Choosing between Shimano road bike groupsets can be tricky if you don’t really know what you’re looking for, which is why we’ve provided a complete guide to all the options you can buy currently. A groupset is a collection of bike components designed to work together, comprising the brakes and drivetrain; essentially the parts that make the bike start and stop again. As the world’s largest manufacturer of groupsets — and by some measures the largest sporting goods company in the world — Shimano has a wide range on offer. Here’s everything you need to know about it.
Whether you’re buying a new bike, or looking to build one from scratch, it’s good to know what your options are. Shimano offers a range of groupsets at different prices, and is constantly updating them too, with the newest features debuting first on its top-end groupset, Dura-Ace, before eventually trickling down through the range.
The more expensive groupsets tend to be lighter, offer smoother gear shifting and superior braking, and often come with a higher number of gears as well. At the top end of the range is 12-speed Dura-Ace, while at the entry level there is 8-speed Claris.
Here’s an overview of all Shimano road bike groupsets, with the most expensive at the top of each grouping. The range includes mechanical groupsets for road bikes, using cables to operate the front and rear derailleurs, and electronic groupsets at the top of the range. First introduced in 2008, electronic groupsets have proved to be extremely popular, with precise gear changes, long battery life and good durability. Whether you choose mechanical or electronic ultimately comes down to budget and personal preference. If you’re on the fence between the two, we’ve got a feature that explains why you should switch to electronic shifting.
RRP: £4,281.87 with power meter; £3,631.87 without power meter
Dura-Ace Di2 is Shimano's flagship groupset, boasting features and materials that make it capable of withstanding the rigours of professional racing and durable enough to last well under riders who clock over 10,000 miles per year of training and racing. Its main features include electronic shifting, hydraulic disc brakes and extensive use of high-strength materials to keep weight down and high-tech bearing and surface coatings to increase service life. And it's just been dramatically revamped as a 12-speed system.
The 12-speed version of Dura-Ace was at the same time the most anticipated and most predictable product launch of 2021, and the most surprising. Anticipated because it was preceded by a year of leaks, patent and FCC filings and race appearances; predictable because both SRAM and Campagnolo had already introduced 12-speed systems and Shimano has been making 12-speed mountain bike components since 2018; surprising because there's no mechanical version of 12-speed Dura-Ace, and also because Shimano introduced a 12-speed version of Ultegra Di2 at the same time. More of that later.
Here's the executive summary of Dura-Ace R9200's new features:
Many of the new features of Dura-Ace arise from its main target use case: this is a road racing groupset. Shimano says pro riders were asking for higher top gears because peloton speeds have increased, so you can now choose a chainset with a 54-tooth big ring. Faster shifting is a marginal gain, but we can see how pro riders would want to be able to get into a bigger gear for a sprint as quickly as possible, or a lower one for a big climb.
Having a rear derailleur that will accommodate a 34-tooth sprocket means pro team mechanics no longer have to faff around to provide support riders and sprinters with very low gears for mountain stages. Previously, mechanics would fit long-cage Ultegra rear mechs so that riders whose job was simply to get over the mountains rather than race up them could save their legs on the climbs. Losing the wiring between shifters and derailleurs similarly makes life easier for pro team mechanics.
But Dura-Ace is also popular with affluent recreational riders and there are features clearly aimed at those users too. Increased brake pad clearance will help keep bikes quiet that don't get a pro mechanic once-over after every ride, and the larger shift button offset makes it easier to use the controls while wearing winter gloves.
Shimano's engineers say they've learned their lesson from the transition from 10- to 11-speed cassettes, which left many riders with collections of wheels that didn't work with the new gearing.
They've also admitted that the previous Dura-Ace power meter had accuracy issues, as reported by specialist bike electronics journalists like Shane Miller and Ray Maker. Ray has an excellent piece on the new Dura-Ace and Ultegra power meters, in which Shimano explain that the previous problem was that the power meter gubbins (technical term) were just grafted on to the existing cranks. This time, the power meter and crank design teams have worked together to ensure the power meter works properly.
