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Buyer's guide to road bike groupsets

Joseph Delves
7 Mar 2021

The Cyclist guide to the best road bike groupsets

A road bike groupset comprises all the moving bits on your bike: the combined gear and brake levers, cables, brake callipers and derailleurs, plus the bottom bracket, cranks, chainrings, chain and cassette – also known as the drivetrain.

Some use cables to actuate the gears and are known as mechanical groupsets. Others employ battery-powered motors and are known as electronic groupsets.

Then there’s the question of brakes. Almost all groupsets will have options catering to both users of traditional calliper brakes along with more modern disc brakes.

Even if you stick to the main players, there’s a wealth of options. However, the key difference between the big three – Shimano, Sram and Campagnolo – is how the rider shifts gear.

Campagnolo uses two levers – one thumb-activated, one by your finger – while Shimano has the brake lever doing double duty as the second shift lever. Sram has one finger-operated lever that shifts up or down depending on how far you press it.

With each method having as much to do with patents as it does ergonomics, it’s hard to say if one system is better than another.

It’s largely a matter of preference and what you’re familiar with – although we’ve never met a rider who hasn’t been able to get used to any brand within a few rides.

What to look for?

One of the most obvious questions is how many gears do you get? Obviously having 12 when your friend has 11 sounds cool, but rather than focus on the number, it’s also worth considering how large the range is – as this will affect the difference between the easiest and hardest gears.

Then there are further benefits like clutch mechanisms to stop the chain rattling or the ability to ditch the front derailleur and shifter and set up your gears with just a single front chainring. Most groupsets allow you to mix and match parts, while all will offer options relating to the ratios they provide.

Most features picked out will represent the extreme ends of the range, so make sure you’re sure of what you’re buying before clicking to purchase.

Read more: Shimano v Campagnolo v Sram: The state of play in the groupset wars

Electronic groupsets

1. Shimano Dura-Ace R9150 Di2 11-Speed

Now into its third generation, Dura-Ace Di2 wasn’t the very first electronic groupset, but it was the first to make push-button shifting accessible to the masses. Building on the previous two versions, it shares several upgrades in common with the latest mechanical Dura-Ace R9100 groupset, including an optional chainset-integrated power meter, the choice of rim or hydraulic disc brakes, plus a larger 11-30t cassette.

However, it’s the electronics we’re interested in here, and in this respect, there are some small but significant changes. Two in particular stand out: shifting function and rear mech design. Shifting now offers the choice of three modes: Synchro, Semi-Synchro and Manual. Most radically, Synchro mode allows you to operate both front and rear derailleurs through a single shifter.

It works by following a pre-programmed shifting ‘map’ so that at predetermined points, pressing the right-hand shift button will adjust both front and rear mechs simultaneously to select the optimum ratio.

Semi-Synchro is perhaps the most useful for road riding, as it does away with the need to shift on the cassette as you move between front chainrings – so no more fumbling both shifters together.

Along with a conventional manual mode, there’s also a full customisation option that allows any button to be tuned to operate any of the shifts.

Looking to the derailleurs, the new Shadow rear mech uses a lower mount and trajectory that both keeps it out of harm’s way and puts it closer to the cassette for smoother, sharper shifting.

Although this latest Di2 groupset is still a wired system, it now includes wireless connectivity to smartphones or bike computers, along with a smartphone app that allows users to custom-tune their shifting.

As with previous generations, LED indicators display battery level and if it gets too low, the front mech will stop operating to save battery life. The longest established electronic groupset, Dura-Ace Di2 comes with proven reliability and is a common sight across the pro peloton. Now a couple of years old, there are rumours the next version will be wireless, which might make it worth holding out for.

Number of sprockets: 11. Maximum cassette range: 11-30t. Maximum and minimum chainset: 55/42t-50/34t. Single chainring option: no. Additional features: Low profile Shadow derailleur design, power meter option

2. Shimano Ultegra R8050 Di2 11-Speed

Good as Dura-Ace is, Shimano’s Ultegra Di2 still offers much of the excitement - but for a fraction of the cost. It does this by pinching much of what was previously offered by its more expensive sibling, repackaging it slightly, and slashing the cost.

