What is the Best Road Bike Groupset? Road Bike Groupset Comparison [Review]
The development of various road bike groupsets has been tremendous over the last few years. Wireless shifting is becoming more commonplace in the top-end groupsets. Hydraulic shifting seems to finally be making a breakthrough as well. And the three major names in the business, Sram, Shimano, and Campagnolo, are getting an increasing amount of competition. They’ve seen FSA and Rotor close the gap fast over the last few years. Kees tested all of the high-end groupsets of these five fantastic brands in the ultimate road bike groupset comparison. Five groupsets, five days, five opinions…
The 5 groupsets on test are the high-end versions of the best tiers of the 5 road bike component manufacturers mentioned above. Sram eTap, Campagnolo Super Record and Shimano Dura Ace Di2 are well-known names and build on proven groupsets.
New to the game are FSA WE and Rotor Uno. It’s the first time for both brands to come with a full road bike groupset. Rotor really went all out as their very first groupset is a fully hydraulic system!
Best Road Bike Groupset Comparison
Rotor Uno – A hydraulic adventure!
FSA WE – The other new kid on the block
Campagnolo Super Record – Carbon fore and aft
SRAM eTap – Shifting with two shifters simultaneously
Shimano Dura Ace Di2 -Ultimate convenience
Rotor Uno – A hydraulic adventure!
Rotor elbows its way into a small market and expectations are high! As soon as they announced the groupset, I was a fan: beautifully CNC machined parts, hydraulic shifting, and a staggeringly low weight.
Quite some time has passed since the first photo’s were released. I instantly had a good feeling upon my first actual encounter with the groupset. Now, almost a year and a half later, I finally managed to put the Rotor Uno groupset to the test, and it hasn’t disappointed me!
The Cervelo R3 Disc road bike fitted with the Rotor Uno groupset sits on a pair of Enve wheels and is finished with Enve components. The Rotor 2inPower cranks complete the package. The bike is an absolute stunner, but it’s all about the groupset for me. Stand-out features are the slim hydraulic lines and the Magura disc brakes.
Let’s go for a ride
A beautiful ride through the varied nature around Arnhem lies ahead. As soon as I set off, the smoothness of the gear shifts stand out. It gives you a mechanical feel, but positively so. Some electronic groupsets lack in feedback to the rider, but it’s something you definitely get here.
Shifting is very similar to the Sram Double Tap system. Shifting into a larger cog means pushing the lever in all the way, and in order to get a bigger gear just give the lever a little tap. I spend the first few kilometres shifting up and down the cassette, and the system doesn’t miss a beat!
You can adjust the amount of gears you can shift in a single actuation. You do this at the rear derailleur since that’s where the actual mechanism resides. All the lever does is feed through the oil. The rear derailleur effortlessly shifts from gear to gear. The front derailleur takes a little more effort. It’s definitely not a nuisance but it did stand out to me.
Shifting under load
Once I arrived at the first hill of the day, I could see how the system shifted under load. Once again, it’s all smooth and sharp, and the featherweight bike absolutely flies up the hill. The test bike I’ve been given has been fitted with a Shimano Dura Ace cassette.
The KMC bike chain runs along it very silently. I think the Rotor cassette is going to make a little more noise, and the weight will probably be lower as well.
Once over the top, I immediately dive back down into a descend, and the disc brakes feel dependable. The brakes aren’t overly grabby. I had the good fortune to take on a number of nice descends which I rode down as fast as I could. Nothing but good things on these brakes. Plenty of stopping power when you want it, and easy modulation as well.
Adjustable shifter ergonomics
I really like the shape and ergonomics of the shifter. The hydraulic system means there’s plenty of adjustability available. There will be several different inserts available in the future to create the ideal fit for your hands.
I think this groupset looks best on a high-tech bike. It’s not something which is likely to suit your classic bike, but it sure looks the part on this Cervelo! While most people will be more than happy with a R3d, I’d prefer to see this fitted to an S3d; just that little extra agressive geometry.
