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  1. #1
    Slow But Handsome Mild Al's Avatar
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    What's the difference in higher-grade components?

    I'm hoping some of you bike mechanics can explain this to me, at least in general terms. Everyone seems to "know" that some compnnents are better than others, but no one ever says what, exactly, makes them better. What makes the Shimano Deore better than the Shimano Alivio? What, besides the name on the box, makes a SRAM 7.0 better than a SRAM 5.0?

    One guy (who may not know what he's talking about ) told me that the lesser models have plastic bearings, while the more expensive models have metal bearings. Is he right?

    I realize that there might be MANY differences from one brand/model to another--but is there a general pattern? Before I spend an extra $100 or whatever for a higher level of component, I'd like to know why I'm spending the money. (I don't want to be one of those guys who brags about his components without having any idea what he's talking about.)

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    Materials, engineering, design, weight. Not sure about plastic bearings, he probably means a bushing instead of a ball bearing. You pretty much get what you pay for.

  3. #3
    Senior Member Old Hammer Boy's Avatar
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    Weight, precision (in most cases), quality materials, but not alway durability, marketing. Now, let me give you my philosophy about purchasing almost anything. I like to buy at level 2, or one down from the top. Usually level 2 products have most of the features, quality and engineering of level 1, but not some of the (perhaps needless) bells and whistles for the marginally large jump in price for what is often the prestige associated with "top of the line." Of course there are exceptions to every rule, but throughout my life I've found this to work out for me. No doubt, owning the top of the line can be good for one's psyche, but in terms of the old pocket book, level 2 seems to be the best value most of the time. That's my opinion... OHB

  4. #4
    Senior Member Deanster04's Avatar
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    Before you try and determine what group is best buy a cheap one and ride it for a while then go to your local LBS and see if you can take a bike with a very good (expensive) group and try it. If you don't notice a difference stick with the cheaper group. If you ride a lot of miles then at some point the cheaper group will start to give you problems. Then think about investing in the more expensive groups and they will last longer.
    Today machine technology ensures that most groups are pretty well built and work well together when they are first assembled. It is time and miles that separate the low and high priced spreads.

  5. #5
    Slow But Handsome Mild Al's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by mcoine
    Materials, engineering, design, weight.
    Could you give me an example, just to illustrate? I don't mean to be a pain, but I am curious.

    Some background: I'm looking at a Burley Sand Point. One on-line store replaces the original rear derailleur, a Sunrace, with a Shimano Alivio before they ship it. This raises the price from $750 to $799. If I buy the Alivio, how will it likely perform better than the Sunrace? Is the Sunrace made of cheap plastic, while the Alivio is made of chro-moly steel? Is the Sunrace an old, less-competent design that has been sitting around the warehouse forever, so they're selling it cheap to get rid of it?

    I'm trying to become more knowledgeable about bikes, partly so I can purchase wisely, but partly because I'd just like to know more.

  6. #6
    Senior Member Deanster04's Avatar
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    Go online to the company websites. You should get the detail you want. Buy the Sunrace and try it saving the money. If you need to change it out the Alivo will not cost a lot to replace the sunrace. Maybe less that the $50 cost difference in the bike as purchased.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mild Al
    Could you give me an example, just to illustrate? I don't mean to be a pain, but I am curious.

    Some background: I'm looking at a Burley Sand Point. One on-line store replaces the original rear derailleur, a Sunrace, with a Shimano Alivio before they ship it. This raises the price from $750 to $799. If I buy the Alivio, how will it likely perform better than the Sunrace? Is the Sunrace made of cheap plastic, while the Alivio is made of chro-moly steel? Is the Sunrace an old, less-competent design that has been sitting around the warehouse forever, so they're selling it cheap to get rid of it?

    I'm trying to become more knowledgeable about bikes, partly so I can purchase wisely, but partly because I'd just like to know more.
    yeah, don't bother, an alivio rd might be $30 and sunrace $20, so you pay $49 to get something worth $10 more. Just use it till it wears out and buy a deore or decent sram rd.

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    My opinion: the difference is mostly weight, at least with shimano. In my experience, even low end (shimano RSX) shifters and derailleurs will shift flawlessly for a long time with the proper maintenance. Put your money into the frame and wheels of a bike. That's where you will notice the most difference.

