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Shimano Groupset Levels Explained:

Mountain Bike, Road, and Gravel

By: Danielle Vilaplana, Product Content Writer  |  Last Updated: April 30th, 2024
Shimano Groupset Levels - Understanding the Hierarchy

What is a Groupset?

A groupset is a collection of components that work together to control the drivetrain, shifting, and braking of a bike. All Shimano groupset levels include a cassette, rear derailleur, chain, cranks, and shifter, and sometimes a front derailleur too. Groupsets that are designed for drop bar bikes (road bikes and gravel bikes) include brakes because the shifters and brakes are often integrated, but Shimano mountain bike groupsets typically do not.

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Shimano Groupset Hierarchy - Included Drivetrain Components

Shimano Groupset Levels

Shimano's higher-end groupsets are lighter, more durable, and use premium materials, while lower-tier groupsets focus on affordability and reliable performance. You can usually mix and match components within each category or purchase an entire groupset as a package. Shimano components benefit from trickle down technology, so that even the lower components eventually feature great technology after it's been around for a little while.

Shimano also provides a wider gear range than SRAM within most of its groupsets, often offering 1x, 2x, and sometimes 3x ranges, so riders looking for a wider range should consider some of the options below.

Shimano is a little less user-friendly than SRAM – who is the other big bike component manufacturer – when it comes to naming and branding. The key is to understand the letters and the numbers - M, as in M8100, represents mountain bike components, and R, as in R8100, represents road and gravel components. The numbers are arranged in a hierarchy as well - the higher the number, the nicer the component.

What Shimano lacks in hierarchical simplicity it makes up for in killer performance, so it’s worth taking the time to navigate the different groupset levels if you prefer a Shimano ride feel. Check out our other guide to learn more about SRAM Groupset Levels.

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Shimano MTB Groupset Hierarchy

Though you can still find some Shimano mountain bike groupsets with front derailleurs and several chainrings, the overall trend within the mountain bike industry is 1x drivetrains and a single chainring. 1x drivetrains lack the climbing finesse of their predecessors, but they make up for it in chain management and simplicity.

It’s worth noting that mountain bike groupsets do not come with brakes. Though they are labeled with the same hierarchy, the brakes and shifting are not integrated on a mountain bike as they are on drop bar bikes, so the components are all sold separately.

Shimano is currently on a mission to revamp their entry-level components, and the lower-tier Altus, Acera, and Alivio were replaced by Shimano Cues in 2023. Shimano Cues will focus on offering 1x drivetrains (with some 2x options) with more compatibility with the range.

Shimano Mountain Bike Groupset Tiers
ProShimano XTR (M9100)This is Shimano's flagship mountain bike groupset, designed for high-performance mountain biking and racing. It features 1x, 2x, and 3x drivetrains and a Di2 option for electronic shifting. The XTR groupset is highly customizable, with options for electronic or mechanical shifting and a variety of cassette and chainring sizes.
HighShimano XT (M8100):XT is a high-end mountain bike groupset that shares many of the features of the XTR but at a more affordable price point. It features 1x11, 1x12, and 2x12 drivetrains.
MidShimano SLX (M7100)This is a mid-range mountain bike groupset that offers high-performance components at a more budget-friendly price. It features a 1x12-speed or 2x12-speed drivetrain with a wide gear range.
EnthusiastShimano Deore (M6100/M5100/M4100)This is an entry-level mountain bike groupset that still offers impressive quality components and features. It features a 12-speed drivetrain with a wide gear range, durable components, and cranks made of aluminum and steel. NX and SX below do not have quite the same range as the other tiers, though, featuring 11-50t cassettes instead of 10-52t.
EntryShimano Cues (U8000/U6000/U4000)Shimano Cues was introduced in 2023 to replace some of Shimano's older, entry-level components. There are some 2x options available, but it primarily features 1x drivetrains with 9-speed through 11-speed offerings. It is meant to be more interchangeable and modern than previous lines.

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Shimano Road Groupsets

There is usually some overlap between road and gravel groupsets, though Shimano’s GRX has carved it’s own niche. We’ll get into the differences below, but you can generally expect road bike groupsets to have larger chainrings with fewer teeth, emphasizing speed on smooth terrain. Road biking is also the only cycling discipline to still utilize rim brakes. Rim brakes are lightweight, and road cycling usually does not have the same all-weather braking demands as gravel and mountain biking.

Shimano consistently debuts it’s best and newest tech in their top tier, 12-speed Dura-Ace, and the tech trickles down to the other groupsets.

For those with older bikes, it’s also worth noting that Shimano has replaced many of their older, entry-level mountain bike components with the new Shimano Cues. Shimano has hinted that their road options are next, with Tiagra, Sora, and Claris on the chopping block. Shimano Cues will focus on offering 1x drivetrains (with some 2x options) with more compatibility with the range.