Now onto its second generation, its latest redesign has seen almost everything previously exclusive to Dura-Ace now carried over.

Unlike the groupset’s first iteration, Syncro Shift now comes as standard. Everything looks slicker too. Shimano has also done away with the externally mounted controller, so you don’t have an ugly unit zip tied under your stem. Instead, everything is usually neatly integrated into the bar end.

Mechanically, things have moved on as well. You get the same excellent shifting thanks to the Shadow design rear mech, but the crankset is now also improved. Evolved from the Dura-Ace R9100 version, it’s stiffer and slightly lighter.

For riders running conventional calliper brakes, their capacity has also been increased, allowing them to work with the latest wheels with rims up to 30mm wide. Disc users will also find their brake pads have sprouted the band’s cooling fins to help fight brake-fade on prolonged descents.

Somewhat more user-friendly than the race-focussed Dura-Ace which allows for only a 30t largest sprocket, the Ultegra groupset offers a long cage mech that’ll accommodate a cassette up to 34t – perfect for when you’re feeling a little less than pro.

In our experience, unless you value the small weight savings of Dura-Ace components, the price difference makes Ultegra Di2 a much more attractive and versatile option.

Wander around the pits at a ProContinental level race and you’ll see this groupset bolted to plenty of team bikes – which rather begs the question; why pay more?

Read our full review here

Number of sprockets: 11. Maximum cassette range: 11-34t. Maximum and minimum chainset: 53/39t-50/34t. Single chainring option: No. Additional features: Low profile Shadow derailleur design, 46/36t cyclocross crankset

3. Shimano GRX Di2 11-speed

Buy Shimano GRX Di2 11-speed components from Freewheel now

Shimano’s most recent electronic groupset is the gravel and off-road specific GRX. Solid and dependable, it’s likely to be exactly what riders in these disciplines will be looking for.

A big advantage of the GRX range is that it's not just a single groupset but rather a family of components that can be purchased in pick ’n’ mix fashion to take on different guises across various price points.

Allowing it to be configured as 1x or 2x, you can take your pick as to whether you major on the road or MTB influence – either way, there are sufficient options to ensure no one should be left wanting when it comes to setup options.

In fact, a lot of its features will be familiar to off-road riders already. For one thing, the GRX rear derailleur uses Shimano’s clutch system to stop the chain flapping about on rough terrain. However, on the GRX rear derailleur, its tension is specifically tuned to be lighter than Shimano’s mountain bike versions to match the lower impact forces of gravel riding.

Also familiar to MTB riders, and also helping keep the chain in place, Shimano’s Dynamic Chain Engagement tooth profile makes an appearance on the GRX groupset’s 1x chainrings.

At the same time, while the brake callipers and disc rotors are unchanged from Shimano's road product offering, the brake lever axis has been positioned higher than on Shimano’s road levers. Allowing for increased leverage, this helps make generating braking power from the hoods a lot easier.

Available with either a single or 48/31t double crankset, the system also offers a huge 11-42t maximum cassette range. Essentially, if you don’t mind the big jumps between gears, most riders will get away without a front derailleur – some consolation against having to put up with 11 rather than 12 sprockets.

Number of sprockets: 11. Maximum cassette range: 11-42t Maximum and minimum chainset: 48/31t Single chainring option: yes Additional features: Gravel-specific, Clutch mechanism

Read our full review here

Buy Shimano GRX Di2 11-speed components from Freewheel now

4. Sram Red eTap AXS 12-speed

Offering the most gears you’re going to find anywhere, the addition of the first ever 12th sprocket is far from the only achievement managed by Sram’s radical 12-speed Red eTap AXS groupset. The first company to offer wireless shifting, not only has Sram now offered an extra gear, but it’s also shrunk its entire offering.

All the new cassettes now start from a 10t sprocket, meaning it offers wider ranges than its rivals. This has also allowed it to shrink the size of the chainrings, meaning a standard compact moves from a 50/34t configuration down to a 46/33t. Offering smaller jumps between gears, the brand now offers four different chainset options, each with the ability to run a chainring integrated power meter.

