Friday Group Ride #433

Friday Group Ride #433

Let’s take it down a notch, after a few successive weeks of heavy topics and tortured navel-gazing by yours truly. This week I want to talk about components.

I was chatting with a bike shop manager the other day, and he had recently come from a Shimano tech night with one of his young mechanics. His take away was that Shimano’s 105 groupset is just about the best value on the component market. His young wrench was very excited about all the 105 bikes he’d be building in the coming year.

This was illuminating for me. For probably too long I’ve been privileged to live in a rarified place in which Ultegra or SRAM Force constitutes the minimum conceivable investment in a new bike. I have not often enough questioned the conventional wisdom about quality parts, nor have I got much direct experience with 105. I did ride a SRAM Rival bike for some years, and I liked it, so my mind is very much open on what constitutes quality and what makes up the value of a gruppo for a rider like me (or you).

The old way of expressing the difference between the lower-priced component groups and their upmarket relatives was to say, if you’re riding a lot, then you want Ultegra/Force on your bike because it will last longer and break less. If you’re only an occasional rider, then 105/Rival is fine. This seems like a false and silly distinction now. Rival and 105 are marginally heavier than Force/Ultegra/Dura Ace/Red, but I don’t know them to be less robust. Do you?

Conspicuously absent at this point, is Campagnolo, who don’t really make a “value-oriented” gruppo, with Potenza coming in, price-wise, much closer to Ultegra/Force.

And so, this week’s Group Ride asks, what gruppos do you ride? What do you think represents the best value component set for a road bike? And what is important to you when choosing what to put on your bike?

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34 comments

  1. scott g

    What is a group, and if I am not a product manager why do I care ?
    Example
    The Ellis Briggs has a Campy N. Record front hub, Shimano 600EX rear hub,
    10s 105 cassette (9 of 10 cogs used), Tiagra rear derailleur, Shimano CX front mech, Dura Ace 10s down tube shifters
    and TRP brakes & brake levers, IRD 46/30 crank. Works great.
    There are so many functional spaces that groups don’t cover, I’ve never bought a bike that had a ‘complete group’

  2. Quentin

    I have a road bike and gravel bike with 105. I don’t feel like I ride the miles to justify spending more at this point in my life, though I do see myself riding an Ultegra bike at some point. I agree with the mechanic that 105 is probably the best value at the moment. That was probably not the case before 105 went 11 speed, when it spent a decade or two lagging behind its upmarket siblings by one cassette cog, but now the difference in function is small and it’s mostly about weight.

  3. Michael

    I actually agree with your bike-shop friends. My wife does not take care of her bike very well – I occasionally check it over for safety but I refuse to take responsibility for it if she won’t learn to work on it. On her custom bike, I got her 105 components because I realized it was going to have “hard” use and it was not worth investing more in it. She is fine with this – she accepts her lack of interest in working on the bike, although she definitely appreciates that the frame actually fits her. I have DuraAce on one bike and Ultegra on another, and both are great. The warranty on DuraAce and Ultra is better than that for 105. At least my generations of these components are lighter and work better than the contemporaneous 105, but 105 is still pretty darn good. If I was tight on money and/or I bought a new bike more often than every decade, I’d go with 105.

  4. Aar

    Now that I’m no longer riding Campy, my new bike has Dura Ace and my older/night/rain bike has Ultegra with DA crankset, BB and brake calipers. Higher end crankset just to insure greatest stiffness, chainring stiffness and bearing smoothness. Calipers because brakes are safety related and no place to save.

    When asked, I tell 5+ day per week cyclists, at least 105 but Ultegra if you can afford it. I was working with friends on keeping cadence as consistent as possible as grade increases. Those with 105 and above could shift under any load. Those with Tiagra or Sora had real challenges with immediately shifting under load. Not necessarily any load but the heavier the load the less likely they were to shift immediately. Further, I find that 105 and above are easier to adjust and retain adjustment much longer than less expensive groups.

  5. Toddster

    Thanks, this is a great post that is very timely for me. I have 2010 SRAM Rival (10 spd) on my Look and was thinking this was the year I should upgrade to 11spd Force or Ultegra. When I got the bike I had planned to upgrade the Rival gruppo, but found it worked so well that I kept it going all these years. I’ve raced, ridden and even crashed this gruppo over many thousands of miles and it just keeps going. I’ve replaced the rear derailleur and right shifter due to a bad crash 3 years ago, but it did not cost an arm and a leg!

