QUESTION: I’m buying my first road bike and there are so many different choices and price points, and a lot of that seems to depend on the derailleurs. The local bike shop carries bikes with SRAM and Shimano derailleurs and a bunch of different things like Tiagra and SRAM Apex, as well as more expensive bikes with electronic shifting. How do I know which derailleur to buy? And how do I keep from being sold more than I need? —Arnie L.
RBR’S STAN PURDUM REPLIES: SRAM and Shimano are the two major makers of derailleurs and other bike drivetrain components (including cog sets, chains, cranksets and chainrings, and shift levers). They also make brakes and some other parts. And you’re not likely to go wrong with components from either brand.
Names like Tiagra and Apex refer to the levels of component groups. The higher levels usually have the latest innovations and are marginally lighter to keep the overall weight of the bike on which they are installed to a minimum. But even the lower-level components from those two companies perform well.
Both companies make mechanical and electronic shifting systems, with the latter being the most recently developed and thus, the more expensive. But the mechanical shifting systems from those companies work fine, so your choice comes down to preference and budget.
The truth is, most bikes at a given price point are going to be fairly equal in how they are equipped, and all the levels of derailleurs at this point are very solid at shifting crisply and accurately. And since most bike shops allow you to test-ride a bike you are considering for purchase, you should look at bikes that match what you are prepared to spend and then test ride them. Do you like the way SRAM works better than how Shimano works — or vice versa? That’s the major difference other than that they just keep getting slightly better and lighter as the price goes up.
A further word about bike component manufacturers: There is a third top-name maker — Campagnolo — but its parts are rarely found on bikes sold in the United States today. There are also many other makers of components, but they don’t dominate the market the way Shimano and SRAM do. Nonetheless, many of these make decent parts, and sometimes bicycle companies will use some of their parts in less obvious locations to keep the price point of their bikes down. For example, a bike might have Shimano derailleurs since the brand name is plainly visible on those, but the cog set (cassette), may be from MicroSHIFT. Since the bike maker has spec’d those parts to work together, there’s no reason to expect problems.
Stan Purdum has ridden several long-distance bike trips, including an across-America ride recounted in his book Roll Around Heaven All Day, and a trek on U.S. 62, from Niagara Falls, New York, to El Paso, Texas, the subject of his book Playing in Traffic. Stan, a freelance writer and editor, lives in Ohio. See more at www.StanPurdum.com.