Common to each is the narrow gap between their two chainrings. Now standardised to a maximum 13t differential, this leaves the eTap AXS groupset stunningly smooth when shifting at the front. It’s a quality that’s further enhanced by the Orbit hydraulic damper in the rear mech, which helps provides more consistent chain tension, especially over rough ground.

Also improving shifting, Sram claims new motors and chips have marginally quickened the gear change speed, an occasional complaint against previous iterations of the groupset.

With no wires, set up and installation is easy. And while it’s a subjective matter, there’s certainly a case for this being the best looking groupset on the market. Remote shift buttons for sprinting or time-trial bars are also a doddle to add.

Pleasingly user-friendly, despite the extra sprocket, the new cassettes still fit standard 11-speed freehub spacing, meaning you won’t need to change your wheels, just your freehub body to Sram's XDR design. Once installed, unlike other electronic alternatives, the detachable batteries on Sram’s chunky looking derailleurs can also be removed for easy charging away from the bike.

There’s also a couple of single chainring crankset options, along with a very wide 10-33t cassette. Currently only available to work with hydraulic disc brakes, as far as we know, there are no plans for this to change.

Cycling journalists’ penchant for Spinal Tap jokes would have suggested that groupset manufacturers would have stopped at 11-sprockets. But in pushing past this limit Sram has supplied something groundbreaking.

Equally suiting racers, gravel riders or just people that like lots of gearing options, with an incredible range of ratios, great shifting, wireless control and future-proof customisation, even at close to £4,000, it still makes a solid case for emptying your savings account.

Number of sprockets: 12 Maximum cassette range: 10-33t Maximum and minimum chainset: 46/33t-50/37t Single chainring option: yes Additional features: Power meter option

Read our full review here

5. Sram Force eTap AXS 12-speed

These new Force eTap AXS components increase the versatility of Sram’s hugely popular second-tier wireless groupset – and it gets a posh new gloss-black look to boot.

New options available include wider gear ratios at both ends of the drivetrain plus a wider DUB axle standard paired to a new Wide front derailleur to increase rear tyre clearance for gravel bikes using a 2x setup.

Allowing Sram to add a radically diminished chainring combo to the groupset, this 43/30t combination, this will further suit the groupset to those after sub-compact style gearing.

The second and quite significant benefit of the new Wide components is improved rear tyre clearance. This will be good news to anyone wishing to use a double chainring setup on a gravel bike, as normally the placement of the front derailleur restricts the use of very wide tyres.

Other than the extra clearance offered and new shiny gloss black look, the function of the new Wide front derailleur remains mostly unchanged, maintaining the same eTap battery and Sram’s Yaw, trimless front shifting.

To go with the new front of drivetrain options, Sram has also added a Force level 10-36t cassette (12-speed) to the range. Like the changes up front, the new gear ratios require a new rear derailleur.

This means the latest Force eTap AXS Wide rear derailleur is designed to pair specifically with the new lower ratios 10-36t cassette size. Otherwise, it remains mostly unchanged. Again aside from a more high-end, glossy aesthetic, it retains the same eTap battery, Orbit clutch system and oversized jockey wheels.

The cassette mounts via the XDR driver body, as per the rest of Sram’s 12-speed cassette range. A useful point to note is the new Wide 36t max rear derailleur is still compatible with smaller cassettes – so it will shift fine with 10-33t and 10-28t cassettes too and can be used in a 1x setup or as a 2x with any of Sram’s extensive range of chainset options. Leaving the system with a significantly extended gear offering, this is now notably larger than its competitors.

Should you want it, Sram also now offers a redesigned the paddle that you can use with a remote dropper post lever. Assuming you’re happy to run a single chainring, Sram has removed the ratcheting mechanism from the left-hand shift lever, leaving its paddle cable to seamlessly actuate a dropper post.

