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Guide To Shimano Road & MTB Groupsets

Words by Harry Archer

on 06/06/2018 08:50:02


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Road Bike Groupsets Mountain Bike Groupsets Other Shimano Groupsets

Japanese company Shimano certainly know a thing or two when it comes to bicycle components. Founded in 1921, Shimano has spent almost 100 years meticulously innovating, developing and perfecting design methods in order to produce some of the most renowned and respected products available on the cycling market.


Shimano have grown to become the leading supplier of bicycle drivetrains worldwide, featuring on almost every major bike brand with the highest-spec pro-bikes often kitted out with the latest version of Dura-Ace Di2 and riders of all disciplines from downhill to time trial agree that the Shimano name is something that is synonymous with high performance and reliability.

To the beginner, differences between groupsets and the reason as to why some are more expensive than others can be a confusing topic. That's why we've decided to put together a brief guide that shows the hierarchy of groupsets for both road and mountain bikes. New for 2019 you will find Shimano’s high-end MTB groupsets available in a 12 speed variant, which features a massive 10-51t cassette and incredibly slick shifting.

Road Groupsets


Dura-Ace/Dura-Ace Di2

At the top of the pile is Dura-Ace, the original 11-speed and Shimano's premium groupset. There is the option for electronic Di2 or mechanical gearing, with both varieties sporting the same brakes,chains and other non-shifting components.

What sets Dura-Ace Di2 apart is the new 'Synchronised Shift' feature, taken from Shimano MTB Di2 systems. Synchronised shift allows the rider to change gears on both the front and rear derailleurs rapidly from a single shift, simplifying choice and reducing the time lost during racing when you're searching for the right gear. You can go full or semi synchronised, giving you total control over your gears and taking your riding up to the next level.

The tidy, compact control box and Bluetooth ANT connectivity giving you access to Shimano E-tube, meaning that you're able to refine your gearing to your exact requirements directly from your phone. The future is now and it's called Dura-Ace Di2.

Shop All Di2 Road Bikes >>

Mechanical Dura-Ace is highly regarded amongst professional riders and offers a massive choice in terms of set-up. Disc brakes, power meters, wheel width and cassette size are all features that can be customised within this groupset.

The power meter itself is very subtle and tidy whilst the rear derailleur is designed to be incredibly durable, once again calling upon MTB tech to make it that little bit stronger. As brilliant as Di2 is, the mechanical Dura-Ace remains the go-to for the mega-distance racers that desire premium performance, versatility and strength all in one lightweight and neat groupset.

View The Full Range Of Dura-Ace Road Bikes >>


Ultegra/Ultegra Di2

Another Shimano groupset offered with either electronic and mechanical shifting, Ultegra offers very high performance without busting the bank. Due to the 'trickle down' effect of technology, the difference between Dura-Ace and Ultegra becomes ever smaller, with the new Ultegra design looking particularly similar to Dura-Ace and offering many of the same features such as carbon brake levers and shadow rear-derailleur.

The weight penalty is minimal, meaning that Ultegra has become the favourite of the amateur racers and all-rounders that require fantastic performance but aren't as fussed about shaving off as many grams as possible. Ultegra is ridiculously versatile, allowing cassettes from 11-23t all the way to 11-34t and ensuring Ultegra can be utilised by racers and adventure riders and everyone else in between! The Ultegra Di2 is the Shimano entry level for electronic shifting and is a brilliant option for those looking for their first bike with Di2.

View All Ultegra Road Bikes >>


The workhorse of the group and the middle point of the road hierarchy, 105 is the perfect groupset for the commuter, weekend rider or beginner in the world of road racing or TT.

Upgraded to 11-speed in 2014, 105 systems allow for easy upgrades to Ultegra and Dura-Ace should you develop to a level where you require the lighter weight of the more expensive groupsets or want to go futuristic and start riding Di2. Due to its versatility, 105 components can be found on bikes across a plethora of price points and are often combined with other, cheaper components. For 2019 105 received a facelift with a sleek, angular look. 105 is now lighter and shifts more smoothly than ever before, making this amazing price point groupset a serious contender when it comes to many rider’s drivetrain selection.

