If you thought that Android vs iOS, Meat-Eaters vs Vegetarians or religion discussions were the worst cases of blind fanboyism in the world, you clearly never joined a discussion on a cycling forum.
It eventually happens. You just woke up, you’re enjoying your breakfast and you read around the interwebz looking for some cool news and cats videos, when suddenly someone, somewhere, generates an evil troll black hole from which there’s no escape. I may suggest opening up the following Youtube video to keep that epic music as background while I try to make my part in the endless struggle between mankind, bike components and fanboys.
Campagnolo (Italy), Shimano (Japan) and SRAM (Usa) produce the most widely used bike components in the world. Campagnolo is most widely known for Road bikes components, while Shimano and SRAM can be found on basically anu kind of bike.
So, anyone who’s approaching the cycling world for the first time, maybe just as a recreational level, or maybe as a simple commuter, may eventually join a forum and ask:”Which one is better?”.
It’s a legit question, but finding an answer to that is no easy task and tends to attract fanboys from all over the world who NEED to express their opinion.
Even though those 3 companies produce the same kind of stuff*, their components work and feel in a slightly different way.
* = Shimano actually produce a much wider variety of products than SRAM or Campagnolo, but in this article I want to focus on components, especially for road bikes.
The main difference come from the shifter system:
SRAM uses the double tap system: one single switch that will shift the chain up or down depending on the amount of pressure you apply.
Shimano uses a system with 2 levers, moving them left and right changes the gear accordingly.
Campagnolo has a shifting lever and a button that can be activated with your thumb.
Please note that different group-sets may (and will!) work in a slightly different way, depending mostly on price range, design etc.
Other components (crankset, bb, derailleurs etc) may have some small changes that make them incompatible with other manufacturers, but when it comes to the way they actually work there’s virtually no difference.
So, which of the 3 shifting methods is the best? It mostly depends on the rider.
On forums you’ll ALWAYS find one or more replies like this one:
“I have the groupset XXX and it’s smoother than the others because aliens”.
“SMOOTHNESS” can be kept under consideration for cheap bikes that may have a no-brand chain, the most basic model of derailleur and some shifters that are operated by hamsters. If anyone is has come to the point of asking for advice regarding the component’s maker it means that we’re talking about a person who wants to invest a bit (a lot?) of money in order to get a bike that he\she can enjoy. At this stage, every group-set is SMOOTH when it comes to moving the chain from a ring to the next one.
To me, factors to consider are others, such as the kind of crankset (road compact? mountain bike triple? crossbike double? touring bike?), cassette ratio and bike geometry, because once you decide what KIND of bike you want then choosing the components is much easier.
But let’s say that the rest of the bike is set and done and the only things left to consider are the shifters and a few components…what’s the best course of action?
Step 1: try that stuff.
Since the main difference between those 3 brands is the way in which the shifting mechanism is operated, if you had the time to register on a forum and open a thread then you have the time to go to a bike store and actually handle those 3 mechs. If 2 of them feel uncomfortable and one of them feels nice…problem solved.
Seriously, if you choose one brand over the other your bike will not explode. Comfort and “feel” are the 2 most important things when riding a bike, so if everyone tells you that the group-set XXX is the best in the world but when YOU use it it feels like crap TO YOU, then it’s time to get back to the store and replace it to the second best group-set in the world.
Step 2: price.
As mentioned before, and I cannot stress that enough, bikes don’t usually explode. So if everyone suggests you that your ideal bike should cost 1000$, but you have a lower budget and need to settle for a cheaper group-set, nothing dramatic is going to happen. If you try 3 group-set from 3 different makers and they all fell good and all work great, there’s no shame in saving a bit of money and going for the slightly cheaper one. Usually buying a more expensive bike upfront means that fewer upgrades and replacements might be required in the future, so keep that in mind.
Step 3: availability and compatibility
This is probably the main source of fanboyism. If you get a bike that is powered by Campagnolo mechs and you need a replacement, you need to find a store with Campagnolo stuff. Same applies for Shimano and SRAM but to a lesser extent, as a lot of their stuff is actually compatible. So, let’s say that you decide to get your bike from a store that sells 99% bikes with Campagnolo components and has the full stock of Campy mech available for emergencies/upgrades….if I were you, I’d get a Campy bike. Is your store always full of Shimano merchandising and has their whole stock available or ready to order? That’s a pretty big deal. I know that ordering stuff online is quick and easy, but it’s always good to be able to rely on the LBS. I once broke a SRAM shifter on a bike and the first store I entered had 0 SRAM components. If that first store happened to be the only one around I’d have had to push the bike for 45kms.
This also leads to the fact that year after year you’ll gather many components that are compatible with each other (when you upgrade something it’s a good habit to keep the old one as a spare, instead of rushing to sell it on ebay). It leads to some kind of brand fidelity, because if you have a shed full of Shimano stuff it would feel hard to get a bike with Campagnolo components knowing that most of the things you collected over the course of the years would have 0 value.
If you’ve managed to read this whole entry, you may actually want to know if I have a favorite brand.
It’s CURRENTLY Shimano.
The reason why I CURRENTLY prefer Shimano depends on the fact that I live in Taiwan, which is next to Japan, and my address is roughly 5km away from the Asian National Headquarters of SRAM. This means that if I had a problem with a Campagnolo bike I’d be boned, while I can find Shimano and SRAM components absolutely anywhere.
So you may ask: why did you chose Shimano over SRAM? I don’t like the feel of double tap.
Back in Italy I’d choose Campagnolo in a heartbeat, but that’s a different story.