A groupset is a collection of bike components
designed to work together and Shimano is the world's largest
manufacturer of groupsets — by some measures the largest sporting goods
company in the world. Let's take a look at the range on offer.
These days 'groupset' usually means the gears and brakes on your bike.
The term once included the hubs and headset too, but threadless headsets
knocked the traditional groupset makers — Shimano and Campagnolo — out of
the market, and bike makers almost always fit ready-built wheels rather
than making their own. Nevertheless, the groupset is where a lot of the
money in a new bike goes.
Japanese company Shimano is the most popular groupset manufacturer with a
range of groupsets at different prices. It’s constantly updating the
groupsets too, with the newest features debuting first on its top-end
groupset, Dura-Ace, before eventually filtering down through the range.
Whether you’re buying a new bike, or looking to build one from scratch,
it’s good to know what your options are. The more expensive groupsets are
lighter and usually offer smoother gear shifting and superior braking
performance, and you get more gears and with the more expensive groupsets,
11-speed on Dura-Ace, Ultegra and 105, down to 8-speed on entry-level
Here’s an overview of the entire road and gravel lineup, with the most
expensive at the top of the list:
The range includes six mechanical groupsets, using cables to operate the
front and rear derailleurs, and there are two electronic groupsets. First
introduced in 2011, electronic groupsets have proved to be extremely
popular, with precise gear changes, long battery life and good durability.
Whether you choose mechanical or electronic comes down to budget and
Complete sets of older versions of Dura-Ace, Ultegra and 105 components
have sold out from major retailers. You'll still find individual parts,
though, so we've retained some basic information about them here.
And then there's GRX, Shimano's gravel-bike component series that sits
off to one side of the main road bike component range. We'll cover GRX
here as well, as these are components for drop-bar bikes, but the way
Shimano has organised GRX doesn't quite conform to their usual way of
GRX isn't a single groupset, it's a collection (a 'series' in
Shimano-speak) of components at different quality levels that share
similar colouring and styling so that bike manufacturers can mix them to
tailor their gravel bikes.
There are three quality levels in GRX: RX810, RX600 and RX400. These
correspond to Shimano's Ultegra, 105 and Tiagra levels respectively. RX810
and RX600 are 11-speed; RX400 is 10-speed. As with Tiagra, RX400 has the
same ratio of cable pull to sideways movement as the more expensive,
11-speed systems, so you can, in theory, mix them all.
Where GRX departs most from Shimano's road components is in the design of
the STI shift/brake lever units. All have new details designed to make it
easier to keep your hands firmly on the hoods as you rattle over rough
The GRX chainsets are available with double or single chainrings, which
is a first for a drop-bar offering from Shimano. There's no RX400 chainset
though. Instead there's a variant of the RX600 chainset with 10-speed
spacing. Shimano has moved the chain line out 2.5mm compared to road
groupsets so there's room for bike manufacturers to move the chainstays
apart and provide clearance for fat tyres. That means you'll need a GRX
front derailleur with a GRX chainset.
Similarly there are no RX600 derailleurs; you use the RX810 derailleurs
with the RX600 shifters, brakes and chainset if you want a mid-priced
11-speed bike. Both the RX810 and RX400 rear derailleurs are available in
versions for single and double chainrings. The single-ring derailleurs
will shift up to 42-tooth sprocket, while the double-ring derailleurs go
up 34 teeth or 36 teeth in the case of RX400. All the GRX derailleurs have
clutch mechanisms to reduce chain slap when riding off-road.
All GRX brake calipers are flat mount. If you have an old post-mount
frame that you want to upgrade with GRX you'll need BR-RS785 post mount
calipers, and to be aware of one
little gotcha that Mike Stead details in his GRX review.
There are no specific GRX cassettes, chains, bottom brackets or brake
rotors; you just use the ones from the equivalent road or mountain bike
Like Ultegra, RX810 is also available in a Di2 electronic-shifting
Let's take a closer look at the options and details at each level.
