SRAM, Campagnolo, or Shimano? Which Side of the Road are You On? Part 1

Given the myriad of options in bicycle components available today it can be a pretty daunting task to try and make sense of all the groups and systems for your road or tri bike.  I often am asked to help clients choose which group would be the best option for their rig, and sometimes it’s not an easy answer.  Which components are the best?  What is the best value?  Lightest?  Fastest?  Most reliable?  These are all valid concerns and questions and unfortunately, there really isn’t an easy answer.  From young, mountain bike-turned-road bike SRAM components, to Shimano’s Japanese reliability and manufacturing prowess, to Campagnolo’s fine Italian craftsmanship and heritage, your bicycle’s components are available in several flavors.  While all the systems serve the same purpose, how do you know which of the big three brands is right for you?  Which system will be the best set up for your bike and the kind of riding you do?  Much like your favorite football team, your road or TT rig’s component brand can often have a fierce following and at some point you must pick a side.  It’s a bit difficult to put into words the feel and function of the three major brands, but I’ll do my best to try and make some sense out of it.

SRAM

As the smallest and newest player in the component game, SRAM has been aggressive with its marketing and is developing a reputation as a competitive system.  SRAM began its journey as a small mountain bike component manufacturer in the late 1980’s and has since grown into a large conglomerate that includes several other well known brands including; Zipp, Truvativ, Rockshox, and Avid.  SRAM made a lasting impression and mark in the mountain bike world when the first Grip Shift system was introduced.  The system was radically different than the standard Shimano systems that had become the norm, and love it or hate it, Grip Shift developed a cult following and gave the mountain bike community another choice in drive train equipment and put SRAM on the map.  SRAM’s history is based on bringing innovative and unique products to market and their components have a feel and function to match.

One of the defining differences in the SRAM shifting system for both the road and mountain groups is the simple and direct 1 to 1 shift ratio.  SRAM uses a direct ratio of shift lever to derailleur pull, which basically translates to the derailleur moving at the same rate as the shift lever.  Why is this significant?  So, glad you asked.  Mechanically speaking, SRAM took a simple approach to coordinating the relationship between shifter and derailleur and eliminated some of the complexity of the Shimano derailleur systems.  SRAM’s approach to derailing the chain from one gear to the next requires as much movement at the shift lever as it applies at the derailleur.  The idea is to keep the shifting dependable in all riding conditions for both the road groups and the mountain groups.

SRAM’s most distinctive difference is a very innovative system called DoubleTap, which much like the grip shift, seems to have also developed a love/hate following.  DoubleTap is intended to make shifting easier by integrating the up and down shift into one lever.  A short throw of the lever goes one way and a long throw the other.   The DoubleTap system reduces the amount of movement required of the lever when shifting through a set of pawls and catches that leap-frog over each other.  The system requires less than half the lever travel of its nearest competitor and when combined with SRAM’s 1 to 1 shift ratio, makes for short snappy shifting.  When it was introduced to the cycling world, the double tap system was one of the most talked about innovations in cycling.

SRAM’s components are a testament to American ingenuity and a product of slick design, advanced manufacturing tactics, and aggressive marketing.   SRAM Utilizes carbon and plastics into the many of the parts of the components instead of aluminum of stamped steel and the groups are typically cost effective and light.  How light you ask?  If you are a weight weenie and you are building a bike to attach a set of wings to, SRAM would be your best bet.   The shifting, when set up properly, is accurate and definitive.  It is loud and mechanical to shift, and has been described as raspy and harsh.  However, the young and nimble conglomerate has carved out a niche as the generation-X company amongst the big three component manufacturers.

Coming next….  Shimano, the Japanese giant in the cycling world.