Browse Extensive Range Of 105 Road Bikes >>


Updated a few years ago, Tiagra is visually very similar to the previous iteration of 105. Other than weight, the major difference between the two sets is the gearing. Tiagra runs on a 10-speed set-up, resisting the market shift to 11-speed in order to offer a groupset that provides slightly less gears but increased savings on overall cost and weight.

Tiagra is the groupset for the leisure rider, weekend warrior or beginner on the road, giving reliable and quick performance in an easy to use, all-round package. There's also a Tiagra system for flat-bar shifters, so expect to see it fitted onto city and commuting bikes as well as road bikes in the very near future!

View The Full Range Of Tiagra Road Bikes >>


Offering affordable performance and value, Shimano Sora offers all mod-cons (Dual control shifters, Hollowtech II bottom bracket etc) as the 4 groupsets above it in the range. Sora offers approximately 80-90% performance of the highest end groupsets, matching many of them visually.

The key difference is the additional weight of a Sora system and the fact that it's a 9-speed - significantly reducing the spread of gears and allowing less customization of cassettes to suit different riding styles/disciplines. That being said, for its target market of sub-£750 road riders, Sora offers good value for money when you consider how much bang you get for your buck.

Shop All Sora Road Bikes >>


Claris is the most affordable of the Shimano complete road groupsets, aimed solely at those shopping in entry level, sub-£500 road bike market. Sporting dual-control levers like the Tiagra above, Claris keeps things very simple with a a triple, cyclocross or compact cassette set-up that focuses on low gear ratios to make hills relatively easy.

The older yet still very reliable Octolink bottom bracket is still featured on Claris but considering the huge technology advances of the last couple of years, expect to see the trickle down effect in full force when a new version of the Claris is developed.

View All Claris Road Bikes >>

Mountain Bike Groupsets

Deore XTR/Deore XTR Di2

The top of the MTB hierarchy, Deore XTR is offered in both mechanical and electronic Di2 concepts that both give the rider incredibly precise and quick-fire shifting that works off a single shifter, allowing you to focus more on the lines and technique without having to concern yourself with finding the right gear.

Kitted with a shadow plus derailleur and unrivalled hydraulic braking systems, Deore XTR is available with a triple,double or single chainset depending on personal preference, intended use and model type. Deore XTR sets itself apart from Deore XT by being the lightest Shimano MTB groupset available. For 2019, XTR is available in a 12-speed format, with a wide range cassette of 10-51t and a twin-pot brake calliper option. The 12-speed cassette requires use of Shimano’s new “Micro Spline” freehub body, which allows for a wider gear range.

Shop All Di2 Mountain Bikes >> View Full Range Of XTR Mountain Bikes >>

Deore XT/Deore XT Di2

Deore XT comes with matching wheelsets and pedals, completing a huge range of componentry within the Deore XT family that is both versatile and ultra-high-quality. Offering many of the same awesome features of Deore XTR, expect to see shadow plus rear derailleurs, triple, double or single chainsets and a re-designed 11-speed design. For 2019, Deore XT is available in a 12-speed format (through use of Shimano’s “Micro Spline” technology, with a wide range cassette and a twin or single pot brake calliper option.

The Di2 option rocks ANT Bluetooth connectivity, digital display and Synchronised shifting.

In essence, the difference between XTR and XT is simply weight and customization possibilities, with XTR being the lighter and more changeable option of the two (and thus the most expensive). In reality, they're both brilliant and there are very few MTB groupsets out there that come close to matching the performance of Shimano's top-range Deore systems.

View The Full XT Range Of Mountain Bikes >>



Our old friend trickle down technology has worked its magic on the SLX. Equipped with many of the best features from the Deore XT/XTR groupsets, SLX is another that can be run with triple, double or 1x chainsets based upon an 11-speed cassette.

The 11-speed set-up ensures a huge gear range of up to 42t, enhanced further by the inclusion of a Shadow RD plus rear derailleur improving shifting considerably. The 12-speed version can use up to a 45t, utilising Shimano’s Micro Spline hub technology. Furthermore, the new version of SLX has improved hydraulic disc brakes that are both lighter and more efficient than the previous version.