Dura-Ace Di2 uses a similar shifting design to Shimano's mechanical gear systems, but instead of pushing two levers, you push two buttons positioned next to each other. If you want to move two or more sprockets at a time, rather than swinging the lever further like you do with a mechanical system, you just keep the button pressed down.
Carrying over from the previous Dura-Ace Di2, R9270 boasts extensive customisability of the shift functions through an app — see below for more on that.
Shimano Dura-Ace 9270 Di2 is now available, but if you want a complete groupset, options are still limited. Merlin is offering only 34/50, 172.5mm cranks in its groupset builder, for example.
Buy Shimano Dura-Ace R9200 Di2 if you want the state of the Shimano art (and arguably the overall state of the art when it coes to shifting speed and customisability).
RRP: £3,307.82 with disc brakes, £3,039.83 with rim brakes
This is the previous, 11-speed version of Dura-Ace, which we're keeping here because there are still a few bikes in shops with it. However, complete Dura-Ace 11-speed groupsets seem to have vanished from retailers with the exception of the rim-brake version.
The mechanical and Di2 electronic groups share the same chainset, brakes and other non-shifting components, but with Di2 you get switches on the brake levers, derailleurs with built-in motors and the battery, wiring and control box that ties it all together.
The major new feature of Di2 is Synchronized Shift, a technology borrowed from Shimano's mountain bike Di2 components. Rather than buttons controlling front and rear derailleurs independently, one pair of buttons moves up and down the gear ratios, making shifts at the front or rear derailleur, or both, as necessary.
Shimano says this is “designed to simplify gear choice and reduce decision making in racing situations.”
There are two modes. If you go for the Full Shimano Sychronized Shift, the front derailleur reacts based on the rear derailleur’s shift action. You don’t need to use two separate shifters, you just use one. Press one button and the gear will get harder to turn, press the other button and the gear will get easier. If that requires a front shift, the system will take care of that automatically; you don’t need to worry about it.
If you go for Semi Shimano Synchronized Shift mode: the rear derailleur reacts based on the front derailleur’s shift action, shifting to the next most appropriate rear gear when the rider makes a front shift.
A new junction box is not only very tidy — it can be hidden inside the end of the handlebar — it provides wireless ANT Private connectivity to third-party devices. The system also offers a Bluetooth connection to phones and tablets running Shimano's E-Tube software so you can program the shifting behaviour.
You can personalise the speed of the shifting, the number of sprockets that will be shifted, and even control the rear derailleur with the left hand. An advantage of Di2 is the option of adding additional shifter pods, satellite shifters that can be fitted to the tops or the drops.
There's an internal battery, which you can hide inside the seat post. Worried about it going flat? It’s good for a claimed 2,000km between charges. That’s lots of riding. Apart from charging the battery, there is very little to go wrong with Di2, and it’s actually really well suited to winter riding and long distance rides through demanding conditions.
RRP: £2,119.91 with disc brakes, £1,881.92 with rim brakes
If your budget won't stretch to the electronic version of Dura-Ace, the mechanical version is by no means second best — it's still a superb ensemble. The 9100 group offered one of the widest range of options Shimano has ever offered in road bike components, including a power meter, hydraulic disc brakes, a wider gear range and an increased selection of wheels.
The 9100 group features new derailleurs too, using design features that originally appeared on Shimano's mountain bike parts to reduce the chance that the rear mech will get damaged in a crash. Just one rear derailleur will handle any gear system you choose, including the new 11-30 cassette.
Shimano's rival SRAM has offered power meters since it acquired Quarq in 2011. With the 9100 group Shimano adds a very tidy power meter to its collection. How tidy? You can see in the pic to the right that the electronics are barely visible.
The inclusion of hydraulic disc brakes in the Dura-Ace line shows how completely Shimano has embraced road bike discs. Previously Dura-Ace equipped bikes with discs had to use Shimano's non-series brakes and levers; now they match.
If you're using rim brakes, the 9100 Dura-Ace calipers have been subtly redesigned so they'll accommodate 28mm tyres.
Finally, there's a big range of wheels in the latest Dura-Ace line up. The new C40 and C60 wheels have 28mm wide carbon fibre rims that are 40mm and 60mm deep, respectively.
Buy Shimano Dura-Ace if you're racing or doing mega distances and you want the best mechanical shifting.
