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    Everything about road bike gears

    Sophia Willmes
    Sophia Willmes
    Mar 4, 2024 14 min
    Everything about road bike gears

    What really drives your road bike?

    A bicycle should ride. It should roll smoothly, accelerate comfortably, and its own applied power should ideally fire the bicycle's drive as directly as possible. But how exactly does it work? Nothing less than the rear derailleur is responsible for the drive of our bike - and this is especially important on the road bike. After all, no other type of bike is so much about performance and smooth speed. So today we take a closer look at the road bike rear derailleur and introduce you to the Big Three of the shifting game: SRAM, Shimano and Campagnolo. So everyone please shift up a gear, because here comes: What really drives your road bike?

    1. How to shift gears on a road bike?

    Generally, a distinction is made between derailleur and hub gears. Road bikes are primarily driven by derailleurs, whose shifting group is controlled by shift levers on the brake levers. When these are actuated, an impulse is sent to the rear derailleur and front derailleur, which then throw the chain from one sprocket or blade (depending on whether rear or front shifting is used) to the next.

    Brake lever and shift lever are located on the road bike, in contrast to the mountain bike in a single component. This union within a handle unit has mainly practical reasons, after all, the hands can remain in one position and riders save time, energy and concentration when shifting.

    Photo by Munbaik Cycling Clothing / Unsplash

    There are three different types of switching systems: Mechanical, electronic and hydraulic. They differ in the way the shifting impulse is transmitted to the rear derailleur and front derailleur.

    Mechanical switching system

    The shift levers are connected to the rear derailleur and front derailleur via shift cables. When you switch, this changes the voltage of the cables and this then triggers the switching operation. The mechanical switching system works relatively simple and is also just as simple and inexpensive to maintain, repair or replace. However, this is also necessary, because the shift cables must be replaced sooner or later.

    Electronic switching system

    Here, an electronic impulse is transmitted by radio or cable from the shift lever, which triggers a precise and reliable shifting process in which a small electric motor moves the chain. The shift levers are easier to operate and, unlike the mechanical shifting system, nothing needs to be readjusted or replaced. On the other hand, the electronic shifting system costs more and can hardly be repaired if it should ever break.

    Hydraulic switching system

    This model weighs more than the other two and is perhaps also therefore a rarity among road bike gears. The impulse to shift is transmitted here by hydraulic fluid, the circuit itself thus works optimally.

    2. What belongs to a switching group?

    The shifting group takes care of the two most important things when riding a bike: The driving and the braking. Therefore, it consists not only of crank, chain, chainrings, cassette, rear derailleur, front derailleur and shift lever, which together provide the drive, but also the rim or disc brakes. This package can be assembled from various parts from different manufacturers, but it is common (and also uncomplicated) to buy all components of the shifting group in a complete package from one manufacturer.  

    3. How many gears do you need for a road bike?

    Most bikes have a double crank and eleven or twelve sprockets. This means that you have 22 gears (with eleven sprockets), or 24 (with twelve sprockets). This combination results from the so-called gear ratio, that is, the ratio of the number of sprockets on the cassette rear and the number of chainrings on the crank front. There are single, double and triple cranks. Do not worry, we explain the differences in more detail in the toggle at the end of this article if you want.

    4. Which manufacturers have proven themselves?

    Three manufacturers are the kings of the mountain when it comes to road bike groupsets: Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo. If you want to learn more about the three, then off to the toggle.

    5. What gear groups are on the market?

    Basically, each of you can find a suitable to him / her shifting group - but just because this immense selection can overwhelm, we arrange you a few models of our Big Three more precisely.


    Beginners range: The Shimano Tourney and Claris are the least expensive models and well suited for beginners:inside. The Shimano Sora or Tiagra are also a rock-solid choice for those with less pronounced sporty ambitions among you.

    Medium / high price range: The notorious Shimano 105 is not for nothing probably the most common circuit. It is not as light as more expensive models, but is still extremely competitive. The Shimano Ultegra is one of the top models and is also offered as an electronic shifting group, as the so-called Shimano Ultegra Di2. The Shimano Dura-Ace combines carbon, titanium and aluminum components and is driven by some teams even at the Tour de France!


    Medium price range: The Campagnolo Veloce can be compared well with the Shimano 105. The Campagnolo Centaur is also rather a model for beginners:inside, but still offers excellent performance. The Campagnolo Potenza is similar to the Shimano Ultegra and the Campagnolo Chorus, which is almost entirely made of carbon, is the cheaper variant among Campagnolo's top groups.

