SHIMANO Di2, SRAM eTAP AXS OR ??? – WHAT’S BEST FOR YOU
Now that Shimano Di2, SRAM eTap, and Campagnolo EPS electronic groupsets are well accepted, you may be wondering, should I upgrade and which is best for me?
If you are a road cycling enthusiast who has been using a 10- or 11-speed mechanical groupset on your rim brake bike for a while, you have likely mulled over that question. If you bought a road disc bike recently, there are now a full range of hydraulic electronic components and groupsets to consider. And, those of you who bought one of the first electronic groupsets a few years ago may also be wondering if it’s time now to upgrade some components, if not your entire groupset to take advantage of some of the improvements in the new generation gear from Shimano, SRAM, and Campagnolo.
I have friends riding 10-speed groupsets and myself use 11-speed mechanicals on my rim brake road bike and gravel disc brake bike. My road disc brake bike has what is now “last-gen” Shimano Di2 hydraulic electronic components and lacks some of the shifter/brake lever and caliper advances I can get now. So, I set out to figure out what to do, if anything, with these new electronic groupsets and components for my own benefit and for yours, my fellow road cycling enthusiasts.
This post tells you what I concluded and now recommend after comparing the latest electronic groupset models.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT SHIMANO Di2, SRAM eTAP, AND OTHER ELECTRONIC GROUPSETS
Click on any red statement below to go directly to that part of the post
Benefits – 11 and 12-speed electronic shifting groupsets are performance and pleasure game-changers compared to 10- and 11-speed mechanical ones, on par with upgrading from an alloy to a carbon wheelset
This is a long post so I’m going to begin at the end with my recommendations.
You can read the rest of the post or navigate to specific sections using the links just above to see how I reached these conclusions.
If you are a road cycling enthusiast using a 10- or 11-speed mechanical groupset on your rim brake bike, you should invest in an electronic groupset if you want to perform better, go faster, make shifts easier, reduce your maintenance, and make your riding experience more enjoyable.
To buy an entirely new groupset, it will cost you about the same as upgrading to good, all-around carbon wheels – $1600 to $2500 for a rim brake groupset; $2000 to $3000 for a disc brake one.
If you already have an 11-speed mechanical groupset and your drivetrain is in good shape, you can buy just the components to convert to an electronic groupset – shifters, derailleurs, batteries, junction boxes, etc. – for about 60% of the price of an entire groupset.
If you aren’t already wedded to the way SRAM or Campagnolo shifters work and want the Best Value rim brake groupset, I recommend the Shimano Ultegra R8050 Di2. It sells for 70-75% of Tier 1 groupsets, performs at a level that all but avid racers will ever need, and is supported by Shimano’s extensive dealer and service network.
I suggest you buy the groupset using this pre-filtered link to Know’s Shop where you can do price comparisons of products from stores I’ve selected that have the best prices, customer satisfaction records, and selection of enthusiast-level cycling gear and kit. You can buy the individual shifters, derailleurs and other components to convert your 11-speed mechanical to electronic by clicking these links to Competitive Cyclist 10% off one-time w/code ITKCC20 Merlin, Chain Reaction Cycles, Wiggle, Tweeks, Tredz 10% off w/code ITKTDZ10.
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If you have a disc brake bike, I recommend the Shimano Ultegra R8070 Di2 groupset as the Best Value for disc brake bikes for the same reasons as I recommended the Ultegra R8050 Di2 for rim brake bikes. In addition to its performance and value, no other component maker offers a fully hydraulic electronic disc brake groupset at this price point.
This complete groupset is available at the best prices by clicking this link to Know’s Shop. The Ultegra-level shifter and brake caliper components can be had at Competitive Cyclist 10% off one-time w/code ITKCC20, Merlin, Wiggle, Chain Reaction Cycles, Tweeks, Tredz 10% off w/code ITKTDZ10 to convert your mechanical Ultegra system at the best prices.
If you are an enthusiast that frequently races or are willing to pay for the absolute best electronic shifting performance, I rate and recommend the Shimano Dura Ace R9150 Di2 groupset the Best Performer for rim brake bikes. It is available by clicking these links to recommended stores Merlin Cycles and others at Know’s Shop. You can also buy the electronic components at Competitive Cyclist 10% off one-time w/code ITKCC20, Merlin, Wiggle, Tredz 10% off w/code ITKTDZ10 to convert your current 11-speed Dura Ace or Ultegra mechanical rim brake groupset.
Likewise, I rate and recommend the Shimano Dura Ace R9170 Di2 the Best Performer for disc brake bikes. You can buy the groupset from the best stores at the best prices through this link to Know’s Shop. components from Competitive Cyclist 10% off one-time w/code ITKCC20, Merlin, Wiggle, Tredz 10% off w/code ITKTDZ10 at the best prices I’ve found from top-rated stores.
If you own a last-generation Dura Ace 9070 Di2 or Ultegra 6870 Di2 groupset, I see no great benefit in upgrading your groupset or components.
If you own non-series Shimano electronic disc brake shifter/brake lever STI and calipers (765, 685, etc.), I do think it is worthwhile to get the improved Dura Ace R9170 or Ultegra R8070 shifter and caliper set. See the component store links above.
I don’t view the SRAM 11-speed eTap or 12-speed eTap AXS wireless rim or disc brake groupsets as “game changers”. While they’re good, I don’t find their shifting performance on par with that of the Shimano Dura Ace or Ultegra Di2 or Campagnolo Super/Record or Chorus groupsets.
That said, it is easy to adapt to and, if you own a SRAM Red or Force 11-speed mechanical groupset, buying the 11-speed eTap conversion kit is the lowest cost way for a SRAM owner to upgrade to an electronic system.
However, since SRAM has introduced 12-speed eTap AXS groupset, the 11-speed eTap conversion kits will get harder to find. You can still pick up the rim brake kit at Tredz 10% off w/code ITKTDZ10. For the 11-speed eTap disc brake conversion kit, click on the links to these stores: UK/EU Merlin, Wiggle, Chain Reaction Cycles, Tredz 10% off w/code ITKTDZ10, Tweeks.
SRAM’s 12-speed eTap AXS RED and FORCE groupsets are not compatible or upgradable from the 11-speed mechanical or eTap groupsets and you also need to replace the hubs on any 11-speed wheels you want to continue to use. You can read our my review of the eTap AXS groupset here.
For most riders, I still recommend the Shimano 11-speed groupsets over the SRAM eTap AXS ones.
If you are a fan of Campagnolo shifting logic, ergonomics, and culture and own a Campy 11-speed mechanical rim brake groupset, I recommend you stick with Campy and upgrade to their electronic system (Ergopower shifters and EPS derailleurs) with Chorus conversion components from Competitive Cyclist 10% off one-time w/code ITKCC20, Merlin, Wiggle, Chain Reaction Cycles. They perform every bit as well and minimally heavier than the Super Record or Record ones at a much better price. If you want an entirely new Campy groupset, I still recommend the Chorus. You can get it through this link to Know’s Shop.
I’ve not reviewed Campy’s 12-speed Super Record or Record groupsets and I’m likely not going to. They are priced at twice or more the Shimano Dura Ace and SRAM Red groupsets that I couldn’t recommend to my fellow road cycling enthusiasts no matter how good they might be. I hope to test the Chorus 12-speed gruppo when it becomes available assuming its price isn’t that much higher than the Shimano Ultegra or SRAM Force AXS it is intended to compete with.
My evaluations and comparisons of Campy groupsets are based on their EPS (Electronic Power Shifting) system used in their 11-speed groupsets and carried forward into the current 12-speed ones.
Eleven-speed groupsets were introduced in volume on new bikes by Shimano in 2013 and are standard on new enthusiast-level road bikes. Serious roadies mostly use 1st or 2nd tier groupsets from Shimano (Dura Ace and Ultegra), SRAM (Red and Force) or Campagnolo (Super Record, Record, Chorus). You can find some 3rd tier groupsets (Shimano 105, SRAM Rival, Campagnolo Potenza) on new enthusiast-level road bikes but most 3rd and lower tier groupsets are intended for lower-priced, recreational-level bikes.
SRAM is out with its 12-speed RED and FORCE eTap AXS groupsets. Campagnolo’s Super Record, Record, and Chorus groupsets rim and disc, electronic and mechanical are all 12 speed.