  9. #9
    Slow But Handsome Mild Al's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Deanster04
    Go online to the company websites. You should get the detail you want. . . .
    I don't know why I didn't think of this first. Anyway, it was good advice, and I tried it. I've checked out the Sunrace site and the Shimano site, and it looks to me as if several things are true:

    1.) Within a given company, sometimes the difference between product lines is purpose, not quality. Derailleurs are designed for certain kinds of cassettes with certain numbers of teeth (I didn't realize this), so if you want, say, an 11-34T cassette, you can only use certain kinds of rear derailleurs, whereas a different cassette might allow/require a different kind of rear derailleur. These different kinds of derailleurs have different prices because they're different, not necessarily because one is better than another.

    2.) Sometimes the higher-grade product lines are different in such minor ways (say, Tiagra vs. Sora) that a non-professional cyclist like me will never be able to discern any difference at all.

    3.) The bike salesman who told me that the more expensive bike would have more precise shifting because it had more expensive components was probably mistaken and possibly lying. (I'll give him the benefit of the doubt and assume that he was just repeating what he'd heard everyone else say.)

    Is this a fair assessment? I'm a newbie, so I'm still trying to sort all this out. Thanks for the insights.

  10. #10
    Riding is Praying Shorty's Avatar
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    Hey, Being a bike salesman sometimes, I would say he was not lieing, but that the differences is not always noticable to a less sensitive rider. Go test ride both sets of components and see what you think, because that's whose opinion matters in this aspect of componentry. I will agree with some of the other posters and say that weight and durability change from level to level in shimano, with increased durability untill you start sacrificing too much to the god of weight-weenies (which is really only an issue with a few pro-level components meant to be used for racing and not training). Generally in Shimano's mountain line you want to at least buy at the deore level and in their road line I would say a Tiagra/105 mix bike would be as low as you should go IF you are someone who puts above 70/80 miles a week on your bike and sometimes rides in crappy weather. If this is for a 5 mile ride or two a week go as cheap as you like it.

    Anyway, test ride lots to help you decide what you personally want to pay for.

    Oh, and Sora levers suck for all but the biggest hands. You can't shift one direction from the drops. Blech.

  11. #11
    Slow But Handsome Mild Al's Avatar
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    Just for the record--I mean no disrespect to bike salespeople. I worded that post more strongly than I should have. Sorry!

  12. #12
    Riding is Praying Shorty's Avatar
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    I really didn't think you did. I should have used a little smiley face or something. Sorry. Cheers.

  13. #13
    cycles per second Gonzo Bob's Avatar
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    The finish on the higher priced stuff is better meaning it will likely look much better years down the road. My 20 year old Dura-ace stuff looks pretty good still. My 20 year old Deore stuff looks pretty grody.

  14. #14
    如果你能讀了這個你講中文 genericbikedude's Avatar
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    ^^^Yeah, but my 30 year old suntour stuff is better than your dura ace is today. And sunlight does NOT degrade ANY of my bicycle components!

  15. #15
    Senior Member Deanster04's Avatar
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    The sales person tried to put you in the best bike. I ride campy chorus and record and I can tell the difference, but that is with years (decades) of riding. If you are starting out you will do just fine with a lower prices group. Experience may change your outlook down the road and you might be ready to make a larger investment. It is wise to go slow because it is an expensive hobby. The benefits are worth it: lower stress level after riding, more energy, helpful with wt management, and can be a great social outlet if you find some compatible people to ride with. Have fun and good luck.

  16. #16
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    Quote Originally Posted by genericbikedude
    ^^^Yeah, but my 30 year old suntour stuff is better than your dura ace is today.
    Absolute nonsense.

    And sunlight does NOT degrade ANY of my bicycle components!
    Including tires and paint and bar tape and saddles and cable housing?

  17. #17
    Senior Member Retro Grouch's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mild Al
    I'm hoping some of you bike mechanics can explain this to me, at least in general terms. Everyone seems to "know" that some compnnents are better than others, but no one ever says what, exactly, makes them better. What makes the Shimano Deore better than the Shimano Alivio? What, besides the name on the box, makes a SRAM 7.0 better than a SRAM 5.0?

