For all intents and purposes, there are three brands of road groupsets: Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo. They all do basically the same thing, and they all have experienced riders who swear by them, but as we all know, the devil is in the details.
Hailing from Japan, Shimano commands 50% of the groupset market. As the owners of the trademark ‘Freehub,’ Shimano has a history of innovation. As the cycling industry’s mass manufacturers, Shimano’s range of groupsets cater for every skill and price range.
Claris, Sora and Tiagra
As the companies entry level groupsets, these sacrifice a certain element of performance and efficiency to keep production costs low. As the kings of trickle-down technology, even these low-end groupsets share some of the same technologies as the high-end performance groupsets. These 8-, 9- and 10-speed groupsets are perfect for casual, first-time road riders.
105 and Ultegra
Aimed at the keen road rider, 105 and Ultegra provide sharp, clean shifting every time. 105 is the standard against which all other value-for-money groupsets are compared. 105 boasts many of the features found on Ultegra or Dura-Ace, without the price tag.
Ultegra is the groupset of choice for most serious riders. Almost all the performance benefits of Dura-Ace at half the price.
Shimano’s no-expense-spared, pro level, ultra lightweight groupset. It’s the groupset of choice for a majority of the international teams, so if you’re looking for the superlative groupset, Shimano Dura-Ace is the one. Coming in at over 300 grams lighter than Ultegra, this groupset is the ultimate exercise in marginal gains.
Both Ultegra and Dura-Ace are available as both mechanical and electronic systems.
Straight out of Illinois, the SRAM corporation has slowly been buying out the cycling production market. Now the owners of Rockshox, Truvativ, Quarq and Zipp, it’s more than likely that everything except the frame and pedals came from SRAM. Comparable to Shimano in range, SRAM aims to accommodate the skills of every road rider on the road. With WiFLi across all SRAM groupsets, SRAM’s unique selling points are wider range blocks and significantly lighter weights than both Shimano and Campagnolo.
As SRAM’s only low-end groupset, Apex directly competes with Tiagra. With the first wide range cassette and a dedicated 1x system, Apex is squarely marketed at the more adventurous riders.
Rival and Force
As SRAM’s working class drivetrain, Rival is by far SRAM’s most popular. With an 11-speed block and 1x or 2x systems, Rival provides clean, reliable shifting for all disciplines.
Force is SRAM’s penultimate groupset – chic, lightweight and race ready. Force serves a similar purpose to Ultegra, to provide the shifting quality of an elite groupset at a fraction of the cost. As an added bonus, Force comes in at around 400 grams lighter than Ultegra.
The lightest groupset money can buy; if you’re looking to get a bike that weighs less than the water bottles you put on it, Red is the groupset for you. Directly competing with Dura-Ace and Super Record, Red is a mixture of carbon, titanium and ceramics.
Red eTap is SRAM’s wireless electronic option. Slightly heavier than mechanical Red and with a different shifting action, eTap is the ultimate bling factor.
All of SRAM’s groupsets are available in both rim and disc brake options.
The choice of bike collectors and racers alike, no other brand has such a plethora of passionate followers. Like a fine wine, Campagnolo is said to be the only groupset that improves with age. With a history of aerospace and high speed mechanical engineering, Campagnolo only caters to the upper echelons of the cycling community.
As Campagnolo’s cheapest groupset, Centaur directly challenges the dominance of 105 and Rival. Redesigned for the 2018 season, the new Centaur has all the benefits of 105 or Rival, with that added je ne sais quoi that comes with every Campag’ groupset. Plus it’s lighter than 105.
Potenza and Chorus
The lines of direct comparison become blurred when dealing with Campagnolo. Neither groupset is exactly on par with Ultegra or Rival, with Potenza bridging the gap between 105 and Ultegra, and Chorus spanning between Ultegra and Dura-Ace.
Potenza has many of the features of the high-end groupsets, in a much cheaper aluminium shell.
Chorus is the cheapest groupset to be constructed of Campagnolo’s iconic carbon fibre weave. Additionally, Chorus is offered in both mechanical and electronic systems.
Record and Super Record
Campagnolo’s flagship groupset, Record, is not actually their finest offering. Record directly competes with the most expensive drivetrains from SRAM and Shimano, and has been ridden to victory on many a Tour de France stage. However, if for some reason you find that Dura-Ace or Red just aren’t quite good enough for you, there is Super Record.
Super Record has all the same technologies as Record, but is constructed of lighter materials. Coming in at approximately the same price as a very decent road bike, Super Record is the pinnacle of gear changing technology.
Currently all Campagnolo groupsets are only compatible with rim brakes, but disc brakes aren’t far away.