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Are higher-end Shimano groupsets "better" or just lighter?

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Are higher-end Shimano groupsets "better" or just lighter?

Old 09-08-21, 05:48 AM
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Dr1v3n
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Are higher-end Shimano groupsets "better" or just lighter?

I was almost going to post this in Road Biking forum, but it frankly applies to gravel bikes and other types of bikes as well. As a relative newcomer to the hobby (1,000 ish miles in), I've wondered about:

Do higher-end groupsets generally offer any benefit other than weight? Meaning, if I say go from a Tiagra to a 105, and a 105 to an Ultegra, or a GRX-400 to a GRX-600 or GRX-800 what benefits am I getting other than that the components are lighter and any "number of gears" differences? Are they made of higher quality materials? Are they more durable? Do they "feel" nicer? What's the rundown? I am NOT talking about switching groupset lines entirely. For example, I am aware that GRX has features for offroad riding that the road line does not.

I ask this because right now I have no interest in racing other people. I do enjoy going fast, but I'm able to get my current kit up to 35-40mph which is plenty fast for "enjoyment". If I wanted to actually start racing, I'd be more concerned, but frankly, I'd also lose 15 more lbs (of fat ideally), take a race bike training from a pro, improve my technique, etc... This question is important because if there is not really a significant benefit other than weight, I can easily save $$ by buying "lower end" (perhaps "non-race" is more accurate?) groupsets.

My primary purpose for riding is fitness, exploration, and endurance rides. I'm pretty sure maxing out at 45mph vs 35mph (watts/effort being constant between the 2) doesn't actually burn more calories, but it will definitely be huge in a race.

When I read/watch reviews, they can be a bit misleading because they refer to the more expensive parts as "nicer" but with a bit of fine-tuning, I've gotten my Claris and GRX-400 to shift very smoothly, especially for the cost. I've had no issues going up even the steepest of hills on my ~22lbs bikes.

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Old 09-08-21, 05:58 AM
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Interesting question! Itís never been asked around here before. Canít wait to see the responses.
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Old 09-08-21, 06:13 AM
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More than you want to know. Groupset tiers and diminishing returns
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Old 09-08-21, 06:22 AM
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Top tier is actually less durable (though gets new technology first that later trickles down) because it's made to be light above all else. 2nd or 3rd tier is probably the sweet spot. Especially if you're not racing. The tech has had time to mature as it trickled down and the components are slightly heavier duty.
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Old 09-08-21, 06:42 AM
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Originally Posted by himespau View Post
Top tier is actually less durable ....
Good to know. Give some examples?
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Old 09-08-21, 06:51 AM
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Originally Posted by shelbyfv View Post
Good to know. Give some examples?
Sure... i only got 29,000 miles on my original Red cassette before it needed to be replaced. I'm afraid that the chainrings and derailleurs might only last another 10,000 miles.

And do we need another bridge for the trolls to hide under?
Groupset tiers and diminishing returns
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Old 09-08-21, 07:07 AM
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I have or have had 105 and Ultegra mechanical on two road bikes.
Cleaning and maintenance makes a world of difference on whatever you have.

As a recreational cyclist, I will save some $$$ and likely go with Tiagra for my next grupo.
10 cogs are plenty and I doubt I would notice a difference in braking and shifting.

Durability? Cleaning and lubrication goes a long way in making all machinery last longer.
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Old 09-08-21, 07:13 AM
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Old 09-08-21, 07:30 AM
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yeah .... questions about where the poster dwells .... but ...

Are you planning to buy a new bike? It makes very little sense nowadays to buy just a group set .... the prices are too high, and if you can't do the work yourself, then you will be paying a few hundred to some bike shop on top of the group set cost.

Unless you somehow bought a bike with a crappy group set and an awesome frame .... ride what you have (at 35-40 mph? Yeah, ummm .... get that speedometer calibrated.) No sense hanging a hi-tech group set on a crappy frame---you save a pound-and-a-half but the frame is three pounds overweight.

When you buy your next bike, likely it will have a group set proportionate to its frame quality .... so buy the best bike you can afford that fits you and your actual riding habits, and just ride the snot out of it.

The one and only place I can see upgrading is wheels and tires----tires will wear out anyway, so don't buy crap when you replace what the bike came with. Wheels also, are a place where manufacturers cheap out. On cheap bikes it doesn't matter, and ohn expensive bikes, while the wheels might be somewhat better, manufacturers know that seriously non-frivolous riders probably have their own high-tech, high-priced wheels so why send a lot equipping the retail model?