RRP: £3,099.00 with power meter, £2,399.00 without power meter
Shimano Ultegra is the company's second-tier groupset, with all the features of Dura-Ace for a bit less money because Shimano uses less expensive materials and surface coatings. It's long been considered the working-man's performance groupset, though you might argue that this new version, with its substantial price hike over its predecessor, yields that title to 105.
With an identical feature set to Dura-Ace R9270 Di2, the new Ultegra is less a budget performance groupset and more a sort of Dura-Ace SE. In the past Ultegra offered a wider range of options than Dura-Ace. For example, you could get an 11-34 cassette where Dura-Ace only went up to 11-30, and there was an Ultegra 14-28 cassette for gear-restricted junior racing; Ultegra offered a 46/36 chainset for cyclocross racing that wasn't available in Dura-Ace. Now, both groupsets offer the same options and all the same headline technology.
And like Dura-Ace there's no mechanical version — yet. Shimano hasn't said definitively that mechanical Ultegra will never happen and there's now a Moria-scale abyss between Ultegra R8170 Di2 and 105, so we can still hope to see a mechanical 12-speed version next year. Shimano isn't saying.
In mirroring Dura-Ace 9270 Di2's technologies, Ultegra R8170 Di2 gets two new features not previously seen on a Shimano groupset at this level. The first is a power meter crank with an RRP of a not-utterly-unreasonable £999.99. Once the world's supply chain returns to normal, it's a good bet you'll be able to pay quite a bit less than that. That'll make these cranks an attractive option if Shimano has ironed out the bugs that affected the previous Dura-Ace power meter cranks.
The other new aspect to Ultegra is a suite of tubeless-ready wheels with full-carbon rims. Like the Dura-Ace equivalents they have 36mm, 50mm and 60mm rims.
If you want high performance without the hefty price tag of Dura-Ace, then Ultegra is probably the pick of the range. Since the 6800 update, the gap between the two has been narrowed, and the R8000 incarnation looks an awful lot like the current version of Dura-Ace too. Ultegra shouldn’t be overlooked too quickly if you want high performance and decent weight components.
However, the introduction of 12-speed Ultegra Di2 means complete 11-speed Di2 groupsets have just about vanished from retailers.
It’s a favourite with amateur racers because the weight penalty is minimal, especially if built onto a decent carbon fibre frame, and the performance is nearly identical. You still get the carbon fibre brake lever as well like you do on Dura-Ace, and the cranks, brakes and derailleurs share the same design as Dura-Ace.
Dura-Ace is really aimed at racing bikes, making Ultegra a more versatile groupset. With a range of chainring and cassette options, it can be fitted to all sorts of bikes, from racing cycles to touring and adventure bikes. From an 11-23t cassette and 53/39t chainset for the racers to an 11-34t cassette and 50/34t compact chainset for sportive riders, it covers a lot of uses.
RRP for the full mechanical group is £1,100 and £1,700 for the electronic version.
R8000 component weights are very similar to Ultegra 6800. The significant differences are in the shifting, which gets an Ultegra version of the Shadow rear derailleur from Dura-Ace 9100; the brakes, which have been shaped to make room for 28mm tyres; and the sprockets which now have an 11-34 option. The larger cassettes require the use of the medium-cage rear derailleur, which has been reported as working with even larger sprockets such as the 11-36 and 11-40 cassettes Shimano makes for mountain bikes.
Like the previous incarnation, there's just one chainring bolt circle diameter that will take chainrings from 34 to 53 teeth. You can get the chainset with pairings of 53/39, 52/36, 50/34 and 46/36. You could change the chainrings for the riding you're going to do: a 53/39 for a race, say, and a 50/34 if you're holidaying in the Alps.
Ultegra is also available with a Di2 option. It's Shimano’s most affordable Di2 groupset, and there is no 105 Di2 on the horizon at the moment. Like Dura-Ace, both Ultegra groupsets are 11-speed.
Buy Shimano Ultegra if you want performance without the price tag of Dura-Ace.
New for 2022 is a groupset that Shimano said would never exist. Di2 has made its way to the 105 level, bringing electronic gearing in at the most affordable level Shimano has ever offered.
