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Shimano vs. SRAM

By Bruce Lin


Updated: December 28, 2020

We often get asked, "What's the difference between Shimano and SRAM?" It's a common question people have when shopping for a new bike, and there are plenty of opinions. The answer isn't at all straightforward. Both companies offer a range of products that work well and offer comparable performance.

So how do you decide which is right for your bike?

Shimano and SRAM are the two dominant component manufacturers in the cycling industry, and the vast majority of modern bikes are going to come with one of their drivetrains. Some riders tend to be more loyal to one brand over the other based on personal experiences. Others have specific ergonomic preferences. For ultra-picky riders, choosing between bikes built with Shimano or SRAM can be a major factor in their purchasing decisions. 

Shimano vs. SRAM componentsIn this story, we can't definitively answer whether one is “better” than the other (sorry). Instead, This comparison aims to shed light on the similarities and differences between the two brands and their products. The more you can learn about what drives your bike, the easier it will be to make informed decisions about where your loyalties and what products are right for your ride.

Note: Campagnolo is a third option for bicycle components. However, it makes up a very small percentage of total new component sales when compared to Shimano and SRAM. Plus, it only makes road components. For the average rider, the vast majority of bike brands stick to Shimano or SRAM products, so that's why Campagnolo is not included in this piece. 


History and mission


The Shimano story begins in 1921, almost 100 years ago, in Sakai, Osaka, Japan. Shimano’s founder, Shozaburo Shimano, was only 26 years old when he moved into a small rented space in a demolished celluloid factory and opened Shimano Iron Works. With a borrowed lathe, Shimano’s ambitious goal was to produce his first bicycle component: freewheels.

Shimano Founder ShozaburoShozaburo Shimano | Photo Courtesy Shimano

At the time, freewheels were the component that took the most technology to produce. Shimano, however, was so confident in the reliability of his freewheels that he backed them with a bold guarantee — any defective freewheel would be replaced by two.

Vintage Shimano FreewheelThe original Shimano freewheel | Photo Courtesy Shimano

Shozaburo Shimano led his company and developed bicycle components until his death in 1958. His son, Shozo Shimano, took over as the next president. Over the next 50 years, Shimano grew to become the world’s dominant component manufacturer, overtaking former leaders like Campagnolo and SunTour.

Shimano AmericaShozo Shimano (left) at Shimano American Corporation office in New York - 1965 | Photo Courtesy Shimano

With high quality and reliable products, Shimano has established itself as a benchmark component brand in the industry. It is currently led by Shozaburo’s grandson, Yozo Shimano. With sales that constitute an estimated 70-80% of the global cycling component market by value, it is the biggest cycling component manufacturer in the world. Their stated mission is to promote health and happiness with outdoor products that help people enjoy nature and the world around us.

Annual revenue: $2.3 Billion (reported 2017)
Employees: 11,829

Philanthropy: Shimano is one of the founding members of the EcoMobility Alliance, an international partnership of people and companies that work to improve EcoMobility. 


SRAM’s unique name is said to be an amalgamation of the names of its founders. It comes from combining letters from Scott, Ray, and Sam (Ray is the middle name of former CEO, Stan Day). Scott King was the company's attorney. Stan R. Day was SRAM’s first CEO. And Sam Patterson was an engineer and designer who created SRAM’s first product.SRAM Stan DaySRAM's founder and first CEO, Stan Day | Photo Courtesy SRAM

SRAM was founded in Chicago, Illinois, in 1987. The company began with a single product — the Grip Shift. The Grip Shift was an indexed gear shifter that wrapped around the ends of drop handlebars. Traditionally, riders had shift levers mounted to the frame, but Grip Shift allowed riders to change gears without removing their hands from the handlebars. Sam Patterson, who at the time worked for an engine manufacturer, designed SRAM's first product.

SRAM Grip ShiftEarly Grip Shift on a drop-bar bike | Photo Courtesy SRAM

With a belief in the power of the Grip Shift, Stan Day assembled investors, set up an office, and became the company’s first president while Sam Patterson became the head of research and development. Over the next 30 years, SRAM acquired several component companies, such as RockShox, Zipp, Truvativ, and Quarq. This growth has led it to become the second-largest component manufacturer in the world with an expansive catalog of bike parts.