Number of sprockets: 12 Maximum cassette range: 10-34t Maximum and minimum chainset: 46/33t - 48/35t Single chainring option: yes Additional features: Disc only

Read our first look report here

6. Campagnolo Super Record EPS

An electronic jewel to adorn premium road bikes. Campagnolo was last to disc brakes but first to 12-speed, and marries both in its Super Record EPS Disc groupset. In contrast to Sram’s approach of creating a greater total range with 12-speed, Campagnolo opted to introduce a sprocket in the middle of the cassette, believing a smoother progression through the gears to be of greater benefit.

According to Campagnolo, Super Record sits above all other groupsets. Currently, the only electronic groupset the Italian firm produces, it’ll set you back a chunk over £4,000, making it the priciest option on the market.

However, that’s probably part of its appeal. Using carbon fibre extensively across each component, from the cranks to the derailleurs, allows Campagnolo to get the weight of a complete group down to around 2,250g for the conventional calliper version brake, and about 2,500g for the disc-equipped alternative.

Both very attractive, whichever you’re after, we’d also put money on Campagnolo being the last company in the game to offer a top-end conventional calliper groupset. Also good news for people who don’t want to be forced to swap existing components; a Super Record cassette will slot straight onto your current wheels.

Despite expanding the range of its cassette up to 32t, the general impression is still very much of a race-focussed groupset. From the way the shifting works better from the drops than the hoods, down to prioritising smaller and smoother shifts between sprockets than expanding the overall range, the whole assemblage is made for going fast as efficiently as possible. Compared to radical rivals like Sram, it’s more refinement than revolution. Even the modulation of the disc brakes seems designed to put users at ease.

Generally very slinky and dseigned with Italian flair, Campagnolo tends to find its way onto a particular style of bike. However, while we dig its aesthetics, the hydraulic versions of the Super Record set’s levers are a little chunky. More noticeable with the eye than the hand, other than the price it’s one of the few downsides to the gruppo we can think of.

Number of sprockets: 12 Maximum cassette range: 11-32t Maximum and minimum chainset: 54/39t-50/34t Single chainring option: no Additional features: Costs all the money

7. FSA K-Force WE

Buy the FSA K-Force WE groupset from Tredz now

Launching into the highly competitive groupset market takes some considerable effort, but launching into the upper echelons with not only your first groupset but making it an electronic one, is a very bold move indeed.

Yet that’s just what Full Speed Ahead – or FSA as you probably know them – have done with their K-Force WE system.

It was a natural step for the Italian manufacturer, which has already been producing components ranging from chainsets to brakes for many years.

Wireless Electronic (WE) could be viewed as a very inclusive name and that certainly seems to be the goal given the huge range of options FSA is proposing.

With a well-established background in frame components, it’s hardly surprising that the ‘other’ Italian groupset manufacturer has created a massive range of options: the BB386EVO chainset offers six lengths of crank and three chainring sizes, to combine with a choice of three K-Force cassettes, with the largest an 11-32 tooth.

They even offer two brake lever lengths to make sure every rider is catered for. Rather than reinvent the wheel, FSA opted to use a customised version of the ANT+ wireless standard. As well as reducing development costs, the obvious advantage is that K-Force WE is able to communicate with most existing bike computers (as well as peripherals such as power meters).

A major part of the system is the smartphone app that allows you to customise all settings, as well as monitor battery life and diagnose any problems – a PC based version is also available.

K-Force WE uses an internal battery in the seatpost (similar to Di2), which is then wired into the front and rear mechs. As well as keeping the battery out of harm’s way, it also means the mechs can be kept as sleek and compact as possible.

FSA claim that the battery will last 4-6,000km on one charge. Only the shifters are fully wireless and use a CR2032 battery, similar to eTap.

Now on the market for a little over two years, FSA has dropped the price of its K-Force groupset significantly. At the same time, it’s recently teased a disc brake version that should be in shops imminently. Helping bring it in line with the options provided by its better-known rivals, we’ll endeavour to get our hands on it ASAP.