FSA WE – The other new kid on the block
As our second groupset, we’ve got a first: the FSA WE. I do believe in love at first sight. It’s rare, but sometimes lightning does strike. You never see it coming, but once it hits, it hits home. The day I saw the FSA WE groupset for the first time was one of those days.
I first laid eyes on the FSA WE groupset during a training session. Once I saw the test bike however, I was sold. What an absolute beauty! Before having it for even a yard, I was convinced. Right then, time to try and take an objective look at this groupset.
Finally a complete FSA groupset
FSA has been flirting with the notion of releasing a complete groupset for a while now. Their brakes and chains have been available for a long time, and their cranksets are some of the nicest on the market.
The FSA WE groupset puts them square in the middle of a market which has been dominated for years by Shimano, Campagnolo, and Sram. FSA has managed to make a spectacular entrance however. The semi-wireless groupset has several quirky features, which is something I really like.
Hop onto the saddle and grab onto the shifters, and you instantly notice the ergonomics. The shifters feel comfortable in your hands and the shifter levers are easily accessible. The brakes have a reassuring bite. So far so good!
The pro’s of Shimano and Sram rolled into one
Something which makes this groupset a special one is the fact that the shifters use wireless communication with the front derailleur. The battery and individual derailleurs are connected via a cable. This system combines the pro’s of both Sram and Shimano really.
Everything is neatly integrated at the front and there are no cables showing anywhere. The rear derailleur -where there is a cable but one which you barely notice- gets its power from a high-power battery, and you notice. The system shifts fast and precise.
The FSA WE rear derailleur works quite differently from those on offer by the competition. The motor is placed in the middle and powers two small cogs. This means the derailleur looks very slim and sleek.
Good looking groupset
The groupset we’ve photographed isn’t the definitive design. The titanium-coloured surfaces have been replaced with a light grey colour, and the parts have been given red highlights. The groupset looks very good indeed.
Something I don’t find overly modern and slightly too bulky is the front derailleur. This houses the brain of the entire groupset as well as taking care of all communication.
The adjustability of the groupset is virtually endless. Anything from shifting speed, the number of gears shifted per click, or which shifter operates what derailleur. Even the information shown in the app can be customised in the future. At the time of me taking her for a spin, that feature had not yet been made available.
Saying goodbye to an Italian beauty
You’ve read that right, I have in fact started calling it her. Given a few more rides, I might have even given her a name. C60 just doesn’t quite sound right for such a beauty, so it’s something I still have to think on.
Unfortunately, the road bike with FSA WE groupset is taken away from me again all too soon. This gorgeous but fiery Italian dame will stay with me for some time to come.
Campagnolo Super Records EPS – Carbon fore and aft!
Campagnolo has been part of the electronic groupsets industry for a while, and now that I got to test the Super Record EPS groupset, I’m an even bigger Campagnolo fan.
Take a look at the groupset, and what you see are special materials and techniques. There’s carbon fibre wherever you look. Where other manufacturers opt for cheaper -but equally efficient- technologies, Campagnolo decides to make even the smallest components out of carbon. The bolts are almost all titanium, yet another material which doesn’t come cheap.
Easy to use
One thing I noticed during my test ride was just how easy this groupset is to operate. Sure, you can expect nothing but the best performance at this price, but you really do feel everything working together seamlessly. All components have been optimised for each other.
The chain runs through the system without a single sound. If you cross-shift into extreme chaining positions, then the front derailleur will automatically trim itself. Shifts are quick and effortless, and they provide you with predictable performance. The ergonomics of the shifters are great as well.
My test ride was over before I knew it. Uphill the system felt like everything was running with a minimal amount of drag, and downhill the brakes proved to be easy to modulate.