In my limited experience, good wheels and tires make the biggest noticeable difference in bike feel ..... and nothing much really affects performance, because in probably 90 % of situations, it is the rider that is the limiting factor. (Those of us who have spent too much money on too many bikes have probably seen that on a good day we are faster no matter which bike we ride and on a bad day we are slower bin the same fashion.) Only people who regularly ride at 35-40 mph need to worry about maximizing performance and parts to the nth degree.
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Old 09-08-21, 07:39 AM
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Originally Posted by shelbyfv View Post
More than you want to know. Groupset tiers and diminishing returns

Was about to reference the same thread -- LOL
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Old 09-08-21, 07:41 AM
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Originally Posted by Rider_1 View Post
Did you mean KM/H?
No, MPH. However, this is by no means my "average" speed. However, I do routinely hit these numbers at max speed of my rides as measured by multiple devices, usually going downhill. I tend to like to ride pretty moderately with a few burst sprints here and there. Before I cycled I ran and was putting up quite a few lbs on leg days. However, my average speed is about 14.5MPH currently.


Originally Posted by Maelochs View Post
In my limited experience, good wheels and tires make the biggest noticeable difference in bike feel ..... and nothing much really affects performance, because in probably 90 % of situations, it is the rider that is the limiting factor. (Those of us who have spent too much money on too many bikes have probably seen that on a good day we are faster no matter which bike we ride and on a bad day we are slower bin the same fashion.) Only people who regularly ride at 35-40 mph need to worry about maximizing performance and parts to the nth degree.
Useful info. I've found that tires make a huge difference too, because I have a gravel and a road bike of nearly the same weight, but I'm far slower on the gravel bike and feel the resistance. However, it's more stable in nasty weather and road conditions.
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Old 09-08-21, 07:57 AM
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I am of the opinion that as the groupsets have evolved, the gap of performance has gotten much smaller. Even the weight difference has lessened. I also believe that an experience rider that has used different levels can tell the difference, more performance wise than weight wise. Does that make it worth the extra dollars. Only the consumer looking to make the purchase can make that decision. With Shimano 10 speed, I have extensive use of 4600, 6600, 5700 and 6700. They all work very well, but in my opinion, when I go from 4600 to 6600, there is a very large difference in the shifting and not so much with the braking, with the shifting having a much more solid feel and a smoother, quicker changing of. the gears. From 5700 to 6700, the difference is there, but much lessened. With 11 speed, I have experience with only 105 from a couple of years ago. It is really good. If I was in the market at this point, I would have a hard time justifying going up to Ultegra/DuraAce, with the caveat that if I was looking to treat myself, and had the expendable cash, I would likely go with the Ultegra. I think that is more of an ego thing, as opposed to performance/weight. I have used Sora 8 and 9 speed, to me, they work ok, but I would not purchase that group.

My belief now? If you have a mid level group and never tried an upper level, you are not missing much. If you have an upper level and go to a lower level, you will probably be ok with the choice, but will realize there is a noticeable gap.
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Old 09-08-21, 07:57 AM
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Originally Posted by Dr1v3n View Post
I This question is important because if there is not really a significant benefit other than weight, I can easily save $$ by buying "lower end" (perhaps "non-race" is more accurate?) groupsets.

s.
Shimano 105 is generally the cheapest "racing grade" groupset a great many folks on here will tolerate.

The price of Shimano 105 over claris/tiagra etc etc is not significant enough when yoiu buy ala carte to not buy the better parts. The price jump to Ultegra, then Dura Ace could make a person pause and think for a bit if they were on a budget though
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Old 09-08-21, 07:58 AM
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Okay ... you and I are about as fast .... I have CF wunderbikes with nearly top-tier parts, vintage steel with damaged frames and semi-modern parts, vintage aluminum with crappy newish parts, and a modern aluminum bike with new and good parts .... all are about as fast. the weights range over about 11 pounds, lightest to heaviest, and the speed---not the speed potential---is almost always dependent on how I feel that day.

I built a bike with Ultegaa---second-best Shimano and generally considered really good----and the next one with 105, one step down, because I knew form experience that functionally 105 is every bit as good at the level I ride. But .... 9- and 10-speed Tiagra are also.

I don't do SRAM or Camapgnolo, but as for Shimano, get Sora (9-speed) or above for road use and you will be fine for life.
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Old 09-08-21, 08:32 AM
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Others have covered it above already. With links. But basically it's a transition from throwaway level, to durability for daily usage and mileage level, to an increase in shift/brake/weight/aero performance for fun and racing.

I've owned Tiagra briefly on my cross bike, 5800 on that same bike after converting to 11spd, and Ultegra Di2 on the TT bike.

