Cost Efficiency: Aftermarket Groupset Or A Custom Set-Up

Last Updated on May 10, 2021

Pre-Built Or DIY?

When looking for a new bike many of us go straight to a retailer and look for the best model. These off-the-rack packages offer great value and prospective buyers can take the bike for a test ride before making a decision which is a fantastic incentive to buy them pre-built.

However, the buyer doesn’t get much, if any, say in how their bike is made, from the parts to the color of the frame. Although, of course, there are exceptions. Some bike shops allow a customer to choose what kind of saddle they want or other specific parts so it’s a comfortable ride and the customer is satisfied.

Whereas, a custom build allows the buyer to tailor the bike to suit their every need down to the nuts and bolts. These bikes vary a great deal as a result of this, and while a lot of these bikes feature bespoke framesets and exotic components, neither is a strict pre-requisite for a custom build.

The main appeal of a custom-built bike is that every detail is down to the buyer and their tastes meaning they can really get the bike of their dreams providing they have the cash. Some favor the latest technology and/or aerodynamics while others prefer to concentrate on weight, specific colors, or replicating a team bike.

And best of all, it doesn’t even have to cost you a small fortune. You can recycle parts and focus your budget on the parts that matter most to you.

However, due to the inability in being able to try before you buy and never quite knowing the quality of the end result the whole process requires a bit of hope and prayer that you’re going to get the bike you want.

That doesn’t take away from how enjoyable this method is though. It’s much more rewarding and cost-efficient in the long term. If nothing else you’ll have a story to tell your friends about how it all went right or wrong.

Groupsets

A group set comprises disc brakes and the drivetrain. The drivetrain consists of the cranks, chainrings, chain, cassette, rear derailleur, front derailleur, and shifters.

As you work up the groupset hierarchy, the materials change. Entry-level groupsets are made up of mostly low-grade alloys, which move to the higher-grade alloys, and then the highest-grade alloys, carbon fiber, and titanium for the top-of-the-line options.

Road bike groupsets should offer seamless performance without issue. Crisp and smooth shifting is a must and durability should be an essential consideration with there not being any sign of wear for at least the first few thousand miles.

There are more options for groupsets than ever and the pros and cons of each can be overwhelming. To help you understand the options.

Shimano, SRAM, and Campagnolo are the three leading players in this area and while each has its minor differences in the way they work, they all ultimately achieve the same thing. They offer a range of gear selections so you can continue pedaling over various gradients, and they provide the stopping power for when you need to hit the brakes. 

Features Of A Groupset

While we did touch upon what’s included it’s useful to know exactly what you’re getting and how it all works so you can make a better judgment as to what kind of groupset you want.

Gear Shifters – These act as your interface with the gears. Available as thumb switches or grip shifters, these select the gear that best suits the terrain you’re riding on.

Cassette – The rear cassette is the collection of sprockets on your back wheel. Each sprocket contains a different number of teeth, which means they require a different amount of torque for each to spin the wheel. Teeth numbers range anywhere from nine to 50, and a cassette is usually described by stating its smallest and largest sprocket.

Crankset – The crankset is the large, toothed set of rings that are spun by the pedals. A triple crankset uses three rings (Labelled as 3X), a double use two (2X), and a single is just one ring (1X).

Brakes – A bike’s brakes form an important part of a groupset. Brakes come as traditional calipers (Usually road) or the popular disc-brakes format (Usually MTB).

Front Derailleur – The front derailleur sits above the main chainring. It’s a mechanical arm, controlled by the shifters, that moves the chain from one chainring to the other.

Rear Derailleur – The rear derailleur is attached to the rear of the bike’s frame. It moves the chain across the rear sprocket when activated by the shifters.

Chain – Chains come in different lengths to suit different gearing options on bikes. Sprocket widths are also a key factor, with more compact cassettes requiring slender chains. The higher the chain quality, the lighter, more durable, and less likely to snap they are.

Bottom Bracket – The bottom bracket is the axle where pedals are connected and rotate.

