Shimano Sora does 90% of what more expensive groupsets do, and for buttons. Comparatively speaking. Okay it's only nine-speed at the rear and the brakes are a bit average but the shifting performance is excellent for the money; 'proper' Shimano shifting now extends one rung below Sora, to the eight-speed Claris, but this is the pick of the budget groupsets.
Dual Control Levers £159.99
Available as a double or a triple option, and in the same black as the rest of the groupset, the Sora levers are very similar to the old nine-speed Tiagra ones. Plenty of folks have mooted that they're rebadged Tiagra units; whether they are or not you're getting Tiagra-level shifting performance here. The old Sora lever featured the much-maligned Shimano thumb lever and a massive throw to change gear. They weren't great, and these are masses better.
Dual Control, in Shimano parlance, means that all the shifting and braking is done from the lever. The main lever pivots back to brake, and sideways (in towards the stem) changes up the cassette at the rear, or from the small chainring to the big one. Behind that there's a smaller lever that actuates the release for the opposite shift. Sora levers have an optical window showing what gear you're in, which you may or may not like or use; I'm accustomed to it not being there so I didn't look at it that much, but if you're coming from mountain biking it may be more of a draw.
The shape of the lever is comfortable and the action precise and reasonably light. The reach is adjustable via two different shims, for smaller hands, and the shorter throw makes the Sora levers much more usable for anyone not blessed with spades on the end of their arms. Adjustments to the indexing are easy thanks to the integrated barrel shifter; the gear cable loops out rather than sneaking under the bar tape, but that doesn't affect performance at all.
Overall, they're excellent. Shifting is easy and intuitive and they feel much, much better than the last incarnation of Sora. Trickle down at its best.
Rear derailleur £29.99
The rear mech is available in short- or mid-cage, and the parallelogram has been widened to stiffen up the mech and make shifting more precise. The mid-cage mech has a 41-tooth capacity, which means that you can run a compact 50/34 chainset and an 11-32T cassette without any problems; 32 teeth is the biggest sprocket that the mech can cope with.
It's a well-built mech and looks good in the painted black finish, and we had no issues with it during testing; there's very little play in the mech when you pull it from side to side and once the cable run had settled we very rarely needed to tinker with the indexing.
Front derailleur £19.99 (£24.99 triple)
The front derailleur has six variations to cope with braze- or band-on mounting and double or triple chainsets. It's a fairly standard Shimano offering and the effort on the shift is certainly high compared with, say, the new Ultegra groupset, but it's a perfectly functional mech. Nothing much to say here.
Chainset £89.99 (£99.99 triple)
We tested the 50/34 chainset; a triple (50/39/30) and a cyclo-cross double (46/34) are also available. Sora uses Shimano's Hollowtech 2 bottom bracket standard with the axle attached to the drive side; you just push the axle through the bearings, which attach to the outside of a standard 68mm bottom bracket shell, and bolt the non-drive crank on the other end. It's a widely-used system and can be adapted for other bottom bracket standards although that's unlikely to be an issue here; most bikes running Sora will have a standard bottom bracket shell.
The spider and big chainring are alloy, with the smaller inner chainring steel. The rings are Shimano's SG-X design, with pick-up pins and special tooth profiles to ensure accurate shifting between the two. And they work, too: pick-up from the smaller to the larger chainring is pretty good. The cranks use a 110mm bolt circle diameter which makes them compatible with a wide range of aftermarket rings.
It's not as stiff as higher-end chainsets, and noticeably so. There's a bit of rub on the front mech cage if you put the power down, but it's only noise and there's no danger of ghost shifting under load; the chainset certainly wouldn't ever deflect that much.
Cassette £19.99 / Chain £15.99
Sora uses the HG50 cassette which is Tiagra/Deore level. There are all sorts of options from 14-25 all the way through to 11-32. An 11-34 Deore cassette is available too. In theory that wouldn't work and while we haven't tried it, there's usually a bit of wiggle room on those maximum-tooth allowances. Either way, it's a good quality all-steel cassette with Hyperglide sprockets to aid shifting and cut-and-drilled design to save a bit of weight.
The HG53 chain is the same level and features chamfered inner plates and mushroomed pins so you'll need a special pin to re-join it. I prefer to use a third-party split link.
Brake callipers £21.99 each
Something has to give, and the brakes are the only part of the groupset that disappoints. The dual-pivot design and simple quick release are very similar to some of Shimano's more expensive groupsets, so it's not that really: it's mostly the pads that let them down. You don't get cartridge pads, and the pads you do get are hard and scratchy on the rims, with poor modulation. Swap them out for a decent set of cartridge ones straight away for a much better experience.
It's hard to quibble with the performance that you get from Sora, for the money that you're paying. The shifting is precise, the transmission is stiff and efficient. Only the braking lets it down, but better braking is a decent set of cartridge pads away.
Now with proper dual control, Sora is fantastic value and as good as it's ever been. Only the brakes let it down.
road.cc test report
Make and model: Shimano Sora 3500
Size tested: n/a
Well made with a tough black painted finish.
Very good shifting performance and efficient transmission; braking lets it down a bit.
The groupset has been lasting very well under normal use.
Not one for your light build, but that's not really the point of Sora.
Really good value for money. If you want a good groupset for a lower-budget build, this is it.
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About the tester
I usually ride: whatever I'm testing... My best bike is: Genesis Equilibrium 853
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb, Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling, track