Number of sprockets: 11 Maximum cassette range: 11-32t Maximum and minimum chainset: 53/39t-50/34t Single chainring option: no Additional features: Hybrid wireless, Soon to launch disc version

Buy the FSA K-Force WE groupset from Tredz now

Mechanical Groupsets

Shimano Dura-Ace 9100

The mechanical version of Shimano’s top-end racing groupset provides extremely easy and accurate gear changes from what are likely the most universally lovable shifters out there. However, having been introduced way back in 2016, these shifts are now restricted to a comparatively narrow selection of 11 sprockets. Although excellent on its own terms, Sram and Campagnolo’s more recently revised 12-speed groupsets have since added another extra sprocket plus a few other features that have allowed them to get the jump on Shimano’s flagship groupset.

Luckily the veteran Dura-Ace groupset still has a few great features, meaning if you can snaffle it up at a discount it’s a good option while we await the revised version’s arrival later this year.

Shimano has always done the basics very well, meaning its mechanical and hydraulic braking is probably the best on the market. Shifting is easy and precise too, while weight is pretty much where you’d want it from a top-end product.

Long since giving you the option to fit bigger cassettes elsewhere in its range, current Dura-Ace users will nevertheless have to content themselves with a compact 50/34t chainset and 11-30t cassette as the easiest-to-turn option. While this is plenty for racers, it’s less flattering for average riders, especially in the mountains. At the other end of the range, if you’re in with a shot of winning your national TT championships you’ll find the 55/44t crankset option perfect.

After almost five years on the market, where does this all leave the 9100 series Dura-Ace? The last few years have seen brands’ top-end groupsets increasingly tilting towards the needs of normal riders rather than focussing solely on competitive racers. With greater gearing ranges and more adaptability, this can make the current Dura-Ace groupset seem like a bit of a throwback.

Yet if you’re after something purely for going fast on it’s still spot-on in many ways. Falling precipitously in price, wait a few months for the new version if you want the latest features or absolutely must have 12-speed. But if you’re predominantly after speed, serviceability, and wouldn’t mind some money left in your pocket, the 9100 series Dura-Ace groupset is still a great choice.

Read our full review here

Number of sprockets: 11 Maximum cassette range: 11-30t Maximum and minimum chainset: 55/44-50/34t Single chainring option: no Additional features: Power meter crank available

Shimano Ultegra 8000

The eternal story with Shimano is that each groupset in its hierarchy is very similar to both its posher and poorer relations. This means the difference between Ultegra and Dura-Ace is fairly minimal. A little bit heavier, it actually manages to do some things its more expensive brother can’t, like accommodate a much wider 11-34t cassette. There’s also a cyclocross-specific 36/46t crankset. All round, it’s a good deal more versatile despite also being a good chunk cheaper.

Other key mechanisms carry over entirely from above. This includes the structure of both calliper and disc brakes, meaning both maintenance and performance are pretty much indistinguishable. Sure, although you get carbon brake lever blades, some bits are alloy when they could be carbon, or steel when they could be alloy, but the result is only an extra 300g when totalled up.

Far more noticeable will be the saving in cost. A little more than half the price of Dura-Ace, you’ll be far less sore if you crash and break something. In short, you get all the best Shimano has to offer, which includes easy and reliable shifting, probably the best ergonomics going, and a readily available spares directory. The brakes in particular, with their finned pads and rotors, along with the skinny levers, are splendid.

So what’s less good? For one thing, you only get 11 sprockets on the back. Ultegra can't replicate the huge spread of ratios now offered by Sram. There’s also no option for a branded power meter.

The 8000 series Ultegra has sometimes also felt a little like a work in progress, yet only in as much as it’s accumulated new features and options since its launch. Now with a multi-faceted selection of components available, the current line-up is both superb value and surprisingly adaptable.

Read our full review here

Number of sprockets: 11 Maximum cassette range: 11-34t Maximum and minimum chainset: 53/39-50/34t Single chainring option: no Additional features: CX chainset

Shimano 105 R7000

If Shimano always drops its formerly top-end technology into its cheaper groupsets, and 105 is its latest groupset to be updated, surely it follows that 105 must offer its best technology-to-value ratio? Probably! You’ll get the same 11-sprockets, same braking, and pretty much the same shifting. Coming courtesy of a collection of recently redesigned components, these now much more closely mimic their more expensive siblings.

