Saturday, 16 April 2011

SRAM or Shimano Groupset?

When you come to buy your second bike, you know the better one that the one you got started with, you inevitably start getting really serious at things like groupsets, examining every last details before committing to your new bike.

Depending on your budget, you'll be faced between the choice of Campagnolo (Italian), Shimano (Japanese) or SRAM (Amercian) as the key three brands that occupy most of the space in the market.

I've never used Campagnolo personally, however those that I know who run it, love it because it's Italian.  Bit like a Ferrari, takes a bit of fettling, occassionally tempremental, but all forgivable due to it's authenticity.  I've no personal experience, so I'm going to leave any further commentary there (perhaps if you run it, you could leave a comment with your experiences).

I've used two Shimano groupsets.  Sora on my first bike - get's you by - and Ultegra on my latest Onix Azzuro bike.  I  run SRAM Red on my Dolan Ares

In theory, Shimano Dura-Ace is the equivalent to SRAM Red, however I'm not planning to do a spec comparison, more just to talk about my experiences with both brands.

SRAM Red, I've found to be a brilliant groupset, it's used extensively by Pro-Tour teams and has stood up to all the Grand Tours- Tour de France, Giro d'Italia and the Classics.  The main thing I've noticed when I first started riding it is the super powerful brakes, they are just brilliant, stop you on a sixpence. 

Riding the Ultegra groupset on my new bike today, I think it shows just how good the SRAM groupset is.  The main thing that stood out for me is how effortless the double-tap system is. On Shimano groupsets you use two levers, one for up, one for down.  This is one of the fundamental differences between the two brands. 

On SRAM, you use one lever to go up and down. One small click to change down, one bigger push to go up.  Some people don't get on with it (perhaps if they've shifted from another brand) , I've had absolutely no issues.  Having ridden the SRAM Red for about ten months now, I found myself fiddling a bit whilst out today getting used to the Shimano Ultegra system.  I guess it's just a question of familiarity.

Like anything, much of this is down to taste.  There are definitely separate camps.  Often Shimano lovers stick with Shimano for all their bikes and vice versa with Campagnolo.  SRAM have been creeping up on these two brands and carving our a market for themselves over the last few years.

I chose Ultegra for my new bike as I wanted to really get a good feel for how the different manufacturers/groupsets performed.  This is very much a "first look" at the Ultegra groupset and it has had some brilliant reviews.  As I said earlier, Dura-Ace is the real apple and apple comparison to SRAM Red, so look at that one if you're doing a value/spec exercise.

In conclusion, I think it's down to taste.  If you've ridden Shimano on your first bike, you might stick with it, which is fair enough - it's great quality and very reliable.  However, don't discount SRAM, it's certainly as good and rated by a lot of riders and spanners (bike mechanics).

I'd welcome any further comments on any of the groupsets from readers.


  1. Campag fer me!

    I started with Gipemme then Suntour and Shimano but as I commuted everyday rain and shine plus racing and training which clocked up more than 10,000 miles a year I soon found they couldn't hack the pace.

    So as I could afford it I moved to Campag and have never regretted it. My time trial bike still has the same Super Record rear mech which I bought back in the mid 90's. My road race now audax bike is equipped with Campag Daytona which I got in 2003, I've had to replace the chain rings chain and cassette but everything else works like a charm.

  2. I'm looking for a bit of advice here. Is there a limit to the usage of the gears, so you can't run the largest chain ring with the smallest cassette ring because of the angle? the other question is equally simple: I often forget what gear I am in. It's not a problem at the moment because the numbers are on the dial on my mountain bike! But when you just flick a lever, can you forget where you are up to? if so, do you just take a quick glance between the legs, or do you get an idea by the stiffness...or do you just have to remember your numbers?

  3. Hi Andrew,

    What you're describing is crossing the chain. That is running it at extremes, which leads to excessive chain wear.

    With road bikes it'a all about feel. Some low end groupsets like Shimano Sora have a little indicator on, but most, it's all about how your legs are turning.

    One tip I'd give you is to move up and down your front ring, before your back. I run a compact chainset (50/34) front and 11/27 rear cassette.

    If i'm riding the on the big ring and I hit a hill, often just be shifting to the smaller ring, the gearing is about right to go up and keep cadence smooth.

    If you're running a triple on the front, there's a bit more shifting around to do, but you have more gear range.

    I tend to look down to see what gear I'm running at any given moment, however, the more you ride, the more you get to know about your riding style, what gears to select for what type of profile your running.

    Stick with it and keep testing!