Pick Shimano -- then pick the right Shimano component for you!by Jeffrey Schwartz
Feb 27, 2001
Popular Products in Sport and OutdoorThe Bottom Line If you want a quality part that will last and yet is easy to replace, then Shimano is the part for you. Nearly every bike store stocks Shimano parts.
While researching the bowels of Epinions.com mostly out of curiosity to see what silly editorials were available, such as How to Use Bathtubs or How to Use Kitchen Utensils, I was looking around for something that wasnít so silly Ė something where I could write a useful editorial and still stay on topic.
Donít get me wrong, I love humor. Someday soon when I can think of something witty enough, Iíll take on How to Use a Toothbrush and it will be a riot.
But today, my friends, the topic at hand is what to know about the Shimano brand.
For those of you who are oblivious to the magical world of bicycling, Shimano is the big boy on the block when it comes to bicycle parts. It would take a ton of effort to find a bike Ė any bike Ė that doesnít have at least one Shimano component on it.
The major advantage with Shimano parts is that I can walk into any bike store in the world, and the chances are that the very bike store I walked into will have a replacement part to fit my bike. If I break a chain ring, chances are that the bike store stocks a replacement chain ring that I can fix myself. If I bust a spoke, the chances are that they have plenty of Shimano or Shimano-compatible spokes to fit my needs.
I canít say the same for any other brand Ė including Campagnolo and SRAM. While some road bikers may consider ďCampyĒ parts to be superior to Shimano parts, I can get my bike fixed anywhere and keep going. They have to either have amazing luck or they have to special order their parts. The upswing to ďCampyĒ parts is that every one of them is rebuildable. This means that the part will eventually last longer because as it wears, you can repair versus replace. Iíd rather go for the option of walking into a bike shop and being able to replace parts if needed.
On my mountain bike wheelset, if I damage one of the Spinergy wheels, Iíve been warned that I might as well give up mountain biking for the season because parts are nearly impossible to come by. While the company is in business and is a strong presence in the cycling world, they are geared toward producing new products and get to replacement parts when they get around to it.
That holds true with many other cycling companies as well.
Shimano parts are made for all kinds of cycling. The two types of cycling that I partake in are mountain biking and road biking.
Shimano in the Mountain Bike Division
Mountain biking components are designed heavier, in many cases larger, and must be more durable than their road components. The reason behind this theory is that they are subjected to more extreme conditions than their road bike counterparts.
With a road bike, you are basically pedaling on pavement of some sorts (be it asphalt or concrete) and your ride is smooth. With mountain biking, not only are you pedaling at times on pavement, but youíre also in dirt, in mud, in rivers, over rocks, over fallen trees, jumping, hopping, etc. There is a lot of jarring, banging, smashing and scraping involved in the sport of mountain biking.
Shimano divides its mountain bike product line into four distinct quality lines.
The Deore product line is considered the entry-level line. Shimano will call it the ďenthusiastĒ level. These products are very inexpensive and frankly arenít built to withstand much in the line of abuse. If you are using your mountain bike to pedal on the sidewalks and every so often want to see what hard-pack dirt is like, then you probably donít need to spend much more money than what Deore has to offer.
Personally, I would recommend you stay away from Deore if at all possible. The upgrade to the LX line isnít that much more money, and youíll get better quality parts in the process.
The Deore component group is made of 9-speed gearing, a partial aluminum body on the rear-derailleur, a steel and aluminum body on the front-derailleur, and a compact cog set. The crank set has an aluminum outer ring and steel inner rings. The bottom bracket is made of a solid steel axle.
Shimano Deore LX
The Deore LX is in my opinion true entry-level components. Shimano also refers to the LX lines as their ďenthusiastĒ level. The component group is made up of 9-speed gearing, a larger cog set, and the crank set has two aluminum chain rings instead of one. The bottom bracket has a hollow chromemoly steel axle, and the brakes have parallel-push linkage.
You also drop some significant weight by upgrading from the Deore to the Deore LX group.
My mountain bike currently has the Shimano M-535 clipless pedals. These are considered part of the LX line. They have held up well and while they arenít the lightest pedals on the market, I could consider them durable. They have been smashed up against rocks, gone through plenty of water, and have yet to present me with any sort of a problem after almost 2500 miles. For the $49.99 that I paid for them back in 1997, I think Iíve really got my moneyís worth.