For one thing, the latest dual-control levers are far reduced in size from their predecessor, now much more closely matching the look and feel of Ultegra. In fact, despite the alloy rather than carbon blade, all three of Shimano's shifters now use the same internal mechanism. Also looking posher, the redesigned chainset is now sleeker and more appealing. Overall weight has also been trimmed slightly, cabling up the derailleurs is now easier, while the amount of movement necessary to shift gears has been decreased.

Like with Ultegra, you can now also bung in a wide 11-34t cassette. Of course, you can’t have everything – so the chainrings aren’t as light and hollow, the cables don’t get a special slippery coating, and your cassette lockring will be steel and not aluminium. Obviously, looks and weights are slightly more chunky, but there’s nothing here to stop you from either building up your bike as you’d like or going as fast on it as your legs will carry you.

In short, if you’re not bothered by the extra couple of hundred grams in weight, you get similar key specs to Ultegra, but at around half the price. It’s why 105 is the perennial workhorse in Shimano’s range.

Read our range preview here

Number of sprockets: 11 Maximum cassette range: 11-34t Maxim and minimum chainset: 53/39-50/34t Single chainring option: no

Shimano GRX

Shimano’s GRX was the first component series on the market designed specifically for gravel riding. But what does this get you? Chiefly, the ability to run a choice of off-road specific single or double chainsets, along with ultra-wide 10 or 11-speed cassettes. Plus more powerful braking, and less chance of your chain coming off.

All very new and exciting to road or gravel riders, much of GRX’s technology will be more familiar to Shimano’s mountain bike users. This includes developments like the stabilizing clutch mechanism on the rear derailleur or the alternating narrow-wide profile of the teeth on the chainrings. Both things that aim to keep your gears working in wilder situations, the distinctly chunky levers also operate brakes that are subtly different from Shimano's dedicated road models.

Although interchangeable, these feature ‘Servo Wave’ technology that boosts their power, making them better able to handle the increased traction and heavier loads of off-road riding. It’s even possible to fit supplemental interrupted brake levers to the top of the bar, allowing you to always keep a lever within easy reach.

It’s all part of the GRX groupset’s mix-and-match approach, one that mirrors the diverse requirements of riding gravel. Borrowing from Shimano’s mountain bike range, you can fit a cassette as wide as 11-42t, while picking between several matched single or double chainsets at the front.

All these cranksets now use a slightly wider chain line to increase clearance compared to comparable road models. Making sure they play nicely with chunky tyres, the matching front derailleurs aren’t too dissimilar to Shimano’s tarmac-going mechs, yet are also designed to offer a little more in leeway when used off-road in the mud or with big tyres.

With further options to mate up one of your levers to activate a dropper post, GRX is probably Shimano’s most versatile groupset. As such, it’s also finding fans with rugged touring riders and anyone keen to explore new terrain or looking to achieve things with their bike setup that weren’t previously on the menu.

Read our extended preview here

Number of sprockets: 11 Maximum cassette range: 11-42t Maximum and minimum chainset: 48/31t Single chainring option: yes Additional features: Gravel-specific, Clutch mechanism

Sram Red 22

Shop Sram Red 22 at Chain Reaction Cycles now

Knocking on a bit, what with the firm’s electronic eTap ASX version having switched to 12 sprockets, Sram’s elderly 11-speed Red 22 groupset can’t help but appear a little left behind. It’s an idea furthered by the fact that Sram is also undoubtedly the most disc-dedicated of the three big groupset makers.

However, as its most high-end groupset to still be capable of working with conventional calliper brakes, this version of its Red groupset continues to provide a lightweight and highly functional set of components. Quite a rare sight on complete builds these days, it’s not a bad option if you want to build up a light bike from scratch, although even aftermarket Red 22 groupsets are now getting a bit thin on the ground.

Number of sprockets: 11 Maximum cassette range: 11-32t Maximum and minimum chainset: 53/39-50/34t Single chainring option: no Additional features:

Shop Sram Red 22 at Chain Reaction

Sram Force

Shop Sram Force at Chain Reaction

From Force downwards, Sram offers its mechanical groupsets in either double or 1x single chainring versions. Sharing the same brakes and shifters, the design of the rear derailleurs, the potential absence of its front-mounted partner, and the difference in the crankset mean that elsewhere the difference is quite pronounced.

