Gears & Brakes

!The groupset is likely to be the most expensive part of your touring bike, so brace yourself !

What is a groupset?

The groupset is all the parts that make up the gearing and braking system on the bike. In plain English, the following parts usually make up a groupset:

  • Crankset/Chainset- the big cogs and crankshafts that the pedals are attached to.
  • Cassette – the cogs that attach to the rear wheel of the bike, connected to the chainset by the chain.
  • Chain – transfers the drive from the crankset to the cassette and rear wheel to propel the bike forward.
  • Front derailleur – the mechanism that moves the chain between the cogs on the crankset, ie. change gears.
  • Rear derailleur – the mechanism that moves the chain between the cogs on the cassette, ie. change gears.
  • Bottom Bracket – connects the crankset to the bike and contains the bearings and mechanisms for the cranks and pedals to move freely while you are cycling.
  • Brakes – the system for stopping the bike when it is moving. Can be either disc brakes or rim brakes, which describes the surface to which friction is applied to slow the motion of the bicycle.
  • Shifters and levers – the controls mounted on the handlebars that allow the rider to change gears and apply the brakes. Some gear shifters are mounted on the down tube of the frame.

Shimano XT groupset components (A. Chain B. Cassette C. Rear Derailleur (long and short cage) D. Front Derailleur (various mounting options) E. Crankset/Chainring F. Shifter). Image © Shimano, all rights reserved. Reproduced with permission.


Choosing Groupset Components

As with all things to do with cycle touring, you are looking for durability and ease of repair or replacement. A further consideration is your personal preference for cycling.

Riding position – do you prefer riding with flat bars and shifters operated by thumb and fore-finger? Or, do you prefer drop bars and integrated brake/shift levers? Or are you an old-school rider who prefers their gear levers on the down tube of the frame? Deciding which gear lever system you would prefer early in the decision making process will refine your search considerably.

Gearing – Do you like to speed down hills and over the flat? Or are you tackling hilly terrain and prefer a really low gear for climbing? Or are you just after the biggest choice of gears you can get so that you can tackle all types of terrain? These preferences will inform your decision on the size/number of teeth on the cogs of the chainring and cassette – the more teeth, the higher the “gear” will be. Gear ratios can get quite technical, for a good article on ratios see the great Sheldon Brown’s article on the topic and the handy calculator to work out the values for your current or proposed system.

Braking – disc brakes or rim brakes? Disc brakes provide the most efficient braking and won’t wear on the rim of your wheel but can be very technical to service and repair. Rim brakes are usually very simple and easy to adjust/repair but do apply friction to the rim of your wheel and that leads to wear and the need for eventual replacement (however, most high end rims will last ~20,000km with caliper or V-brakes installed).

Component Compatibility

How the groupset components work together – red lines indicate the components must be compatible with each other.

You need to make sure that all the components of the groupset are compatible. As you can see from the diagram, the components of the groupset work together as an integrated system.

Most of the components from the major manufacturers are compatible within limits, eg. Shimano mountain bike groupset components are usually compatible across the SLX, Deore XT and XTR ranges etc., and Shimano’s road bike groupsets are also usually compatible between Dura-Ace, Ultegra, 105 etc. ranges.

For some components, like the front derailleur, there are various mounting options to suit different frames. You will need to know which option is compatible with your frame.

Choosing groupset components is most safely done in consultation with your local bike shop. If, like me, you can’t just pop down to the local bike shop, checking the manufacturers websites can give you information on the compatible components of a branded groupset. I chose my groupset components from the Shimano XT family to eliminate the possiblity that the parts I ordered would be incompatible, noting that Shimano components are widely available throughout Asia so spares will be easy to source if required.


Groupset manufacturers have entry-level to elite groupsets which are priced accordingly. The price of components is linked to quality and materials, so generally the elite level groupsets are made of lighter and/or more durable materials and boast superior technology. That said there is a lot of cross-over within the ranges available, and if weight is not a major concern, the second tier offering will most likely suit your needs and definitely your budget.

Groupset by manufacturer (elite to entry level):


# Shimano MTB Shimano Road SRAM MTB SRAM Road Campagnolo Road
1 XTR Dura-Ace XX Red Super Record
2 Deore XT Ultegra X.0 Black Red Record
3 SLX 105 X.9 Force Chorus
4 Deore Tiagra X.7 Rival Athena
5 Alivio Sora X.5 Apex Centaur
6 Acera 2300 X.4 Veloce
7 Altus X.3
8 Tourney



Next page: Steering & Handlebars


Is our information useful????

This website has been created to support our fundraising efforts for research into a cure for Melanoma. If you found this information useful, please consider making a small donation.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>