Here’s a simple explanation of the Shimano Groupset hierarchy range, so you can understand the hierarchy of the range of shimano groupsets available.
Before we start, first things first. Let’s take a step back and ask what a Groupset is?
What is a Groupset?
The groupset on your bike is the name given to the collection of mechanical bits that are attached to your frame.
- Brake levers/gear shifters
- Brake calipers
- Front mech
- Rear mech (derailleur)
- Bottom bracket
Does everything in the groupset need to match?
Apart from the visual consistency, you can mix and match components to a certain extent. The Shimano range is pretty good, in terms of mixing and matching bits from various ranges, but do check.
Chain widths vary between 8/9/10/11 speed so you must use the right chain for your cassette. Likewise with the shifters, the amount of cable pulled needs to correctly match the derailleur, otherwise it’ll pull too much, or not enough and your gears won’t index properly.
Generally, before Sram came along, the two market leaders Shimano and Campagnolo were simple to understand. You don’t mix their groupsets. It doesn’t work together.
Sram greyed this neat little black and white picture by making some of its range compatible with Shimano.
The bottom line on mixing groupset bits – check before you buy!
Shimano Groupset Hierarchy
As we go down the list, you’ll notice a trend that helps us to understand two things:
- What does the extra money get you?
- What difference will you feel?
Let’s start at the top of the Shimano range and work our way down.
The best a cyclist can get? Shimano describe their Dura-Ace range as their “lightest, most ergonomic, and most precise groupset ever.”
This is the most expensive option in the Shimano groupset range. It’s aimed at high end riders who need to squeeze every bit of performance out of their bikes. People who race, essentially.
It’s the lightest of all the Shimano groupsets (by about 300g), but in terms of performance and feel, most people say there isn’t much difference between Dura Ace and the next set down, Ultegra.
It’s often said that whilst Ultegra is just as good in terms of “feel” it actually lasts longer because it’s not engineered to be as light as possible. The light weight of Dura Ace parts obviously compromises its durability.
Electronics – taking gear changing to the next level.
The popularity of electronic groupsets (Di2) has been growing steadily in recent years.
What does Di2 stand for?
Di2 stands for digital integrated intelligence. The electronics do all the changing for you at the click of a shifter button. The changing is smooth and slick, with clean gear changes. A neat function is that the system auto calibrates itself so that it’ll never need tweaking as cables stretch and wear.
The front derailleur also adjusts itself according to the position of the rear mech, so there’s never any overlapping or chain rub. This auto trim function helps with gear changes under various conditions and in a race situation, could give you a significant time advantage.
The electronic Di2 versions are available for the Dura-Ace and the Ultegra range.
Dura Ace 9070 Di2 11 speed groupset
Top of the Shimano range, the electronic Di2 version is the most expensive.
Here’s the 5 best deals we can find right now.
Dura Ace 9000 11 speed groupset
Top of the Shimano range, albeit without the electronics, it’s the 11 speed Dura Ace 9000.
Like its big brother Dura Ace, the Ultegra has both an electronic version and a standard old fashioned manual version.
For many, Ultegra represents the best compromise between overall quality, price and longevity. It feels like Dura Ace but isn’t quite as light (about 300g heavier). Though it is more durable so should last longer – another plus point for the financially conscious (and I’m assuming that’s 99% of us).
Is it worth upgrading to Ultegra?
Reviews on retailer websites from people who have upgraded to Ultegra often make comments along the lines of:
- Shifting is smoother
- more precise control from the levers
- sharper braking
- made a massive difference to my bike
- a breeze to fit and set up
- easily adjustable, a very worthy upgrade
- will never go back to lower spec on any future bike
Shimano Ultegra 6870 Di2 11 Speed Groupset
This is the electronic shifting version of the Ultegra groupset.
Shimano 6800 Ultegra 11 Speed Groupset
Ultegra quality without the electronic shifting, but at about half the price of Di2.
You can often find these groupsets at over 50% reduction off the retail prices.
Here’s the best deals we can find right now:
The Shimano 105 range is more commonly found on lower to mid range bikes of between £800 and £1200. It’s a very reliable and capable groupset, but engineered to not feel as nice as Ultegra and Dura Ace. It’s also a bit heavier.
Previously, 105 might have been considered the poor-man’s Ultegra, but with the new 2015 11 speed version of 105, the gap has shrunk. 105 is 200g heavier. But a lot less expensive, so you could put that extra money towards better wheels, which arguably would make a more noticeable, performance boosting reduction in mass.
105 does not have an electronic version.
Here’s the best price 105 groupset we can find right now
Upgrading to Shimano 105 from lower groupets – what do people say?
- You’d be hard pushed to notice the difference between this and the Ultegra 6800
Super smooth gear changes and excellent brakes. Well worth it!
- My other bike has full ultegra 6700 and I cannot tell the difference, the 105 setup is that good.
- The quality improvement from Tiagra to 105 is considerable. Brakes improved in build-quality and performance.
- On my best bike, I have DuraAce 9000 which I love but apart from the few grams weight difference, the 105 5800 groupset stacks up really well against it. The gear changes are feather-light and precise.
- I upgraded from a 9-speed Sora groupset with thumb shifters. The difference is amazing.
Continuing on down the Shimano groupset range, the Tiagra line is below the 105.
Not as many retailers seem to stock full Tiagra groupsets. Maybe there isn’t as much of a demand, because if you’re going to upgrade a bike with Claris or Sora to Tiagra, you’d probably be more inclined to spend just a little more and get the superior 105 groupset instead. There isn’t much difference in price, but a noticeable difference in feel (105 is superior).
Best price Tiagra groupsets
There are two more options lower down the range, Sora and Claris.
They are generally heavier and don’t perform as smoothly as the higher end gear, but if you’re on a tight budget, they will do the job just fine!
I’ve got some Sora bits on my winter bike and there’s nothing wrong with them.
Best price Sora groupsets
Erm, can’t seem to find any links for Claris groupsets. Have they stopped selling them?
Check out the Official Shimano site if you want to read more marketing jargon!