Often used on adventure or gravel bikes, these 1x versions feature a clutch on the rear derailleur to help retain the chain, along with the capacity to fit hugely wide cassettes spanning up to 11-42t. Allowing them to cover almost the same range of ratios as the double chainring equipped version, these more conventional groupsets feel a little as if they miss a trick, coming as they do with a sprocket less than the latest 12-speed electronic versions.

That said, you still get a very low overall weight, thanks partly to a crankset that uses carbon arms, carbon brake levers, plus Sram’s very minimalist cassette design. Unlike the electronic version, there’s also the option to run mechanical brakes too, something that’ll make them a hit with anyone looking to upgrade an older bike. Cyclocross fans not yet switched over to single ring drivetrain will also appreciate the 46/36t crankset option.

Number of sprockets: 11 Maximum cassette range: 11-42t Maximum and minimum chainset: 53/39-46/36t Single chainring option: yes Additional features: N/A

Shop Sram Red 22 at Chain Reaction Cycles now

Sram Rival

Shop Sram Rival at Chain Reaction Cycles now

Similar to Force, Rival offers the same broad range of 11-speed components, covering both hydraulic and mechanical brakes, alongside options for running a single chainring setup. A lot of the same core technology carries over from further up the range, such as the 1-1 actuation ratio that means the derailleur moves the same amount you push the shifter.

Resulting in both easy setup and a disinclination to going out of alignment, the front derailleur that doesn’t need to be trimmed to avoid rubbing on the chain and includes an integrated chain catcher is a particularly nice touch. Ditto, the huge range of wide-ratio cassette and chainset options. Obviously, costing a chunk less, there are a few things you don’t get.

Both cranks and brake levers switch over to aluminium, but most of the key competencies remain – just at a far lower price. That said, if you’ve not yet formed a preference for a particular system, Sram’s Rival groupset finds itself pegged against Shimano’s excellent 105 range, which, due to its recent update, possibly represents better value.

Number of sprockets: 11 Maximum cassette range: 11-42t Maximum and minimum chainset: 53/39-46/36t Single chainring option: yes Additional features:

Shop Sram Rival at Chain Reaction Cycles now

Sram Apex

Shop Sram Apex at Chain Reaction Cycles now

Sram’s budget 10-speed Apex groupset does a lot to endear itself, although we’re perhaps greater fans of the more radical 1x version; if only because some of the nice features found on Sram’s more expensive front derailleurs go missing at this price point. Although snobs might miss the extra couple of sprockets it’s now possible to acquire by spending more money, of greater importance to most will be the Apex groupset’s ability to accommodate very broad ratio cassettes.

This means that the single chainring version can run a sprocket as large as 42t while the double version manages a still sizable 32t, this ensures riders are unlikely to find themselves having to get off and push on steep hills. Covering all the bases, there are also options for mechanical and hydraulic brakes, along with conventional callipers if you’re not a fan of discs.

At this price point, you start gaining a good chunk of weight and some of the parts are slightly more clunky but in terms of fundamentals like braking power or overall gearing range, it’s still a great introduction to the Sram system. There’s even a slightly downsized 48/34t crankset that’s perfect for any non-racers who'd rather opt for easier-to-spin gears.

Number of sprockets: 10 Maximum cassette range: 11-42t Maximum and minimum chainset: 50/34t-48/34t Single chainring option: yes

Shop Sram Apex at Chain Reaction Cycles now

Campagnolo Super Record

Campagnolo is the fanciest of the groupset makers. That’s not to say its components functions better than any other brand of groupset, rather that it has a history and desirability that others can’t quite match. Super Record is the fanciest of the fancy, sitting even above the brand’s eye-wateringly expensive Record gruppo.

So what does your money get you? The most obvious change to this latest version of Super Record is the addition of its extra 12th sprocket. Squeezed in without taking up any additional space, this 12-speed cassette will fit onto the same freehub body as the previous 11-speed, meaning there’s no need to change wheels when you change groupsets.