Shimano Deore XT
Shimano refers to the XT line as their ďhard-coreĒ product line. Iíd have to state that this is their best value line. You arenít up to true race-quality performance parts, but the XT provides the most durability, best weight ratios for the durability, and the best price. As a general rule, it is always best to get XT parts if you can afford to pay a little bit more than what the LX costs.
The XT component set is comprised of 9-speed gearing, a full aluminum body on the rear-derailleur with a seal on one pulley and pivot, stainless steel bearings on the wheel hubs, chrome finish on the cog set, and three alloy chain rings on the crank set. The headset has more aluminum parts than the LX component group.
You drop some serious weight on the rear-derailleur, the cog set, the brakes, and the headset. Other weight reductions on parts are minor or the same when compared to the LX component group.
On my mountain bike, I have XT shift/brake levers, the HollowTech crank, the bottom bracket, the front and rear derailleurs, V-brakes, and the chain. All of these parts are well worth the extra cost, and have proven they are very durable.
In many instances, I have upgraded most of these parts from LX to XT when the LX parts have worn out or broken. I have noticed improved performance and slight weight reduction. Shifting is smoother, braking is easier, and there are less squeaks and rattles.
The XTR product line should be largely ignored unless you have money to burn or are doing some serious competition. This is the race-quality line of bike parts. Almost every part that is available in the XT product line is also available on the XTR product line.
The major difference is price. In most instances, expect to pay almost twice as much to upgrade from XT to XTR.
If you arenít racing, then you really donít need to go to this level. XTR brings super-smooth shifting, very lightweight parts, and in some instances, technology to bring more speed to cycling. The crank set will have a larger chain ring that gives you more speed, along with the larger rear cassette. The rear-derailleur will have seals on both pulleys along with a cold-forged body. The front hub has highly-polished bearings, the rear hub has stainless-steel bearings and a titanium axle. There is also an Easton aluminum seat post available out of this group.
Most of the components weigh less than the XT group, with the exception of the brake/shift levers and the crank set, which actually weigh more.
The only XTR part that I have ever put on my mountain bike is the rear cassette. The price differences between the XT and the XTR were a few dollars (unlike in most instances) and I opted for the few extra benefits that the XTR rear cassette brought along.
Shimano in the Road Bike Division
I am fairly new to the sport of road biking. Iíve recently purchased my first road bike, and did a lot of research beforehand.
Because mountain biking components and road biking components are in two different worlds, I had to undergo some amount of education when it came to understanding the various parts and knowing what different options are available.
Road biking components are designed to be lighter than their mountain biking counterparts. The two biggest enemies to road bikers are weight and wear. The object is to get a part that is as light as possible, yet still have a part that wonít wear out in 100 miles of use.
Like the Deore mountain bike parts, the Sora is entry-level components. Stay away from Sora components Ė I cannot reiterate that enough. They are cheap, heavy, rough on the edges and are not made to last. Count on nearly any part that is a Shimano Sora to be replaced if you are going to spend any amount of time on your road bike. Sora is made more for the occasional rider who doesnít plan on doing much in the line of riding.
The Sora component group is made of up 8-speed gearing and steel chain rings. The wheel setís hubs come with only one set of bearing seals. Many of the parts weigh more than the Tiagra component group, and the ones that are lighter have fewer parts than the Tiagra group.
Like the LX side of Shimano, the Tiagra is what I would consider to be true entry-level components. Shimano considers this line to be ďadvanced recreational.Ē
The advantage of Tiagra parts is that you can design an inexpensive bicycle that will still hold itself together. The disadvantage of Tiagra parts is that you can count on less-than-impressive performance from them. They are not built to cut down weight, and they are not built for smoothness in shifting, etc.
The biggest disadvantage to Tiagra and Sora is that neither are race-ready components.
The Tiagra group comes with 9-speed gearing and aluminum and steel chain rings. The wheel setís hubs come with double-bearing seals and alloy quick-release levers. On some of the components, you drop quite a few grams when you upgrade from Sora to Tiagra.