You can’t find a 10-speed groupset from Shimano until you get to their 4th tier Tiagra groupsets. SRAM and Campagnolo don’t sell 10-speed groupsets anymore and are promoting their 12-speed ones above all.
Mavic produced the first electronic road shifting system prototypes way back in 1992. The opening time trial of the 1997 Tour de France was won using a more developed prototype of the same Mavic design. Pro riders experimented with Shimano and Campy electronic groupsets more broadly starting in the 2000s.
In 2009 Shimano made its Dura Ace Di2 electronic groupset available to consumers on 10-speed Trek and Giant road bikes and had entire pro teams ride the system in the Tour of California and Tour de France. They introduced an updated Di2 system on their Ultegra groupset in 2011, the same year Campagnolo introduced their first EPS electronic groupset. By 2012, Campy had EPS on its top three groupsets and Shimano had its latest Di2 on its top two tier groupsets. Shimano started selling electronic shifting and braking components for road bikes with disc brakes in 2015. SRAM began selling its first electronic groupset, the eTap wireless shifting system, as part of its top-of-the-line Red groupset in 2016.
In perhaps the busiest year of groupset developments yet, Shimano began selling its latest generation Dura Ace Di2 electronic groupsets for both rim and disc brake road bikes and introduced new Ultegra Di2 electronic groupsets in 2017. RAM announced their Red eTap disc brake groupset in the same year while Campy introduced EPS system updates and disc brakes groupsets that will be available in 2018. FSA and Rotor, each with a history of making drivetrain but not shifting or braking components, introduced their first complete groupsets, the former an electronic shifting one and the later with shifting done by hydraulic fluid.
A lot of developments over a 5-8 year period. 10 to 11 speed and now 12 speed. Manual to electronic groupsets. Electronic V1 to electronic V2 or V3. Wired to wireless. Electronic components for rim brake and disc brake bikes. From a few groupset makers offering a few options to all three major ones offering complete 11 or 12-speed, electronic, rim and disc brake sets and some at multiple tiers/price points. Two new entrants.
Phew. I feel old just trying to capture and type out all that activity. Having also lived through, or perhaps pedaled through that headwind of new products, it’s been hard to keep up even as a passionate blogger/reviewer, let alone as a fellow budget-conscious road cycling enthusiast.
With all the developments in groupsets over the last few years, here’s what any real-deal roadie is probably wondering:
Will an 11 or 12-speed electronic groupset or components help me perform better, enable me to go faster, make my shifting easier, reduce my maintenance, make my ride more enjoyable, etc. than a manual one?
Or, is some or all of this more than I need, overpriced, overhyped and make no difference in the way I ride and perform, take away the classic feel of cycling I love, be a hassle to keep charged, etc.?
And if I do want to go with an 11 or 12-speed electronic groupset, what should I base my decision on and which one should I get?
11 or 12-SPEED vs. 10-SPEED
As I outlined above, groupset makers have moved past 10-speed groupsets for cycling enthusiasts. If you are a serious roadie buying a new groupset, you’ll want something that shifts and brakes better than a 10-speed era groupset and that is more efficient and durable, among other performance factors. If you are buying a new bike, you won’t find a 10-speed groupset on any enthusiast-level bike.
But, if you have a perfectly good 10-speed groupset on a frame you love and intend to keep riding, are there any good reasons to go to an 11 or 12-speed?
Yes. There are a few.
First, the obvious. If you want an electronic groupset (and I’ll deal with whether you should in a minute), you can only get them in 11 and 12-speed groupsets. You also can’t upgrade your 10-speed mechanical to an 11-speed electronic one.
Why not? 11 and 12-speed electronic shifters and derailleurs are incompatible with 10-speed drivetrains (cranksets, chains, cassettes, wheel hubs).
Second, if you ride everything from flats to climbs, you can get a wider range of shifting ratios with an 11 or 12-speed than you can with a 10-speed without sacrificing the shifting efficiency determined by number of teeth or the “jumps” between shifts. The more teeth you have to jump, the bigger the change in your pedaling cadence or rhythm each time you shift. And the bigger the changes in your rhythm, the greater the toll it takes on your legs.
If you only ride flats or shallow rollers in an 11-25 cassette, there’s not a big difference between 10- and 11-speed and you might not feel any benefit going to an 11-speed. In a 10-speed, you’ll have two-tooth jumps starting with the 15t (11-12-13-14-15-17-19-21-23-25). Riding an 11-speed, the two-tooth jumps start at the 17t (11-12-13-14-15-16-17-19-21-23-25).
On the other hand, some 11-25 riders have moved to 11-speed just for that 16t and the smooth shifting (i.e. one tooth jump) it brings in the middle of the range. Many had a 16t on their 10-speed, 11-23 cassette. When 11-25 became the new 10-speed standard, they missed the 16t. They talk about that 16t with almost religious zeal.
If you do a lot of climbing and find yourself spending most of your time riding in the largest (easiest) three or four cogs on your cassette, you want the range that an 11-28, -30, -32 or even -34 can give you. Over the course of a 40 mile/65kg ride with a handful of inclines steeper than 4%-5% that go on for a quarter-mile or longer, you’ll find that 28t (or larger) cog to be a leg saver. It will allow you to keep your cranks turning at 75 rpm or more if you’ve got a compact crankset (50-34) on the steepest sections. And, most new bikes come with 11-28s or 11-30s these days. 11-28 became the new 11-25 a while ago and 11-30 is becoming the new 11-28.
With an 11-speed, 11-28 Shimano cassette, you get 2-tooth jumps from the middle of the cogset to the top for all but that last, Hail Mary shift to the 28t (11-12-13-14-15-17-19-21-23-25-28). Using a 10-speed, 11-28 however, you get 3-tooth jumps for the last three shifts (11-12-13-14-15-17-19-22-25-28).
I find it can change your cadence 7-10 rpm with jumps that big with the same amount of power coming out of your legs. You want and often need that much change in cadence going into the 28 up a steep hill but not going from 22 to 25 and certainly not going from 19 to 22 on more modest grade changes.
For those that want one 11-speed cassette that gives you a 28t for the occasional uphill but mostly ride flats and rollers and live in the mid-range of your cassette, SRAM gives you an option. Their 11-28 cassette has that beloved 16t you find in an 11-25, 11-speed groupset. The trade-off is that you also get the 3 tooth jumps (11-12-13-14-15-16-17-19-22-25-28) you find in an 11-28, 10-speed cassette.
For those who ride in the mountains a good deal, Shimano has engineered their new 11-speed rear derailleurs to handle up to 11-30 cassettes (11-12-13-14-15-17-19-21-24-27-30) with the standard short cage. You can get 32 and even 34 tooth Ultegra 11-speed cassettes for you ultimate climbers with the medium cage Ultegra rear derailleur.
If you seldom spin out or pedal in the 11t cog and want a smoother shifting upper end, better still is to have a 12-28 cassette (12-13-14-15-16-17-19-21-23-25-28) Shimano now makes for their latest 11-speed Dura Ace groupsets. The 11t is replaced by the 16t in the middle of the range.
The 12-speed groupsets from Campy allow you to get smaller jumps still by having another cog in that cassette with much the same range. SRAM has taken a different approach, adding the extra cog and reducing the number of teeth in the front chainrings to provide more range rather than reduce the size of the jumps (vs. an 11-speed).
If their historical product life cycle holds, Shimano will likely introduce their next-generation Dura Ace groupset in mid-2020 available starting fall of that year with the Ultegra to follow in the same pattern in 2021. I have no inside information but I expect they too will go to 12-speed but make it backward compatible with 11-speed and go for smaller jumps while also providing cassette options that allow for wider range.
Beyond the better rhythm you get from the smaller jumps and/or wider range 11 and 12-speed cassette, these groupsets function better than older 10-speed ones do. And it’s got nothing to do with the number of speeds. Instead, the advancements made in shifter, derailleur and braking functionality and the performance built into the new 11 and 12-speed models make them far better than those in the best 10-speed models of yesteryear.
The new 11- and 12-speed groupsets shift quicker, smoother, and more efficiently than the 10-speed (and earlier 11-speed) ones. Their brakes have better action between the levers and calipers. The caliper openings are wide enough to take and apply good leverage on today’s wider wheels and tires, something that few 10-speed calipers will do well and some, not at all.
Add it all up and going from 10 to 11 or 12-speed will make a big difference in your cycling performance and enjoyment.