Campagnolo gives you the performance you’ve come to expect
I think the major plus about this groupset is how effortless it is to operate. You don’t need to think about a thing and it takes seconds to get used to. Once you’ve ridden this groupset, riding anything else will feel like taking a step back. Uncompromised levels of performance!
You’ll need deep pockets, but the results are worth every penny. Campagnolo has been at the top of this game for years, and you notice that with everything you do. It looks great, feels perfect, and works without a hitch.
Still, I felt like I was missing something. Sensation. In fact, I could even go so far as to call the groupset a little boring. Of the five groupsets I’ve tested, Campagnolo Super Record EPS was easily the most conservative.
It’s as though Campagnolo is desperately trying to hold on to a certain look, and they’ve lost the nerve to be a little left-field sometimes. While I don’t object, it does mean that I miss the slightly more innovative aspects we see in the other groupsets on test.
SRAM Red eTap – Shifting with two shifters simultaneously
The fourth groupset I’ve tested was Sram Red eTap. Sram really shook things up with this groupset. The technology is stunning and the specifications are hugely impressive.
Sram has set a new standard with this groupset and the competition has some serious work to do.
My ride with this Sram top-tier groupset left me with several distinct impressions. Firstly, the lack of cables really add to the looks of any bike. Second, the buttons give you ample feedback and are easy to use. And finally, on a more critical note, the shifting speed; it’s just a little too slow for me.
Get on the bike and you notice you need to get used to the system for a bit. The rear derailleur is operated using both shifters. Right means shifting up a gear, left is down.
The front derailleur is operated using both shifters simultaneously. Press on both shifters and the front derailleur changes between the two chainrings.
If you’ve been on eTap for a while, then you quickly feel at home. Only when you haven’t used it in a while will you on occasion miss a shift. I personally ride Shimano, so you’re just used to a slightly different system.
The Sram eTap groupset is fitted to a carbon road bike with FFWD wheels and Zipp components. I’ve ridden these wheels before, making it even easier to judge the groupset on its own merit.
I’d like to start by praising the shifters. The ergonomics suit me very well and I think riders with small hands will find them even more comfortable. For your own reference, my glove size is a 10/L.
Using the brakes is simple both on the hoods and drops. They’re easy to modulate and the brakes offer a reassuring bite.
The shifter button gives crystal clear feedback. You’ll feel it when you’ve shifted. The surface area is fairly large as well, so they’re easy to reach from either hand position and can even be operated flawlessly with gloves on.
The groupset is very quiet when you’re not changing gears. The combination of the hollow cassette with the deep carbon wheels does mean that there’s a fair bit of noise when you do shift.
Gear changes are crisp, and the system doesn’t miss a beat. Going both up and down the cassette is smooth. Quick however, it isn’t. Shifting through multiple gears with a single push has quite a delay, especially when you’re trying to change at the front and rear at the same time.
On my road bike, I usually follow a simple pattern: when I shift into the big ring at the front, I simultaneously drop two cogs at the back. With Sram eTap, you need both levers to first change at the front, and then click back up the cassette with the left shifter afterwards. It takes a little longer than with other groupsets but it’s something which I could live with as a recreational rider.
As a fan of beautiful gear I love to dream about my perfect setups. This groupset would best suit a lightweight climbing bike. I thing a Trek Émonda SLR 10 might be perfect. You need to compromise in order to reach the lowest possible weight, and sacrificing a little shifting speed is something I could live with for that.
Shimano Dura Ace Di2 – Ultimate convenience
Shimano was the last one for me to test in our high-end groupset comparison. They’ve been setting the benchmark for a while now when it comes to electronic groupsets. The third generation of their Di2 system is now available and bears the name of Shimano Dura Ace R9150 for rim brakes, or R9170 for disc brakes.
Being able to personalise the groupset and user-friendliness are at the heart of this generation.
I took out a rimbrake-fitted test bike which boasted several new features. Firstly, the bike looked incredibly clean! There’s a single cable running from the bar to the frame and there’s no junction box under the handlebars anymore.