Cables – Cables connect shifters and brake levers to the relevant mechanical components. These components have seen constant changes and improvements for both road and mountain bikes over the years.

Mechanical And Electronic Groupsets

Groupset providers offer multiple mechanical and electronic options with different names and operating procedures. In the electronic shifting variants, Shimano has Di2 which stands for ‘Digital Integrated Intelligence’, SRAM has eTap, which stands for ‘electronic tap’, while Campagnolo has EPS which stands for ‘Electronic Power Shift’

Mechanical shifting – This works via cables that attach to the shifters and run via the frame to the front and rear derailleurs. Moving the shift lever pulls or releases the cables, which then activates the derailleurs to either shift up or down.

Benefits:
  • Weight reduction with no battery or junction boxes required,
  • More cost-effective
  • Provides a more ‘natural’ feel.
Drawbacks:
  • Shifting relies on the cables to be in perfect working order
  • Frames with long sections and acute angles can make installing cables tricky
  • Frames with acute angles can also decrease braking performance because cables aren’t optimally orientated, and the whole system needs regular adjustment.

Electronic shifting – This works via wires attached to the shifters and derailleurs that transfer a signal, or via wireless technology similar to boothtooth or ANT+ devices.

Benefits:
  • Precise shifting
  • Lack of deviation from the set adjustment
  • Easier shifting at the lever
  • Programmable shifting
  • Downloadable information on shifting habits and efficiency
  • Two shift points via the use of satellite shifters

 

Drawbacks:
  • The system breaks down if batteries are not charged
  • Pricier
  • They tend to be heavier than mechanical versions.

The Big Brands

When it comes to groupsets. The big 3 dominate the market and each has its specialties and benefits. It’s worth knowing the differences between these and experimenting with them as they’re all enormously popular and favored by many in the cycling community.

Campagnolo

Campagnolo is the granddaddy of groupset companies and has been innovating the cycling industry for over 80 years. It’s known for its high-end, Italian products with a focus on road bikes. And interestingly, the vast majority of work and production still takes place at Campagnolo’s headquarters in Vicenza, Italy.

Campagnolo has five main groupsets that it offers. It’s rare to see a Campagnolo groupset on a budget road bike as they’re all about quality and that doesn’t come cheap.

Campagnolo levers are known for featuring curved hoods to improve ergonomics and unique shifting, a single lever behind the brake lever is used to go to an easier gear, while a small thumb lever on the inside of the hood is used to go into a harder gear making it harder to mistake gear shifts.

Campagnolo’s groupsets:

Centaur

Centaur has replaced Campagnolo’s long-standing 10-speed groupset, Veloce, with plenty of new additions and extra touches to spruce up the package. The new groupset is now 11-speed, has a wide gear range capacity, cranks that fit all chainrings, two different finishes, and even wheels to match. This groupset is considered a more affordable version of the mid-range Potenza.

Potenza

Potenza is the mid-range groupset that competes against the Shimano Ultegra and SRAM Force. The Potenza features a four-arm crank and re-designed front and rear derailleur to improve shifting. The cost of the Potenza is cut down compared to higher-end models due to the alloys that are used. The 11-32 cassette means you’ll require a change in rear derailleur geometry to accommodate the larger range.

Chorus

Chorus has been described as ‘the perfect solution for sophisticated cyclists searching for Super Record performance at a more competitive price’. But, that price is still going to put a hole in your wallet with a price tag of over $5,000 with high-grade carbon fiber featuring throughout the groupset. Chorus has the regular chainring options; 53/39, 52/36, 50/34, but still only the three crank lengths; 170, 172.5, 175 mm. Plus, Chorus allows the option of electronic shifting which allows riders to check battery charge, make fine adjustments to the front and rear derailleurs, and set the zero position of the rear and front derailleur.

Record

Record is a professional quality group set although there is one either that takes the top spot. The record combines carbon fiber and other high-quality alloys to create a lightweight groupset. And then there’s the electronic version of the already elite Record groupset which allows you to ‘manage your bike fleet and personalize the way your Record EPS groupset works in line with your preferences.’