One of SRAM's key goals is to be the most exciting component manufacturer in the industry. It has worked toward this goal with innovative products that have produced notable shifts in the industry. A point of pride for the company has been its success in taking on Shimano, who once controlled well over 85% of the cycling component market.

Annual revenue: $725 Million (reported 2017)
Employees: 3,500

Philanthropy: World Bicycle Relief (WBR) is a non-profit that specializes in large-scale, comprehensive bicycle distribution programs to aid poverty relief in developing countries.

Key technological innovations

Both Shimano and SRAM have developed products that have moved cycling forward. Much of the bike technology we take for granted today is the result of Shimano's and SRAM's innovations. Here are a few key products they've developed that have helped shape modern cycling.


1984 - Shimano Index System (SIS)
The Dura-Ace 7400 group introduced indexed shifting, which provided accurate gear changes with shifts that corresponded to clicks in the shifter. Gear changes became more precise and faster as riders could select the gear without having to fiddle with the position of a friction shifter. Indexed shifting is the basis for how modern mechanical shifters work.

1989 - Shimano Total Integration (STI) / Rapid Fire
Shimano STIPhoto Courtesy Shimano

STI is a shifting system that allows cyclists to shift gears, operate the brakes, and steer without removing their hands from the handlebars. STI integrated shift levers into the brake hoods, creating the blueprint for modern road, cyclocross, and gravel bike shifters as we know it. Rapid Fire was a flat-bar version of STI, using a pod with trigger style levers clamped to the bar. Trigger-style shifters are now the most common type of shifter used on mountain bikes.

1990 - Shimano Pedaling Dynamics (SPD) shoes and pedals
Shimano created a standard-setting clipless shoe and pedal system. Many brands now produce pedals compatible with Shimano SPD style cleats. It is one of the most ubiquitous clipless pedal systems.

2009 - Digital Integrated Intelligence (Di2) electronic shifting
Di2 was introduced for Shimano’s Dura-Ace level group and was the first commercially viable electronic shifter and derailleur system. Di2 made electronic shifting the new standard for top-of-the-line group.

2014 - XTR Di2
Shimano brought its Di2 technology to mountain bikes with the XTR Di2 M9050 group, the first electronic mountain bike group.  


1987 - Grip Shift
SRAM's story began with an indexed gear shifter that wrapped around the handlebars. The Grip Shift design still sees use today on some mountain bikes, commuters, and other flat-bar bicycles.

2006 - DoubleTap
SRAM DoubleTapPhoto Courtesy SRAM

SRAM’s integrated shifting solution for road bikes allowed the rider to shift in both directions using a single shifter paddle. This was also SRAM's first foray into producing a complete road component group, Force.

2012 - 1x11 XX1 group
Riders had experimented with 1x (pronounced “one-by”) drivetrains in the past, but XX1 was the first 1x drivetrain from a major manufacturer that became a mainstream option. Like previous attempts at single-chainring drivetrains, XX1 simplified shifting by removing the front derailleur. This configuration is now the standard for most mountain bikes and is popular on cyclocross and gravel bikes as well.

2015 - Red eTap
eTap was SRAM’s first electronic road group and it set itself apart from Shimano’s Di2 system by being wireless.

2016 - 1x12 Eagle group
Eagle was the first 12-speed mountain bike group. It expanded the capabilities of SRAM’s already successful 1x11 groups with a wider 500% gear range that was comparable to traditional 2x systems.

2019 - eTap AXS and Eagle AXS
SRAM continued the progression of its wireless electronic group with AXS. AXS introduced a new 12-speed road bike group and the first wireless electronic mountain bike group.

Component differences

Shimano and SRAM have been competing for the last 30 years. Competition has bred many fantastic cycling components. This section covers some of the key tech and design differences in certain Shimano and SRAM components.