Since matched by Sram’s 12-speed options in terms of sprockets, there’s still plenty that sets Super Record apart. Once the preserve of Tour racers, of one thing, the groupset is now more user-friendly, thanks to a largest possible 32t sprocket.

Campagnolo’s familiar ergonomics have also been refined, with the hoods now slightly larger and more curved, and the levers now possessing a touch of extra flare at the bottom to help fingers engage more easily.

The thumb shift button on the inside of the hoods is also slightly larger, and the pivot points for the levers have been adjusted to make them more mechanically efficient. Generally a process of evolution rather than revolution, friction when shifting has been reduced, while the geometry of both derailleurs has also been improved for slightly quicker and more precise gear shifts.

Now particularly aero-looking, the carbon-armed crankset is also supposedly stiffer and lighter versus the previous version. Adding up to a groupset weighing a touch over 2kg in a conventional calliper equipped configuration, its performance is as slick as you’d expect. Find out more with our full review here.

Number of sprockets: 12 Maximum cassette range: 11-32t Maximum and minimum chainset: 53/39, 50/34t Single chainring option: no

Campagnolo Ekar

The first mainstream 13-speed groupset, Campagnolo’s single-chainring 1x13 Ekar groupset is designed for gravel riders. Mechanical-only, it features a host of unique traits, including a 9-tooth smallest sprocket, a very curious downshift lever, and a new freehub standard.

Combining to create what Campagnolo claims is the lightest such groupset on the market at 2,385g, the brand also promises the 13-speed Ekar cassette matches or exceeds the gearing range provided by a traditional double chainring set-up.

With single-tooth jumps between the bottom six sprockets, the changes between several of the gears won’t be too different either.

To provide this huge spread, the system employs a 9t smallest sprocket. Requiring a specific hub to run it, this does mean potentially having to re-jig your wheels when fitting the groupset.

Shifting across one of three cassette options (9-36, 9-42, and 10-44t), the Ekar rear derailleur consists of more than 70 moving parts made from a mixture of carbon fibre, polyamide and alloy and includes a clutch to keep the chain secure.

Matched to a carbon crankset sporting between a 38 to 44t chainring, these feature a ‘narrow-wide’ tooth profile in an attempt to further boost chain retention.

Similar performance-wise, Ekar’s brakes are now made in-house, rather than being produced by Magura. Less familiar will be the radically redesigned Ergopower levers. With a single side operating the gears, the right lever uses the same upshift paddle ergonomics as Campagnolo’s road levers and can shift up to three sprockets at a time.

However, the downshift lever is all new. C-shaped, the top outside of its curve forms a platform to push when riding on the hoods, while the lower inside creates a flange facilitating downshifting from the drops.

Coming in at around £1,500 for the complete set, Ekar’s huge number of sprockets and minimalist weight set it above some other groupsets. Despite a lever style that took a little while to adjust too, we found plenty to like beyond just its headline specs. You can read our full first ride impressions here.

Number of sprockets: 13 Maximum cassette range: 9-42t Maximum and minimum chainset: 38,44t Single chainring only. Additional features: Requires specific freehub

Campagnolo Record

Campagnolo’s second-string groupset is still pricer than every other brand’s top-end systems.

Number of sprockets: 12 Maximum cassette range: 11-32t Maximum and minimum chainset: 53/39, 50/34t Single chainring option: No

Campagnolo Chorus

Campagnolo’s Chorus version of its new 12-speed groupsets might be the third tier in its line-up, but it aims to offer virtually all the same functionality as its forebears – just with a bit more weight and for a chunk less money. Read our preview here.

Number of sprockets: 12 Maximum cassette range: 11-32t Maximum and minimum chainset: 53/39, 50/34t Single chainring option: No

Campagnolo Centaur

Campagnolo’s proletarian groupset has plenty to recommend it, not least its 11-speed gearing range. Competing with Shimano’s workhorse 105 components, you can find out more about it here.

Number of sprockets: 11 Maximum cassette range: 11-32t Maximum and minimum chainset: 53/39, 50/34t Single chainring option: No

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