design and direct-mount hanger which offers easier wheel changes and improved clearance and shifting accuracy. 

At the cranks, the R9100 front derailleur has a smaller profile offering improved tyre clearance and is claimed to be more aero too.

As for the rest of the group, the brake callipers, cranks (including the power meter), chainrings and cassettes are all exactly the same parts.

Super Record is Campganolo's best mechanical road bike groupset

(Image credit: Campagnolo)

Campagnolo Super Record

Speeds: 2x12
Chainrings:  53/39T, 52/36T, 50/34T  
Cassettes: 11-29T, 11-32T, 11-34T
Brakes: Disc / Rim
RRP Disc: Starting from £2,599 / $3,529 / AU$5,325
RRP Rim: Starting from £2,859 / $3,194 / AU$4,854

Campagnolo Super Record was the first groupset to make the jump to a 12-speed rear cassette. Utilising a newly designed direct mount rear mech, new front derailleur and four-arm carbon crank, the group also has improved shifter ergonomics and flat mount disc brakes with fittings for up to a 160mm rotor. 

Don't worry Campy fans, the veritable thumb shifter is still here, and so is the Ultra-Shift tech which allows for three downshifts and five upshifts with a full swing of the respective lever. 

A single rear derailleur accommodates all the available cassettes including the wide range 11-34T, and the new four-arm crank allows for the same compatibility with chainrings. 

SRAM Red 22 is the lightest road bike groupset you can buy

(Image credit: SRAM)

SRAM Red 22

Speeds: 2x11
Chainrings: 46/36T, 50/34T, 52/36T, 53/39T, 55/42T
Cassettes: 11-25T, 11-26T, 11-28T, 11-30T, 11-32T
Brakes: Disc / Rim
RRP Disc: Starting from £2,320 / $2,459 / AU$2,890
RRP Rim: Starting from £2,120 / $2,159 / AU$2,590

For the weight weenies among us, SRAM Red 22 is the lightest group you can buy, tipping the scales about 200g lighter than Dura-Ace or Super Record. 

It's here you begin to find SRAM's DoubleTap shifting; swing the lever halfway and you're met with a positive click which moves the derailleur down, while a full swing moves it up. The YAW derailleur also allows for cross chaining without needing to trim, though SRAM doesn't recommend riding like this. 

At the back, SRAM offers the rear mech in standard and WiFLi long-cage version which can spin up to a 28T or 32T cog respectively. 

Rotor makes a hydraulic road bike groupset called the UNO

(Image credit: Rotor)

Rotor Uno

Speeds: 1x12/1x13
Chainrings: 38T, 40T, 42T, 44T, 46T, 48T, 50T, 52T, 54T
Cassettes: 10-36T, 10-39T, 10-46T, 10-52T,
Brakes: Disc
RRP Disc: Starting from £2,299 / $2,700 / AU$4,500

Rotor is always a brand to think outside the box, and its 13-speed hydraulic Uno groupset is the perfect example. While everyone else was faffing over batteries and motors to move the chain, Rotor opted for hydraulic fluid. The thinking here is the same as with hydraulic brakes; once you get a set properly bled they will work perfectly for years with little to no maintenance. So why couldn't it work for a groupset?

It's available as a 1x12 and 1x13 speed option or 2x11speed. The derailleur and shifters are compatible with the 12- and 13-speed cassette and can be swapped without the need for tools. The rear mech has a clutch to keep the chain from swinging around too much and the cassettes are compatible with any standard HG freehub so you can keep using your current wheelset

Shimano Ultegra mechanical

Speeds: 2x11
Chainrings: 46-36T, 50-34T, 52-36T, 53-39T
Cassettes: 11-25T, 11-28T, 11-30T, 11-32T, 11-34T, 12-25T, 14-28T
Brakes: Disc / Rim
RRP Disc: Starting from £1,100 / $1,344 / AU$1,725
RRP Rim: Starting from £1,100 / $1,084 / AU$1,550

Ultegra mechanical, like its Di2 counterpart, offers similar performance to Dura-Ace, albeit with a slight weight penalty and more wallet-friendly price tag. In fact, it was common practice for many years for WorldTour Pro's to run Ultegra cassettes to help their bikes make weight. 

The Dual Control levers have the same ergonomics as their more expensive sibling, including the carbon levers — you actually get a bit more free stroke adjustment with the Ultra levers. 

The Ultegra rear derailleur comes in both a short cage and medium cage design, as well as a clutched RX version for those with a penchant for gravel bikes. Ultegra also offers a larger 11-34T cassette; however, the rest of the parts including the brakes, rotors and cranks are all identical to those used in the Di2 group. 

SRAM Force is also a mid-range road bike groupset

(Image credit: SRAM)

SRAM Force 

Speeds: 2x11 1x11
Chainrings: 46/36T, 50/34T, 52/36T, 53/39T, 55/42T, 38T, 40T, 42T, 44T, 46T, 48T, 50T, 52T, 54T
Cassettes: 11-25T, 11-26T, 11-28T, 11-32T, 11-36T, 10-42T
Brakes: Disc / Rim
RRP Disc: Starting from £1,040 / $995 / AU$1,800
RRP Rim: Starting from £830 / $985 / AU$1,465 

We feel like we are beginning to flog a dead horse here when we say Force is almost the same as Red, bar carbon this or ceramic that, meaning it's heavier and cheaper, but that's precisely what this group offers.