The flagship GRX level is equivalent to Ultegra road components in
quality, but has a host of details and options offered nowhere else in
Shimano's range. These include:
In addition, GRX RX810 offers 42- and 40-tooth single chainsets. Both
double and single-ring chainsets are available in 170mm, 172.5mm and 175mm
The electronic-shifting version of GRX boasts the same feature set as
RX810, but with click-whirr shifting.
The cheaper of the two 11-speed GRX sets has a 46/30 double chainset or
40-tooth single ring chainset. Both double and single-ring chainsets are
available in 165mm, 170mm, 172.5mm and 175mm lengths.
The RX600 brake/shift levers lack the Servo Wave feature of the RX810 STI
units, but have the same tweaked pivot point, grippy cover and anti-slip
If you want the widest possible gear range from your GRX set-up, then you
want the 10-speed RX400 derailleurs because the rear unit will shift up to
a 36-tooth largest sprocket, the greatest capability of any Shimano
drop-bar rear deraiilleur.
Shimano's flagship component group got a major facelift and some new
options in 2017, which means it's due a new version; we expect a 12-speed
version to be announced sometime in 2021.
Dura-Ace Di2 uses a similar shifting design to mechanical, but instead of
pushing two levers, you push two buttons positioned next to each other. If
you want to move two or more sprockets at a time, rather than swinging the
lever further like you do with a mechanical system, you just keep the
button pressed down.
The mechanical and Di2 electronic groups share the same chainset, brakes
and other non-shifting components, but with Di2 you get switches on the
brake levers, derailleurs with built-in motors and the battery, wiring and
control box that ties it all together.
The major new feature of Di2 is Synchronized Shift, a technology borrowed
from Shimano's mountain bike Di2 components. Rather than buttons
controlling front and rear derailleurs independently, one pair of buttons
moves up and down the gear ratios, making shifts at the front or rear
derailleur, or both, as necessary.
Shimano says this is “designed to simplify gear choice and reduce
decision making in racing situations.”
There are two modes. If you go for the Full Shimano Sychronized Shift,
the front derailleur reacts based on the rear derailleur’s shift action.
You don’t need to use two separate shifters, you just use one. Press one
button and the gear will get harder to turn, press the other button and
the gear will get easier. If that requires a front shift, the system will
take care of that automatically; you don’t need to worry about it.
If you go for Semi Shimano Synchronized Shift mode: the rear derailleur
reacts based on the front derailleur’s shift action, shifting to the next
most appropriate rear gear when the rider makes a front shift.
A new junction box is not only very tidy — it can be hidden inside the
end of the handlebar — it provides wireless ANT Private connectivity to
third-party devices. The system also offers a Bluetooth connection to
phones and tablets running Shimano's E-Tube software so you can program
the shifting behaviour.
You can personalise the speed of the shifting, the number of sprockets
that will be shifted, and even control the rear derailleur with the left
hand. An advantage of Di2 is the option of adding additional shifter pods,
satellite shifters that can be fitted to the tops or the drops.
There's an internal battery, which you can hide inside the seat post.
Worried about it going flat? It’s good for a claimed 2,000km between
charges. That’s lots of riding. Apart from charging the battery, there is
very little to go wrong with Di2, and it’s actually really well suited to
winter riding and long distance rides through demanding conditions.
Buy Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 if you want the state of the
If your budget won't stretch to the electronic version of Dura-Ace, the
mechanical version is by no means second best — it's still a superb
ensemble. The 9100 group offers perhaps the widest range of options
Shimano has ever offered in road bike components, including a power meter,
hydraulic disc brakes, a wider gear range and an increased selection of
The 9100 group features new derailleurs too, using design features that
originally appeared on Shimano's mountain bike parts to reduce the chance
that the rear mech will get damaged in a crash. Just one rear derailleur
will handle any gear system you choose, including the new 11-30 cassette.
Shimano's rival SRAM has offered power meters since it acquired Quarq in
2011. With the 9100 group Shimano adds a very tidy power meter to its
collection. How tidy? You can see in the pic to the right that the
electronics are barely visible.
The inclusion of hydraulic disc brakes in the Dura-Ace line shows how
completely Shimano has embraced road bike discs. Previously Dura-Ace
equipped bikes with discs had to use Shimano's non-series brakes and
levers; now they match.