    So here I am looking at parts and drooling over something new. Then I look at the weights. My 2010 Rival gruppo is lighter than 2018 Ultegra by about a 100 grams. So what to do? Do I keep it going yet another year or upgrade and actually increase the weight of the bike?

  6. Brian

    Trainer bike 10 speed Di2 ultegra 6770, road bike ultegra 6800 disc and my next bike will be Di2 8070 disc. But the new 105 look really good and I was thinking about just going 7070 disc but with a Rdx derailleur but wanted Di2 again. When recommending people groupsets I’ll say start with 105 if they are new.

  7. Bart

    I’m an odd ball. On my road bike I have Ultegra Di2 with caliper brakes and love it.

    On my gravel/winter/commuting/trailer pulling/everything bike – which I bought used – I have 3×9 Sora with mechanical disc brakes. https://www.marinbikes.com/bike-archive/bikes/2015-lombard

    I like both just fine and they perform as needed. I have to be more thoughtful about shifting with Sora but in 3 years it’s never given me any problems.

    I bought the Sora bike initially with the idea that it would be my commuter. But, once I got it going I realized how incredibly versatile it is. I put much better wheels/tires on it but otherwise it’s stock. I’ve ridden the 3×9 Sora in 100+ mile gravel races and it’s performed great. Sometimes I take the Sora bike on group rides when I want more of a challenge and still win sprints and climbs against guys on the latest DuraAce Di2 machines. I have to plan my shifts more carefully but I don’t mind the extra consideration. Others look at my fenders, cheap group, 36c tires, bulky pedals, mismatched bottle cages, rear rack, trailer hitches (2 of them), and heavy frame and assume I will be slow. When I win a sprint or ride away from the group on a climb they shake their heads and ask if they can hook a bungee to one of the trailer hitches. I just say pulling 120 lbs of kids in a trailer is great training!

    I keep thinking about upgrading this bike but then I’d worry about it more. For my purposes cheap has been the perfect solution.

  8. Kevin

    I said the hell with all of it and switched to ss exclusively a few years ago. I do miss having a geared bike for training but that’s out of my budget for the next decade though.

  9. Chris

    My next bike, which will replace my cx bike for gravel, bikepacking, and ‘adventure’ (isn’t every ride an adventure) riding will require a pretty big outlay. I don’t want to compromise on the frameset, either for features or that special something that only some (predominantly metal) frames have, and I want both 650b and 700c wheelsets. The above won’t leave much room for groupset so I’m excited to hear such positive reviews of the new 105 group. Rival 1x may also be an option, but I’ve never really ridden SRAM, though I have many miles on Ultegra 6600/6800, 105 5600, and the old beat up Campy Veloce that is currently on my cx bike. My fave of the groups I’ve ridden – Ultegra 6800 by a long way.

  10. Robo

    I’m somewhat neurotic in that all of my components must match. If you have DA shifters, you should have DA derailuers, brakes, etc. This almost certainly is not the case, but I have in my mind that components are optimized when paired together. They’re a system. And a fair amount of my rationale is aesthetic too – bikes just look better when the components have a unified appearance. There was some time a few years ago when the industry, particularly with MTN bikes, would spec mismatched components. This triggered my OCD. I replaced so many totally fine parts because they didn’t match.

    1. Padraig

      There was a time when the spacing on Dura-Ace cassettes was narrower than Ultegra and 105 (which were the same). So you couldn’t use Dura-Ace shifters, derailleurs or cassettes with components from Ultegra or 105. I’m pleased to note that Shimano did away with that difference a few generations back, so mixing and matching isn’t the problem it once was. Makes saving money on replacement parts an option. That said, I totally get the aesthetic desire to have everything match.

  11. Robo

    Tactile feedback and aesthetics are the most important to me. DA/Force/Red just always seems to look better. And the shifting had historically just felt better. But the visual and performance differences have been narrowing recently. And since the cost differences are so significant, I’ve turned almost exclusively to Ultegra. I just can’t imagine spending the money for DA only to have it be outdated every 3 years. And now 105 is pulling itself – both visually and aesthetically – closer to Ultegra. It’s hard to ignore or not at least consider, especially for something like a gravel bike. With the industry pushing the envelope on $12K super bikes, I find myself rebelling and accepting that Ultegra, and probably 105, is totally fine for me. And I do take a certain amount of pride when I price faster than the guy with all the highest end components, wheels, and aero everything.