105 is often considered to be the working cyclist’s groupset thanks to a reputation of being reliable and more attainable than its big brothers Dura-Ace and Ultegra. Well, this year it’s 40 years old and to celebrate there’s a new generation R7100... but unfortunately for some, mechanical shifting and rim brakes aren’t invited to the party.
Along with the move to electronic gearing also comes a move to 12-speed, but just as we have seen with Ultegra and Dura-Ace, the new 12-speed cassettes can be used on existing 11-speed freehubs, so you shouldn't have to upgrade your wheels.
By moving to a 12-speed cassette, Shimano says it has managed to provide both the high and low gearing that riders want, along with an intelligent progression of gear steps in between.
The new crankset is available in 50-34 and 52-36 varieties, features Hollowtech ii technology and is available in 165, 170, 172.5 and 175mm crank lengths.
Those chainsets are paired to just two cassette options, one of which is available now, that being an 11-34T. There will also be an 11-36T option coming at a later date to provide a sub-1:1 gear combination for really steep slopes.
The rear derailleur has a longer cage than on the more expensive models to cope with the larger range cassettes, and just like on those models this is where the brains of the system are housed. It’s also here that you will find the battery charging point as well as the wireless connection to Shimano’s STI shifters and other third-party devices.
RRP: £641.92 | £928.91 with disc brakes
Thankfully for lovers of mechanical shifting and rim brakes, Shimano will still be making the old 11-speed 105 R7000 groupset for a while.
The main mission of 105 remains the same: excellent performance at a sensible price. It’s a very good looking groupset too and while it's a bit heavier than Dura-Ace and Ultegra, the performance runs both very close, with good shifting and braking. It’s heavier than Ultegra, but you have to be a weight weenie to worry about that.
Many of the changes from 105 5800 are visual, bringing 105 R7000 into line with the styling cues of the other two 11-speed groupsets, but there are some performance improvements too. The shift lever throw has been shortened for faster, crisper transitions, and the rear derailleurs have greater capacity. The SS short-cage derailleur can now handle a 30-tooth largest sprocket, while the long-cage GS model goes up to 34 in theory, and in practice will cope with a whopping 40-tooth sprocket.
The rear derailleurs are Shimano's 'Shadow' design with the main parallelogram moved back and down by an extra pivot that effectively extends the gear hanger so the derailleur is tucked under the chainstay more, reducing the chance of crash damage.
The front derailleur gets the compact toggle design of Dura-Ace and Ultegra so there's no longer a gert long lever arm poking skywards from the front mech.
The big news in braking is that 105 R7000 gets its own hydraulic disc brakes and levers rather than having to make do with brakes that were 105 quality but lacked the logos and styling of the rest of the group. A disc-braked 105-equipped bike will now look 'of a piece' as it were.
Speaking of brakes, there are also restyled rim brakes for old school types. They follow the Ultegra and Dura-Ace convention of the quick-release lever tucking under the brake arm and have a couple more millimetres of brake drop than the previous 5800 brakes so they'll work with bikes that have a bit more room for fatter tyres.
You see a lot of entry-level and mid-range bikes specced with Shimano 105. It’s the workhorse of the Shimano groupset range, and features on bikes covering a really wide price band. Sometimes it gets mixed with other branded parts to meet key price points, but a full 105 groupset is definitely something to look for, as there really is no weak part of the groupset.
Buy Shimano 105 R7000 if you want the latest version of the most affordable 11-speed groupset
RRP: £533.92 | £715.93 with disc brakes
Shimano’s fourth-tier groupset last had a major update for 2016, and Shimano announced some tweaks and extra options in 2019. The changes bring it the appearance of Shimano 105 above it, with the same four-arm crankset and new shifters, with the gear and brake cables hidden underneath the bar tape. As well as the drop-bar kit, Tiagra will be available with flat bar levers and shifters, so expect to see it on commuter and city bikes as well.
The latest tweaks include new hydraulic STI units with a better lever shape and improved shifting, and an option of a 48/34 chainset.
