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  1. #1
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    Components and quality

    I want to have a new road bike, but I'll build it myself by buying separated parts and putting it all together. I was wondering about the quality of components, and how better the top brands are to the bottom ones.

    Ok, let me put this way: shimano has pretty good parts from all it's line up, right? But besides weight, what is the difference between, let's say, the 2200, the Sora and Ultrega? Does the Ultrega group lasts a lot longer than the 2200? Is it more reliable? Will the 2200 skip gears? Will it break sooner or lose the tuning faster?

    Does a regular person notice some difference or it's more a pro thing?

    The reason I ask is that my old mountain bike have the Alivio group, which still works beautifully after 10 years of use, and after riding some bikes with XTR and Dura Ace I couldn't feel much difference. Sure, the top ones were new and all, but the gears still where changing as they should and the wheels rolling as the needed to.
    Last edited by fabioromeu; 06-11-09 at 07:27 AM. Reason: update

  2. #2
    Senior Member Retro Grouch's Avatar
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    That's a commonly asked question - and not all that easy to answer.

    Weight and finish are easy to define differences. I think they are mostly a result of using better materials and higher tech manufacturing methods.

    Some construction differences can be found as you move up the Shimano food chain. For example, Ultegra hubs have double labyrinth hub seals while the less costly 105 and below make do with wiper seals.

    What you are really asking about, however, is durability and performance. In general, with average care, most bicycle components last such a long time that I think it's hard for the average rider to form valid conclusions about durability. Performance tends to be a subjective thing. They all do what they are supposed to do. I think that, if I move up or down 2 group levels, I can sense a difference in "crispness" of operation. I'm not sensitive enough to feel that same difference if I move up only 1 group level.

    The price differences, as you approach the top of the line, can get crazy. Dura ace cranks, for example, list at twice the price of Ultegra cranks.

    Bottom line. There are real, but subtle performance differences among the groups. Some of the differences, however, are only cosmetic. Your task is to balance cost vs performance vs pride-of-ownership value. Everybody draws that line differently.

  3. #3
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    That was fast. Retro, thanks for your thoughtful answer. About performance, I wonder what would happen if we put someone like Lance Armstrong on a bike with the 2200. Would he be much slower because of that? Would the components break because he is stronger than an average rider? I doubt that. I understand that in professional races every second count, but outside that it all feels strangely like a "brand lust" and "component status" than real benefits. Like component weight. Do I really care if my deraileur weights 50 grams less? Why should I? As you said, there's a really crazy difference in prices from one to another. Sure, I wouldn't mind if I was on a race team and my sponsor gaves me the cool parts for free, but in everyday life it looks like an overkill.

    The thing that worries me the most is realiabilty and durability. I had a bike with Sunrace parts and, boy, I hated that crap. I had to tune the deraileurs every 100km. The damn gears jumped like kangaroos. The changers couldn't hold still. I was so disgusted by it that I tossed the whole bike away and bought a new one, the one I ride today, with Shimano parts.

    Today the ghost of that old bike still haunts me, to the point that I'm afraid to use something too low on the line up of any brand. I read that Shimano makes only good parts, from the lower line to the top one, but I fear of buying something like the 2200 and see my bike going Sunrace all again. So, Sora or 105.

    The things I really care for now are: will this part be realiable after two thousands of kilometers? Or will it be a headache for me? Will I need to tune the deraileurs every time after a longer ride?

    Too many questions, too little time... But I'll keep looking and asking around.

    Oh, yeah. I forgot to tell why I'm building a road bike, which may help the discussion. I got tired of trails and realized that asphalt is my thing now, and I want to ride something different and fast. Also, the roadie will be my new commuter. In the future (a year from now) I want to race (not necessarily win), but that's not my immediate goal.

  4. #4
    Pat
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    I understand that Soro, Tiagra, 105, Ultegra and Dura Ace in the Shimano lines are all good. I have ridden 105 and Ultegra. I don't really notice any difference in feel.

    If you stuck a racer on a bike, on flat terrain, 105 should give him about 99.99% of the performance as Dura Ace. On long hill climbs, power to weight is what determines performance. Dura Ace is lighter than 105 so a rider may be about 5% faster on climbs on a top end bike because they are lighter.

    As for durability, I do not think that anyone has gone out and tried. It takes a really long time to wear out components. In my experience, most components are good for 30,000+ miles which is a distance that most bikes never ever see.