    One guy (who may not know what he's talking about ) told me that the lesser models have plastic bearings, while the more expensive models have metal bearings. Is he right?

    I realize that there might be MANY differences from one brand/model to another--but is there a general pattern? Before I spend an extra $100 or whatever for a higher level of component, I'd like to know why I'm spending the money. (I don't want to be one of those guys who brags about his components without having any idea what he's talking about.)
    I think that there are two answers to your question: One has to do with the actual physical differences in the components and the other has to do with the relative performance of the components.

    The performance differences are easier to explain. The higher cost components do everything a little bit more crisply. Shimano, for example, offers 5 different levels of road bike components. I can feel a subjective difference if I move up or down 2 component groups but I don't notice much if I only move one component group.

    The subtle performance differences are due to the materials the products are made of and to the manufacturing processes that were used.

    Manufacturers generally use metal in areas where rigidity is important. Those parts are usually shaped by forgeing. The more expensive parts use stronger, more expensive alloys that are heated less before being shaped in the forging hammer. Stronger, in this case, means that they actually use less metal so the part is lighter in weight.

    The area that drives the bike mechanics crazy has to do with secondary machining and fasteners. Parts that have sloppy fit and poor fasteners suck! When you go to adjust them they tend to not want to move at all - then jump past the sweet spot. They're harder to adjust and tend not to stay adjusted as well.

    As another poster mentioned, the good stuff stays good looking longer too.

    As little extra as you have to pay for Shimano V-brakes, for example, I can't understand why anybody would want a bike with Pro-Max linear pull brakes.

  18. #18
    05 Roubaix Comp Double
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    I'm not sure why anyone would upgrade to DA for any benifit if they didnt race?
    Touch every 3rd person and you'll find an idiot.

  19. #19
    Senior Member af895's Avatar
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    Building on what others have said, I'm attaching a "Shimano Best to Worst" list.

    It's worth reading this thread: Why do some casettes loudly whirr and others quietly purr?

    It started as a question about why some freehubs/freewheels are quiet and others loud. What it evolved into was a discussion about various levels and brands of component with some very specific information about differences between them.

    Repeating something I said there, I work at a bike co-operative that has drawers full of components. In the case of free-hubs, we have generic Taiwanese stuff right up to Deore LX or XT level. Acera, externally, looks very similar to XT.

    As one fellow pointed out in the above linked thread, he has an Acera hub that's lasted 60,000km with basic maintenance.

    Perhaps the higher level gear is lighter weight or has other technical gee-whizery going on but if you don't measure your bike to the nearest gram, don't know or care about the gee-whizery (like the replacable spring in an XTR derailleur versus XT), why invest that kind of money? Investing in regular service would make more sense.

    I know little about SRAM but in Shimano, there seems to be a sweet spot where you get high value for your dollar. Any lower quality level becomes frustrating and at higher levels the law of diminishing returns applies.

    I'd avoid current Shimano MTB components below perhaps Acera level and Deore level is quite nice.
    In road gear, Sora is fine.

    Under the heading "they don't make stuff like they used to," older Altus components (c.1993 perhaps) are actually quite good, much closer to current level STX. Here's a link with Shimanos heirarchy over the years: http://home.ca.inter.net/~kroberge/hierachy.html

    Hope this helps.
    CJ
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    Last edited by af895; 01-22-06 at 09:44 AM.

  20. #20
    pacifist-vegetarian biker
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    Middle of the road is a good place to be, IMO. my road bike has Sora junk, and I can feel a huge difference when shifting on someones bike with tiagra/105. Althouhg admittedly DA stuff proably does work a bit better and saves some wieght but not worth the extra money. In terms of MTB I have ridden hard-tail treks with both deore/lx and xt/xtr. In pretty much all conditions, they shifted the exact same. The only real different was the weight.

    my current mtb has sram x.9, but only beacuse I got a really good deal. I test rode a x.7 bike and it felt fine. Someone else sugested that you look for the best, and then take it a notch down. I would look for the worse, and then take it a step or two up. (of course in some cases that might end you up in the same place).

    There is certainly a sweet spot in the middle where the quality is high and the price is fairly low.
    My bikes:
    MTB: 2005 KHS XC604 FS (SRAM x9)
    Road/commuter: 2003 IronHorse Triumph (Shimano Sora)
    Road/race: 2001 Tsunami (Campy Record 9s)
    City/hybrid: touring frame, flat bars, deore shifter/rd, 52t crank.