Tiagra retains the 10-speed configuration, though, and that could be a deciding factor if choosing between Tiagra and 105. There’s no 53/39t chainset option for Tiagra either. Shimano reckon that most people buying a Tiagra-equipped bike probably won’t be racing it and won’t need the really high gears. The 52/36t, 50/34t and 50/39/30t triple chainset options still provide plenty of range, and 52/36t is just fine for most racers.
Buy Shimano Tiagra if you want good value and performance, and don’t mind not having 11-speed (but for another £100 (less if you shop around) you can upgrade to 105)
Underneath Tiagra is Shimano’s Sora groupset, which had a major facelift for 2017. It now matches the higher groups in the range visually, with its four-arm chainset, and a similar grey finish (though we can't be the only ones who wish for a shinier option). It’s a 9-speed groupset, but it’s still excellent for the money and does 90% of what the more expensive groupsets do; it just weighs a bit more.
You get proper Dual Control gear shifters, with the brake lever changing down the cassette and the smaller lever changing to a higher gear. That’s essentially the same system as used to be on Dura-Ace a few years ago. You have double and triple chainset options, and the rear derailleur will accommodate an 11-32t cassette along with a 50/34t compact chainset.
Other similarities with the more expensive groupsets include the Hollowtech 2 bottom bracket, with the bearings sitting outboard of the frame.
Buy Shimano Sora if you want performance and value
Claris is Shimano’s most affordable road bike groupset and is what you can expect to see on road bikes below about £750. The most recent update to the groupset saw Claris get the four-arm, fixed-axle chainset design of higher groupsets. Claris really does have the quality feel of the more expensive Shimano groupsets.
It’s an 8-speed groupset and is aimed at beginner and new cyclists, and so you have triple (53/39/30) and compact (50/34) chainset options, along with an 11-34 cassette. Getting up climbs won’t be a problem with the lowest gearing available with Claris.
It's almost impossible to buy a full Claris groupset at the moment; you'll have to assemble it from various sources.
Buy Shimano Claris if you’re on a budget
We can't have a guide to Shimano groupsets and not mention the brakes. Shimano offers a choice of regular dual pivot or newer direct mount brake calipers, and also an increasing choice of disc brakes. Most groupsets now have dedicated disc brakes, and there still plenty of 'non-series' disc brakes around too, with options for electronic and mechanical shifting.
Shimano says these are its first discs designed specifically for road bikes, rather than being adapted from mountain bike brakes. At an RRP of £450 per end for the mechanical-shifting version they were also the most expensive brakes Shimano had ever made when they were introduced. Like the R785 and RS685 brakes, below, they're available with 140mm and 160mm CenterLock rotors.
Disc brakes have numerous advantages over rim brakes: they're less affected by water; they're unaffected by rim damage and they provide finer control over braking power than is possible with rim brakes.
Hydraulic brakes also self-centre and automatically compensate for pad wear, neither of which you get with cables, and both of which are real benefits.
Buy if: You want Shimano's best disc brakes — and you have deep pockets.
With the R8000 components, Shimano introduced its first Ultegra-labelled disc brakes, with variants at the hydraulic levers for mechanical and electronic shifting.
Like the previous non-series disc brakes they use Shimano's Flat-Mount standard for a tidy appearance.
The first Shimano 105-level disc brakes were pretty good, but with the new hydraulic system, the R7020 lever and the R7070 calliper, Shimano has upped its game significantly. They're still quite expensive as an upgrade, but definitely one to look out for if you're in the market for a new disc-braked road bike.
The new R7020 lever is a full redesign and it's a much better overall shape. The extra width of the lever at the bottom meant that the bottom of the hood sat away from the bar tape a bit; it was noticeable close up but not really an issue.
The 105 brakes work brilliantly out of the box, and they're almost entirely fuss-free. These brakes bite when you'd expect them to in the lever travel, and from there there's masses of stopping power available as and when you need it. The reach is adjustable, but there's also a new, smaller lever (R7025) that should be ideal for those with smaller hands. The amount of effort you have to put in to control your speed on the steep, loose back road descents round here is genuinely a revelation compared to rim brakes or mechanical disc brakes.
GRX isn't a single groupset, it's a collection (a 'series' in Shimano-speak) of components at different quality levels that share similar colouring and styling so that bike manufacturers can mix them to tailor their gravel bikes.