Force uses the same DoubleTap shifting mechanism and features the YAW front mech along with both WiFLi and standard versions of the rear derailleur. It's available in both rim and hydraulic disc brake versions and uses a two-piece arm and spider design with the same bolts found on the RED 10-speed crank. 

Gearing comes in the form of a 46/36T up to a 55/42 at the front which can be paired to cassettes ranging from 11-25T up to 11-36T.

There is also a 1x version of Force (previously known as CX1), using many of the same components as its road fairing stablemate. The main differences are in the rear derailleur with a rolling bearing clutch, X-Sync wide narrow chainrings and the wide range cassette — which requires an XD driver. 

Campagnolo Record 12 speed disc road bike groupset groupset

(Image credit: Campagnolo)

Campagnolo Record

Speeds: 2x12
Chainrings: 53/39T, 52/36T, 50/34T
Cassettes: 11-29T, 11-32T, 11-34T
Brakes: Disc / Rim
RRP Disc: Starting from £1,764 / $2,799 / AU$3,949
RRP Rim: Starting from £1,999 / $2,174 / AU$3,229

The only difference between Record and Super Record is that the former features slightly less titanium and carbon fibre used throughout. Most importantly it still functions the same (including the thumb shifter), has 12 speeds at the back, a four-arm crank, comes in the rim and disc brake flavours and the derailleurs are based around the same exact design. 

All of this adds up to a noticeably lighter price tag and a weight difference of about 200g depending on the gearing and brakes. 

Campagnolo Chorus

Speeds: 2x12
Chainrings: 52/36T, 50/34T, 48/32T
Cassettes: 11-29T, 11-32T, 11-34T
Brakes: Disc / Rim
RRP Disc: Starting from £1,600 / $1,940 / AU$3,020
RRP Rim: Starting from £1,120 / $1,700 / AU$2,140

Chorus takes another step down in Campagnolo's pricing hierarchy but it still offers 12 speeds, the thumb shifter and carbon crank arms.

Campy offers Chorus in slightly different gearing combinations, swapping the standard 53/39T chainset for a mountain friendly 48/32, while still offering three cassettes.  

The group is available in both rim and disc brake guises, however, the latter loses the ability to adjust the bite point though you can still tailor the lever reach. 

Budget

Groupsets have come along way from downtube shifters, and even the lower end of the pricing spectrum performs extremely well. 

Don't expect to find much carbon, titanium or ceramic here, but these groups will be hard wearing.

Shimano 105

Speeds: 2x11
Chainrings: 50-34T, 52-36T, 53-39T
Cassettes: 11-28T, 11-30T, 11-32T, 11-34T, 12-25T, 14-28T
Brakes: Disc / Rim
RRP Disc: Starting from £800 / $985 / AU$1,300
RRP Rim: Starting from £596 / $691 / AU$1,100

Shimano's 105 groupset has always been the workhorse in the range, and the latest R7000/R7020 11-speed version offers similar performance to its more expensive siblings, for considerably less outlay. 

The Dual Control levers have received an ergonomic update, and thankfully, the introduction of the hydro-disc levers have killed the non-series RS505 lever — the ugliest thing Shimano has ever made. 

Throughout the groupset, Shimano has utilised aluminium and steel in lieu of carbon and titanium, a compromise needed to hit the lower price point. You'll still find the four-arm cranks which will accept rings ranging from 53T down to 34T and a wide range of cassettes including the turn-a-mountain-into-a-molehill 11-34T

Shimano Tiagra 4720 is a 10-speed disc brake road bike groupset groupset

(Image credit: Shimano)

Shimano Tiagra

Speeds: 2x10, 3x10
Chainrings: 48-34T, 50-34T, 52-36T, 50-39-30T
Cassettes: 11-25T, 12-28T, 11-32T, 11-34T
Brakes: Disc / Rim
RRP Disc: Starting from £650 / $TBC / AU$TBC
RRP Rim: Starting from £513 / $570 / AU$TBC

Tiagra is one of Shimano's 10-speed beginner groupsets. It drops a cog at the back and is a significant beneficiary of trickle-down tech from Shimano's higher-end groupsets, offering designs seen at the Dura-Ace level not all that many years ago but at a budget price.

For many years, Tiagra used older style externally routed STI levers, however, Shimano has trickled the internally routed Dual Control levers down to Tiagra. You'll also find the four-arm hollow cranksets and chainrings that all utilised the same bolt circle diameter — Shimano makes these in triples for a massive gear range. 