  12. Aryeh

    I’ve got 10 speed 105 on my commuter (80 miles / week or thereabouts in Chicago, year round, plus some loaded touring) which has to be about eight years old now. At some point, I replaced the chainrings due to wear. I go through a bottom bracket every so often. Chains and cabling, obviously, are wear parts. The rest is original. It doesn’t shift quite as beautifully as my other bike with Ultegra, but it’s reliable as hell and closer than you might think. I lived in Detroit for a year, could only bring one bike for everything, and was never limited by the drivetrain. 105 is straight-up great. I guess if you’re racing, the few grams of weight and few milliseconds to shift saved between 105 and Ultegra might make a difference if you’re already really good at everything else. Beyond that, I think calling it value-oriented requires a narrow perspective. A well-installed and maintained 105 drivetrain is already better than what I see on most bikes out in the world. It’s closer in character to the race-oriented stuff than it is to anything else.

  13. Mark

    I’m on 105. Bonus that it was available in silver. I was thinking of it as a disposable group: anything that broke on it wouldn’t be expensive to replace. I guess I did go with an Ultegra chain and cassette since I wanted better wear out of them.

    Speaking of replacement, I assumed that finding replacement parts below 105 would be harder, and not that much cheaper. Most online bike merchants have the high end stuff, but few have much below 105, so finding a deal is that much harder.

    Really wish Shimano would trickle Di2 down to 105. That premium to go from 105 mechanical to any electronic is pretty steep.

  14. Jay

    I am old enough to remember a time when Shimano had just DuraAce and 105; before Ultegra came into existence. I have had a number of bikes with 105 over the years and I have always admired that group for the durability and functionality. I did put Ultegra on my custom bike, but that was more of a vanity issue than anything else. My opinion is that you get more bang for your buck with 105 and unless you are competing at a World Tour level anything more than Ultegra is more of an ego boost than a performance enhancer. I wouldn’t hesitate to get another bike spec’d with 105. It may be the best value in the entire Shimano hierarchy.

  15. Neil Winkelmann

    My advice to those seeking their first “decent bike” is that they try to go for 105. It is the sweet-spot for sure. Above 105, it is into diminishing returns.

  16. Larry Brooks

    From my earliest days as an avid cyclist in the early 70’s I was attracted not only by the functionality of high end gruppos but also by their aesthetics. Lower end groups are universally less attractive than their higher end counterparts. So, for me the question of value also includes some thoughts on the value of beauty.

  17. Kayce

    I manage a pretty good sized bike shop, which sells a large portion of road bikes 105 is definitely the groupset we sell the most of. The Ultegra long term value argument is harder to make now than it was 5 years ago. The only place I can make a very obvious point to a non-hardcore cyclist is the 105 hydro hoods.

    To answer the question, my road and cross bikes are both Force 1, except my road bike has Rival caliper brakes.

  18. JP Ericsson

    Like many others, I had a tight budget. Installed 10 speed 105 on an old CX bike. It is used for training, touring, gravel, CX pit bike, etc. I keep drivetrain lubed and relatively clean. ALWAYS works!! If i was not worried about a few heckles (silent and verbal) from my fellow cyclists, I’d put 105 on everything!

    1. Jeff vdD

      I’ve got 105 or the equivalent on my CX bikes … and love it. FWIW, I think the “105 stigma” is going away rapidly. That said, as I’ve shifted my riding from asphalt to dirt, my association with roadies has also been going away rapidly! [grin]

  19. Jeff vdD

    My younger son graduated from college this year. As a graduation present, he got me a very nice adventure bike fabricated locally from a metal that rhymes with geranium. The drivetrain I wanted didn’t yet exist: electronic 1x with a wide-range cassette. So I twisted my LBS’ arm to put together something out-of-spec but upgradeable.

    For the record, that’s SRAM eTap WiFli (medium-cage RD) with Shimano 11-34 (eTap officially goes to 32) and a 1x “family” of three chain rings (Wolftooth 34t, Wolftooth 38t, Easton 44t) that I manually swap out depending on ride profile (eTap doesn’t officially support 1x). When SRAM extends the eTap derailleur range, I’ll swap it out for a long-cage 12-speed and boost the cassette to match.

    That kid graduating was the biggest pay raise I ever got! [grin]

  20. Phillip

    Chorus on the race bike; Athena, with a tiagra crank on the commuter bike. I take a weird delight in the mishmash; though the front shifting does suffer. The crank had the significant advantage of being free.

    Except for the purposes of having a ‘fancy’ bike, I don’t see any reason to ride anything better than chorus (and I am not at all dismissing the merit of having a fancy bike). In fact if I was building a bike for crit racing from scratch I’d probably go Potenza, at least in part, for the dropped thumb levers which are easy to operate in a sprint.