  5. #5
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    Quote Originally Posted by fabioromeu View Post
    About performance, I wonder what would happen if we put someone like Lance Armstrong on a bike with the 2200. Would he be much slower because of that?
    Yes, he'd be slower. One of the improvements as you up the group scale is in the bearing surfaces. The better groups will have polished cone races.

    Based on what hub components Shimano used, Tiagra would be the approximate equivalent to your 10 year old Alivio.

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    ^^^^
    And not just the obvious bearing surfaces.
    Pivot points on high end derailleurs often have sintered brass bushings which extend the life of the component. Most derailleurs are a form of parallelogram with four sets of pivots, over time these pivots will develop play eventually preventing the derailleur from holding a shift.

  7. #7
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    Quote Originally Posted by 2wheeladdict View Post
    ... over time these pivots will develop play eventually preventing the derailleur from holding a shift.
    The time span you are taking about is extremely long, however. Even in mountain biking, it takes years and tens of thousands of shifts in really crappy conditions to wear out the pivots on a derailer. You'll likely be on to another bike and a whole new shifter/derailer system before even the cheapest one wears out.
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    I can not say for sure as I do not have a lot of personal experience with different groupsets. However, in my limited experience and from reading on the forums for a while here's my breakdown:
    1. Below Sora reliability and dependability start to suffer. I'm not sure where that line is exactly, it's all just "below Sora" for me.
    2. Sora is a reliable groupset for people who want something that's reliable though perhaps slower or clunkier shifting and feeling than higher groupsets. The one issue with Sora on a road bike is that you can't (or can't easily) shift while you're down in the drops because one of the shifters isn't integrated with the brake, it's only easily reachable if your hands are on the hoods.
    3. Tiagra is the line where a lot of people cannot tell a difference between Tiagra and higher groupsets in general use. It's 9 speed, though.
    4. 105 is the baseline racing groupset. It's 10 speed, just like all the groups above it. You can't go wrong with 105 on anything, and if you change your mind later 105 components are interchangeable with higher level components (because they're all 10 speed). Most people cannot tell a difference in shifting, etc between 105 and anything above it. However, I've heard that the difference between Tiagra and 105 is that 105 lets you shift while you're hammering on the pedals (like, every shift while biking uphill? :-)) while Tiagra struggles with it.
    5. Ultegra is essentially a slightly heavier version of Dura-Ace. For example, they updated Dura-Ace this year, and withing several months updated Ultegra with the exact same changes. I'm not sure, really, what the difference between 105 and Ultegra really is.
    6. Dura-Ace is the extremely high priced top end components that essentially just weigh slightly less than Ultegra so the high end racers and "I have more money than I know what to do with" crowd can dump a bunch of money on it. LOL. But seriously, it's rare that even very picky racers claim to be able to tell any difference between Ultegra and Dura-Ace. And at the Dura-Ace level, some things actually last less long - the chain rings are reputed to wear out sooner due to the use of titanium for some of the rings (for lighter weight).

    Sora would be ok, but I would prefer Tiagra for a road bike (also partly because of the "can't shift from the drops" aspect of Sora). However, I have to admit that when shopping for my road bike I didn't want anything below 105.

    It's confusing - what can I say? :-)

    There's also other things in different groupsets - like when I was a kid I learned through experience not to shift the front and rear shifter at the same time or you'll drop your chain. On my bike with Dura-Ace I can shift front and back while pedalling hard - not sure where that's not a good idea any more. (P.S. The only reason I have Dura-Ace on my road bike is that I really really liked the frame, and Dura-Ace is what it came with. As components wear out I'll be replacing them with Ultegra. That's probably overkill.).

  9. #9
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    Quote Originally Posted by cyccommute View Post
    The time span you are taking about is extremely long, however. Even in mountain biking, it takes years and tens of thousands of shifts in really crappy conditions to wear out the pivots on a derailer. You'll likely be on to another bike and a whole new shifter/derailer system before even the cheapest one wears out.
    Not in all cases.
    Take XT or Ultegra derailleurs for example. If I get more then two seasons out of these I am lucky.
    XTR and Dura Ace on the other hand have lasted me for many years.

    Edited to add: I worked for a bicycle drivetrain manufacture for years and witness this first hand over and over again. Some derailleur products do wear better then others for a variety of reasons.
    Last edited by 2wheeladdict; 06-11-09 at 03:05 PM.

