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Choosing the best Shimano road bike groupset for you and your riding 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.
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 (soon to be replaced by Shimano CUES).
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.
More interested in gravel riding and want a Shimano gravel-specific groupset? You'll be wanting to read our complete guide to Shimano GRX groupsets instead.
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, yet 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 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.
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 learnt 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. 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.
Sadly for traditionalists there is no mechanical Dura-Ace option any more, and stock of the previous-gen Dura-Ace 9100 mechanical groupset has just about dried up unless you buy second hand, so it's no longer included in this guide. There are still rim brakes, but it's near impossible to find full bikes being sold with a 9200 rim brake groupset, and no major retailers stock the full rim brake groupset online in the UK.
Buy Shimano Dura-Ace R9200 Di2 if you want the state-of-the-art Shimano (and arguably the overall state-of-the-art when it comes to shifting speed and customisability).
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 latest 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 junior racing that was previously gear-restricted; Ultegra offered a 46/36 chainset for cyclocross racing that wasn't available in Dura-Ace. Now, both groups offer the same options and all the same headline technology.
And like Dura-Ace there's no mechanical version... yet. Shimano initially launched 105 Di2 with no mechanical option in 2022 but U-turned and finally unveiled 105 R7100 mechanical in the summer of 2023, so who knows if the demand is there.
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. That makes these cranks an attractive option, especially as Shimano appears to have ironed out most of 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.
There is a R8150 version with rim brakes that is slightly more widely available to buy than the latest Dura-Ace with rim brakes, but again it's very rarely seen on full bikes off-the-peg.
If you don't want electronic shifting and prefer rim brakes, you're probably better upgrading to the newer 12-speed 105 mechanical groupset; but there is still availability of Shimano's previous generation R8000 11-speed groupset with rim brakes (and disc brakes in various places) and it's usually cheaper, so we're keeping it in this groupset guide for now.
If you want high performance without the hefty price tag of Shimano's 12-speed groupsets, then the previous-gen Ultegra R8000 and R8050 is still a great option. R8000 looks an awful lot like the previous-gen Dura-Ace too.
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, though you can often find the much cheaper nowadays.
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.
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.
Like previous-gen Dura-Ace, both of these Ultegra groupsets are 11-speed. Buy R8000 or R8050 Shimano Ultegra if you want performance without the price tag of the latest flagship Shimano groupsets.
In 2022, Shimano released a groupset it said would never exist. Yep, 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, in 2022 it turned 40, and to celebrate there was a new generation R7100... but unfortunately for some, mechanical shifting and rim brakes weren’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 of 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.
Unlike Dura-Ace and Ultegra there are no rim brakes at the 105 Di2 level, so it's disc brake only if you're going for this groupset.
Shimano's 12-speed 105 R7100 groupset is the brand's first 12-speed mechanical road groupset, introduced after the above Di2 (electronic) version. This mid-level mechanical 12-speed option is intended to bridge a gap in Shimano's range and offers an alternative for those who prefer reliable, cable-actuated shifting.
You used to (and sometimes still do) see a lot of entry-level and mid-range bikes specced with mechanical 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 mechanical groupset is definitely something to look for, as it really has very few weaknesses.
Like the Di2 version, the new Shimano 105 R7100 Mechanical is disc brake-only, and features a redesigned gear range with the ability to accommodate (officially) up to an 11-36T cassette. The wider gearing range is arguably the biggest chance from the 11-speed version, other than the new look and extra cassette cog.
Like the previous 11-speed option, the new 105 Mechanical 12-speed RD-R7100 rear derailleur uses Shimano’s Shadow RD technology, meaning that it doesn’t extend as far outboard of the bike as a more conventional design. This is intended to reduce the possibility of damage and, Shimano says, means that the derailleur doesn’t hit the chainstay in rough riding conditions.
The 105 R7100 Mechanical 12-speed groupset is priced at £987, making it nearly £700 less expensive than its electronic counterpart. To quote Shimano: "The new, lightweight Shimano 105 Mechanical groupset offers premium mechanical shifting, which means riders can capture that natural riding feeling without worrying about battery levels – while still enjoying the comfort and range of a premium 12-speed groupset."
RRP: £641.92 | £928.91 with disc brakes
Although the 12-speed mechanical 105 groupset is now here, there is still healthy availability of 105 R7000 and our reviewers have always had high praise for it, so we're keeping it in our guide until it goes extinct.
The main mission of this generation of 105 was 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.
The SS short-cage derailleur can 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, so you can actually get a similar range to the new 12-speed version.
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.
Unlike the new 12-speed 105 there are rim brakes on R7000, and there are hydraulic disc brakes too. Buy Shimano 105 R7000 if you want to build up a sensibly-priced bike with a groupset that is getting on a bit, but still works perfectly well.
TBC: Shimano CUES
Before you read on, it's important to mention a significant update to Shimano's groupset hierarchy that is likely to affect everything below Shimano's latest 12-speed 105 groupsets in the not-too-distant future: the unveiling of Shimano CUES.
As explained in the full article above, CUES (which stands for Creating Unique Experiences) will see Shimano amalgamate its mid and budget-range city, touring and mountain bike groupsets (everything with flat bars essentially) into one family of interchangeable 9-speed (U4000), 10-speed (U6000) and 11-speed (U6000 and U8000) components. This means that parts can be mixed and matched, which should make sourcing and fitting replacements much simpler. There are no rim brakes in the range, just hydraulic disc brakes, and you can either have a single chainring or a 2x set-up, leaving no room for the almost extinct triple chainset.
If you are here to find out about Shimano's more affordable road bike groupsets then don't panic! Shimano says that as CUES slowly takes over, all older generation components will be available for at least the next seven years, and drop bar-specific CUES components haven't even launched yet.
RRP: £533.92 | £715.93 with disc brakes
Shimano’s fourth-tier groupset last had a major update for 2016, and Shimano last announced some tweaks and extra options in 2019. The changes brought it a similar appearance to the Shimano 105 R7000 above it, with the same four-arm crankset and new shifters, and the gear and brake cables hidden underneath the bar tape. As well as the drop-bar kit, Tiagra is available with flat bar levers and shifters, so expect to see it on commuter and city bikes as well.
The 2019 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 reckons 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- or 12-speed.
Underneath Tiagra is Shimano’s Sora groupset, which had a major facelift back in 2017. It now looks fairly similar to the higher mechanical groups in the range visually, with its four-arm chainset, and either a grey or black finish. 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 'proper' road bike groupset, and is what you can expect to see on road bikes priced at around £1,000 and below (though some more affordable bike brands do spec with Sora around that magic grand mark). 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 a 50/34 compact doulbe chainset option and even a triple (53/39/30), along with an 11-34 cassette. Getting up climbs won’t be a problem with the lowest gearing available with Claris.
Buy Shimano Claris if you’re on a tight budget.
For more details on Shimano groupsets straight from the source, check out Shimano's website.
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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 Farrelly, 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.