The 105 component group is somewhere between an LX component group and an XT component group in the mountain biking division. You are getting what is considered entry-level racing components. Bicycles that are equipped with 105 components are race-ready.
This means that if you want to get into racing, you can do it at a very affordable price. While you donít have the super-light components that the higher grades offer, you do have the smoothness and the durability that racers demand. Most of the parts are lightweight aluminum in this grade.
The 105 component group provides 9-speed gearing, an aluminum rear-derailleur, an aluminum front-derailleur, hollow crank arms with aluminum chain rings, and cartridge bearings in the headset. The brakes use single-pivot thrust bearings, and the wheel setís hubs are made of cold-forged shells. You drop significant grams by upgrading from the Tiagra to the 105 component group, and the upswing is that your bike is considered race-ready.
My new road bike is mostly built with 105 parts. I find them to be very good for my needs at this level of my road biking career, but will upgrade parts to the next level, Ultegra, as they wear out.
This product line will be most comparable to the XT product line in the mountain division of Shimano. Shimano refers to this product line as the ďhard coreĒ for road bikers.
Like the mountain biking counterparts, this is probably the best value for the dollar. You are one step below true race-quality components but arenít outlaying the cost associated with those components. You sacrifice lightweight titanium in exchange for lightweight aluminum
You can certainly race to your heartís desire in a bike outfitted with Ultegra components. Expect, however, to pay roughly a third to a half more for your components when choosing between the 105 group and the Ultegra group.
The Ultegra component group is made up of 9-speed gearing, seals on a pulley and pivot of the rear-derailleur (which like the 105 group is made of aluminum), and the rear cog set is mounted on an alloy carrier. There is also an oval seatpost that is available in this group.
The biggest advantage of upgrading from 105 to Ultegra is significant reduction of weight. Most of the parts are lighter than the 105 component group.
The only Ultegra parts I have on my road bike are the hubs in the wheel set, the chain, and the rear cassette. While I donít have a whole lot of miles on my road bike, I am very impressed with the Ultegra product line.
Like the XTR component group in the mountain bike division, the Dura-Ace is the line to ignore unless youíre rich or are a serious racer. Many of the parts are made from exotic materials such as manganese and titanium. Hubs have etching in them, and these parts can cost two to three times as much as their Ultegra counterparts.
The Dura-Ace group is composed of 9-speed gearing, seals on two pulleys for the rear-derailleur, nickel-plating on the aluminum front-derailleur, shorter throw from the shifters than the lower component groups, a steel and titanium cog set and nickel-plated chain rings. The hubs on the wheel set have a titanium freehub with stainless-steel bearings.
I have no Dura-Ace components on my road bike. Every bike shop has told me not to bother with them unless Iím going to do some serious racing. At this point in my life, Iím not.
Shimano has an entire line of products under the DX line that are made specifically for BMX bikers. Since I am not in this category, I am not going to go into any detail about them.
Other Shimano Products
Shimano makes a variety of cycling products made for the body as well. Most notable is their footwear division.
My first pair of Shimano biking shoes was purchased in 1996 with my mountain bike. Guess what? I still use them.
They have been retired from mountain biking because the soles have become too flexible. The sole has split on the bottom after four very hard years of use. They have been through rivers, climbed plenty of rock, been sucked into mud pits, and have been caught between enough branches on fallen trees.
They are a simple canvas design Ė definitely not what I would consider race-quality shoes, even when new, but they were perhaps the most comfortable pair of cycling shoes I have ever owned. They were stiff enough to be efficient, yet comfortable enough to walk around for a few hours after a tough ride.
Right now, they have been degraded to my Spin cycle shoes. I keep them in my gym bag and use them only when I teach my Spin classes on Tuesday mornings.
Shimano also makes bike computers, clothing, water bottles and a variety of cleaning/polishing products.
I would recommend outfitting your bike with Shimano parts over any other brand. Just knowing that you can walk into any bike shop and get the parts you need should be reason enough. However, the reputation and the quality behind the Shimano name are also hard to beat.
Shimano offers parts for nearly every cyclistís use. Whether you are purchasing your very first bike or a professional racer, Shimano has the part thatís suitable to your needs.