I know I’ll get an argument on this from some traditionalists that love the classic gear. Campy owners will tell me that nothing is better made or as durable or rebuildable as their old groupsets. It’s the same argument I’ll get about mechanical vs. electronic groupsets, for titanium and steel frames vs. carbon ones, or alloy vs carbon wheelsets, etc.
I love your cyclist’s pride but I’ll respectfully tell you that all those companies (even Campy) that made this great gear in the first place have moved on to making new, better performing components and groupsets. Indeed, as I recounted above, Campy was one the first to go 11-speed, now only sells a 12-speed (even though there is still plenty of 11-speed Campy gear at many retail outlets), and was one of the earliest developers of electronic shifting.
My own 11-speed mechanical Tier 2 Ultegra 6800 groupset that became available in 2014 outperforms the 10-speed Tier 1 Dura Ace 7800 groupset I bought in 2005 that it replaced. (The later 10-speed Dura Ace 7900 was available in 2009, but for reasons I won’t get into, wasn’t as good as the 7800. This was a rare misstep by Shimano.)
If your wheels are made with 10-speed hubs, they won’t fit an 11-speed groupset. If you dropped a lot of money on those wheels, you might be hesitant to move to an 11-speed groupset. Then again, if your wheels are made with 10-speed hubs they are probably quite old and may be ready for an upgrade themselves to something wider, more comfortable, stiffer, more responsive, etc.
Wheel technology advances faster than groupset technology. In fact, if you’ve upgraded your wheels since 11-speed groupsets were introduced in volume (2013) and still ride a 10-speed groupset, it’s likely that you have an 11-speed hub that uses a spacer which takes the place of that 11th cog and makes it compatible with your 10-speed hub. You merely remove the spacer when you put on an 11-speed cassette to make the hub and wheelset work with an 11-speed groupset.
ELECTRONIC VS. MECHANICAL
I’ve summarized the pros and cons of electronic and mechanical shift technology in the chart below.
While hopefully self-explanatory, a few points are worth emphasizing.
First, with an electronic groupset, every shift ends up putting the chain where you want it to go. You don’t need to hope that the chain gets there or have to trim it when the derailleur undershoots or overshoots or as you go from one end of the cassette to the other or as the cable stretches and gets gunked up over time.
Second, no matter how much load you have on the chain when you are pedaling full-out up a hill or when you are taking a pull or during a sprint or in whatever ring and cog combination, there is no added resistance or rubbing during the shift with electronic derailleurs as there are with mechanical ones.
Third, moving the chain from the small to big ring with the front derailleur doesn’t take any more effort, time, noise, or prayers than moving the rear derailleur from the one cog to another. And, you can move the chain from the big to the small ring without worrying that you are going to drop your chain because you forgot to first move it closer to the middle of your cassette.
Fourth, you also don’t have to worry about cross-chaining. Yes, it is still very inefficient to be cross-chained with an electronic groupset. But, due to self-trimming or preset trim adjustment, your chain won’t rub and render the combination of big ring and big cog or small ring and small cog inefficient or annoying.
Fifth, as electronic shifting uses current-conducting wires or wireless wavelengths rather than force-carrying cables to actuate your derailleurs, there is no need to regularly tune the derailleurs with barrel adjusters as you may have become accustomed to with mechanical shifters. Cables stretch out, ends get frayed, and some just break from life on the road. None of that happens with the wires or wireless technoloy used in an electronic groupset.
A fellow enthusiast summarized it well on a user forum: “The best thing about it (electronic shifting) is simply the removal of all the problems of mechanical groupsets – the uncertainty, the chain rub, and the lack of smoothness and the fact you had to fight those things sometimes.”
Because electronic shifters do exactly what you want, when you want it, and with no drama, you can shift with complete confidence and don’t have to worry about the right conditions or time to shift. You merely shift to whatever gear you want. You don’t lose a revolution or have a skip in tension between shifts. You no longer spend time grinding the big gear at lower-than-desired cadences to avoid a bad shift.
With this performance and the confidence it provides, you shift more often to keep the cadence you want and the power that goes with it. This “micro-shifting” without thinking about it and certainly without needing to make a decision about whether or not to shift makes pedaling and power transfer much more efficient.
Don’t get me wrong. I know how to take care of my mechanical groupset, tune it as the cables stretch and shift it when needed. I know how to work it out on the road, enjoy the feel of the shifters, and the action of the derailleurs.
But, once you’ve used an electronic groupset, you feel so much more efficient, so much less uncertain, so much more relaxed that you ride so much better. You put your mental and physical energy into other things like keeping up with the changes in pace ahead for you, the transitions in the pitch of the road, the turn you are about to make, the cadence or power levels you are trying to maintain.
The result? You ride faster, you perform better and you enjoy it more.
Is an electronic groupset totally necessary? No. Will it make you a better cyclist? Definitely. Is it worth the money? For me it is and I’ll tell you why I believe so below.
RIM BRAKE VS. DISC BRAKE
Unless you live under a rock, and as a road cycling enthusiast I know you certainly do not, you’ve undoubtedly heard about or perhaps even experienced road bikes with disc brakes. These are now outselling rim brake bikes among all new enthusiast-level bikes.
Why? They offer better braking, faster riding and greater versatility than rim brake bikes do. These are all things we want.
I’ll not beat the road disc bike drum further here. Rather, I will point out that all three major groupset makers have introduced complete electronic rim and disc brake groupsets.
Taken together, I have found that 11-speed electronic shifting rim and disc brake groupsets are game changers for road cycling enthusiasts. They have had a more significant and broader impact on road cycling than any other groupset innovations we’ve seen in many generations. They are for the better and there is no going back.
You can continue with what you have but, if you want to ride better and enjoy it more, you should really be open to buying a groupset that shfits and performs better than the kind you may have been using for many years.
And, when you do need to buy a new groupset or components either because what you have needs to be replaced or when you buy a new bike, an 11 or 12-speed will be your only choice and an electronic groupset will be your best option.
WHAT MATTERS MOST
For all In The Know Cycling reviews, I evaluate products using criteria in four categories – cost, performance, design, and quality.
The criteria that matter most in those categories for evaluating and choosing groupsets are:
Cost – Purchase price, cost of ownership, and replacement cost.
Performance – Shift predictability, speed, smoothness, and load management. Derailleur accuracy (chain moving to the right location) and chain engagement. Brake modulation and smoothness or grab. Crank arm stiffness and drivetrain smoothness.
Design – Shift logic, ergonomics, programmability, shift and brake lever throw, adjustability and feedback, battery life, component materials and weight.
Quality – Durability, reliability, service network and experience, and product warranty.
From my own and my fellow In The Know Cycling tester experience, and drawing on other independent reviewers I trust, here are my evaluations and recommendations of electronic groupsets based on these criteria.
At the end of the review, I have provided you a regularly updated set of links that will take you straight to the pages with the best prices for each of the top-tier electronic and mechanical groupsets and components from stores with top-rated customer satisfaction records. If you want to go to those links now, click here.
Here is a chart of recent market prices (not MSRP/RRP) for those groupsets and components. Note the date at the bottom of the chart when I last updated it.
This chart displays a few things:
- SRAM’s 1st tier Red eTap AXS 12-speed, electronic disc and rim brake groupsets are competitively priced in the market against Shimano’s 1st tier Dura Ace Di2 groupsets.
- At the 2nd tier, the performance level where most road cycling enthusiasts should be perfectly happy, SRAM’s Force eTap AXS groupsets are about $500 more than Shimano’s Ultegra Di2.
- Second-tier electronic groupsets’ market prices are $700-$1000 less than 1st tier ones from the same company.
- Campagnolo’s new 12-speed Super Record 1st tier electronic groupsets are at least twice the market price of SRAM’s Red or Shimano’s Dura Ace 1st tier ones. Campy’s near 1st tier 12-speed Record mechanical groupsets are competitively priced with Red and Dura Ace.
- Buying a “kit” – the shifters, derailleurs, and batteries, etc. to convert an 11-speed Tier 1 mechanical rim brake groupset to an electronic one – will cost you about $600 more than what you would have spent to buy the electronic groupset initially but save you about that same amount if you are able to add it to your existing components rather than buying the groupset new.
- Mechanical groupsets are priced from $500 to $1000 less than electronic ones at the same tier.
- Disc brake electronic groupsets are priced at roughly the same level as rim brake ones (Shimano) or at about $500 more (SRAM and Campagnolo).
