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  • Back to Blog  

    Guide To Shimano Road & MTB Groupsets

       Words by Harry Archer

       on 06/06/2018 08:50:02

    Shimano hero

    Quick Links

    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 trials 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 your the hierarchy of groupsets for both road and mountain bikes.

    Shimano 1

    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 >>

    Shimano Dura Ace RC

    Mechanical Dura-Ace is highly regarded among the pros 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 >> New Specialized Tarmac Dura-Ace Di2 : Review >>

    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 >> Bianchi XR3 Ultegra Disc : Review >>


    The workman 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. With a new design akin to the original Dura-Ace, 105 provides fantastic shifting and braking with ultra-reliable performance to keep you rolling in any conditions due to the componentry's strength.

    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.

    Browse Extensive Range Of 105 Road Bikes >> Giant Contend 1 105 >>

    Shimano 105 RC


    Updated a couple of years ago, Tiagra looks a lot like 105 in terms of appearance. 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 >> Scott Addict 30 Tiagra Disc : Shop Now>>


    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 >> Genesis Croix De Fer 10 Sora : Shop Now >>


    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 >> Trek Domane 2 Claris : Shop Now >>

    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 FireBolt 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. Furthermore it's ridiculously versatile - you can opt for ultra light 'race' components or heavy hitting performance focused 'trail/Enduro' set ups on your brakes, shifters, derailleurs, and finishing kit.

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

    Shimano XTR RC

    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.

    With new hydraulic disc brakes that offer up to 25% extra stopping power than previous versions of the groupset. The Di2 option rocks ANT Bluetooth connectivity, digital display and Synchronised shifting from a FireBolt shifter.

    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 >> Scott Spark 730 XT : Shop Now >>


    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. 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 that crave good performance without splashing out on the more expensive groupsets.

    Browse All SLX Mountain Bikes >> Specialized StumpJumper comp SLX : Shop Now >>

    Shimano SLX RC


    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 >> Cube Stereo 120 Deore : Shop Now >>

    Shimano Deore RC


    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 >> Whyte 605 2018 Acera : Shop Now >>


    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

    shimano e8000 ebike groupset RC

    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.





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