The age old question for every mountain biker out there: do you run Sram or Shimano on your rig? Each brand has their pros and cons, but which one is right for you?
The biggest difference between the two brands is the number of gears. Sram has that shiny new Eagle, with 12 cogs of shifting goodness, giving you a massive range of 500%, whereas Shimano only has 11-speed, giving a maximum single chainring range of 460%.
The bling factor with Eagle is unbeatable.
You want a front derailleur? You ride Shimano, simple as that. Whilst there are still Sram front derailleurs out there, none of them have the latest technology, and none of them are designed for the higher level groupsets. Sram has said that they are never going to make a new mountain bike front derailleur again. Bold words.
This is much of a muchness, the same basic principles apply to both companies. Set your limit screws and adjust your cable tension, that’s about all there is to it. Where Sram really shines though is its set-and-forget design. Sram seems to last much longer, without needing the fine adjustments required by Shimano. For brakes, Sram has been known to be more difficult to bleed than Shimano, especially before the advent of the guide series. Since then they have improved, but Shimano still takes the cake for ease of service.
Any difference in reliability between the companies will be small, with Sram possibly coming out on top. However, the differences really come to light when you look at the brakes, where the companies use different technologies. Sram has had issues in the past with brake reliability, especially in warmer climates, whereas Shimano consistently work like a dream. Sram has claimed to have fixed the issue with their latest iteration of brakes, and so far it seems that they have.
Guide calipers have had issues with heat in the past, but Sram claims to have fixed this.
Feel is a hard category to quantify because so much of it comes down to personal preference. You can pretty easily feel the difference between a Sram or Shimano shifter. Sram is often described as having a crisper feel than Shimano, but this doesn’t correlate to a difference in shifting quality, it’s just about what you prefer.
Both companies have a wide range of products that can accommodate the skill and/or budget of any rider, but if you’re looking for the very best, Sram’s XX1 Eagle is easily the best mechanical groupset available, with a wider range and better performance than mechanical XTR. Shimano’s Di2 provides clean crisp shifting if you want to stretch an extra $700. It’s slightly better than Eagle, but you don’t get the range that you do with 12 gears.
Value for money
Before you can decide which is the best value for money, you have to know the equivalent products to compare between the two brands. As an approximation, Sram’s NX is about the same quality as Shimano’s SLX, GX is comparable to XT, XO is on the lower side of XTR, and XX is slightly above. Commonly, Shimano’s range is slightly cheaper, but this will vary.
So what should you run? Well, like anything, it comes down to personal preference, but a popular choice at the moment to optimise the bike is to combine the best of both: to run a Sram drive train with Shimano brakes. Many people find the more defined feel with the decreased need for servicing is worth the few extra dollars, and while Sram’s brakes are getting much better, the serviceability and reliability of Shimano’s brakes are yet to be matched.
A match made in heaven!