- All of these groupsets are expensive in absolute terms but still 15% to 25% of the total cost of a new bike they are typically found on, consistent with what I’ve found to be the case with last generation groupsets.
I laid out the reasons for and against going to an 11-speed electronic rim or disc brake groupset above. I will assume that if you are still reading, you are sold on the benefits and are willing to spend the money to get there.
From my experience, the increased cost, performance and pleasure of riding an 11 or 12-speed electronic groupset over a 10- or 11-speed mechanical one is not unlike going from a low-profile alloy wheelset to a mid-depth carbon one, another major improvement I think is totally worth it.
For groupsets, the purchase price is obviously the largest part and the determinant of overall cost. But, because some of the components in a groupset wear and need to be replaced and others need to be periodically tuned, the cost of ownership after the initial purchase should also be considered.
You should plan to periodically replace your chain, cassette, cables, and brake pads as they wear. Depending on how much you ride and in what kind of conditions, expect to spend between $100 to $200 a year plus service charges to replace some combination of these. Campy parts will typically run more than those from Shimano or SRAM.
Tier 1 drivetrain components generally wear more quickly and cost more than Tier 2 ones which are made of heavier materials. Because of the cable stretch, mechanical groupsets will have a slightly higher cost of ownership than electronic ones.
When it comes to more expensive shifters and brake calipers, Campy components will likely be more durable than those from the other two over the long haul. I don’t think this separates them much, however, as the components from each have historically long outlived their warranty periods.
Perhaps more than any other major product segment in road cycling, the design of the top tiers of each manufacturer’s groupset lines are tightly integrated and operate similarly.
For example, Shimano routinely introduces its latest groupset for the Tier 1 Dura Ace model one year, its Tier 2 Ultegra the following year, and the Tier 3 105 version the year after that. The design and function of the integrated shifter and brake levers, the front derailleurs, the brakes, the crankset, and other components within the groupset are largely consistent and follow from one tier to the next.
SRAM’s latest top-tier Red and second-tier Force eTap AXS groupsets were introduced were introduced within months of each other and are very similar in design and functionality.
Campagnolo has historically made changes to many or all of its top-tier lines at the same time. The design changes have largely been the same across their top 3 groupsets, all of which are within its top two tiers.
The electronics used in each company’s groupsets are also the same from model to model and across rim and disc brake versions. Considering the cost to develop, produce, service and improve these systems, I doubt any groupset company will ever be able to invest in making different electronic systems that sell at various price points.
Consider the modern-day electronic groupset in two parts. First, you have the electronics – the left and right-side shifters and brake levers that sit on your handlebars, the front and rear derailleurs that execute the shifts, and the batteries, wires, junction boxes, and chargers that power and control the action between the shifters and derailleurs.
Second, you have the braking and drivetrain components – the brake calipers and cables or hydraulic tubing that run between the levers and calipers, and the crankset (crankarms, rings, spider), bottom bracket, chain, and cassette.
Note that pedals and disc brake rotors are not sold as part of groupsets.
I’ll go through the differences between the performance of the different electronics systems and the braking and drivetrain components next.
Electronics Performance: Shimano Di2 vs. SRAM eTap AXS vs. Campagnolo EPS
(or Shimano Digital Integrated Intelligence vs. SRAM Electronic Tap vs. Campagnolo Electronic Power Shift)
While electronic shifting from Campagnolo and Shimano have relatively few generations of design iterations compared to long-established mechanical shifting, they already provide superior performance. SRAM’s eTap system is also a superior performer to their mechanical groupsets.
Electronic shifters allow you to measurably perform better – your shifting efficiency, energy transfer, and bike speed should all improve by adopting techniques you can’t effectively use with mechanical shifting groupsets. Freed of concerns about the speed and quality of your shifting, for example, you’ll find yourself shifting more often and more precisely with an electronic groupset. This will enable you to be more responsive to terrain and speed shifts and maintain a more even cadence during a ride.
So if all three electronics systems enable you to perform better mechanical ones, how do they compare against each other? You may recall that I identified shifter predictability, speed, smoothness and load management and derailleur accuracy and chain engagement in the What Matters Most section above as key measures of groupset performance. These are also the ones that best point out the performance differences between the three electronics systems
The Shimano Di2 system shifts more predictably than either the Campagnolo EPS or SRAM eTap. They all get to where they are going eventually, but the Shimano Di2 provides the most confidence that your shifts will always get to the right position first.
Pre-programmed self-trimming is built into the Di2 system and provides uncanny derailleur accuracy. With a mechanical system, you make your shift and, depending on how big a shift you’ve made and where you’ve shifted from or to, you may be done or have to trim the chain further. If there is any chain rub, you might feather the front derailleur to eliminate it.
Shimano Di2 never lets you get to the point of chain rub. Somehow, it pre-programs it out or self-trims before you ever get any rub.
The EPS system senses the chain rub and then adjusts the position for you automatically. It’s much like automating a mechanical process. Di2 has created a better process by using what the electronics capability provides.
My issue with eTap is chain drop and the fear of same. My fellow tester Moose and I both dropped a chain when shifting front rings on the eTap system. I had the groupset set up by my very competent and SRAM-certified shop techs and took it back in to get the limit screws adjusted further in than called for in the installation spec to make sure chain drop didn’t happen again.
I watched a number of big to small and small to big ring changes and it sure seemed like those limits were being tested. The chain engaged slowly as it went from one ring to the other. I stopped looking after a while. Sometimes it’s better not to know how things work and just respond to the outcome to best assess performance.
The speed of Di2 and EPS shifts are both faster than eTap. The eTap delay isn’t long but it’s noticeable especially if you switch back and forth between bikes from time to time as I did during my testing. The eTap front and rear shifting feel sluggish to me and my fellow-tester and much faster rider Nate.
It is almost as if you push the shifter eTap paddle on “kur” and then the shift is completed on “thunk”. It feels somewhat similar to the speed of mechanical shifting derailleurs. The Di2 and EPS, on the other hand, complete the shift almost instantaneously at “kur”.
Is the delay long enough to make a difference to your performance? That’s debatable. Nate, a mountain climbing goat and the most demanding rider amongst our three In The Know Cycling testers, initially commented on how the delay messed with where he likes to see the shift kick-in on his pedal stroke going uphill. But after a few weeks, he said he adapted to it and it was no issue at all.
I, on the other hand, who never thought once about where in my stroke the shift kicks in ’till Nate mentioned it, noticed the shift speed difference anytime I switched back and forth between groupsets. It’s not that I can’t adapt to it, it’s just that now that I have experienced the faster-shifting systems, it is hard to go back to a noticeably slower one.
There is also some variability in the eTap shifting speed based on how quickly you release the button and how much load the chain is under. eTap shifts happen faster when you release the button more quickly and are moving along on the flats than when you push it in a little longer or are grinding it out with the chain fully loaded going uphill.
The speed is slightly improved with the newest eTap AXS systems but still noticably slower and requiring some accomodation compared to the Di2 and EPS.
All three systems shift smoothly. This along with the load management criteria are better differentiators between mechanical systems than they are between these electronic ones. Except for my comments above about the load effect on the eTap shifting speed, the Di2, eTap, and EPS all manage the load on the chain well and to the point where you notice any difference in the shifting effectiveness between any ring and cog combination.
All told, the quick-shifting speed and auto-trimming derailleur adjustment make Shimano Di2 shifts feel “crisper” than the EPS or eTap ones. This along with the confidence provided by the Di2’s shifting predictability and the smooth operation of the shifting put it at the top of the electronics performance list for me.
Between the Shimano Di2 groupsets, the more expensive Tier 1 Dura Ace rim and disc brake electronic shifters and derailleurs are that much crisper and more accurate than the Tier 2 to almost justify the added cost.
Braking and Drivetrain Performance: Tier 1 vs. Tier 2
Braking performance, beyond a certain level, is a rather subjective measure that leads to selection based on personal preference. Riders at one end of the spectrum (like me) like their brakes to grab shortly after squeezing the brake lever. Those at the other end of the spectrum prefer a lot of brake lever travel before the brakes engage the wheel rim or disc rotor with a progressively increasing amount of force applied as you bring the lever further in.