    High price range: The Campagnolo Record and Super Record are also available as an electronic shift group. Campagnolo then provides them with the name EPS, which stands for "electronic power shift". Both are super light and very efficient, you will not find better groupsets at Campagnolo.


    Beginners range: The SRAM Apex is the best model from SRAM for beginners:inside.

    Medium / high price range: The SRAM Rival from Aluminum plays in the same field as the Shimano 105 and the Campagnolo Cenatur. The SRAM Force is similar to the Shimano Ultegra, but its installed carbon elements improve stiffness and weight. The SRAM Apex, Rival and Force are also available with only one chainring and the SRAM Redis comparable to the Campagnolo Record. SRAM also manufactures the Red as an electronic group, the Red eTap, which is available without cables. The jewel among the SRAM groups but is definitely the SRAM Red eTap AXS.

    6. Which shifting group suits me?

    This much in advance: The greatest influence on your riding style is still you and your training, not some shifting group. So that you feel well supported by the technology of your bike, it is worthwhile to briefly go inside yourself and assess your own level. As a beginner:inside you may not want to spend so much money yet and the Shimano Claris, Tiagra, Sora or the SRAM Apex will make not only your wallet, but also you happy. For those of you who spend more time on their road bike or are already a bit more advanced, the Shimano 105 or the Ultegra, the SRAM Rival or Campagnolo Centaur. The high-priced models, so the Shimano Ultegra Di2 or the SRAM Red ETAP AXS are probably only worthwhile for very ambitious hobby cyclists:inside or the true professionals.

    For specific questions about the groupset or your road bike the buycycle-team will help you or the information on our blog. Are you looking for a road bike, then take a look at buycycle.com after all, nowhere else is it so easy, fast and safe to sell your old bike or find the new old bike of your dreams. Until then, we wish you, as always: Happy browsing, happy cycling!

    Everything on the subject of road bike gears | buycycle

    Bicycle components are often declared a matter of faith by passionate cyclists. Flawless performance is particularly important for road bikes. After all, it's all about speed. This is made possible by the smooth functionality of the components. The gearshift is essential in this respect. The shifting process is always adapted to the cadence of the driver. This allows the applied energy to be ideally converted into drive. Rear derailleurs differ in handling depending on the manufacturer. What works intuitively for one consumer, leads to confusion for others during the gear change. There are also variations in the type of shifting and number of gears. In addition to performance, this also affects weight and price. In addition, the attachment to the brand also plays a role for many road cyclists. Three manufacturers in particular have established themselves at the top of the road bike groupsets: Shimano, Sram and Campagnolo. We give a detailed overview of the functionality of road bike groupsets and present renowned manufacturers along with popular models.

    How do you shift gears on a road bike?

    In general, bicycles are distinguished between derailleur and hub gears. In the racing bike sector, you will mainly find derailleur gears. The road bike is driven via a shifting group. Brake-shift levers are attached to the road bike handlebars. As the name suggests, both brake levers and shift levers are integrated into one component. This distinguishes the road bike from other types of bikes such as mountain bikes. Depending on the manufacturer, there are other special features in the arrangement of the respective levers. The unification within one grip unit on the road bike has practical reasons. The hands can remain in one position and do not wander between different levers. In order to always maintain the most productive cadence, it must be possible to react quickly. For example, in the event of a surprising rise or exhaustion of the leg muscles. By operating the levers, an impulse for shifting or braking is sent to the brake bodies or to the rear derailleur and front derailleur. An impulse to the rear derailleur makes the chain jump to another sprocket. An impulse to the front derailleur moves the chain to another chainring. Three different types of shifting systems are available: mechanical, electronic and hydraulic. The transmission of the impulse to the rear derailleur and front derailleur differs here.

    1. The mechanical shifting system is connected to the rear derailleur and front derailleur via shift cables. These cables can run along the frame or inside the frame. Operating the levers on the handlebars changes the tension of the cables and thus triggers the shifting process. The design of mechanical shifting is easy to understand and can be repaired on the go. This circuit is inexpensive and spare parts such as broken shift cables can be purchased at any bike store. Replacing the shift cables is inevitable sooner or later. During the shifting process, the shift cables are stressed and show increased wear. If the shift cables are bent, shifting can be sluggish and delayed.
    2. The electronic shifting system works via an electronic pulse that is given via the shift lever. This is transmitted to the rear derailleur or front derailleur by radio or cable. A small electric motor then moves the chain. The shifting process is very precise. The shift levers are easier to operate. Adjusting or changing the cables is not necessary, in contrast to mechanical shifting. For this, a rechargeable battery is necessary, which must be charged from time to time. Also the repair on the way is hardly possible with an electronic circuit. The purchase price is higher than for the mechanical system.
    3. The hydraulic shifting system is rarely seen. The impulse for shifting is transmitted by hydraulic fluid. The shifting system works even with bent hydraulic lines. Once the shifting is adjusted, it works optimally. However, it weighs more than the other types of shifters. It can also be difficult to repair on the road, as this type is hardly common.