If you're using rim brakes, the 9100 Dura-Ace calipers have been subtly
redesigned so they'll accommodate 28mm tyres.
Finally, there's a big range of wheels in the latest Dura-Ace line up.
The new C40 and C60 wheels have 28mm wide carbon fibre rims that are 40mm
and 60mm deep, respectively.
Buy Shimano Dura-Ace if you're racing or doing mega
distances and you want the best mechanical shifting.
Shimano announced the latest version of
its number two groupset in June 2017; both mechanical and electronic
versions are widely available and appearing on bikes.
If you want high performance without the hefty price tag of Dura-Ace,
then Ultegra is probably the pick of the range. Since the 6800 update, the
gap between the two has been narrowed, and the R8000 incarnation looks an
awful lot like the current version of Dura-Ace too. Ultegra shouldn’t be
overlooked too quickly if you want high performance and decent weight
It’s a favourite with amateur racers because the weight penalty is
minimal, especially if built onto a decent carbon fibre frame, and the
performance is nearly identical. You still get the carbon fibre brake
lever as well like you do on Dura-Ace, and the cranks, brakes and
derailleurs share the same design as Dura-Ace.
Dura-Ace is really aimed at racing bikes, making Ultegra a more versatile
groupset. With a range of chainring and cassette options, it can be fitted
to all sorts of bikes, from racing cycles to touring and adventure bikes.
From an 11-23t cassette and 53/39t chainset for the racers to an 11-34t
cassette and 50/34t compact chainset for sportive riders, it covers a lot
RRP for the full mechanical group is £1,100 and £1,700 for the electronic
R8000 component weights are very similar to Ultegra 6800. The significant
differences are in the shifting, which gets an Ultegra version of the
Shadow rear derailleur from Dura-Ace 9100; the brakes, which have been
shaped to make room for 28mm tyres; and the sprockets which now have an
11-34 option. The larger cassettes require the use of the medium-cage rear
derailleur, which has been reported as working with even larger sprockets
such as the 11-36 and 11-40 cassettes Shimano makes for mountain bikes,
though we haven't yet tried this.
Like the previous incarnation, there's just one chainring bolt circle
diameter that will take chainrings from 34 to 53 teeth. You can get the
chainset with pairings of 53/39, 52/36, 50/34 and 46/36. You could change
the chainrings for the riding you're going to do: a 53/39 for a race, say,
and a 50/34 if you're holidaying in the Alps.
Ultegra is also available with a Di2 option. It's Shimano’s most
affordable Di2 groupset, and there is no 105 Di2 on the horizon at the
moment. Like Dura-Ace, both Ultegra groupsets are 11-speed.
Buy Shimano Ultegra if you want performance without the
price tag of Dura-Ace.
For the 2017 bike model year we got a new Dura-Ace groupset, for 2018
Ultegra got a makeover and for the 2019 model year (which pretty much
started in July 2018) Shimano's most popular groupset got a makeover and a
hike in model number from 5800 to R7000.
The main mission of 105 remains the same: excellent performance at a
sensible price. It’s a very good looking groupset too and while it's a bit
heavier than Dura-Ace and Ultegra, the performance runs both very close,
with good shifting and braking. It’s heavier than Ultegra, but you have to
be a weight weenie to worry about that.
Many of the changes from 105 5800 are visual, bringing 105 R7000 into
line with the styling cues of the other two 11-speed groupsets, but there
are some performance improvements too. The shift lever throw has been
shortened for faster, crisper transitions, and the rear derailleurs have
greater capacity. The SS short-cage derailleur can now handle a 30-tooth
largest sprocket, while the long-cage GS model goes up to 34 in theory,
and in practice will cope with a whopping 40-tooth sprocket.
The rear derailleurs are Shimano's 'Shadow' design with the main
parallelogram moved back and down by an extra pivot that effectively
extends the gear hanger so the derailleur is tucked under the chainstay
more, reducing the chance of crash damage.
The front derailleur gets the compact toggle design of Dura-Ace and
Ultegra so there's no longer a gert long lever arm poking skywards from
the front mech.