Then, of course, you have rim brakes whose performance depends on both the brakes and pads that go with the groupset and the brake track of the wheels you are engaging. Disc brake performance depends on the size and heat dissipation qualities of the rotor it is braking in addition to the hydraulic calipers that come with the groupset. Your weight and speed, totally independent of the brakes, wheels, and rotors, also affect your braking performance.
All of this can lead to everything from strong, confident braking performance to brakes that squeal or fade or slow but never stop your bike in certain weather and/or road conditions.
I expect this is rather unsatisfying to read. Well, it was pretty unsatisfying to write too. If I could tell you that one groupset clearly brakes better than the others, I would. But, I can’t. There are just too many variables at play.
It is safe to say that all the rim and disc braking systems on Tier 1 and Tier 2 groupsets from Shimano, SRAM and Campy can be set up to perform well given whatever limitations your wheels, rotors, speed or weight imposes. So it’s best to compare them based on how they operate than on how they perform. If you have a strong preference for how one operates over the others, that can sway your groupset choice.
I’ll get into the unique ways each groupset operates in the next section on Design.
I evaluate drivetrain performance by considering the stiffness of the crankset and how smoothly the chain runs across the rings and cassette cogs.
The Tier 1 Shimano Dura Ace and SRAM Red are stiffer than their Tier 2 counterparts. Likewise, the chainrings on those cranksets are made in such a way that you get a smoother ride than those found on Tier 2 groupsets even with the more affordable and better wearing Ultegra and Force level chains. This might be important to racers and stronger enthusiasts putting out big watts. For most enthusiasts, however, I don’t think the added performance is worth paying more for.
Campy’s top three cranksets – Super Record, Record, and Chorus – are similarly stiff. Using a Super Record chain, which isn’t a whole lot more expensive than the Chorus one, will also make the Chorus crankset run just as smoothly as the Super Record or Record crankset.
As to the stiffness and smoothness performance difference between Shimano, SRAM, and Campy? I can’t tell a big difference and, for most of my fellow enthusiasts, it’s not likely you would be able to either.
Many riders say that shifter and derailleur performance is one of the two key things that separates groupsets. The second is how the shifting system operates, including its shifting logic, how it feels as you shift and brake, and what you can do to tune it to your preferences.
I normally consider things like how gear is made, how it works, how it looks, etc., to be design considerations that may affect how much you like it but may or may not determine how it performs. There are many ways, for example, to build a fast wheelset or bike and they usually look different and have different rim and tube shapes or follow different aerodynamic principles.
In the case of groupsets, however, I do believe that how your shifters and brakes work and how comfortable you are using them can play a role in the performance you get out of them. So let’s dig into these and other design differences from my list of design criteria.
Shimano, SRAM, and Campagnolo electronic groupset lines operate differently, principally in how they execute a shift.
Shimano’s Di2 electronic shifts are executed by pushing your finger on the large left paddle to move the front derailleur and chain to the smaller front ring (easier) and the right shift paddle to move the rear derailleur and chain to smaller rear cassette cogs (harder). You use the shift lever between the paddle and brake lever on the left to move to the larger ring (harder) and the one on the right to move to larger cogs (easier).
(Note, just like cars ride on the opposite sides of the road in the UK than in most places in the rest of the world, the left and right braking is switched for Shimano shifters sold to UK residents. Right brake lever applies the front wheel caliper; left brake lever applies the left wheel caliper. Shifting logic is unchanged. Chapeau to Pete, a UK reader who pointed this out to me.)
Another way to think of Shimano’s shifting logic: paddles move derailleurs to smaller ring and cogs; levers move derailleurs to larger ring and cogs.
For those of you experienced with Shimano mechanical shifters, this electronic shifting logic (or illogic as some would suggest) is the same. With the mechanical shifters, however, there is no shift lever between the paddle and brake lever. Instead, you push the brake lever itself toward the center of the bike to move to the larger cog or larger rings. The brake levers on Shimano electronic groupsets don’t shift or move inwards.
As the dominant groupset maker, this is the shifting that most cyclists know. If you’ve never used it before, it takes a bit to get used. Once you are, it’s second nature.
Campy’s shifting logic, also the same in their EPS electronic shifting as it is on their mechanical groupsets, is the opposite of Shimano’s. You use the large left finger paddle to move the front derailleur and chain to the larger front ring (harder) and the right finger paddle to move to a larger rear cog (easier).
Campy’s other shifters are triggered by your thumbs with levers that are on the inside of the hoods. Again, opposite to Shimano, the left thumb lever shifts your front derailleur to the smaller ring (easier) and the right thumb lever takes the chain to a smaller rear cog (harder).
Another way to think of Campy’s shifting logic: finger paddles move derailleurs to larger ring and cogs, thumb levers move derailleurs to smaller ring and cogs.
The SRAM eTap electronic shifting logic is, unlike Shimano and Campy, totally logical and intuitive. It takes about 15 seconds to learn unless your muscle memory is so well established around Shimano or Campy logic that you first have to unlearn their shifting logic to free yourself to use SRAM’s. In that case, it can take a couple of rides and maybe more than a couple beers to overcome your amazement at how stupid silly easy it is to shift with eTap.
With eTap, you simply push the paddle on the right to have the rear derailleur move the chain to a harder gear (smaller cog) and the paddle on the left to have that same rear derailleur move the chain to an easier gear (larger cog). You press both paddles at the same time to have the front derailleur move the chain from one ring to the other.
No levers. Two paddles do it all.
This is a major departure from SRAM’s mechanical DoubleTap shifting system. With that one, you push the finger paddle in a little to move a derailleur one way and push the same paddle further in to move the same derailleur the other way.
But hey, we’re talking about electronic shifting so let’s not bother with DoubleTap further. I also don’t much care for it but that’s for the mechanical groupset post.
While I’ll admit that we all have preferences, I will make the case that the Shimano logic and shifter layout is best. While not as logical as the SRAM eTap, both Shimano and Campy have a dedicated shifter for each action and I find that is ultimately what make them better designs than SRAM’s eTap or DoubleTap logic.
The latest Shimano Dura Ace and Ultegra Di2 levers are also larger and longer than the ones on prior models and are easily and naturally reached with a finger while either in the hoods or drops. They are right there where you hold your hands and you don’t need to reach for them in any position.
Reaching the thumb levers on the Campy shifters while in the hoods requires you to move your thumb away from your natural grip and slide it back to reach for the lever. It’s easy to do but it’s extra steps to move it to shift and then move it back to grip.
When you are in the drops, using the Campy thumb lever feels like a more natural movement as your thumb is right there where the lever is.
I know I’ll hear from Campy loyalists about all of this and that’s fine. It’s just one rider’s opinion looking for the pros and cons of all the shifting systems.
SRAM eTap’s “harder right, easier left” logic is super easy to pick up and makes total sense. Switching back and forth between bikes, I had to think about the Shimano or Campy logic when I using them and often shifted them as if I were riding the more intuitive eTap.
Since I probably ride 90% of the time in the big chainring, it almost seems like having separate shifters to change the front ring are like having “tits on a bull” – useless.
Except, when I do change the front chainring, it’s often after I’ve made a critical decision. See that hill up ahead? Is it steep or long enough that I’d be better taking it in the small ring or can I stay in the large one and use my 25t or 28t cog without slowing my cadence too much? Looks like it’s a long hill. I’ll switch to the smaller ring. No problem.
Hill flattening out? Let’s get back in the big ring. Do I have my cadence back up enough to switch yet?
Rollers taking me up and down? Shift to the small ring then back to big ring then back to the small ring…
On a long ride, when my mind and body are tiring and I’m making a lot of these decisions, I want to react more than think. My shifting decisions are made in a split second and made instinctively rather than with a whole lot of analysis.
You also have to know, largely through feel and experience, what front ring you are in before making those instinctive shifts on both your front rings and rear cogs.
I usually get it right, but certainly not 100% of the time.
With Shimano’s and Campy’s dedicated shifters, if I get it wrong – like trying to shift into the small ring when I’m already there – I’m fine. I push the paddle or lever to move the derailleur, don’t feel a change in resistance and realize I’m already where I want to be. I hit the paddle or lever to move the rear derailleur and chain into an easier cog.
If I think I’m in the large ring and try to shift into the small ring by pushing both the left and right eTap shifters but I’m already in the small ring, I’m f***ed. eTap will put me into the large ring at precisely the time I want to be making the resistance easier.