STI vs. DoubleTap

A major difference between Shimano and SRAM is road bike shifter design. Shimano's STI shifters separate the control of up and downshifts into two different shift levers. The brake lever itself pivots inward to act as an up/downshift lever, and a second paddle-shaped lever sits behind it to shift in the other direction. 

Instead of two separate levers, SRAM's DoubleTap uses a single paddle-shaped lever behind the brake lever (which is fixed) to handles both up and downshifts. Pushing this lever one click inward shifts the drivetrain in one direction. Pushing the lever further in, past the first click, causes the drivetrain to shift in the opposite direction. 

Both shifter designs are simple and intuitive once a rider has learned how to use them. Both designs also have the capability to downshift multiple gears in a single lever stroke. Choosing between the two will often come down to rider preference and ergonomics. 

Some riders also tend to be picky about the shape of the shifter hoods (the rubber area on top of the shifter where the rider places their hands). Shimano and SRAM both offer a variety of hood shapes and finding the ideal one may require some experimentation. 

Rapid Fire trigger shifters

Shimano Rapid Fire XTR Trigger ShifterA Shimano XTR trigger shifter — the upshift lever (bottom) can be activated in either direction.

Both Shimano and SRAM offer trigger-style shifters for mountain bikes. Two shift levers are housed in a pod attached to the underside of the handlebar. This is the most popular shifter style for modern mountain bikes. Both Shimano and SRAM trigger shifters have the capability of downshifting multiple gears with one lever stroke. 

The main difference in function is that Shimano's Rapid Fire trigger shifter features "2way-release," which allows the upshift lever to move in both directions. This means upshifts can be performed both by pushing the lever with the thumb or pulling it with an index finger. Again, it comes down to rider preference whether this feature is valuable. Riders used to pushing with their thumbs for both up and downshifts will be able to transition between Shimano and SRAM shifters without much thought.  


Crankarm material

Shimano Dura-Ace 9100 hollowtech II crank setShimano is known for its Hollowtech crankarms. Hollowtech refers to a hollow, aluminum crankarm, generally made from two halves joined together. It maintains the stiffness of a solid crankarm while significantly decreasing the weight.

SRAM Red AXS Carbon crank setFor its higher-end crank offerings, SRAM uses carbon fiber. Carbon fiber is made from carbon sheets and fibers bonded in resin. It has a higher strength-to-weight ratio than steel.

Both materials and crank designs perform well. Carbon is currently more common for high-end cranks. Shimano is one of the few manufacturers that sticks to aluminum. It claims the Hollowtech II design offers the same performance as carbon with greater durability.


Both brands use their own spindle designs. Shimano uses Hollowtech II, which is a 24mm spindle. SRAM uses GXP, BB30/PF30, and DUB. The advantages and disadvantages of the different spindle designs can be debated to death and it's a topic that will require its own article. In general, a crank from any brand will require a specific bottom bracket to be compatible with both the frame and crankarm spindle. 

1x Drivetrains

SRAM XX1 1x Mountain Bike drivetrainSRAM brought 1x drivetrains into the mainstream with its innovative XX1 group. Single-chainring drivetrains are now the most popular option for modern mountain bikes because of their increased simplicity and reliability. These drivetrains have even found a place on many cyclocross and gravel bikes.

Shimano initially resisted the move to 1x drivetrains, believing that more traditional 2x (“two-by”) drivetrains provided a more usable range when riding off-road. Shimano was able to eliminate many of the issues mountain bikers had with front derailleurs (e.g., vague feeling shifting, dropped chains, unreliable performance) with its side-swing front derailleurs.

Shimano Deore XT Side Swing Front DerailleurThese front derailleurs used a revised cable pull design to greatly improve performance, but it did little to stop the rise in popularity of 1x drivetrains. 2x mountain bike drivetrains are still available from Shimano but it has since developed more 1x drivetrain options remain competitive.