The big news in braking is that 105 R7000 gets its own hydraulic disc
brakes and levers rather than having to make do with brakes that were 105
quality but lacked the logos and styling of the rest of the group. A
disc-braked 105-equipped bike will now look 'of a piece' as it were.
Speaking of brakes, there are also restyled rim brakes for old school
types. They follow the Ultegra and Dura-Ace convention of the
quick-release lever tucking under the brake arm and have a couple more
millimetres of brake drop than the previous 5800 brakes so they'll work
with bikes that have a bit more room for fatter tyres.
You see a lot of entry-level and mid-range bikes specced with Shimano 105.
It’s the workhorse of the Shimano groupset range, and features on bikes
covering a really wide price band. Sometimes it gets mixed with other
branded parts to meet key price points, but a full 105 groupset is
definitely something to look for, as there really is no weak part of the
Buy Shimano 105 R7000 if you want the latest
version of the most affordable 11-speed groupset
Shimano’s fourth-tier groupset last had a major update for 2016, and Shimano
announced some tweaks and extra options in 2019. The changes bring
it the appearance of Shimano 105 above it, with the same four-arm crankset
and new shifters, with the gear and brake cables hidden underneath the bar
tape. As well as the drop-bar kit, Tiagra will be available with flat bar
levers and shifters, so expect to see it on commuter and city bikes as
The latest tweaks include new hydraulic STI units with a better lever
shape and improved shifting, and an option of a 48/34 chainset.
Tiagra retains the 10-speed configuration, though, and that could be a
deciding factor if choosing between Tiagra and 105. There’s no 53/39t
chainset option for Tiagra either. Shimano reckon that most people buying
a Tiagra-equipped bike probably won’t be racing it and won’t need the
really high gears. The 52/36t, 50/34t and 50/39/30t triple chainset
options still provide plenty of range, and 52/36t is just fine for most
Buy Shimano Tiagra if you want good value and
performance, and don’t mind not having 11-speed (but for another £100
(less if you shop around) you can upgrade to 105)
Underneath Tiagra is Shimano’s Sora groupset, which had a major facelift
for 2017. It now matches the higher groups in the range visually, with its
four-arm chainset, and a similar grey finish (though we can't be the only
ones who wish for a shinier option). It’s a 9-speed groupset, but it’s
still excellent for the money and does 90% of what the more expensive
groupsets do; it just weighs a bit more.
You get proper Dual Control gear shifters, with the brake lever changing
down the cassette and the smaller lever changing to a higher gear. That’s
essentially the same system as used to be on Dura-Ace a few years ago. You
have double and triple chainset options, and the rear derailleur will
accommodate an 11-32t cassette along with a 50/34t compact chainset.
Other similarities with the more expensive groupsets include the
Hollowtech 2 bottom bracket, with the bearings sitting outboard of the
Buy Shimano Sora if you want performance and
Claris is Shimano’s most affordable road bike groupset and is what you
can expect to see on road bikes below about £750. The most recent update
to the groupset saw Claris get the four-arm, fixed-axle chainset design of
higher groupsets. Claris really does have the quality feel of the more
expensive Shimano groupsets.
It’s an 8-speed groupset and is aimed at beginner and new cyclists, and
so you have triple (53/39/30) and compact (50/34) chainset options, along
with an 11-34 cassette. Getting up climbs won’t be a problem with the
lowest gearing available with Claris.
It's almost impossible to buy a full Claris groupset at the moment;
you'll have to assemble it from various sources.
Buy Shimano Claris if you’re on a budget
We can't have a guide to Shimano groupsets and not mention the brakes.
Shimano offers a choice of regular dual pivot or newer direct mount brake
calipers, and also an increasing choice of disc brakes. Most groupsets now
have dedicated disc brakes, and there still plenty of 'non-series' disc
brakes around too, with options for electronic and mechanical shifting.
Shimano says these are its first discs designed specifically for road
bikes, rather than being adapted from mountain bike brakes. At an RRP of
£450 per end for the mechanical-shifting version they're also the most
expensive brakes Shimano has ever made. Like the R785 and RS685 brakes,
below, they're available with 140mm and 160mm CenterLock rotors.