Same thing going the other way. I’m coming to the top of a roller, want to get back in the large ring, think I’m in the small ring because that hill sure felt tough, push both paddles to do so and it shifts me to the small ring… because I was already in the large ring. Sh*t!
It didn’t happen a lot but it happened enough to get me in the habit of looking down to see what ring I was in before making that front ring shift. Not what I want to be doing during key points in a ride.
I may be alone in having this kind of occasional big ring/small ring issue or I may be one of the few reviewers willing to admit it. But hey, I’m among friendly fellow cycling enthusiasts so I’m putting it out there. Let me know if there’s a 12-step program to cure my ring awareness issue. I know you can program your head unit to show you what gear ratio you are in so I’m guessing I’m not alone.
The “which ring am I in” question and the slower speed of the shifts I wrote about in the Performance section above is enough to turn me off the eTap shifting system.
With all three of these systems, you can move across multiple cogs at once by holding in the appropriate paddle or lever until it moves it where you want. In some systems, you can even program it to move a specific number of cogs when you hold it in. I’ve never found this particularly useful but it’s there if, for example, you ride a lot in the middle cogs and want to dump a bunch of gears when you hit a hill or want to shift up quickly to a much harder one when you crest the hill or pull ahead for a breakaway or sprint.
Ergonomics is a fancy-sounding word that means the study of how people interact with things with a focus on efficiency and safety. Applied to groupsets, the term is often dumbed down to mean how your hands feel shifting, braking, and resting while wrapped around your hoods and, to a lesser degree, in the drops. That description works for me.
This is highly subjective and aggressively marketed, so reader beware. My thoughts are as subjective and personal as yours. My only advantage, perhaps, is that I’ve evaluated all the models and will try to give you an unbiased view.
Those last two words make for an oxymoronic phrase… I know, but here goes.
Campy’s electronic rim brake hoods – Super Record, Record, and Chorus – all feel great and similar. They are low, small, wonderfully shaped and fit my average size hand comfortably. The hood covers have a nicely textured pattern atop them that keeps your hands in place, even if you aren’t wearing gloves on a hot day.
The electronic disc brake hoods come out a bit taller as they make room for the hydraulic cylinder. I’m perfectly ok with that though it is a distinctly different profile for Campy. If you grab these “horns” in that top or higher position, it does make it easier to square your elbows for a more aero position. On the other hand (sorry for the pun), you have to shift with your smaller fingers on the paddle and the thumb lever is that much further away.
Recall from above, having to move your thumb to line it up with the lever when your hands are in the hoods are the downside of Campy shifters in my view.
Shimano’s electronic paddles and levers have gotten bigger and better with its latest Dura Ace and Ultegra models. They are right there (you don’t have to reach for them) and easier to distinguish based on their placement and different surface textures than in past models, which I already thought was just ok.
Following Campy’s design lead, Shimano’s latest hood covers are textured to provide a good grip. The hoods are more upright than Campy but I don’t find that to affect much other than the angle of my wrists, and then only somewhat.
As Shimano has been through a few iterations of disc brake hoods, they have figured out how to fit whatever hydraulic components they’ve put inside without changing the size or feel you get in the rim brake hoods. SRAM and Campy haven’t yet.
Net, net, Shimano’s ergonomics are not as naturally comfortable as Campy but are more functional.
SRAM’s ergonomics didn’t leave me with the impression of having a unique personality. And maybe that’s a good thing. Distinctiveness can sometimes put off more people than bland does.
The eTap paddles are large, accessible and make the action of shifting feel easy. The rim brake hoods are slightly wider than the Campy or Shimano but not an issue for my medium hands. eTap hydraulic hoods are both taller and wider still. It all works.
In cycling as in almost every other part of our lives, when electronics overtakes mechanical systems, programmability and customization follow. One only need to look at what has become of basic home thermostat after a couple of generations of electronics, software, and smartphone technology come together.
We’ve gone from adjusting an analog dial that moves a mercury switch sitting on a coil spring to programming static times and temperatures into an ugly letter-sized box hanging on your wall to having a luminescing, hockey puck-sized orb automatically learning and programming itself to your family’s energy use habits and seasonal surroundings.
While none of the groupset makers have quite changed the shifting experience the way Nest has transformed the good old Honeywell thermostat, it seems they are definitely trying to move in that direction with new programmability features available in their latest electronics.
With Shimano’s latest Di2, for example, you can program your shift paddles and levers to do pretty much whatever you want, rendering all that somewhat tortured shifting logic you just above moot. While you can’t do that with Campy’s EPS V3, you can alter the speed and force which the derailleurs move.
You can go further with Shimano’s Synchronised Shifting and Campagnolo’s Shift Assist and have your rear cogs automatically adjust to the position you would normally shift them to after changing from the large to small ring or vice versa.
And, if you want to take all the thinking out of your shifting, you can set up your Di2 to have your right-hand paddle and lever shift to the next harder or easier gear ratio using the entire range of your rings and cassette to minimize the changes in your pedaling rhythm. It’s just like a 1X with much shorter jumps between shifts.
There are many other combinations and options and numerous press releases ladled out by the PR arms for “first look” stories at major cycling publications. You can get all nerdy about these things in those stories. Needless to say, if you are a cycling gear geek freak, the sky is the limit in what you’ll be able to do with some of these electronics.
All my blather above about making the decisions whether and when to go into the small ring and then back to the big ring later? I’m free to just pedal and blissfully shift. You program your preferences on your smartphone app and then just click a paddle for harder and another for easier and the Di2 gear selection and shifting is done for you.
“Heresy,” you say? “As bad as motor doping, electronic shifting, 11, 10 or 9 speeds, integrated shifters, indexing ….”
You don’t have to use it and you can limit which decisions it makes and which you retain. But, since you are deep into this review of electronic groupsets, I thought I’d let you know that it’s out there.
My fellow In The Know Cycling reviewer and road, TT, climbing and cross racer Nate (no limit to what that boy will do) has been testing out Synchronized Shifting, also available as an upgrade option on the last generation Shimano Dura Ace and Ultegra Di2 systems. I’m also curious (and love my Nest thermostat) so will try Synchronized Shifting out too.
Whether this is a game-changer (doubt it) or just another of many bells & whistles (likely) only time and rider experience will tell. It certainly is intriguing though.
Shift and Brake Lever Throw, Adjustability, and Feedback
Consistent with Di2’s quick, crisp shifting, there is very little “throw” or travel the shift paddle and lever makes before the shifting starts. The EPS and eTap throw is more typical of what you experience in mechanical shifts.
Two types of brake lever adjustments can be made with these groupsets. Adjusting the “reach” sets up the distance of the lever from the hood to fit the size of your hands while “free stroke” position allows you to vary where the brakes begin to kick in along the lever travel.
The new Di2 groupsets have more adjustable levers on their rim brake levers than in the past and free stroke adjustment on their disc brake levers for the first time. Personally, I’d like to see more free stroke options than the minimal amount offered now.
Campy’s EPS brake lever reach is set up short by default but is highly adjustable with the turn of a screw. The H11 disc brake free stroke options are limited, either long or short. SRAM’s hydraulic eTap shifters also have free stroke adjustment.
Feedback is an issue that many riders and writers have commented on, especially with very little audio or tactile response coming out of the first couple generations of Shimano Di2 shifters. Campy EPS shifters sound and feel nearly the same as their mechanical ones.
The cultural divide is clear. Do we make the new gear sound and feel like the old gear or do we move forward? After all, the derailleurs on all three systems have a different sound when they are moved and the chain sounds and feels much smoother going from ring to ring and cog to cog with the better derailleur accuracy each provides.
In reality, pushing an electronic shifter is like flipping a switch on the wall or pushing a button on your phone – you have to create a sound and feeling of resistance where one wouldn’t naturally be there with a tensioned cable being tightened or released.
For me, I never got all the attention to this feedback issue. I can hear the shifting in my drivetrain where it matters and I can certainly feel it in my legs where it matters the most. But, Shimano heard and felt the reaction from riders and critics enough to add sound and feeling into their shifts on their latest Di2 groupsets.
If you are an enthusiast moving from a 10- or 11-speed mechanical groupset you’ve probably already got a good deal of experience with the unique design characteristics of the Shimano, Campagnolo or SRAM shifters you’ve been using which largely continues into their electronic groupset range.
