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Chain Set and Groupset Guide

Groupset is the term commonly given to the components that turn a frame into a bike. Most commonly consisting of the following components, there can be certain exceptions:

Gear System - consists of front and rear derailleurs, front and rear levers (these are integrated into the brake levers)

Brake System - consisting of front and rear brake calipers and levers (most commonly forming brake / gear levers)

Chainset - consisting of the cranks and bottom bracket

Chain - usually specific to the gear system

The following components can constitute groupset components, but not all manufacturers make them and we would not always recommend them if more suitable components are available.


Choosing A Groupset For Your Road Cycle
Until recently two manufacturers have dominated the groupset market: Shimano and Campagnolo. Both offer an exceptional range of well developed, lightweight groupsets. Choice is usually down to personal preference, with traditionalists and European riders often favouring Campagnolo and newer riders and the US market often opting for Shimano. There are two main physical differences, both of which are best explored through riding:

  • The gear shifters are sited in different places with Shimano basing all shifting levers within the brake lever and Campagnolo siting the down shifter on the brake hood itself. Both are comfortable and easy to operate.
  • The shifting action feels different on each type of groupset. Shifting gear using Shimano is a solid 'Japanese technology' style "click", whereas shifting a Campagnolo gear is a more fluid action. Both are effective and slick.

A new entrant to the high specification groupset market is SRAM, offering the best of both worlds. SRAM groupsets are very light and efficient, have a positive feel and are priced midway between the top end Shimano and Campagnolo groupsets. There is no low cost/low specification version yet. Cleverly, SRAM ensure their cassettes are Shimano-compatible and have manufactured cassettes to plug the gaps between the range of Shimano gear ratios. This offers riders extra choice rather than just the competing products.

The Leading Manufacturers

Choices of road components are limited to one of the following manufacturers; Campagnolo of Italy, Shimano of Japan and SRAM of America. Of the 3, SRAM has only just joined the road market, but have already enjoyed significant success with their mountain bike components. Both Campagnolo and Shimano have a long history of road component production and between them are responsible for almost every major development and innovation.

Campagnolo produce 6 road groupsets, ranging from pro level to beginner. All 2007 groupsets are available in 10 speed formats and are compatible with each other. The main differences between them are the materials used and the finishing quality. Their top of the range groupset, Record, utilizes light alloy, titanium and carbon fibre in order to make the groupset strong and lightweight. It is the lightest groupset of the 3 manufacturers. Campagnolo, or Campag as it is known in the UK is the long-standing groupset manufacturer and as such has a large following amongst traditionalists. Responsible for many of the original innovations in road cycling, Campagnolo is still very much at the forefront of design with products such as 10 speed gearing and new wheel technologies. There is very limited compatibility between Campagnolo and other manufacturers and we would always recommend sticking with one manufacturer where possible. Our road department technicians will be able to advise on any more detailed compatibility queries. As you would expect from an Italian brand, design is one of their strong points, with concealed cabling and smooth lines as standard. The internal mechanisms are renowned for their low maintenance and will give you many years of usage if well looked after.

Shimano also produce 6 groupsets. Again these range from pro level quality to beginner. Although not as long established as Campagnolo, Shimano is the epitome of Japanese production methods. Shimano was the first company to introduce integrated gearing and led the way towards a fully integrated groupset. Leading the charge from 7 speed to 8 and 9, Shimano was the main innovator of the early 90s with Campag just getting the march on them by recently introducing 10 speed. Mechanically their components are excellent, although with limited backward compatibility and less robust materials used, Shimano may not be the ideal choice if you want to get a few years usage with minimal maintenance. As with all things though, Shimano does offer a price advantage over its rivals, so durability may not be of prime importance to everyone.

SRAM are the real newcomer to the road market. They introduced 2 groupsets in 2006, the Force and Rival sets. Being third into the market has enabled them to learn from both Campagnolo and Shimano and introduce groupsets that take the best of both rival manufacturers. Plenty of thought has gone into the aesthetics as well as the ergonomics. The brake / gear levers are designed to fit all hand sizes and the lever action follows a more natural line to ease usage. Expect further refinements throughout 2007, especially around the finish.

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