Super Record

The best of the best when it comes to Campagnolo who describes this as, ‘the maximum evolutional and technological expression of a mechanical drivetrain for bikes’. However, when it comes down to it, the differences between Record and Super Record are minor, with the most notable changes being the inclusion of titanium and ceramic bearings, which further decrease weight and improve efficiency. This group set is for professionals or those without any budget as they’re very expensive. But, if your nat to take it even further there’s the Super Record which takes the cake when it comes to groupsets.

 

Shimano

Shimano has the largest range of road-specific groupsets and is a favorite with professional teams too. Shimano pioneered the STI (Shimano Total Integration) lever, which is the most commonly used lever today so you’re going to the experts if you buy from them.

The STI lever allows for multiple shifts and means you’ll never have to move your hand position to slow down or change gears. To operate, the brake lever swings inwards to pull the derailleur in one direction, with a smaller shift lever sitting behind the brake lever which releases the cable for the derailleur to go the opposite direction.

Shimano’s groupsets:

Claris

Claris is Shimano’s entry-level groupset. It has an 8-speed cassette and comes in either a double or triple crankset providing a multitude of gearing options. Claris uses simple and intuitive dual control levers with gear indicators so you’ll always know what gear you’re in without having to check the cassette at back.

Tiagra

Tiagra is another entry-level and can be found for just over $1000. While still seen on recreational bikes, Tiagra is common on entry-level road bikes or off-road adventure bikes. The crankset is also available in a double and triple, with up to a 34T sprocket available on the rear cassette providing a huge range of gears.

105

105 is Shimano’s first entry into the professional scene and is their most popular groupset for road bikes. 105 is durable, reliable, and features much of the technology found on more expensive models. There are also three different crankset options for 105; a four-arm double crankset, a five-arm double crankset, and a five-arm triple crankset.

Ultegra

Ultegra is for intermediate to high-level road riders. Ultegra is only available in a double crankset with various combinations like 53/39, 50/34, 52/36, and 46/36. Ultegra also comes in an electronic version known as ‘Di2’ which uses cables to change gears. Di2 uses motor-driven mechanics at the front and rear derailleur to provide a cleaner, more perfect shift.

Dura-Ace

Dura-Ace is the king when it comes to groupsets from Shimano. The groupset uses a mixture of carbon fiber, titanium, and high-grade alloys to create precise shifting and unmatched reliability. Dura-Ace shift levers have a shorter lever stroke and more ergonomic design to improve rider feel and comfort. While a longer derailleur cage is used to accommodate a 30T sprocket on the new Dura-Ace. And then there’s the Dura-Ace Di2 allows for complete customization of shift settings, shift button purpose, shift speed, and wireless firmware updates.

 

SRAM

SRAM has four road-specific groupsets available. SRAM is well known for being lightweight and its ‘YAW’ angle technology. In this, SRAM’s front derailleur cage has the ability to rotate as the gears change to maintain a ‘consistent angular relationship with the chain’. This optimizes chain alignment and is said to improve shifting performance while reducing chain rub.

Shifting is achieved by utilizing one lever to change up and down, which is separate from the brake lever. A single shift of the lever actuates the derailleur in one direction, continuing to push the lever and so the derailleur is actuated in an opposite direction.

SRAM’s groupsets.

Apex

Apex is the entry-level groupset from SRAM and features a 10-speed rear cassette, two chainrings up front, and a five-arm alloy crankset. The front chainrings are a compact set-up featuring a 50 tooth large chainring and 34 tooth small chainring. The large cassette range offers more coverage than a standard triple crankset. To accommodate the wider gear range the rear derailleur has a longer cage and slight variation in geometry.

Apex x1

Apex x1 only has one front chainring, creating a single derailleur drivetrain, and is thus, very user-friendly due to its reduced amount of parts. The 1x is available for drop or flat bar road bikes and features an enormous 11-42T cassette.

