Bicycle Components – Beginners Guide
Beginners Guide to Bicycle Components
A component group is all of the parts that make a bike move and stop moving. Usually, this includes your brake levers/shifters, front and rear brakes, front and rear derailleurs, bottom bracket, crank, chain, and cassette. There are three major manufacturers of component groups for bikes, in order of most common: Shimano (Japanese), SRAM (American), and Campagnolo (Italian). Group sets as they are called are extremely easy to understand because they are tired or ordered.
Each manufacturer has different levels with increasing costs and increasing quality and features. The only confusing part for a first-time bike buyer is that a Trek bike is not really a Trek bike. It is a Trek Frame, the drive train (what a component group is commonly referred to as) is manufactured by one of the three companies listed earlier and assembled onto a frame manufactured by Trek. The cool part about this is that you can pick whichever component manufacturer and set you to want on your frame in theory although in reality bikes will come with a few limited choices based on its’ rough price category.
The single largest manufacturer of bike components is the Japanese company Shimano. They have a full range of component levels starting with Sora (Don’t buy), Tiagra, 105, Ultegra, and at the highest level Dura Ace. Each level up gives you a significant upgrade in quality, material, features, and weight but comes with a not so insignificant price increase. Clearly, there are also diminishing returns as you continue up the spectrum. Too many 105 is the “cheapest” group set for a quality bike but in many people’s minds, Ultegra is the sweet spot of cost/quality in Shimano’s lineup.
SRAM starts at the lowest level with Apex, then Rival, Force, and ends with Red. SRAM doesn’t have quite as large of a range but for a reason. Most cyclists and I included, recommend either SRAM Apex or Shimano 105 as the lowest group to purchase on a bike. The reason for this is they are the lowest level that gives you significant quality without huge price increases. They are also easily upgraded with time.
The least common manufacturer but a favorite of die-hard cyclists is the Italian company Campagnolo. Campy group sets are not very common on complete bikes available in the U.S. so they are usually either specially ordered or on extremely high-end bikes. Campagnolo starts with Veloce, then Centaur, Athena, Chorus, Record, and Super Record.
One thing to note is that both Shimano and Campagnolo also manufacture electronic shifting groups, but they are so far rather expensive so I won’t talk about them in depth due to my target audience being new cyclists but expect to be seeing more and more of them in the future as electronic shifting trickles down to mid-level bikes. That trickle down really got going last year with the introduction of electronic shifting to Shimano’s Ultegra groupset but like I said still pretty pricey. Also, SRAM and Shimano have both now released hydraulic braking systems for road bikes although Shimano’s systems are only compatible with electronic shifting systems. SRAM’s have been released at all of their groupset levels but haven’t really grabbed huge market share yet. Maybe next year?
Now, you might be asking thanks for this really informative article about the manufacturers of component groups and their different levels but what is really the point of this? Good question; the point is to give you some basic knowledge so you can feel confident in your choice for your first bike and won’t feel like a salesman or mechanic is talking over you. In the U.S. and in the entry-mid level bike range you are only going to see Shimano and SRAM and basically just the bottom half of their component ranges. So just make sure you are buying a component group that will suit your needs and be of high enough quality that it will last as long as that expensive frame they are attached to.