    Older 10sp 105 on another bike in the family is a step down from either campy group, though it’s been reliable.

  21. Hoshie99

    I have Campagnolo Chorus on my newest road bike, ultegra on a prior bike and SRAM rival plus assorted replacements on the cross bike.

    Used to ride dura ace prior and would always replace consumables (chain, cassette) with ultegra.

    For value with top performance on a road frame, I’d go ultegra or chorus if you ride frequently and have the budget . They match the high end and are priced much less.

    I’d use 105 without a second thought especially for a commuter or less used bike and if the new one is closer to ultegra, then it will be great.

    J

    J

  22. Steve C

    So happy to see this attitude actually voiced. I have ridden with a lot of folks who buy the most expensive stuff as a signal for their seriousness about cycling, but my attitude about that has changed over the years.

    Before my time employed in the bike industry (after about 20 years of riding) I had to have the top gruppo on my bikes (Campy back in the day) because it was the “best.” When I started working in the industry and could get whatever I wanted (basically free) suddenly it didn’t matter so much. I found out that most components work pretty well if not amazingly well and as a result my snobbishness has happily evaporated (mostly). Now my bikes have whatever on them and that’s just fine. While I do love the technology and performance of the newest components, my new attitude is whatever you actually ride is the “best.”

  23. Jeff vdD

    From a performance-(weight)-cost-value standpoint, what are people’s thoughts on combining 105 components with a carbon fiber crankset (for weight) and great wheels?

  24. Lucien Walsh

    I don’t recall where I read it…might have been GCN, but someone speculated that this new 105 narrows the gap to Ultegra so much that it could indicate Shimano is preparing to differentiate Ultegra as disc only. I don’t know if I agree with that, but they are so close now qualitatively one has to wonder why

  25. Peter Leach

    I have Athena 11-speed groups on the bikes I ride most – one mechanical and one EPS-2. I rode 9-speed Chorus and Record Titanium before them. I was drawn to Athena by the value for money that it represents – and that’s the primary discriminating factor in my choice of groupset.
    That said, I treasure the 9-speed Ultegra 5000-series groupset that graced my first ‘serious’ bike when I returned to cycling after a long break.

  26. David

    I’ve been riding on Campy since the dinosaurs roamed the earth, and I don’t intend to change. There is something about the feel of the shifting, the shape of the hoods and levers and the elegance of the design that nothing else seems to come close for me. My first really good race bike (a Pinarello Record from 1985 that I still have) was mostly Nuovo Record, except for Suntour Superb brakes and a Super Record headset. That bike now has a mix of 10 speed Record and Chorus. My Pinarello Paris is 11 speed SR, a splurge that I justified by it being my first new bike in 25 years. I am building up a used Lightspeed that I recently acquired with a mix of Campy parts from eBay and Craigslist. They are harder to find than Shimano, but I’m patient.

    If you shop wisely you can find Campy at reasonable price points, and the stuff, even their “low” end like Veloce or Potenza is not low end. And I’d rather have used Chorus than new Ultegra.

  27. Sonya K Jackson

    Campy, Campy, Campy!
    I’ve never really had a full groupo on any of my bikes, its been a combo of Chorus/Athena or Record/Chorus/Ahtena/Centar.
    Thats because I’ve built up my own bikes for a long time. Thats how I’ve gotten value and performance. The best Campy groupo for the money seems to be Chorus, its not super costly like Record/Super Record.

  28. Ed

    Several years ago when Shimano prices got silly (they’ve since reduced wholesale prices) and the levers got ridiculously bulbous, I switched to Campy when building up a Japanese built Schwinn Paramount (PDG Group model.) It seemed fitting to put Italian parts on a Japanese made American-badged frame.

    But I loved the functionality, feel, and look of the parts. Haven’t looked back. On four bikes I have either Chorus or Athena bits using Shimano cassettes and chains and Campy/Fulcrum wheels with Shimano compatible cassette bodies. I even have Athena levers connected to Shimano cable operated disc brakes. Even SRAM gets a piece of the action – they make the only affordable 180mm road crank.

  29. Dizzy

    For cruising and trail riding I have a Teagra / 105 combo (amazingly still original except chain) on a 1996 Cannondale H600.
    For road I have a full SRAM Apex group on a 2012 Giant Defy.
    All the potential upgrades sound and look exciting but as someone said previously…would I notice? D

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