Professional cyclists always want to shave a few grams of weight off of their bike to get faster, and that always involves a premium groupset. The groupset is the entire complex of parts that work together to translate pedal power to the gears: derailleurs, cassette, bottom bracket, shifters, and crankset. If you change it for a better one, will it make you faster?
A better groupset will make a rider faster only if it is an upgrade from a very low-quality groupset to a higher-quality one. However, what makes a rider faster, first and foremost, is an excellent fitness level.
Better quality parts translate into subtle improvements like smoother shifting and greater reliability. However, can anyone ride faster just by upgrading their groupset? Premium groupsets cost a lot of money, so that’s the question worth asking if you’re considering upgrading your groupset.
Changing from a basic groupset from a second-rate manufacturer to a premium groupset from one of the top manufacturers would make you noticeably faster. However, you don’t have to upgrade to a top-quality groupset to realize this gain, it is enough to upgrade to a mid-grade groupset.
However, keep in mind that for reaching high speeds, the most important is your fitness level and stamina. So, if you find that you are too slow, but you have a bike with a decent groupset the first thing you should be looking at is your fitness level and stamina instead of upgrading your groupset.
A pro cyclist on a crappy bike with a crappy groupset will definitely be faster than someone with no stamina and a low fitness level, even if he is riding a super fancy bike with the best groupset.
A groupset doesn’t have much to do with speed, so increasing your speed with better groupsets is a game of diminishing returns. The higher quality groupset you upgrade, the more you pay and the less difference you’ll notice in your speed.
What Makes One Groupset Better Than Another?
Better groupsets have superior craftsmanship and lighter, stronger materials compared to cheaper models.
The main result is that the gears will work more smoothly and that shifting will be easier and more reliable. However, a superior groupset is snappier, it also has less friction, and will weigh less.
This produces some modest gains in speed, although that’s something you might barely notice.
What to Know About Groupset Tiers
When you’re talking about groupsets, you’re not just talking about one part. This could make it complicated to replace them, as you’d have to go through all of the parts one by one and make sure they’re compatible.
While this is an option for those who are willing to spend the time, it’s thankfully not the only option. This is because the top manufacturers organize tiers of parts.
Essentially, all of the parts in each tier perform at a similar level of quality, have the same or similar construction materials, and are compatible with each other. Just by glancing at the tier information that a manufacturer provides, you know roughly how good that groupset is and how much it costs. Even more importantly, you know the parts are compatible.
People with specialized knowledge of bike parts or engineering in general often buy parts one at a time and mix and match. However, this carries the risk of spending much more money overall if you make a mistake.
Buying a whole groupset at once can seem like a big investment, but there are good reasons to do so.
Should I Get a Better Groupset?
Whether or not a person should get a better groupset depends on their purposes and riding experience. Competitive cyclists, for instance, use the best on the market. For a hobby cyclist, there’s more room to compromise and choose a more budget-friendly option.
Many people start out cycling with a bike that only has basic components. This is enough for most people, but commuters or people who come to love cycling will want better performance. Moving from a basic groupset up to a mid-tier offering from one of the big three companies like Shimano may be a worthy investment.
If you do decide to upgrade your groupset, it’s probably advisable to do it all at once. In the past, it was easier to mix and match parts from different tiers or even different manufacturers. However, manufacturing only becomes more precise every year that passes. That makes it harder to fiddle with parts and customize your bike without a lot of engineering know-how.
Also, keep in mind that the quality of the frame should be more or less in line with the quality of the groupset. A bike with a cheap groupset probably comes with a cheap frame, so it might not be worth upgrading the groupset, and you might be better off buying a new bike.
Are Shimano Groupsets Good Enough?
Shimano is the biggest player in bike groupsets. In many areas, you might walk into a bike shop and find that they only have Shimano. The fact that this brand is virtually standard means that its parts are the most likely to be compatible with any given bike.
While there’s plenty of merit to the two major competitors, Shimano is the most convenient choice for someone who wants a quick and easy upgrade.
What Are The Alternatives to Shimano?
While Shimano is the industry leader in groupsets, the quality it has to offer is only equal to its main two competitors. The three of them are in a constant race to outperform each other, but the companies always seem to stay roughly on par with each other. There are some differences between the brands, but for average cyclists, the choice truly just comes down to personal preference.
If there’s a company that represents the best of the Italian approach to manufacturing, it’s Campagnolo. The company manufactures parts by hand with painstaking attention to detail. The finished result isn’t just high-performing but beautiful as well.
While Shimano and SRAM make MTB and road bike groupsets, Campagnolo focuses exclusively on road bikes.
SRAM is a stark parallel to Campagnolo. Where the latter company is the oldest of the three major players in the groupset industry, SRAM is the youngest. It practically reinvented the mountain bike groupset with the eleven-speed, 1×11 groupset that has now replaced seemingly all alternatives.
At the moment, SRAM is also the top innovator in groupset weight-saving tech.
Types of Groupset
Campagnolo only produces road groupsets, but that raises the question of what other groupsets there are. Basically, all the different types of bikes use either mountain bike groupsets or road bike groupsets.
There are major differences between the two, and parts from one groupset will almost certainly not be compatible with the other.
Mountain Bike Groupsets
While mountain bikes used to come in more diverse gear arrangments, almost all mountain bikes today use a single gear with numerous speeds, meaning it has one cog in the front and multiple rear cogs.
This helps balance performance with the simplicity of engineering, which means a more rugged and reliable groupset. Much like mountain bikes themselves, this type of groupset is meant to tackle rough terrain and inclines.
Road Bike Groupsets
Road groupsets assume the luxury of a smooth ride, and the manufacturers produce them accordingly.
Instead of making compromises to increase the ruggedness of the groupset, they maximize speed and efficiency. This means minimal weight, minimal friction, and compact size to suit the layout of a road bike.
How Much Do Components Matter for Speed?
Components are significant enough for speed that professional cyclists will shell out thousands of dollars for advanced carbon fiber groupsets.
Of course, these are people who make a point of shaving off every unnecessary gram to eke out as much speed as possible. The real question is, how much do components matter to the average person?
Do Groupset Components Matter for Non-Competitive Cycling?
Components matter even for the average cyclist, just not as much.
When you start from an entry-level groupset and move up a few tiers, you’ll feel the difference and appreciate the change. However, that change gets smaller and smaller as you move further up in quality. Furthermore, the changes from improving your groupset are small compared to the benefits of improving yourself.
Professional cyclists are in peak physical condition and have little room to improve further, so they need the best parts.
The average person still has plenty of room to get stronger, which will result in much greater performance gains than a premium groupset. In the meantime, a mid-tier groupset offers the best practical balance of performance and budget.