  10. #10
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    Quote Originally Posted by 2wheeladdict View Post
    Not in all cases.
    Take XT or Ultegra derailleurs for example. If I get more then two seasons out of these I am lucky.
    XTR and Dura Ace on the other hand have lasted me for many years.

    Edited to add: I worked for a bicycle drivetrain manufacture for years and witness this first hand over and over again. Some derailleur products do wear better then others for a variety of reasons.

    As a marker- for performance- then LX or 105 parts are the standard to work from. Below these grades and you do get a lowering of life or performance if you are a hard rider. Personally- I ride XT and Ultegra. The parts are slightly lighter and do have better bearing surfaces to make them last longer and have that all important "Quality" factor. However- I have one bike that is hard on parts. An offroad Tandem that is used aggressively. This thing breaks and wears out parts just by rolling it out of the shed. A rear XT mech for example will have to be changed every year due to wear. Couple of years ago I got a deal on an XTR R'D' and there is no way I would normally fit this grade due to cost. However- It was a last years model and a low price so went for it. When it wears out I will be getting another one. Rear deraillers do take a lot of punishment so this upgrade was worth it.

    If I were buying replacement parts for the MTB's or Road bikes- then I would go for XT or Ultegra. But if a deal came up for Dure Ace or XTR- then I would go for it again.
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  11. #11
    Mad bike riding scientist cyccommute's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by 2wheeladdict View Post
    Not in all cases.
    Take XT or Ultegra derailleurs for example. If I get more then two seasons out of these I am lucky.
    XTR and Dura Ace on the other hand have lasted me for many years.

    Edited to add: I worked for a bicycle drivetrain manufacture for years and witness this first hand over and over again. Some derailleur products do wear better then others for a variety of reasons.
    I've owned dozens of bikes and can't honestly say that I've ever had one that was so sloppy that it wouldn't hold after a shift. I certainly get more then a couple of seasons out of them. I'm not fastidious about drive train either. My bikes get hosed off once a year if they are lucky.
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  12. #12
    tsl
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    Quote Originally Posted by fabioromeu View Post
    besides weight, what is the difference between, let's say, the 2200, the Sora and Ultrega? Does the Ultrega group lasts a lot longer than the 2200? Is it more reliable? Will the 2200 skip gears? Will it break sooner or lose the tuning faster?

    Does a regular person notice some difference or it's more a pro thing?
    I have one bike with 2007 Sora (with the R-500 levers, not the Sora ones) and another bike with 2006 105. Other than having two more cogs to play with on the 105 bike, I really can't tell the difference on the road. Both are crisp and quiet when shifting the rear, and about the same on the front. Now, bear in mind that the R-500 shifters on my Sora bike are Ultegra-grade, so that could be why I like Sora and other people don't.

    I'm told Sora is harder to set up, but I'd never done it before when I rebuilt my Sora bike two years ago. I just followed the instructions in the boxes, and it came out perfect the first time.
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  13. #13
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    Diminishing returns.

    You really have to consider price along with performance.

    After a certain point moving towards the high end, you are paying a great deal extra for a small increase in performance. Also, a lot of what you are paying for at the high end is less weight.

    After a certain point moving towards the low end, you lose performance because there isn't enough margin in the cost to build-in sufficient quality.

    The low end works for many people, because many people don't use low-end stuff that frequently.

    If you are competing at the top end of cyclists, any extra edge, even if it's small, is worth a lot.

    Keep in mind too that expensive components are expensive to replace. Something you might need to do if you damage a component in an accident.

    Also, poorly maintained expensive components might not perform as well as clean, well-maintained cheaper versions.

    For Shimano road components. it looks like 105 is the magic price/performance point.
    Last edited by njkayaker; 06-11-09 at 06:30 PM.

  14. #14
    The Improbable Bulk Little Darwin's Avatar
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    I have come to the conclusion that a person should really ride the components they are willing to pay for...

    The most obvious differences in the Shimano line as noted are the Sora thumb shifter, and the 9-10 speed jump when you move from Tiagra to 105.

    I was going to build my bike with Tiagra, but got a good deal on 105 (I do have Tiagra hubs). For me personally, I didn't have enough desire to spend more to get Ultegra, but I wouldn't begrudge anyone that jump, or Dura-Ace. But to be honest, unless someone has a lot of disposable income, or a sponsor, it takes a serious dedication to cycling to make the investment in Dura-Ace.

    The estimate in the earlier message of a 5% improvement seems high to me, but I have nothing to back that up but my feeling that it seems high.

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