At the front, shifting borrows the design from the Dura-Ace 9000 derailleur, and at the back, there is the option for a short or long-cage cassette. The biggest drawback here is when it does come time to upgrade, Shimano's 10-speed components aren't compatible with the 11-speed kit, so it's an all or nothing upgrade

SRAM Rival is a budget friendly road bike groupset

(Image credit: SRAM)

SRAM Rival

Speeds: 2x11, 1x11
Chainrings: 46/36T, 50/34T, 52/36T, 38T, 40T, 42T, 44T, 46T, 48T, 50T 
Cassettes: 11-28T, 11-28T, 11-32T, 11-42T
Brakes: Disc / Rim
RRP Disc: Starting from £979 / $950 / AU$1,357
RRP Rim: Starting from £667 / $760 / AU$1,100

Rival borrows heavily from Force; there are both 1x11 and 2x11 options with DoubleTap shifting and the YAW front derailleur that allows for trim-free cross chaining. 

At first glance, the levers look more or less identical to their Force cousins; however, the carbon is replaced by aluminium. The discernible performance difference is limited, and really amounts to a different number on the scale. 

With up to a 32t cog at the back, Rival has standard and WiFLi rear mech options, though at this price point the largest chainring combo you're going to get is a 52/36.

SRAM also produces a 1x version but it's only compatible with hydraulic disc brakes. To keep the chain from bouncing off the front chainrings, it has narrow-wide teeth, which is paired to a roller bearing clutch in the rear derailleur. 

The Sram Apex is a 10 speed road bike groupset

(Image credit: Sram)

SRAM Apex

Speeds: 2x10
Chainrings: 48/34T, 50/34T, 40T, 42T, 44T
Cassettes: 11-23T, 11-26T, 11-28T, 11-32T, 11-36T, 12-25T, 12-26T, 12-27T, 12-28T, 12-32T, 12-36T, 11-42T
Brakes: Disc / Rim
RRP Disc: Starting from £846 / $TBC / AU$TBC
RRP Rim: Starting from £524 / $TBC / AU$TBC

Apex is SRAM's entry-level road groupset, which offers 2x10 shifting with the brand's patented DoubleTap mechanism. At this level there is no YAW from derailleur so you'll need to trim as you shift.

Apex was the first road groupset to offer a 32T rear cog, inspiring the other two to follow suit. SRAM offers short cage and WiFLi versions of the derailleurs, and you won't find disc brakes here. 

There is a 1x version however which is decidedly more modern than it's 2x sibling, it has 11 speeds, the rear mech as a roller bearing clutch and there is a wide-narrow chainring at the front and even hydraulic brakes.

Campagnolo Potenza 11-speed road bike groupset

(Image credit: campagnolo)

Campagnolo Potenza

Speeds: 2x11
Chainrings: 53/39T, 52/36T, 50/34T
Cassettes: 11-25T, 11-27T, 11-29T, 11-32T, 12-27T
Brakes: Disc / Rim
RRP Disc: Starting from £1,400 / $1,665 / AU$1,700
RRP Rim: Starting from £820 / $1,630 / AU$1,400

Released in 2016, Potenza was Campy's attempt to get a share of the OEM market. With 11 speeds, it's available in both rim and disc brake versions and with black or polished silver components.

The shifters maintain the thumb lever, however, Potenza features what Campy calls Power-Shift, meaning you can downshift three cogs, but lose the ability go up by five — if this is a feature you're after head back up to Chorus

Here you still get the four-arm crankset and all the chainrings abiding by the same BCD for universal compatibility, and up to an 11-32T cassette, though you'll need the medium-cage derailleur to turn this cog.

Campagnolo Centaur 11 speed road bike groupset

(Image credit: Campagnolo)

Campagnolo Centaur

Speeds: 2x11
Chainrings: 52/36T, 50/34T
Cassettes: 11-29T, 11-32T, 12-32T
Brakes: Rim
RRP Rim: Starting from £553 / $790 / AU$N/A

While the polished silver colourway makes it look pretty Gucci, Centaur is Campy's entry-level groupset, and like the similar options from SRAM and Shimano it greatly benefits from trickle-down tech.

The shift levers are fibre-reinforced plastic, the brake levers are aluminium and there is no option for disc stoppers. Like Potenza, the 11-speed cassettes come as big as 32T, but you will need the medium cage version of the derailleur and all the chainrings utilise the same BCD thanks to the four-arm crank. Unfortunately, if you're after disc brakes, you'll need to work your way upwards in the Campy price hierarchy.

What to look for in a road groupset

There will be two significant factors in determining what you may choose; your budget, and the bike you're planning to bolt the groupset onto. 

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, either communicating via wires or a proprietary wireless protocol. The advantages to electronic shifting are; there are no (shift) cables and housing to replace (which is handy if your bike has fully hidden or internally routed cables), they have programmable shifting including supplementary 'satellite' or 'sprint' shifters, and they enable 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 they cost significantly more.

Mechanical shifting, on the other hand, is cable actuated. There are no junction boxes or batteries to keep track of and you'll get a more tactile 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.

Poorly maintained, the performance of mechanical groupsets can degrade over time, and when it fails it's often a repairable fix such as a replacement cable which can occasionally be bodged to get you home. If an electronic groupset fails, it's often without warning and catastrophic in that a component will need to be replaced, with roadside hacks proving considerably more difficult. 

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.

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