The downside for some riders using 11-speed 1x drivetrains is the reduced gear range. The release of SRAM’s 12-speed Eagle 1x drivetrains in 2016, addressed this by introducing an ample 500% gear range that has largely eliminated this issue. Three years after the release of Eagle, Shimano also released its first 12-speed mountain bike group, which provided a slightly larger 510% range.

Cassettes and freehubs 


SRAM XX1 10-42 powerdomeX cassetteA 10-42t SRAM XX1 PowerdomeX Cassette 

SRAM's latest high-end cassette design is called PowerdomeX. These cassettes are constructed as a connected dome of cogs all machined from a single block of steel. This greatly reduces weight. The trade-off, however, is that these cassettes are far more expensive than a traditional cassette.

Shimano generally still uses the traditional cassette design with individual cogs stacked and separated by spacers or attached in clusters to aluminum carriers. SRAM’s lower-end XD Driver-compatible cassettes use individual cogs connected with pins in the same PowerdomeX layout. These are less expensive but heavier.

Proprietary freehubs

Shimano’s Hyperglide is the most common freehub design, with many brands making wheels and hubs with compatible freehubs. SRAM cassettes have traditionally used the same design. This compatibility allows riders to switch from one brand to the other without changing their wheels or hubs.SRAM XD Driver freehub
With the release of 11-speed XX1 for mountain bikes in 2012, SRAM made the bold step of releasing its own proprietary freehub, the XD driver. The XD driver freehub was designed to fit the new PowerdomeX mountain bike cassettes which have a smaller 10-tooth cog. The XD Driver freehub has remained in use for SRAM’s current 12-speed Eagle mountain bike group. SRAM has also released a road version know as XDR, which is used for its 12-speed eTap AXS road group. 

Shimano has released its own proprietary 12-speed freehub design, called Microspline. It is intended for its new 12-speed mountain bike group. Micro Spline is similar to XD Driver in that it allows the use of a smaller 10-tooth cassette cog, but its shape is fundamentally different. This means Shimano and SRAM’s 12-speed cassettes each require a specific hub and are not interchangeable.


Riders should generally select their gearing base on their needs. A rider doing fast group rides and races will need more top-end while a rider doing lots of climbing or loaded touring will need more low-end. Many new drivetrains attempt to provide as wide a range as possible to handle a larger variety of terrain and riding styles.

X-Range vs. traditional gearing

Recently, SRAM has challenged the traditional gearing that's been used on road bikes for decades. The new eTap AXS 12-speed group uses an entirely new gearing system, X-Range. It is intended to reduce front shifting, allowing riders to stay in the big ring for longer. It does so by shrinking the chainring size compared to traditional drivetrains and using cassettes with 10-tooth cogs and smaller steps between cogs. Shimano currently still uses traditional gearing, which has seen great success over the years. Until X-Range, few riders had thought about changing their gearing. Only time will tell whether X-Range will overtake traditional gearing as the more popular gearing option.
SRAM X-Range

Photo Courtesy SRAM

Traditional chainring options (teeth): 53/39, 52/36, 50/34
X-Range chainring options: 50/37, 48/35, 46/33

Traditional cassette options: 11-23, 11-25, 11-28, 11-30, 11-32, 11-34, 11-36
X-Range cassette options: 10-26, 10-28, 10-33

Cyclocross and gravel gearing

For cyclocross and gravel bikes, Shimano and SRAM offer several options. Both brands have drivetrains with traditional cyclocross gearing, which generally uses 46/36t chainrings paired with a traditional road cassette.

SRAM also offers 1x cyclocross and gravel drivetrains that use their mountain bike technology, as well as AXS drivetrains using SRAM’s new X-Range gearing. 

Shimano’s new gravel-specific GRX group offers a couple new and unique 2x chainring options as well— 48/31t and 46/30t. These new gearing options have a large delta (the difference in tooth count between chainrings) which provide a much large gearing range for off-road riding.

Mountain bike gearing

On mountain bikes, SRAM's 11-speed XX1 drivetrain with its 10-42t cassette created a whole new generation of wide-range mountain bike cassettes. Shimano responded to SRAM with its own 11-speed 1x drivetrains using 11-40t, 11-42t, and 11-46t cassettes.