Rival

Rival is SRAM’s competition for the Shimano 105 groupsets, again, aimed at the entry-level rider with a lot of technology trickling down from the Force and Red groupsets. Rival is considerably more lightweight than Apex, has hydraulic disc brakes, and a greater range of crankset lengths including 165, 167.5, 170, 172.5, and 175 mm. There’s also the option of the Rival x1 which, similarly to Apex, extends its chainring options, loses even more weight, and has an even larger rear cassette available.

Force

With force, carbon replaces aluminum, making an appearance in the rear derailleur and crank arms. The crank arm utilizes unidirectional carbon, which is matched to a forged alloy spider, creating a lighter and stiffer crankset. Force is better suited towards intermediate or elite level racers looking for a lightweight, high-performing groupset.

Red

Red is the peak performer for SRAM and features among professional teams and international-level triathletes. SRAM describes Red as the ‘pinnacle of road racing technology’ and it’s the lightest groupset on the market. Carbon fiber features more heavily on Red, and the introduction of ceramic bearings further improves performance. Then coming in alongside the Red is the Red eTap, the first wireless groupset using a proprietary protocol called ‘Airea’ to communicate between the shifters and derailleurs, via tiny removable and interchangeable batteries located on each derailleur.

The Types Of Group Sets

Road Groupsets

Speed is the name of the game when it comes to road groupsets. Gear ratios tend to be tighter, with pure speed and graduated climbing the focus.

2X chainsets are the top dog in this area. However, SRAM has several 1X systems (Force 1, Rival 1, and Apex 1) and cyclists are slowly coming around to the idea of these. On the other hand, Time Trial riders and cyclocross cyclists, have embraced the weight-saving advantages of the single ring so it’s only a matter of time before they become more mainstream.

But while road groupsets are yet to fully embrace the 1X, the introduction of the first 12-speed cassette from Campagnolo injected some change into the industry. Meanwhile, all three manufacturers have successfully introduced electronic shifting for their high-end groupsets; SRAM’s eTap, Shimano’s Di2, and Campagnolo’s EPS systems are now integrated technologies and have proven fairly popular.

MTB Groupsets

Due to Campagnolo’s focus on the road market, The mountain bike groupset markets have been headed by Shimano and SRAM.

Both Shimano and SRAM groupsets are organized into tiered hierarchies, with Shimano boasting around eight complete sets while SRAM has nine. MTB groupsets often lack the flair of road components and are made to be a lot tougher and more rugged to handle the unpredictable and more unforgiving trail.

A notable innovation in this industry was SRAM introducing the 1X11 mountain bike shifting system with its XX1 groupset. This had a big impact with 1X systems becoming vastly popular in the coming years. Shimano followed suit and introduced their own version, leaving the triple chainset to die out.

Frequently Asked Questions

Is it worth upgrading your groupset?

If your bike frame is electronic groupset compatible, your budget allows for it and the existing groupset is worn out, then an upgrade to electronic shifting is well worth the investment.

How long do groupsets last?

Usually 2-3 chainrings per cassette. If you ride in the wet you can kill one in hundreds of miles, if you ride only in the dry it might last 10K or more. The rest of the groupset usually lasts a long, long time and you should be a little concerned if you have to replace a groupset in less than 20-30K miles.

Can you mix groupset parts?

SRAM’s cassettes and chains are compatible with all of Shimano’s groupsets, and vice versa. Likewise, Shimano and SRAM buyers have the freedom to mix different levels of chains and cassettes so long as they are designed for the same kind of transmission. However, many prefer to maintain uniformity so it’s all down to you on whether you actually want to mix and match.

Summary

So, there you have it. your comprehensive guide to groupsets. You should be well on your way to know what groupset is going to fit your budget and your cycling lifestyle.

Overall, the groupsets from Shimano, Campagnolo, and SRAM are pretty evenly matched in terms of price, options, and technology so while this is good in that you won’t be majorly disadvantaged having one over the other, it also means that there’s no quick and easy answer so you might want to experiment.

Whichever you decide on though, make sure it works for you and your bike. But most importantly have fun and…

Pedal harder!

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