Shimano groupset hierarchy explained: MTB, Road and Gravel

Whether evaluating a new bike or planning to upgrade a bike you already own, you will need to understand the different component specifications.

Shimano manufactures a wide range of groupsets for mountain, road, gravel and commuter bikes. Their price ranges from a few hundred dollars to over $1,000.

They include traditional cable shift technology and new cable-free electronics that are quickly becoming ubiquitous in cycling. And with different IDs, like Ultegra, Deore, and 105, it can be confusing to discern which one is right for you.

This recap will cover some entry-level components, but we will focus on Shimano’s off-road and on-road range of performance groupsets.


Also check out our SRAM groupset preview, coming soon!


Shimano MTB

For mountain bikes, Shimano makes eight different groupsets of varying quality and cost.

Tourney, Altus, Acera and Alivio groupsets round out the bottom end of trail-oriented Shimano drivetrains. Many of these drivetrains are found on low-end bikes in department stores, on entry-level mountain bikes.

The Tourney is available in six-, seven-, or eight-speed options with multiple chainrings. And the Altus, Acera and Alivio feature nine-speed cassettes with various chainring options.

Due to the double or even triple front chainring options on these groupsets, they are heavier and more complicated to use than Shimano’s more modern, high-end options, which this hierarchy will focus on.

The true contenders for Shimano start in the 11 and 12 speed options, which include Deore, SLX, Deore XT and XTR. These drivetrains are reliable trail groupsets that maintain very similar specs, but vary slightly in spec and materials as you climb.

Deore

The Shimano Deore group is available in a 10, 11 or 12 speed configuration.

At the most accessible level of Shimano’s base MTB component spec is the Deore groupset. It is available with a 10, 11 or 12 speed cassette. The 12-speed version is available as a 1x, with a single front chainring, while the 10 and 11-speed options can be a 1x or 2x setup.

The cassette attaches to a Shimano Microspline freehub body and supports a range of 10-51t on the cassette.

SLX

Shimano SLX crankset.
The Shimano SLX groupset is a step above Deore. It is a 12-speed drivetrain with multiple front chainring options.

SLX is a step above Deore. This is a 12-speed groupset about 200g lighter than the SLX and about $100 more. The SLX and Deore groupsets feature one-click downshifting rather than a double-click on the XT and XTR models.

This feature makes it easier to shift faster while heading uphill on high-end groupsets.

Deore XT

IMG_9551
The Shimano Deore XT groupset is a step down from the top-end XTR groupset. It is equipped with a maximum cassette range of 10 to 51 t.

The XT group evolves towards a more refined configuration. It features a 12-speed cassette with a 10-51t range cassette with a single or dual chainring option.

A significant change with the XT from other models is the introduction of a double-click shifter that allows more than one gear to be downshifted with a single flick of the shift paddle. This makes this drivetrain a more responsive climber.

The XT package is also available in a Di2 electronic shifting model in a 1×11 configuration.

XTR

IMG_9549
The Shimano XTR features a 12-speed setup with a 10-51t cassette. It is also lighter but more expensive.

XTR is the crème de la crème of MTB groupsets from Shimano.

Like the XT, the XTR shifters have the double-click function to improve climbing and are available in Di2 electric shift configuration. They also feature an expander ring to match the bottom bracket which differs from all other Shimano MTB groupsets, which use traditional cinch clamps.

It is available in several transmission options, including 1x and 2x configurations.

Pricing

Shimano Deore groupsets start at around $200 for drivetrain components and steadily increase in range. All electronics will be more expensive than traditional cable systems. The various component groups increase their prices from there, with the XTR groups commanding a price north of $1,300.

Road Shimano

Shimano’s road groupset range starts with options for more casual riders. The eight-speed Claris, nine-speed Sora and 10-speed Tiagra mark the brand’s entry points.

But these are not considered high-performance models. These start in the 11 and 12 speed range and include the 105, Ultra and Dura-Ace models.

105

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The Shimano 105 road groupset is the start of Shimano’s performance road range.

Shimano’s latest 105 series is the R7000. This is an 11-speed groupset available in a 1x or 2x configuration that can be paired with cassettes such as 11-28t, 11-30t, 11-32t, 11-34t and 12-25t.

Shimano says the 105 line is designed for new riders who are ready to start riding more seriously.

Ultegra

Shimano Ultegra der
The Stiamo Ultega groupset features a 12-speed drivetrain with wireless shifting.

Ultegra is firmly in the premium component category. Ultegra’s latest iteration, the R8100 series, is built around the all-electric 12-speed Di2 system. It is available in 1x or 2x configurations with 50-34 or 52-36 chainrings, as well as cassettes ranging from 11-30t to 11-34t.

The latest model is also available with the new Ultegra power meter.

Dura Ace

Shimano dura ace crankset
Shimano’s Dura-Ace road drivetrain is the company’s best road groupset. It is a light, fast and fully electric 12-speed system.

Dura-Ace is Shimano’s range of premium road groupsets. The Japanese brand claims that the latest 12-speed R9200 series is the fastest groupset the company has ever made.

Like the Ultegra, Dura-Ace uses the all-electric Di2 system, but it’s lighter.

Pricing

Shimano road groupsets start at $200-300 and steadily progress to over $1000, depending on a wide range of options that can vary the price by hundreds of dollars.

A complete Dura-Ace groupset costs around MSRP of $2,000.

Shimano gravel

GRX

Shimano GRX gravel cranks.
The Shimano GRX group is specially designed for gravel.

For those where neither road-specific nor MTB-specific setups will suffice, Shimano’s gravel-dedicated GRX line fills the void.

the GRX Group features ergonomic designs to make riding over rough terrain more conformable, plus a rear derailleur clutch to reduce chain drop and slap.

The GRX system is an 11-speed groupset available in 1x or 2x versions. 1x configurations are available with a 40t or 42t chainring, while 2x options are available in 48-31t or 46-30t chainrings.

The GRX derailleur is also available in two options with a maximum low gear of 34t or 42t, the larger of which is compatible with MTB cassettes.

Complete GRX groupsets cost over $1,000.

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