Shimano and SRAM are two of the biggest and most successful manufacturers of bike components, making up 85% of the bike componentry market combined.
Choosing the right groupset for you is absolutely essential.
Whether you’re building a bike from scratch or buying a complete bike outright, SRAM and Shimano are both tried and tested options for your new steed.
But how do you choose between them? Which is better for mountain bikes, and which is better for road bikes?
In this article, we’ll tackle all these questions to help you gain insight into which will be best for your cycling needs. To get you up to speed, we’ll be covering:
- Who Are SRAM And Shimano?
- SRAM Vs Shimano: MTB Components
- Shimano Vs SRAM: Road Bike Components
Ready for the ultimate componentry showdown, SRAM vs Shimano?
Let’s get started!
Who Are SRAM And Shimano?
The components that make up your bicycle’s groupset are arguably the most important thing to get right on your bike.
SRAM and Shimano are the market leaders in bike componentry, and for good reason.
Shimano: The world-leading component manufacturer
Shimano are the big boys of the component game. They now represent 70% of the global market share of bike components.
But it wasn’t always this way.
Shimano was founded in 1921 in Japan but didn’t actually start making bike components until the 1970s. From the ’30s until the ’70s, Campagnolo commanded the majority of the market and was the only real choice for a pro cyclist.
Shimano entered the world of bike components to fill the gap left by the inability of Campagnolo to keep up with the “Bike Boom” of the ’70s.
They quickly established themselves as a major player, at the forefront of innovation alongside their Italian competitor.
One of the most notable innovations by Shimano came in 1985 when they introduced index shifting. This technology was cutting edge at the time, and before this, cyclists had to fiddle around with their continuous shift levers to find the point at which it changed gear.
But Shimano weren’t done there. In 1990, they introduced the “Shimano Total Integration” shift levers into the componentry world.
This allowed the rider to change gears and brake with one integrated system located on the handlebars.
Their market dominance then began in the 1990s, and has continued ever since.
After Campag’s entry into the world of MTB components ended in 1994, Shimano had the lion’s share of the MTB groupset industry, except for a smaller slice commanded by the new kids on the block: SRAM.
SRAM: The Newcomers
The smaller slice of the MTB industry that SRAM enjoyed in the ’90s has increased exponentially in size, even though they currently only make up 15% of the total bike component market.
SRAM was founded in 1987 in Chicago, USA, and came into the componentry world on a chariot of fire, introducing the cutting-edge grip-shift technology that remains commonplace on mountain bikes to this day.
Surprisingly, this introduction didn’t go down as well as they’d hoped. A large part of this underwhelming reception was due to the fact that it was initially released for road bikes.
This was not the most ergonomic shifting method for roadies, and although it was initially picked up a little, it was immediately overshadowed by Shimano’s STI shifters in 1990.
Wanting to overcome this hiccup, SRAM adapted their grip-shift technology for MTBs in 1991, where it quickly found its rightful home, and remains a commonly-used shifting interface for mountain bikes to this day.
This arguably marked the beginning of SRAM’s success.
After a settlement SRAM received in 1991 from Shimano after a lawsuit over attempted market monopolization, SRAM began to take off in the MTB world.
Through a number of innovations, and acquisitions of major innovators like RockShox, Quarq, and Zipp, their reputation has increased immeasurably since then, and they have successfully entered the road bike market too.
SRAM now represent a real competitor to Shimano, and their newest groupsets are highly regarded as some of the best you can find, no matter what cycling discipline you’re into.
SRAM And Shimano Component Hierarchies
Both SRAM and Shimano have some groupsets that are entry-level, and some that are professional-quality.
The differences between these groupsets are astronomical, in shifting efficiency, braking power, and feel.
Whether you’re weighing up SRAM GX vs Shimano XT or 105 vs Rival, here’s a (non-exhaustive) list of each brand’s groupset hierarchy within each discipline:
|Shimano MTB||SRAM MTB||Shimano Road||SRAM Road|
|Entry-Level||Deore||SX & NX||Tiagra||Apex|
Note that Shimano also has cheaper road groupsets than Tiagra, such as Tourney and Sora, but SRAM’s lowest-budget offering is Apex.
It’s worth noting, however, that the difference in quality between entry-level and flagship groupsets is matched by the difference in price.
Modern mid-range groupsets have come leaps and bounds in the past decade or so, thanks to the trickle-down tech policy of both brands. Features you might have found on RED fifteen years ago can now be found on Rival.
So unless you need the best-of-the-best, it’s worth giving serious thought to the mid-range options before you go re-mortgaging your house for the brand new Shimano XTR.
Shimano Vs SRAM: Road Bike Components
Both SRAM and Shimano manufacture incredibly high-quality groupsets for road bikes.