Then came the introduction of SRAM’s 12-speed Eagle drivetrain with a 10-50t cassette, which solidified the 1x drivetrain as the dominant option for mountain bikes. Shimano has responded with its own 12-speed drivetrain using a slightly larger 10-51t cassette. Chainrings that are commonly paired with these wide-range cassettes range in size from 28-36t. 

Rear derailleurs

Clutch design

Shimano derailleurs intended for rough roads and off-road riding use its Shadow Technology, which slims the derailleur and keeps it pulled up out of harm's way. The GRX and mountain bike rear derailleurs use a friction clutch that keeps the derailleur in place on rough terrain to improve chain retention.

SRAM also uses a clutch on all of its mechanical 1x drivetrain derailleurs. A small difference between how SRAM and Shimano Implement clutches is that Shimano’s clutch mechanism can be toggled on and off. Turning the clutch off makes the derailleur easier to manipulate to remove the rear wheel. Instead of a toggle switch, SRAM uses a cage lock which locks the derailleur cage in an extended position for wheel removal. 

SRAM Orbit Damper and Overload Clutch

Traditional derailleur clutches use friction plates and springs but the latest generation SRAM AXS derailleurs have a new hydraulic damper and hydraulic clutch system to provide chain retention. The Orbit Damper for road bike derailleurs prevents movement of the derailleur on hard jarring impacts to maintain chain tension on rough roads without the full lockout provided by a clutch. The Overload clutch for mountain bike derailleurs will maintain tension like a traditional clutch, but upon impact, it disengages a motor gearbox inside, giving the derailleur the freedom to move and protecting it from damage.

Electronic drivetrains

For both Shimano and SRAM, electronic drivetrains are at the top of their component hierarchies. They represent the pinnacle of their drivetrain technology.

Shimano Di2

Shimano Dura-Ace Di2Shimano’s electronic Di2 (Digital Integrated Intelligence) drivetrain technology was first introduced in 2009 with the Dura-Ace Di2 group. It later trickled down into the more affordable Ultegra Di2 group in 2011. Di2 is only available in higher-end groups. Dura-Ace and Ultegra for road, cyclocross, and gravel bikes, and XTR and Deore XT for mountain bikes. 

SRAM eTap, eTap AXS, and Eagle AXS

SRAM Red eTap AXSSRAM’s first electronic drivetrain, eTap Red, was introduced in 2015. This has been followed in 2019 with the introduction of its AXS group — eTap AXS and Eagle AXS — which build upon and improve the original eTap. Like Di2, AXS is only available for higher-end groups. eTap AXS for road, cyclocross, and gravel bikes is available in Red and Force. Eagle AXS for mountain bikes is available in XX1 and X01. 


The major difference between Di2 and eTap/AXS is the use of wires. Di2 is wired and requires routing of the wires through the frame and components to function. This may or may not be easy depending on the frame. Shifters and the rest of the system are connected by a junction box, often under the stem. Some bikes hide the junction box in the frame or handlebars, but that requires additional routing. Though it is more complicated, routing Di2 is usually only a one-time job. Once a bike is set up, it won’t need to be touched. eTap/AXS is wireless and transmits its signal using SRAM’s proprietary wireless protocol, Airea. The initial set-up is very quick and simple due to the lack of wires.


Di2 uses a single rechargeable battery, which is often hidden inside the seatpost or handlebars. Older versions mount the battery externally on the frame. Di2 has 1,000-2,000km battery life. When it runs low, the front derailleur stops working first to preserve rear shifting. When the battery dies, the derailleurs will remain in the gear selected, essentially functioning like a singlespeed. Battery life can be checked by holding both shift button on the right shifter, which will activate an LED battery indicator light on the junction box. 

eTap/AXS requires separate batteries in each derailleur which have approximately 20 hours of battery life. The rechargeable batteries are swappable between derailleurs if one runs low, meaning you can sacrifice the front derailleur battery to maintain shifting in the rear or vice versa. When the batteries die, the derailleurs will remain in the gear selected, essentially functioning like a singlespeed. Battery life can be checked by pressing the function buttons on the derailleurs, which will activate an LED battery indicator light on the derailleur. The shifters use common CR2032 batteries that usually last several seasons. Shifter paddles have an LED battery life indicator on the inside of the paddle. 