    What belongs to a switching group?

    Road bike groups mean both brakes and drive of the road bike. So they take care of the most important thing: driving and stopping. It can also be combined drive and brakes of different brands. Usually, however, is a complete package that is matched to each other. Braking is done by rim brakes or disc brakes. The drive includes some components more. These include the crank, chainrings, chain, cassette - the sprocket package, rear derailleur and front derailleur and the shift lever. If you operate the shift lever on the steering wheel, an impulse is sent to the front derailleur or rear derailleur. If the rear derailleur is activated, the chain moves to another sprocket within the cassette. If the front derailleur is activated, the chain changes the chainring. The gear ratio results from the combination of sprockets and chainring. Chainrings are located on the crank. The position of the front derailleur determines over which sprocket the chain moves.

    How many gears for a road bike?

    In short, most road bike gear groups contain a double crank and eleven or twelve sprockets. So with eleven sprockets you have 22 gears, with twelve sprockets 24 gears. We'll explain that in more detail here. The question of gears for a road bike can be clarified with the help of the gear ratio. The gear ratio is the combination of the number of chainrings in the front and the number of sprockets on the cassette in the rear. The number of chainrings is determined by the crank. There are single, double or triple cranks.

    • The single crank holds a chainring and thus requires no derailleur. From the smallest sprocket to the largest sprocket can be easily switched through. After all, the chain does not have to be placed on another chainring. This minimizes the susceptibility to errors for the driver during shifting. Single cranks come from the MTB sector, they are also used on cyclocross bikes.
    • The double crank holds two, the triple crank holds three chainrings. Two-speed cranks can be subdivided again: Compact cranks, mid-compact cranks / pro-compact cranks and standard cranks differ in the number of teeth within the large chainring and small chainring. Most road bikes are used with two-speed cranks. Standard cranks are often used by professionals. Triple cranks are more likely to be installed in entry-level bikes or recreational models.

    Pedals are screwed to the cranks. Both pedals have a different thread. The right pedal has a right-hand thread, the left a left-hand thread. Usually the pedal axle contains a small marking with L or R. During the ride, the pedals can therefore not be loosened by pedaling. By the way, if you experience pain in your knees or hips after cycling, it is not necessarily due to the frame height or seat height. The crank radius might also not be suitable for the rider.

    Which manufacturers have proven themselves?

    Three manufacturers dominate the market when it comes to road bike groupsets: Shimano, Sram and Campagnolo.

    Shimano: The Japanese brand Shimano is by far the market leader for groupsets, as well as in other segments. It not only produces shift groups for road bikes, but also for most other bike models. Bicycle brands like to purchase shift groups from one manufacturer to produce complete bikes. This allows better prices to be achieved in purchasing. In addition, Shimano offers components in all price categories. Shimano is therefore installed in most complete wheels on the market. Spare parts can be purchased in any specialty store from this manufacturer. In addition, groups from Shimano have been based on the same shifting scheme for years. Among themselves, different groupsets from Shimano can be combined, as long as they have the same number of gears. In addition, the brand stands for mature circuits and good quality assurance. Shimano is therefore the manufacturer for the masses. You know what to expect for your money and get spare parts on every corner. Many long-time bike enthusiasts lack the emotional connection to Shimano.

    Campagnolo: The Italian manufacturer Campagnolo produces exclusively components for road bikes. It is the oldest manufacturer of road bike groupsets. Their products are in the middle and upper price segment. They are considered a manufacturer of top groupsets that are very durable. Campagnolo installs an additional thumb shift lever. Thus, with mechanical shifting, several gears can be shifted at once. Since each shift lever has only one function, it is very conclusive. The brand records some fans. Campagnolo conveys feelings and an attachment to the brand. Their chains can only be riveted with original tool. So you need special tools, which makes the purchase of the components a big price issue.

    SRAM: The U.S. company Sram stands for innovation and lightweight components. Their shift groups get by with only one shift lever per side. They also offer a wireless electric shifting system. SRAM is strongly pushed on the components market and has established itself in the high-priced segment.