Disc brakes have made a somewhat controversial entrance into the world of road bikes. But with most of the pro peloton opting for this optimal braking power, it is becoming more and more popular with consumers.
Hydraulic disc brakes are available from Tiagra and up for Shimano, and Apex and up for SRAM. If you’re going to get disc brakes, it really is worth going for hydraulic, since there is a big step up from mechanical disc brakes.
Electronic shifting is available on 105 and up for Shimano, and Rival upwards for SRAM. Do note, however, that this tends to add around $1000 to any groupset.
If you’re looking at more budget-friendly, entry-level options, and you’re not as fussed about the features that might come with the slightly more expensive options, then it’s still worth considering the lower-end groups, such as Shimano Sora.
Note too that SRAM’s road bike groupsets (except RED) are available with 1x drivetrains, making them popular with cyclocross riders. Shimano’s road groups aren’t available as 1x variants.
Shimano Dura-Ace vs SRAM RED
If you’re lucky enough to have the budget for the highest-end option, then you’re going to have a bit of a choice on your hands.
Both options are available with electronic shifting: “Di2” in Shimano’s range and “eTap” in SRAM’s. If this is your bag, expect to shell out a large sum to accommodate this upgrade.
Both options are also available with hydraulic disc brakes, or rim brakes if you’re old school. They’re also both 12-speed groups, the industry’s current highest gear range available for road bikes.
The differences, however, are where your decision is going to be made.
SRAM’s RED eTap is completely wireless, with just a single button per lever for shifting. This makes the bike look a lot tidier and it’s very user-friendly.
It has been argued, however, that Shimano’s shifting is a little smoother than SRAM’s. This is likely due to the Hyperglide+ technology found on their cassette, chainrings, and chain that precipitates smooth shifting between gears.
In terms of weight and price, both groups are relatively similar. Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 is around 80g lighter and retails $150 cheaper than SRAM RED eTap. However, when you’re spending $4000 on a groupset, this is a fairly marginal difference.
One of the key differences, however, is the available gear range.
Dura-Ace has a maximum cassette sprocket of 34 teeth. RED, on the other hand, allows for up to a 36-tooth sprocket in the cassette.
This might not sound like a lot, but if you’re trying to get up 20% climbs regularly, you’re going to notice a huge difference in the gearing. If you live somewhere extremely hilly, it’s worth considering SRAM RED.
SRAM Vs Shimano: MTB Groupsets
SRAM and Shimano have some excellent groupsets available for mountain bikes, and which you choose depends on your budget.
However, some of the MTB-specific tech that you might be after is only available in certain ranges. These are features many serious off-roaders would consider essential, such as a 1x drivetrain, a dropper post lever, and a clutch.
For Shimano, all three of these features become available from Deore upwards, and for SRAM, it’s NX and above.
If you’re looking to get into gnarly off-roading but don’t want to break the bank, then again, it’s worth considering the lower-end groupsets that aren’t discussed in this list.
However, do note that a lot of the MTB-specific features you might be looking for aren’t available in the cheapest ranges.
- Check out our article Shimano MTB Groupset Hierarchy: Ultimate Guide for more information!
SRAM XX1 vs Shimano XTR
These really are the best-of-the-best when it comes to MTB groupsets.
They have a few things in common. They both include a clutch, are available with 1x drivetrains, and a dropper post lever.
They do, however, have a number of key differences.
The major difference here is that Shimano XTR is available with Di2 electronic shifting, whereas XX1 is incompatible with SRAM’s eTap technology. For many, this is a deal breaker.
The shifting will be markedly slower on SRAM’s mechanical group than Shimano’s XTR Di2.
However, SRAM once again beats Shimano in gear range. XTR is compatible with up to a 51-tooth cassette, whereas XX1 is up to 52. This will make a difference on the most brutal of off-road climbs, particularly if you’re into XC mountain biking.
Another difference here is that Shimano XTR is only available in an 11-speed setup, whereas for a little extra cash, XX1 can be set up as a 12-speed.
This difference in gearing makes SRAM XX1 better suited to XC mountain biking, and XTR to more of a trail discipline, due to its electronic shifting.
A nice feature of SRAM XX1 is that it’s available in a plethora of colors.
From black to rainbow to gold, you can really spruce up the aesthetics of your bike by choosing a more whacky color for your group. XTR, however, is available only in black.
Which is better: SRAM Vs Shimano?
Unfortunately, there is no one-size fits all answer to this question.
It depends on which discipline you’re into, the budget you have available, and your personal preferences.
However, with all the information you now have, you can make an informed decision on which is better suited to your cycling needs.
Just remember, whatever you end up going for, both SRAM and Shimano make fantastic components and you will not be disappointed with the result!