Di2 road shifters feature two shift buttons on each shifter. They essentially function the same as the up and downshift levers on STI mechanical shifters. eTap / eTap AXS road shifters have a single shift paddle on each shifter, similar to DoubleTap mechanical shifters, but they have a notably different function. The right paddle shifts the rear derailleur up into a harder gear, while the left paddle shifts it down into an easier gear. Front derailleur shifts are actuated by pressing both levers simultaneously. 

The Di2 mountain bike shifter uses trigger-style shift levers similar to Rapid Fire shifters. It's notable that Di2 mountain bike shifters come programmed with the up and downshifts levers opposite of how mechanical Rapid Fire shifters are set-up. This can be reprogrammed if desired. Eagle AXS mountain bike shifters utilize a single large button that can move up or down to actuate shifts. 

Both Di2 and eTap AXS have satellite shifters that can be placed in different areas of the cockpit. This allows riders to place shifters in areas where they will be easier to reach while climbing or sprinting. Both currently allow riders to use an app or software to customize the function of their buttons and shift action of their drivetrains. This can allow riders to change the function of specific buttons or adjust how much the drivetrain acts to aid the rider in proper gear selection. 

Hydraulic disc brakes

Both Shimano and SRAM provide hydraulic disc brake options for all types of bikes. Disc brakes are already the standard for cyclocross, gravel, and mountain bikes, and they are slowly becoming more common on road bikes as well.

Brake fluid

Shimano and SRAM brakes do not use the same fluid. Shimano uses mineral oil while SRAM uses DOT 5.1 brake fluid.

Mineral oil is hydrophobic, meaning it resists absorbing water from the air. The boiling points of mineral oil and DOT fluids are comparable, but the introduction of water reduces the boiling point and decreases performance. Being hydrophobic means mineral oil has a very long shelf life, and the boiling point will remain stable during the fluid’s lifespan. However, if any water does enter the braking system, it will pool at low points and compromise the whole system, requiring a full bleed. Mineral oil is non-corrosive, but it is also unregulated so manufacturers like Shimano determine the specifications of their own fluids and there are no minimum standards.

DOT fluid is hygroscopic, meaning it can absorb water from the air over time. As it does the boiling point will change. Because of this, open bottles of brake fluid have a limited shelf life so it’s often recommended to use opened DOT fluid within 12 months. The upside is that water won’t pool in a DOT fluid system and compromise it. DOT fluid is easy to clean, which is good because it is corrosive. It can damage sensitive surfaces on your bike as well as your skin and eyes. Because DOT fluid is regulated by the Department of Transportation, it’s governed by minimum standards that regulate quality and ensure it meets certain specifications. It’s also widely available, not just in bike shops.

Lever design and feel

Shimano and SRAM brakes also have a different feel from each other due to the technology they use at the brake lever.

Shimano ServowavePhoto Courtesy Shimano

Shimano brakes use Servowave. With Servowave, initial pad travel is fast, so little lever movement is needed to contact the rotor. At contact, the power multiplication factor increases so more lever stroke is used to apply greater braking power. This allows the use of short, stubby MTB brake levers with less leverage and makes hydraulic road brake levers easier to pull from the hoods.

SRAM SwinglinkPhoto Courtesy SRAM

Higher-end SRAM brakes use Swinglink, a cam shape inside the brake lever that reduces “deadband” while increasing progressive power throughout the pull.

When riders describe the difference in how Shimano and SRAM disc brakes feel, Shimano is often described as having more of an “on or off” or “lightswitch” feeling where the braking power comes on instantaneously. SRAM brakes will tend to have a more “progressive” feel which may be easier for some riders to modulate and control. Both styles work well and it often comes down to personal preference.