I don’t see either the Di2, EPS or eTap having enough design superiority compared to the others to move you from whatever shifting platform you’ve successfully used in the past in the way that cost or performance might. If you aren’t thrilled or don’t feel anything holding you to your current groupset experience, you can consider these design aspects along with cost and performance criteria above.
If you currently have an earlier generation electronic Di2 or EPS groupset and are considering upgrading, I can’t see any design-based reason for a switch from one to the other or to an eTap.
While much has been made about the wireless SRAM eTap design, the only advantage I see of eTap being wireless is saving you about an hour of installation time. A lot of reviewers at the big cycling publications have worked as mechanics at some point, continue to set up groupsets and other components as part of their testing protocols. With that in mind, I can see where eTap’s easier installation might raise the attractiveness of the whole groupset based on this.
From my perspective, however, the press about a wireless groupset changing the game was all out of proportion to the actual benefits wireless brings for riders like you and me.
Most enthusiasts won’t install their own groupsets so saving an hour of shop labor isn’t a big deal. Even those of you who are home wrenches are still going to have to run brake cables or hydraulic lines, set up your derailleurs, brakes and other components.
Once you save that installation time, there’s really no advantage of your shifters and derailleurs being wireless. You still see your brake cables or hydraulic fluid carrying tubes as they go in and out of your frame.
Why mention wireless in the “battery life” section? Well, it’s because one of the downsides of the eTap being a wireless system is that it has about half the battery life of the Di2 and EPS batteries. Because it’s wireless, you have batteries at each derailleur and shifter to recharge.
Having the shifters and derailleurs wired together, the Di2 and EPS systems each use one battery that powers everything. The systems’ battery fits in your seat post and is larger than the two eTap derailleur batteries, likely contributing to the longer life of the Di2 and EPS batteries. Plan to charge them every 2 months or 2,000 miles/3,000 kilometers.
I found the eTap batteries lasted 4-6 weeks depending on whether it was the one powering the front or rear derailleur and how much Nate or I were riding it. The batteries in the shifters use replaceable button cell batteries and should last a couple years. They never needed to be changed in over four months of our riding.
Four to six weeks is plenty long and certainly a lot longer than the batteries on my head unit, lights and other electronics that I charge every week.
In reality, I don’t think eTap’s reduced installation time or one less set of wires is much of a benefit or that its more limited battery life is much of a drawback. The fact that it’s wireless is different but doesn’t improve performance, reduce cost or create a better shifting or braking experience (logic, ergonomics, programmability, etc.).
The game is unchanged by wireless.
Component Materials and Weight
To this point, I’ve written mostly about the performance and design differences company-wide between Shimano’s Di2, SRAM’s eTap, and Campagnolo’s EPS groupsets. I haven’t said why prices diverge so much between Tier 1 and Tier 2 electronic groupsets made by Shimano or Campagnolo and only described drivetrain performance differences between some Tier 1 and Tier 2 sets and better shifting of Dura Ace over Ultegra.
Note that Shimano makes the Tier 1 Dura Ace R9150 and R9170 electronic rim and disc brake groupset and the Tier 2 Ultegra R8050 and R8070 electronic rim and disc brake groupsets. Campagnolo makes the Tier 1 Super Record and Record electronic and disc brake groupsets and the Tier 2 Chorus electronic rim brake groupset. SRAM makes both a Tier 1, 12-speed Red eTap AXS and 11-speed Red eTap along with the 12-speed Force eTap AXS. Both the Red and Force eTap AXS groupsets come in disc and rim brake versions.
Beyond whatever product management and marketing feel they need to do with pricing to separate all that they sell, the only other product differences I can see that might lead to the big price spread between Tier 1 and Tier 2 groupsets are the materials used and component weights those materials yield.
Different materials can improve performance and affect durability. For example, the thicker material on the Shimano Dura Ace front derailleurs combined with the finish it uses creates a stronger, smoother shifting, and longer lasting component.
On the flip side, Dura Ace cassettes use titanium to reduce weight in the larger, attached cogs. These wear more quickly than the steel ones used on Ultegra and cost a whole lot more without any notable performance difference.
Of course, most groupset makers market the lighter weight of more expensive groupsets to justify the higher prices.
— Pause for dramatic effect as Pandora’s Box slowly opens and the requisite creaking door sound can be heard —
Carbon, titanium, and some aluminum alloy are used in Tier 1 gruppos and mostly aluminum, steel, and some carbon in Tier 2. This creates the weight differences that are marketed and reported so heavily.
While racers, weight weenies, and 1%ers may value lighter weight on its own, a couple hundred grams less weight in a groupset as you move up a tier doesn’t lead to across-the-board performance improvements. For the great majority of us, actually 98.6% according to my latest, highly unscientific estimate, a couple hundred gram or half pound weight difference doesn’t matter at all.
Don’t agree? Are you still considering perhaps doubling your spending to buy a Tier 1 over a Tier 2 groupset or buying one brand over another because of small weight differences rather than performance ones? Well, tell me whether you answer yes to any of these questions.
- Do you know how much extra weight you are adding if you carry a second water bottle?
- Do you know how much the bars and gels weigh that you stuff in your jersey pocket?
- Do you believe the component weight claims made by manufacturers?
- Are you measuring how many ounces of food you are taking in at each of your meals?
- Could you afford to drop a few kilos or pounds (or more) from your midsection?
Sorry, that last one was a low blow, albeit still (just) above the belt.
If you answered yes to only the last question, well then work on your own weight first, forget about the added grams of a Tier 2 gruppo or the 50 or 100g claimed weight difference between Brand X and Brand Y, and put that extra money back in your jersey pocket (paper currency is light) or into an electronic gruppo or a better wheelset.
The performance differences between electronic shifters Tier 1 and Tier 2 groupsets made by the same company are very hard to distinguish. On the other hand, the price differences are hard to fathom.
After evaluating Campagnolo’s top three electronic groupsets a few years ago whose market prices were roughly $4000, $3000 and $2000 for the Super Record EPS, Record EPS and Athena EPS models respectively, Leonard Zinn, VeloNews’ longtime technical writer commented:
“Athena EPS provides the same snappy, accurate shifting (with overshift and return over the gear as well as auto-trim with chain angle) and whirring sound of the 12,000-16,000-RPM servo motors as Record and Super Record EPS. It also offers the same great ergonomics and hassle-free function in the cold, even with thick gloves, as its predecessors. The feel of the shifters with the “MultiDome” layers of domed spring steel under the lever is also the same. The entire Athena EPS group with aluminum Power Torque cranks weighs 2452 grams (using the Athena carbon Power Torque cranks cuts another 100 or so grams off its weight). Compare that to 2098 grams for Super Record EPS and 2184 grams for Record EPS. And there simply is no difference in performance.”
Chorus has taken the place of Athena in Campy’s lineup since Zinn wrote this. The point he made still stands.
Disc brake vs. Rim brake groupsets
Disc brake groupsets are new relative to their rim brake brethren. The biggest differences between each company’s rim and disc brake models, beyond the brakes themselves, have been in the shifter and brake lever component size and ergonomics.
While some of the latest electronic disc brake shifters have been designed to feel very similar in the hand as rim brake ones (notably Shimano), this isn’t universally the case yet. Campy’s and SRAM’s are still noticeably larger than their rim brake ones. While not necessarily worse than a smaller hood (unless you have small hands), you do hold these differently.
Disc brake caliper designs are common across groupsets within a company line and it’s hard to distinguish meaningful brake performance differences between them.
The drivetrain components of groupsets – cranks, rings, chains, cassettes – are mature and the same whether rim or disc brake for Shimano and SRAM. Campy’s disc brake cranksets are different than their rim brake ones.
Generally speaking, groupset components are durable. Shifters, derailleurs, brake levers, brake calipers, chainsets – essentially everything in a groupset except your chain, cassette, and cables (mechanical) – typically last many years past their warranty period.
Of course, you will need to change your brake pads, cassette, chain, and cables (mechanical) as they wear out. Their wear depends on the pads, cassette, etc. that you start with, how much and how hard you ride them, and how well you keep them clean and serviced.
Wearable parts aside, riding your bike 2,000 to 5,000 miles per year, as most road cycling enthusiasts do, should easily ensure you 5 years of trouble-free riding on Tier 1 or 2 groupsets. Most problems come about from allowing road dirt to build up and from a lack of regular service (minimally once every 5,000 miles) of the drive train. Fortunately, most issues can be addressed with cleaning, lubricating and adjusting.