    Other manufacturers such as FSA or microSHIFT also offer shift groups on the market. With the sales figures of Shimano, Campagnolo or Sram, no one keeps up.

    What shift groups are on the market?

    Good quality has its price here. This starts with the manufacturing material. Models in the low price segment are often made of aluminum. If you spend more money here, you get higher-quality aluminum alloys, carbon or titanium. On the one hand, this is noticeable in the weight - the carbon variants are significantly lighter. On the other hand, the shifting process improves and the shifting group suffers its wear more slowly. Shimano offers shifting groups in every price segment.


    • Entry-level range: Shimano Tourney and Shimano Claris are the most cost-effective models and suitable for beginners or occasional riders. Shimano Sora and Shimano Tiagra would be perfectly adequate for many cyclists without particularly pronounced sporting ambitions. One must not forget that the technology of former more expensive groups is obsolete and built into inexpensive models.
    • Medium / high price range: Shimano 105 offers excellent value for money and is probably the most common circuit. It is not as light as more expensive models but still competitive. Shimano Ultegra is one of the top models and differs in its materials compared to the most expensive model. It is also offered as an electronic shifting group, the so-called Shimano Ultegra Di2. This is Shimano's name for their electronic shifting series: "Digital integrated intelligence". The Shimano Dura-Ace combines carbon titanium and aluminum components. Some professional teams rely on the lightness, efficiency and durability of this shifting group in the Tour de France.


    • Mid price range: The Campagnolo Veloce is comparable to the Shimano 105. Made of aluminum, it is heavier than its big siblings. Campagnolo Centaur belongs to the entry-level group of Campagnolo, but represents excellent performance compared to other manufacturers and rear derailleurs. Only nuances make the difference with more expensive models that can become significant in competition. Campagnolo Potenza is comparable to the Shimano Ultegra. Compared to the more expensive models, more aluminum was used. The Campagnolo Chorus uses a lot of carbon and is the cheaper variant to Campagnolo's top groups.
    • High price range: The Campagnolo Record and Campagnolo Super Record are the top group of Campagnolo. All three are also available for purchase as an electronic shift group. Campagnolo provides them with the name EPS, which stands for "electronic power shift". The Campagnolo Super Record combines titanium elements and ceramic bearings. Super light and very high efficiency distinguish them. Sram groupsets stand for innovation and lightness.


    • Entry-level range: The Sram Apex is the entry-level model and comparable to the Shimano Sora and Tiagra.
    • Medium / high price range: SRAM Rival is comparable to Shimano 105 and Campagnolo Cenatur. It is made of aluminum. The Sram Force is similar to Shimano Ultegra or Campagnolo Chorus and Potenza. Partially installed carbon elements improve stiffness and weight. Sram Apex, Rival and Force are also available with a chainring. The Sram Red is comparable to the Shimano Dura-Ace and the Campagnolo Record. Sram also manufactures the Red with electronic pulse, the Red eTap, ie "electronic Tap". It is available without a cable. Comparable with the Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 and the Campagnolo Super Record is the Sram Red eTap AXS as an absolute high-end group.

    Other shift groups offered on the market are the Rotor 1x13. It runs hydraulically and is the first circuit with a 13er cassette. The FSA K-Force WE is a wireless, electronic circuit. With the Shimano GRX there is now also a hybrid variant, which is to stand between MTB and Road. It is ideal for gravel bikes and also available as an electronic shift group.

    Which shifting group suits me?

    As a passionate cyclist, you tend to be satisfied only with the best of the best. Especially when you deal intensively with individual components. It is important to keep in mind that in the high price segment of the shifting groups it is about gradations with minimal differences. Fast and fit makes one not the self-assembled professional racing bike, but in the end alone the training. Nevertheless, technical features bring joy and motivation. Thus, they usually lead to more time on the road bike. As a beginner, it is recommended not to spend too much money. The Shimano Claris, Tiagra, Sora and the Sram Apex are suitable for beginners. For people who also want to perform excellently at a triathlon and spend more time on their road bike, the Shimano 105, Shimano Ultegra, Sram Rival or Campagnolo Centaur are suitable. The high-priced models, such as the Shimano Ultegra Di2 and SRAM Red ETAP AXS, are suitable for very ambitious hobbyists or professionals.

    For specific questions about the groupset or your road bike, the buycycle team will be happy to help. If you are looking for a road bike yourself - take a look at our store.