  21. #21
    Senior Member Matt Gaunt's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Old Hammer Boy
    Weight, precision (in most cases), quality materials, but not alway durability, marketing. Now, let me give you my philosophy about purchasing almost anything. I like to buy at level 2, or one down from the top. Usually level 2 products have most of the features, quality and engineering of level 1, but not some of the (perhaps needless) bells and whistles for the marginally large jump in price for what is often the prestige associated with "top of the line." Of course there are exceptions to every rule, but throughout my life I've found this to work out for me. No doubt, owning the top of the line can be good for one's psyche, but in terms of the old pocket book, level 2 seems to be the best value most of the time. That's my opinion... OHB

    Wise words. I totally agree: check my sig and it completely corresponds. Here are some examples of where you notice the difference between the lower grades and the 2nd or even top group:
    - sealed bearings in the jockey wheels as opposed to plastic bushings
    - lighter and more durable alloys used throughout (usually but not always), for example, SRAM stuff is plastic until pretty much the top group.
    - more serviceable - for example individual chainrings can be replaced instead of the whole chainset
    - better technology employed - for example, parallel push V-brakes as opposed to arc-push on the higher end Shimano stuff, and the use of outboard bearings with HollowTechII as opposed to Octalink and HollowTech cranks
    - stiffer transmission

    As far as I'm aware, none of these is particularly noticeable between the 2nd group and the top group.

    Hope that helps a bit.
    Matt
    2010 Kinesis Decade Convert2 Alloy fixie, Miche, Sora Pics soon...
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  22. #22
    Banned.
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    I am not a mechanic so I will limit my comments to my own experiences. I had very similar questions to you when i started out. I always figured that putting an XT rear derailleur on one of my mountain bikes would really transform it. It didn't.

    I have used acera, alvio, and now XT on my two mountain bikes. What i can tell you that they all shift exactly the same when adjusted correctly. That is the key. I have had my XT derailleur shift poorly when it was adjusted poorly.

    I have had my Acera derailleur shift perfectly, when adjusted perfectly. No doubt the XT derailleur is of better quality and it will probably last longer. NOt to mention i thing the pulleys will last longer. But in general i think the differences in component levels are overstated in most cases.

  23. #23
    me have long head tube TallRider's Avatar
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    A comment on the best-to-worst list: at the high end, Shimano groups are comparable. XTR comparable to Dura-Ace, and XT comparable to Ultegra.
    At the low end, however, they're not comparable, because mountain groups go much lower in quality than do road groups. Why? Because there's demand for cheap mountain bikes. There's little-to-no demand for cheap road bikes (although there was in the 1980's, before mountain bikes became sexy and took over the cycling imaginations of most people, and thereby took over nearly all of the low-priced bike market). I'd say taht Sora is about equivalent to Alivio in quality (based on my intition and knowledge of the groups), which just so happens to be equal # of steps from the top if you count down from Dura-Ace and XTR.

  24. #24
    Slow But Handsome Mild Al's Avatar
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    Okay, this is starting to make sense now. It's reassuring to know that the price differences are not simply hype, and that these differences can be described objectively. It's also reassuring to know that, beyond a certain point, the differences are too small for a middle-aged amateur like me to worry about. (So--I won't worry, though I hope to continue to learn about this subject.)

    About the bike salesman I mentioned earlier: I now suspect that he was correct--the $2000 bike probably shifted more precisely than the $1500 one. But I also suspect that the $1500 bike would have been plenty precise enough for me, especially if I kept it adjusted right (something I should learn to do for myself, probably.)

    Anyway--thanks for all this information and input. I've learned a lot here.
    Last edited by Mild Al; 01-22-06 at 05:54 PM.

  25. #25
    Senior Member askrom's Avatar
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    The top of the line components aren't always the most durable. For racing, they are often decidedly non-durable. Examples include:

    1) Sparsely-spoked wheels.
    2) Thin, lightweight tires
    3) Cassettes with aluminum cogs (wear out super quickly, but for racing days they save enormous amounts of weight)

    Another argument for the rule of thumb of going with the second-best components.

    -Cf

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