So, wash and tune-up your bike and you’ll avoid most issues. If you are a serious cyclist, there’s no excuse to not take care of your machine.
Campagnolo owners speak about their ability to rebuild any component. Their mechanicals are built to last a lifetime and can be torn down and rebuilt as needed. Shimano and SRAM components are not built to that standard (and likely cost less because of it), but I’m not aware of any issues that suggest their parts require more frequent repairs or replacement within the reasonable life of the groupset.
Electronic groupsets have shown to be very dependable as well. Some traditionalists worry about battery life but this is a charging consideration rather than a quality issue. Concerns about water, shorts and other things that might normally plague electronics in rough environments have proven to be unfounded for modern electronic groupsets, likely due to the way they have been designed and the length of time they have been tested. And we now have more than enough years of experience with electronic groupsets from each manufacturer to have surfaced any systemic issues. I’m not aware of any.
Campagnolo provides a 3-year warranty on materials and workmanship. Shimano offers a 3-year on its Dura Ace line and 2 years on its other groupsets. SRAM groupsets are covered by a 2-year warranty. All of these warranties apply only to the original purchaser who has his or her receipt.
Shimano is a huge company in the cycling industry and has over 10 times the worldwide cycling revenue of Campagnolo, both of which make other cycling products, notably wheelsets. The US market is less than 20% of Campy’s overall revenue and their full-time US employee base numbers in the single digits.
SRAM is larger overall than Campagnolo, larger in the US (though perhaps smaller in Europe), and larger in road groupsets even though it has been in the road groupset market since only 2008. SRAM also has a large mountain bike business, owns the Zipp wheels and Quarq powermeters divisions along with several other mountain-bike focused cycling brands all of which are served by the same dealer and service network.
Why do I mention this?
Service is an important criterion in the quality category evaluation. Much as I admire Campagnolo’s products, fewer sales and direct employees can translate to a smaller number of service shops, fewer trained repairmen, slower roll-out of service training for new groupsets, and fewer parts stocked in a smaller distribution network.
If you live outside the EU and UK, you should thoroughly examine how many qualified service shops (not dealers) Campagnolo has near where you ride, what training their shop techs have had, and how experienced they are installing and servicing the groupset you are interested in. You should also ask how long it takes to get key replacement parts (for example, a derailleur or electronic control module) before buying a Campy groupset.
Same goes for SRAM’s road cycling products outside the US. I would still check but would be less concerned about Shimano since they are the dominant groupset supplier in most markets.
Your shifters, derailleurs, brake levers, brake calipers, cranks, front rings, junction box, and wires should hold up fine over the life of a good groupset like those I’ve evaluated for this review, though if you take a fall and damage one of these, you may need to replace it. Shimano seemed to be conscious of this when they designed earlier model electronic derailleurs which were somehow supposed to get out-of-the-way if they sense contact. The newest derailleurs draw from their off-road groupset experience and are placed closer to the frame than the cassette or crankset, further reducing the chance of their getting damaged in a crash.
Some cycling enthusiasts are good with a wrench and can significantly reduce their cost of ownership by maintaining their own groupset. For those used to going to the shop, the trips to replace and tune your components can add up in both money and time. I’m always adding to my own little service area in the garage to fix some of the things I can do myself and reduce my cost of ownership while avoiding the hassle of making those trips to the shop and losing riding time.
The cost of getting the tools and such are probably almost a wash compared to what you’ll save doing your own maintenance in the first year, but you’ll be ahead after that. It will also make you more aware and confident about what’s going on with your bike. If you want to do more of your own maintenance, check out the video series on BikeRadar or VeloNews, both very good.
While I made my recommendations earlier, I recognize and respect that you may view things differently. With that in mind, you can find links below to each of the current model year Tier 1 and 2 electronic and mechanical groupsets and conversion components from stores who carry them and offer the best prices I’ve found. If you only need to replace or pick up a couple of components, these same stores have some of the best prices and inventory on individual components too.
You can also search and compare prices for drivetrain components by clicking on this link to Know’s Shop. I set up the shop for you to search for the best prices on the best selection of enthusiast-level gear from stores I recommend because they have high customer satisfaction ratings.
Thanks. Enjoy your ride safely.
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- Dura Ace 9150 Di2 rim brake groupset: Merlin Cycles, Know’s Shop
- Dura Ace 9150 Di2 rim brake conversion kit components: Competitive Cyclist 10% off one-time w/code ITKCC20, Merlin, Wiggle, Tredz 10% off w/code ITKTDZ10
- Dura Ace 9170 Di2 disc brake groupset: link to Know’s Shop
- Dura Ace 9170 Di2 disc conversion kit components: Competitive Cyclist 10% off one-time w/code ITKCC20, Merlin, Wiggle, Tredz 10% off w/code ITKTDZ10
- Dura Ace 9100 mechanical rim brake groupset: Competitive Cyclist 10% off one-time w/code ITKCC20, Merlin, Chain Reaction Cycles, Wiggle
- Dura Ace 9120 mechanical disc brake groupset: link to Know’s Shop
- Dura Ace 9120 mechanical disc brake conversion kit components: Competitive Cyclist 10% off one-time w/code ITKCC20, Merlin, Wiggle, Chain Reaction Cycles
- Ultegra 8050 Di2 rim brake groupset: link to Know’s Shop
- Ultegra 8050 Di2 rim brake conversion kit components: Competitive Cyclist 10% off one-time w/code ITKCC20, Merlin, Chain Reaction Cycles, Wiggle, Tweeks, Tredz 10% off w/code ITKTDZ10
- Ultegra 8070 Di2 disc brake groupset: link to Know’s Shop
- Ultegra 8070 Di2 disc brake conversion kit components: Competitive Cyclist 10% off one-time w/code ITKCC20, Merlin, Wiggle, Chain Reaction Cycles, Tweeks, Tredz 10% off w/code ITKTDZ10
- Ultegra 8000 mechanical rim brake groupset: Competitive Cyclist 10% off one-time w/code ITKCC20, Merlin, Chain Reaction Cycles
- Ultegra 8020 mechanical disc brake groupset: Merlin, Chain Reaction Cycles, Wiggle
- Ultegra 8020 mechanical disc brake conversion kit components: Competitive Cyclist 10% off one-time w/code ITKCC20, Merlin, Chain Reaction Cycles, Wiggle, Tweeks
- Red eTap AXS rim brake groupset (12-speed): Competitive Cyclist, Merlin, Tweeks, Chain Reaction Cycles, Wiggle, Tredz 10% off w/code ITKTDZ10
- Force eTap AXS rim brake groupset (12-speed): Competitive Cyclist, Merlin, Tweeks, Chain Reaction Cycles, Wiggle, Tredz 10% off w/code ITKTDZ10
- Red eTap AXS HRD groupset (12-speed, hydraulic): Competitive Cyclist, Merlin, Tweeks, Chain Reaction Cycles, Wiggle
- Force eTap AXS HRD groupset (12-speed, hydraulic): Competitive Cyclist, Merlin, Tweeks, Chain Reaction Cycles, Wiggle
- Red eTap rim brake groupset (11-speed): UK/EU Tredz 10% off w/code ITKTDZ10.
- Red eTap disc brake groupset: UK/EU Merlin, Wiggle, Chain Reaction Cycles, Tredz 10% off w/code ITKTDZ10, Tweeks
- Red mechanical groupset: Merlin
- Force 22 groupset:
- Red 22 components: Competitive Cyclist, Merlin, Chain Reaction Cycles, Wiggle, Tweeks, Tredz 10% off w/code ITKTDZ10
- Force 22 components: Competitive Cyclist, Merlin, Chain Reaction Cycles, Wiggle, Tweeks, Tredz 10% off w/code ITKTDZ10
- Super Record 12-speed groupsets: Know’s Shop
- Super Record 11 & 12-speed components: Competitive Cyclist 10% off one-time w/code ITKCC20, Merlin, Chain Reaction Cycles, Wiggle
- Record 12×2 groupsets: Know’s Shop
- Record 11 & 12-speed components: Competitive Cyclist 10% off one-time w/code ITKCC20, Merlin, Chain Reaction Cycles, Wiggle
- Chorus groupsets: Know’s Shop
- Chorus 11 & 12-speed components: Competitive Cycling 10% off one-time w/code ITKCC20, Merlin, Wiggle, Chain Reaction Cycles
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Thanks and enjoy your riding safely!