Shimano Road Bike Groupset Tiers
ProShimano Dura-Ace (R9200)This is Shimano's flagship road bike groupset, designed for professional and high-end racing. It features a 2x12-speed drivetrain with hydraulic disc brakes and Di2 electronic shifting option.
HighShimano Ultegra (R8100):This is a high-end road bike groupset that shares many of the features of the Dura-Ace but at a more affordable price point. It features a 2x12-speed drivetrain, hydraulic disc brakes, and Di2 electronic shifting options.
MidShimano 105 (R7100)This is a mid-range road bike groupset but riders can still get Di2 electronic shifting in this mid-level groupset. It features a 2x12-speed drivetrain with a wide gear range, hydraulic disc brakes, and reliable components.
EnthusiastShimano Tiagra (R4700)This is an entry-level road bike groupset that provides reliable components at an affordable price point. It features a 2x10-speed drivetrain, hydraulic and mechanical disc brake options, and durable components.
EntryShimano Sora (R3000)

Shimano Claris (R2000)
The Shimano Sora groupset delivers a winning combination of affordability and performance for entry-level road cyclists. It is designed for entry level riders with a 3x9-speed drivetrain and mechanical disc brakes.

The Shimano Claris groupset is an entry level groupset that features mechanical disc brakes and 2x8 and 3x8-speed drivetrain options for casual riders.

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Shimano Gravel Groupset Hierarchy

Road and gravel bike groupsets differ due to the varying demands of their respective riding styles and terrains. Gravel bikes, designed to tackle off-road adventures, typically feature wider gear ranges to accommodate more variable terrain. These wider gear ratios enable easier climbing on steep inclines and faster descents on rougher roads. In contrast, road bike groupsets prioritize high-speed riding on smooth surfaces, thus offering fewer gears and larger chainrings that provide more efficient pedaling.

Chainring options also differ between the two. Road bikes commonly have larger chainrings with fewer teeth, emphasizing high-speed performance. Gravel bikes, on the other hand, often employ smaller chainrings with more teeth to provide better low-end gearing, ensuring ample power for challenging climbs and navigating rough terrain.

Another notable distinction lies in the braking systems. Road bikes traditionally employ rim brakes, known for their lightweight and efficient performance on paved surfaces. Gravel bikes, however, commonly utilize disc brakes for superior all-weather stopping power and modulation. Disc brakes are better suited to handle the unpredictable conditions encountered during gravel riding, including mud, dirt, and wet surfaces.

Additionally, gravel bike groupsets are designed with enhanced durability to withstand the demands of off-road riding. They incorporate features like improved seals, increased tolerance to dirt and grime, and components that can endure vibrations, impacts, and debris encountered on rough surfaces.


Shimano Gravel Bike Groupset Tiers
HighShimano GRX (RX800/RX600)GRX is typically broken into the 800 and 600 lines. 800 components are part of Shimano's top-of-the-line gravel bike groupset, designed for racers and other elite riders. The 600 line is a mid-range groupset that still offers the similar features to the higher-end line, including 1x12 or 2x12 drivetrains, hydraulic disc brakes, and electronic shifting upgrades.

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Shimano Brake Hierarchy

It's rare for Shimano to be more straightforward than SRAM, but when it comes to brakes, Shimano sticks to the same naming as their groupsets. SRAM and Shimano also have different approaches to their brakes. SRAM brakes come in three models designed for different types of biking and have tiers within each model. Shimano, however, is the opposite; their three brake models come in a hierarchy that has different models for XC, trail, and enduro riding within each level. 

Road and gravel bike groupsets will come with the brakes because the brakes are integrated with the shifting lever, but Shimano's mountain bike brakes are sold separately. Fortunately, the mountain bike brake levels are named the same as the groupsets, so we're going to highlight just a few features of each model below.


Shimano Mountain Bike Brake Tiers
ProShimano XTRShimano XTR brakes use the highest quality materials and come in different models designed for different discplines.
  • M9100 - extremely lightweight, 2-pot brakes for XC riders
  • M9120 - powerful 4-pot brakes for trail riding wtih tool-free adjustments and bit point adjustments 
HighShimano XTShimano XT brakes have much of the same performance as XTR, without the high end materials and price point. It comes in 2-piston and 4-piston varieties and run slightly heavier than XTR brakes.
  • M8000 - 2-pot brakes for all riding styles
  • M8020 - 4-pot brakes with 10% mroe braking power
MidShimano SLXSLX is the workhorse of Shimano brakes, with brake levers that are nearly identical to XT. The main difference is that the levers don't have the bit point adjustment. The calipers come in 2 and 4 piston options.
  • M7100 - Lightweight 2-piston brake
  • M7120 - 4-piston brake
EnthusiastShimano DeoreThe Deore brakes benefit from Shimano's trickle down technology and share many design features with the more expensive models. The dinstinguishing feature is the resin pistons; the higher end models use ceramic and alloy. Deore also comes in 2 and 4 piston versions. 
  • M6100 - 2-piston
  • M6120 - 4-piston

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About the Author

Danielle is a Product Content Writer at evo. She also writes and take photos for cool bike publications like and has worked in a handful of bike shops in Salt Lake City and Moab, UT. She spends much of her time mountain biking, gravel riding, and bikepacking around Utah and Wyoming.

This is evo. We are a ski, snowboard, wake, skate, bike, surf, camp, and clothing online retailer with physical stores in SeattlePortlandDenver, Salt Lake City, Whistler, and Snoqualmie Pass. Our goal is to provide you with great information to make both your purchase and upkeep easy.

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