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All information about road bike gears


Bicycle components are often declared a matter of faith by passionate cyclists. Flawless performance is especially important for road bikes. After all, it's all about speed. This is made possible by the smooth functionality of the components. The gearstick is essential in this respect. The shifting process is always adapted to the cadence of the rider. This means that the energy expended can be ideally converted into drive. Rear derailleurs differ in their handling depending on the manufacturer. What works intuitively for one consumer leads to confusion for others during gear changes. 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, for many racing cyclists, brand loyalty also plays a role. 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 how road bike shift groups work and present renowned manufacturers along with popular models.


  1. How do you change gears on a road bike?
  2. What is part of a shift group?
  3. How many gears for a road bike?
  4. Which manufacturers have proven themselves?
  5. Which groupsets are on the market?
  6. Which gear group suits me?
  7. How do you change gears on a road bike?

How do you change gears on a road bike?

Generally, a distinction is made between derailleur gears and hub gears on bicycles. In the racing bike sector, you will mainly find derailleur gears. The road bike is driven by a gear group. Brake/shift levers are mounted on the handlebars. As the name suggests, both the brake lever and the shift lever are integrated into one component. This distinguishes the road bike from other types of bicycle such as the mountain bike. Depending on the manufacturer, there are further 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 climb 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 causes the chain to 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.

  1. The mechanical shifting system is connected to the rear 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 gears is easy to understand and can be repaired on the move. This type of shifting is inexpensive and spare parts such as broken shift cables can be purchased in any bicycle shop. 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 by means of an electronic impulse 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. In contrast to mechanical shifting, it is not necessary to adjust or change the cables. For this, a rechargeable battery is necessary, which has to be charged from time to time. Repair on the road is also hardly possible with electronic shifting. The purchase price is higher than for a mechanical system.
  3. The hydraulic shifting system is rarely seen. The impulse to shift gears is transmitted by hydraulic fluid. The gearstick also works with bent hydraulic lines. Once the gearstick is adjusted, it works optimally. However, it weighs more than the other shift group types. It can also be difficult to repair on the road, as this type is hardly common.

What belongs to a gearshift group?

Road bike groupsets mean both brakes and drive of the road bike. They therefore take care of the most important thing: riding and stopping. Drive and brakes of different brands can also be combined. However, a complete package that is coordinated with each other is common. The brakes are rim brakes or disc brakes. The drivetrain contains a few more components. These include the crank, chainrings, chain, cassette (i.e. the sprocket set), rear derailleur and front derailleur as well as 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 which sprocket the chain moves over.

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 explain this 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 and triple cranks.

  • The single crank holds one chainring and therefore does not need a front derailleur. It is easy to shift through from the smallest sprocket to the largest sprocket. After all, the chain does not have to be placed on another chainring. This minimises the rider's susceptibility to errors during shifting. Single cranks come from the MTB sector, but they are also used on cyclocross bikes.

  • The double crank holds two chainrings, the triple crank holds three. 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 common on entry-level bikes or recreational models.

Pedals are screwed onto the cranks. Both pedals have a different thread. The right-hand pedal has a right-hand thread, the left-hand one a left-hand thread. Usually the pedal axle has a small marking with L or R. This means that the pedals cannot be loosened by pedalling during the ride. By the way: If you experience pain in your knees or hips after cycling, this is not necessarily due to the frame height or seat height. The crank radius may 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 bicycle models. Bicycle brands like to purchase shift groups from one manufacturer in order 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 used in most complete bikes on the market. Spare parts can be purchased from this manufacturer in any specialist shop. In addition, Shimano groupsets have been based on the same shifting scheme for years. Different Shimano groupsets can be combined with each other as long as they have the same number of gears. In addition, the brand stands for sophisticated shifting systems and good quality assurance. So Shimano is the manufacturer for the masses. You know what to expect for your money and you can get spare parts at every corner. Many long-time bike enthusiasts lack the emotional connection to Shimano.

Campagnolo: The Italian manufacturer Campagnolo exclusively produces components for road bikes. It is the oldest manufacturer of road bike groupsets. Their products are in the medium and upper price segments. They are considered a manufacturer of top groupsets that are very durable. Campagnolo installs an additional thumb shifter. With mechanical shifting, several gears can thus be shifted at once. Since each shift lever has only one function, it is very conclusive. The brand has a number of 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 US 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 electronic shifting system. SRAM has pushed strongly into the component market and has established itself in the high-price segment.


Other manufacturers such as FSA or microSHIFT also offer shift groups on the market. No one can keep up with the sales figures of Shimano, Campagnolo or Sram.

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 aluminium. If you spend more money, you get high-quality aluminium alloys, carbon or titanium. On the one hand, this is noticeable in the weight - the carbon versions are significantly lighter. On the other hand, the shifting process is improved and the shifting group wears out more slowly. Shimano offers groupsets in every price segment.

Overview to  Shimano

  • Entry-level range: Shimano Tourney and Shimano Claris are the least expensive models and are suitable for beginners or occasional riders. Shimano Sora and Shimano Tiagra would be perfectly adequate for many cyclists without particularly pronounced sporting ambitions. One should not forget that the technology of former more expensive groupsets is becoming obsolete and is being built into inexpensive models.
  • Medium/high-priced range: Shimano 105 offers excellent value for money and is probably the most common gear system. 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 from 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 aluminium components. Some professional teams rely on the lightness, efficiency and durability of this shifting group in the Tour de France.

Overview to Campagnolo

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

Overview to  SRAM

  • Entry-level range: Sram Apex is the entry-level model and comparable to Shimano Sora and Tiagra.
  • Medium/high price range: SRAM Rival is comparable to Shimano 105 and Campagnolo Centaur. It is made of aluminium. 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 an electric impulse, the Red eTap, i.e. "electronic Tap". It is available without a cable. Comparable to the Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 and the Campagnolo Super Record, the Sram Red eTap AXS is an absolute high-end groupset.

Other shift groups offered on the market are the Rotor 1x13. It runs hydraulically and is the first derailleur with a 13 cassette. The FSA K-Force WE is a wireless, electronic shifting system. With the Shimano GRX, there is now also a hybrid variant that is supposed to stand between MTB and road. It is ideal for gravel bikes and is also available as an electronic shifting 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 are intensively involved with individual components. It is important to keep in mind that in the high price segment of shift groups, it is about gradations with minimal differences. It's not the professional racing bike you put together yourself that makes you fast and fit, but in the end it's the training alone. Nevertheless, technical features bring joy and motivation. They usually lead to more time on the road bike. As a beginner, it is advisable 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 in a triathlon and spend more time on their road bike, the Shimano 105, Shimano Ultegra, Sram Rival or Campagnolo Centaur are suitable. The more expensive models, such as the Shimano Ultegra Di2 and SRAM Red ETAP AXS, are suitable for very ambitious hobby athletes or professionals.

The buycycle team will be happy to help you with any special questions about the groupsets or your road bike. If you are looking for a road bike yourself, take a look at our shop.


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