Disc brakes have numerous advantages over rim brakes: they're less
affected by water; they're unaffected by rim damage and they provide finer
control over braking power than is possible with rim brakes.
Hydraulic brakes also self-centre and automatically compensate for pad
wear, neither of which you get with cables, and both of which are real
Buy if: You want Shimano's best disc brakes — and you
have deep pockets.
With the R8000 components, Shimano introduced its first Ultegra-labelled
disc brakes, with variants at the hydraulic levers for mechanical and
Like the previous non-series disc brakes they use Shimano's Flat-Mount
standard for a tidy appearance.
The first Shimano 105-level disc brakes were pretty good, but with the
new hydraulic system, the R7020 lever and the R7070 calliper, Shimano has
upped its game significantly. They're still quite expensive as an upgrade,
but definitely one to look out for if you're in the market for a new
disc-braked road bike.
The new R7020 lever is a full redesign and it's a much better overall
shape. The extra width of the lever at the bottom meant that the bottom of
the hood sat away from the bar tape a bit; it was noticeable close up but
not really an issue.
The 105 brakes work brilliantly out of the box, and they're almost
entirely fuss-free. These brakes bite when you'd expect them to in the
lever travel, and from there there's masses of stopping power available as
and when you need it. The reach is adjustable, but there's also a new,
smaller lever (R7025) that should be ideal for those with smaller hands.
The amount of effort you have to put in to control your speed on the
steep, loose back road descents round here is genuinely a revelation
compared to rim brakes or mechanical disc brakes.
If you're happy with 10 sprockets on your back wheel, but want hydraulic
disc brakes, then Shimano has these brakes for you, matching the colour
and styling of the rest of the Tiagra ensemble.
The 105 level hydraulic disc brakes are based on the RS685 hydraulic
brakes with mechanical shifting (below), but have a new ergonomically
shaped hood design. To save weight, and keep the cost down, the brake
levers are aluminium rather than carbon fibre. There's 10mm of reach
adjustment so you can tune the lever to your hands.
Shimano announced these Tiagra-level disc brakes in March 2016 and soon
became a common sight on bikes around the £1,200 mark. The lever shape
looks very much like that of the 11-speed RS505 hydraulic lever, although
the BR-RS405 lever is 10-speed rather than 11-speed. Tiagra is currently
Shimano's only 10-speed road system, so while they're not startlingly
cheaper than 105, they were the only game in town if you wanted to upgrade
a 10-speed-equipped bike to hydraulic stoppers until the proper Tiagra
brakes were launched.
Shimano’s first road-specific disc brake offers a genuine improvement in
braking power and control. The system comprises brake calipers, disc
rotors and brake levers, and you can combine with either Dura-Ace Di2 or
Ultegra Di2 11-speed groupsets.
Shimano's road disc brake system has been designed for use with 140mm or
160mm rotors, with the idea being that users can choose the size to suit
their weight and intended use. The rotors are designed to combat
overheating with fins and grooves. They are CenterLock only, there's no
Buy if you want electronic shifting and hydraulic disc
But what if you don't want Di2 with your hydraulic disc brakes? Shimano
was listening, and RS685 is the result. It offers mechanical gear shifting
with hydraulic disc brakes. Shimano sees this as an Ultegra level brakeset
but as it’s 11-speed it’s compatible with Dura-Ace and 105.
ST-RS685 uses the same brake caliper as BR-RS785, it’s just the brake
lever that is actually different. Shimano has included a mineral oil
reservoir and brake system in the mechanical lever while managing to keep
that lever compact. The lever features a 10mm reach adjustment to
customise the fit for people with smaller or larger hand.
The aim of road.cc buyer's guides is to give you the most, authoritative, objective and up-to-date buying advice. We continuously update and republish our guides, checking prices, availability and looking for the best deals.
Our guides include links to websites where you can buy the featured products. Like most sites we make a small amount of money if you buy something after clicking on one of those links. We want you to be happy with what you buy, so we only include a product in a if we think it's one of the best of its kind.
As far as possible that means recommending equipment that we have actually reviewed, but we also include products that are popular, highly-regarded benchmarks in their categories.
David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.