There are three quality levels in GRX: RX810, RX600 and RX400. These correspond roughly to Shimano's Ultegra, 105 and Tiagra levels respectively. RX810 and RX600 are 11-speed; RX400 is 10-speed. As with Tiagra, RX400 has the same ratio of cable pull to sideways movement as the more expensive, 11-speed systems, so you can, in theory, mix them all.
Where GRX departs most from Shimano's road components is in the design of the STI shift/brake lever units. All have new details designed to make it easier to keep your hands firmly on the hoods as you rattle over rough surfaces.
The GRX chainsets are available with double or single chainrings, which is a first for a drop-bar offering from Shimano. There's no RX400 chainset though. Instead there's a variant of the RX600 chainset with 10-speed spacing. Shimano has moved the chain line out 2.5mm compared to road groupsets so there's room for bike manufacturers to move the chainstays apart and provide clearance for fat tyres. That means you'll need a GRX front derailleur with a GRX chainset.
Similarly there are no RX600 derailleurs; you use the RX810 derailleurs with the RX600 shifters, brakes and chainset if you want a mid-priced 11-speed bike. Both the RX810 and RX400 rear derailleurs are available in versions for single and double chainrings. The single-ring derailleurs will shift up to 42-tooth sprocket, while the double-ring derailleurs go up 34 teeth or 36 teeth in the case of RX400. All the GRX derailleurs have clutch mechanisms to reduce chain slap when riding off-road.
All GRX brake calipers are flat mount. If you have an old post-mount frame that you want to upgrade with GRX you'll need BR-RS785 post mount calipers, and to be aware of one little gotcha that Mike Stead details in his GRX review.
There are no specific GRX cassettes, chains, bottom brackets or brake rotors; you just use the ones from the equivalent road or mountain bike groupsets.
Like Ultegra, RX810 is also available in a Di2 electronic-shifting variant.
We've not been able to find any retailers that are offering complete GRX groupsets at any level, so there are no prices here.
Let's take a closer look at the options and details at each level.
The flagship GRX level is equivalent to Ultegra road components in quality, but has a host of details and options offered nowhere else in Shimano's range. These include:
In addition, GRX RX810 offers 42- and 40-tooth single chainsets. Both double and single-ring chainsets are available in 170mm, 172.5mm and 175mm lengths.
The electronic-shifting version of GRX boasts the same feature set as RX810, but with click-whirr shifting.
The cheaper of the two 11-speed GRX sets has a 46/30 double chainset or 40-tooth single ring chainset. Both double and single-ring chainsets are available in 165mm, 170mm, 172.5mm and 175mm lengths.
The RX600 brake/shift levers lack the Servo Wave feature of the RX810 STI units, but have the same tweaked pivot point, grippy cover and anti-slip brake lever.
If you want the widest possible gear range from your GRX set-up, then you want the 10-speed RX400 derailleurs because the rear unit will shift up to a 36-tooth largest sprocket, the greatest capability of any Shimano drop-bar rear deraiilleur.
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John has been writing about bikes and cycling for over 30 years since discovering that people were mug enough to pay him for it rather than expecting him to do an honest day's work.
He was heavily involved in the mountain bike boom of the late 1980s as a racer, team manager and race promoter, and that led to writing for Mountain Biking UK magazine shortly after its inception. He got the gig by phoning up the editor and telling him the magazine was rubbish and he could do better. Rather than telling him to get lost, MBUK editor Tym Manley called John’s bluff and the rest is history.
Since then he has worked on MTB Pro magazine and was editor of Maximum Mountain Bike and Australian Mountain Bike magazines, before switching to the web in 2000 to work for CyclingNews.com. Along with road.cc founder Tony Farelly, John was on the launch team for BikeRadar.com and subsequently became editor in chief of Future Publishing’s group of cycling magazines and websites, including Cycling Plus, MBUK, What Mountain Bike and Procycling.
John has also written for Cyclist magazine, edited the BikeMagic website and was founding editor of TotalWomensCycling.com before handing over to someone far more representative of the site's main audience.
He joined road.cc in 2013. He lives in Cambridge where the lack of hills is more than made up for by the headwinds.