Shimano offered an awesome groupset as it was, and they just made it even better. You just feel that everything works flawlessly as soon as you try it. Shifts are silky smooth, the ergonomics of the levers is great, and the bike just rides like a dream. It just works!
Besides the new modern looks, the groupset has been given a number of technical upgrades. First point of contact, the shifters. They feel a little small to me, but perhaps that’s because I rode Sram Red eTap and Campagnolo Super Record EPS before this.
The buttons work perfectly but are fairly small. I must confess I missed a few shifts. No doubt something which just takes some getting used to. The brakes are fantastic! The modulation and power are both second to none. They inspire a lot of confidence on descends.
Junction hidden in your bars
New is the junction hidden inside your bars. It’s placed where you normally put a bar end plug and then connects to your shifters with a Y-shaped cable. From the junction, a single cable runs to your frame and on to another novelty: the D-Fly unit.
The D-Fly means you can connect your groupset to your tablet, smartphone or pc through Bluetooth and adjust any settings you wish.
The cranks, brakes, and deraileurs all look slick. It matches nicely to the modern looks of the bike. After having spend around 50 km riding over rolling hills, I feel it’s safe to say that this groupset is going to have a lot of fans. Like I said: it just works.
Setting up the groupset using your tablet
Back at the office, and I get going with the tablet. In seconds, a connection with the Shimano E-tube software is made and I’m all set to adjust anything I want. The system first checks whether there are any updates available for the derailleurs or battery. Naturally, everything needs to be up to date in order to work properly.
I quickly discover that the possibilities are virtually endless. Shifting patterns, speeds, and even the functionality of each button in the system can be adjusted. Naturally, not many riders will probably do this. It’s set up great from the factory, and might only demand a small tweak to make the derailleur move a little faster.
In summary, I can say that everything works beautifully and that this groupset will no doubt once again be a popular choice. That’s where my only gripe is. This groupset suits everyone, which means you’ll see it everywhere.
It’s something which makes it a little less attractive to me. I don’t mind it when you feel a groupset working below you and it giving you feedback on how it’s doing. The latest generation of Dura Ace Di2 is just incredibly smooth.
Best road bike groupset comparison – The verdict
Every high-end groupset absolutely felt like a high-end product. Shift performance was smooth throughout and each groupset performed as you may expect it to. The groupsets do differ from one another, each with their own strengths and weaknesses. This makes picking a winner a lot harder.
I particularly like the Campagnolo Super Record EPS groupset. The effortless feel, the sensation, and the materials used combined make this into an absolute dream groupset.
From a technical point of view, I particularly like the Rotor UNO groupset. I think this ultimately is the way to go. Hydraulics are an inexpensive system which are easily mass produced. Shifts feel good, and the shift performance will always remain the same.
When it comes to looks, the Shimano R9150 takes the prize. It all looks incredibly well-made. The level of adjustability is seemingly endless and the app is very user-friendly. The FSA WE still has to prove itself but the prototype I used seemed very promising. The absolute winner when it comes to how easy it is to fit to a bike is the Sram eTap groupset. Things don’t get much simpler than this.
As you can see, all of these groupsets do great and each has its strengths. Depending on what you find most important, you can decide for yourself which groupset is best. Design, adjustability, or perhaps something just a little different to what we’re used to? Pick the properties you find most important, and you can’t go wrong. Below is a short summary of Kees’ experiences and his verdict, which hopefully help you make your choice.
Road bike groupsets comparison and review
|Property||Rotor Uno||Shimano Di2||Campagnolo EPS||SRAM eTap||FSA WE|
|Operation||Hydraulic||Electronic wired||Electronic wired||Electronic wireless||Electronic partially wireless|
|Weight||2345 grams||2051 grams||1939 grams||1992 grams||2050 grams|
|Level of personalisation|