In short, SLX is a fantastic, highly capable MTB groupset for those who are looking for good performance without splashing out on the more expensive groupsets.

Browse All SLX Mountain Bikes >>



Shimano's Deore groupset remains 10-speed, but it counters this effectively via the ability to support 42t on the cassette, giving the groupset a high gear range that defies the usual capabilities of a 10-speed.

Shadow RD plus rear derailleur, strong hydraulic disc brakes and Hollowtech II cranksets completes a truly excellent off-roading package that balances versatility, durability and performance brilliantly to offer a smooth and responsive riding experience. Deore is available in triple, double and 1x front ring set-ups depending on preference and the intended use of the bike.

Consider Deore to be the entry-level for a mountain-bike specific groupset suitable for proper off-roading.

Browse All Deore Mountain Bikes >>


Alivio is often spotted on entry-level mountain bikes designed for canal paths, light singletrack, and low-level off road riding. Often mixed around with aftermarket or Acera(see below) components, Alivio is built for strength and reliability.

Offering a 9-speed cassette able to fit sprocket sizes up to and including 36t, Alivio groupsets are available with hydraulic, mechanical (discs) or V brake set-ups and differentiates itself from the lowest-level Acera by sporting RapidFire shifters, a lighter overall weight and an upgraded rear derailleur system for smoother, quicker shifting.

View All Alivio And Acera Mountain Bikes >>


At the foot of the Shimano MTB groupset hierarchy lies Acera. As a company, Shimano do produce basic componentry that is defined as 'general purpose, non-series componentry' - However, Acera is their most affordable complete groupset and is usually found on entry-level MTBs and hybrids.

The Acera groupset is limited by its 9-speed set-up, heavy weight, old style bottom bracket (square tapered or octolink) and its lower cassette capacity of 36t. That being said, it's not designed to be the best performer, it's designed to be the most user-friendly, versatile and durable groupset out there due to its target market of new cyclists/beginners.

When that key consideration is taken into account, Acera is actually pretty good, offering fast, if not always smooth, shifting, good brakes (hydraulic has replaced mechanical discs as the standard brake set-up) and a reliable rear derailleur in an aesthetically pleasing, inexpensive package.

Shop For Entry Level Shimano Groupset Mountain Bikes >>


Other Shimano Groupsets

In this article we have only really covered the most common Shimano groupsets found on mechanical road and mountain bikes. Shimano have groupsets for pretty much every cycling discipline you can think of including :

  • Shimano Saint/Zee – For Downhill riders, Shimano offer these two Groupsets built entirely for strength, normally around a low geared, simple 1x system that is suitable for the immense forces of Downhill riding.
  • Shimano Steps E-bike drivetrains -  Shimano groupsets for E-bikes have there own specifically designed groupsets to cope with the different requirements demanded of the componentry on electric bikes.
  • Shimano Alfine and Nexus – These are two groupsets that are based around an internal hub. Hub gears are often seen on city or 'Dutch' style bikes and, although heavy and low range, they offer excellent strength and longevity and essentially remove the need for maintenance on your gears.
  • Shimano Tourney(7 speed) - Tourney is often seen on kids bikes, low level MTB and entry level hybrids. With a lower gear range from a 7-speed system, the Tourney offers simplicity and strength but at the cost of versatility, speed and shifting efficiency.
  • Shimano DXR(single-speed) – A groupset that is single speed is suitable for urban riding, commuting and leisurely riding. The lack of gears will cause issues in hilly areas though (Unless you’ve got legs stronger than steel!) 
  • Shimano Altus – Altus components are often seen on entry-level MTB and hybrid bikes, regularly combined with Alivio or Acera components, whilst very rarely being presented as a full groupset.

Entry Level Shimano Groupset Mountain Bikes >> Entry Level Shimano Groupset Road Bikes >>

For more information on these groupsets, visit Shimano's latest fully up-to-date groupset guide by clicking here.

View Full Range Of Shimano Parts & Accessories >> Browse All Guide & Advice Pages >>

Find Your Nearest Rutland Cycling Store

You can browse the entire Shimano online, or you can get your hands on it in your nearest Rutland Cycling store.