I've ridden a borrowed bike with mech Ultegra. I just find the shift ergonomics and accuracy and speed just a touch above the rest once you hit Ultegra. I've personally found the 5800 stuff a bit lazier. Ignoring any racy needs for something like Ultegra I almost equate it to the satisfying ergonomics and feel of some luxury car interior components. Not necessary, but once you try it you like it.

But having owned Di2 now on a bike...........I'll never buy another bike without it. Take my kidney/organ for cash kind of deal.
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Old 09-08-21, 08:57 AM
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Just going by memory here, but:
Dura Ace and Ultegra have electronic shifting, power meter and hydro disc brakes.
Tiagra and 105 have hydro disc brakes but no power meter or elec shifting
Sora and Claris have mech disc brakes.
Tourney has no disc brakes IIRC.

But sometimes you also gain some features! The Tourney brifters have adjustable reach and windows that tell you what gear youíre in.
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Old 09-08-21, 11:30 AM
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Originally Posted by himespau View Post
Top tier is actually less durable (though gets new technology first that later trickles down) because it's made to be light above all else. 2nd or 3rd tier is probably the sweet spot. Especially if you're not racing. The tech has had time to mature as it trickled down and the components are slightly heavier duty.
Several RD-M952 XTR rear derailers I have would disagree. The one on my commuter has about 25,000 miles on it and the one on my touring bike has about 10,000 miles on it. The 9 speed XO drivetrain parts (shifters, front derailer, and rear derailer) on my mountain bikes would also disagree. High end parts arenít delicate. They do weigh less but that hasnít had much of an impact on their durability.

On the other hand, modern (post about 2010)lower tier parts started getting a whole lot better. Alivio from 1999 is heavy junk. Alivio from today is actually pretty nice. Itís lighter and more durable.

There is also a dirty secret on road and mountain components from Shimano. They make great rear derailers. Their top shelf stuff is excellent. They make crappy front derailers. Or I should say they make crappy expensive front derailers. They just try too hard. Their road fronts are finicky and limited in range. Their mountain fronts have had many missteps. From the independently operating plates on the XTR to the carbon E-type front, they have made misstep after misstep. Tiagra and below on the road side and Deore and below on the mountain side are cheap, easy to set up, and durable. Anything above those levels is just too difficult to deal with.
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Old 09-08-21, 11:31 AM
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The "nicer" stuff still gets just as dirty & is just as hard to clean. Which, is a confusing thing.
if it weighed less, I'd expect it to hold less gunk.
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Old 09-08-21, 11:45 AM
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Originally Posted by himespau View Post
Top tier is actually less durable (though gets new technology first that later trickles down) because it's made to be light above all else. 2nd or 3rd tier is probably the sweet spot. Especially if you're not racing. The tech has had time to mature as it trickled down and the components are slightly heavier duty.
No evidence that this is actually true of Dura Ace or XTR, but that won't stop people from saying it.
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Old 09-08-21, 11:49 AM
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Originally Posted by Kapusta View Post
No evidence that this is actually true of Dura Ace or XTR, but that won't stop people from saying it.
Agreed. No evidence that I've seen posted.

And my (admittedly small) sample suggests that D/A holds up quite nicely.
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Old 09-08-21, 11:54 AM
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Originally Posted by Rider_1 View Post
Did you mean KM/H?
Maybe he is referring to how fast his kit goes when in the washer's spin cycle.
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Old 09-08-21, 12:14 PM
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Originally Posted by Kapusta View Post
No evidence that this is actually true of Dura Ace or XTR, but that won't stop people from saying it.
10-15 years ago, I had seen evidence that the alloy cassettes of the top end were lasting less time than the steel cassettes of the midrange. If that's changed, or if it's the case that only the people providing that evidence were pissed because they thought it should have lasted longer because they paid more for it, that would be good to know.
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Old 09-08-21, 12:17 PM
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Originally Posted by himespau View Post
10-15 years ago, I had seen evidence that the alloy cassettes of the top end were lasting less time than the steel cassettes of the midrange. If that's changed, or if it's the case that only the people providing that evidence were pissed because they thought it should have lasted longer because they paid more for it, that would be good to know.
You mean the aluminum cog carriers were breaking? Never heard of or seen that.
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Old 09-08-21, 12:32 PM
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Originally Posted by Kapusta View Post
You mean the aluminum cog carriers were breaking? Never heard of or seen that.
Nah the teeth were supposedly wearing faster on the fancy cassettes made of alloy (or was it Ti?).
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Old 09-08-21, 12:38 PM
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Back to the OP- you have what you have, it works for you and you aren't planning to buy a new bike. When you wear something out you can research what you want as replacement.
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