SRAM mountain bike brake levers are ambidextrous, meaning they can be swapped to either side of the cockpit without removing the hoses or rebleeding the system. This is beneficial to riders who need to switch which side their brakes are on. For example, I prefer to run my front brake on the right and have to swap every bike I ride. I often choose SRAM brakes to reduce the hassle. 


Because The Pro’s Closet is the world leader in buying and selling used bikes, we have substantial data about what bikes are popular and what group they are equipped with. I dug into our sales for the last 12 months and looked at thousands of different bikes to analyze how Shimano and SRAM are performing in different categories. The data presented below does not indicate that one brand is better than the other. It simply shows how bike manufacturers and owners have chosen to equip their bikes over the last few years.




Road Bikes



Cyclocross / Gravel Bikes



Mountain Bikes




This data shows that, unsurprisingly, Shimano and SRAM make up over 90% of all bike groups we sell. Campagnolo is the next largest but only contributes to a small fraction of our sales.

The data also shows some recent trends. SRAM has become the dominant choice for mountain bikes, which is likely due to the increased popularity of its 1x drivetrains. Shimano, however, has maintained a firm hold on the road bike category, which it has dominated for decades. Cyclocross and gravel bikes are split fairly evenly between Shimano and SRAM. Neither brand has the advantage yet as the category is still evolving.

Final thoughts

Shimano and SRAM both make quality products, but their approach and styles are different. Looking at the current component landscape, it can be said that Shimano is generally the more conservative of the two. Over the last decade, SRAM has pursued drivetrain innovation more aggressively. In many cases, Shimano has been forced to respond to remain competitive. A good example is the development of its new 12-speed 1x drivetrain in response to SRAM’s ground-breaking Eagle drivetrain. Time will tell if Shimano will react similarly to SRAM’s new eTap and Eagle AXS drivetrains. Shimano is not struggling by any means. It still remains strong in all categories, and many riders choose Shimano based on its long history in the sport and strong reputation for quality.

I’ve had the good fortune to ride more bikes than the average consumer. I’ve also known many co-workers who are very loyal to their chosen brand. For these ultra-picky riders, it often comes down to small subjective details like feel, ergonomics, and looks. I’ve swapped back and forth countless times.

SRAM MTB DrivetrainI have SRAM on my personal mountain bikes, but Shimano on my road bikes. I may switch next season. 

Currently, my mountain bikes use SRAM Eagle drivetrains and SRAM brakes. They’re lightweight, perform well, and I can easily poach parts if something breaks. I also tend to prefer the progressive feel and ambidextrous design of SRAM mountain bike brakes.

For my road bikes, however, I usually go for Shimano Ultegra or Dura-Ace group. I prefer the function and feel of Shimano STI shifters and I like the shape of the hoods.

Up until last year, I had also exclusively ridden Shimano pedals which have always been smooth and reliable. But SRAM has yet to offer its own clipless pedal. 

Your preferences are likely to evolve and change as you spend time riding one brand or the other. Shimano's new 12-speed mountain group and SRAM's new eTap AXS road group interest me, so next season I may switch things up. Many riders become accustomed to what they know and find it hard to switch brands. Others can jump back and forth without a second thought.

If you're on the fence, our suggestion is to just go ride both and change things as needed. Doing so can be logistically or financially difficult, but our Certified Pre-Owned bikes and Guaranteed Buyback Program are designed to make trying out great bikes easy. Where ever your loyalties lie, the important thing is that you’re on a bike that you love riding.

Do you have a preference for Shimano or SRAM? Are you a Campy fan who feels left out? Let us know in the comments!



  • SHIMANO is the best….. Have been biking since 80s

    Kimbeaux on

  • Dig the discussion. From the days of downtube friction shifting (not that there’s anything wrong that), index shifting has changed bicycling for the better. My first experience with index shifting was about 15 years ago with Ultegra. I could not believe just how buttery smooth shifting could be. I haven’t ridden SRAM but I kind of expect the same. Bikes are the coolest! Peace. Out.

    Nick on

  • I’ve been out of biking for many years, getting back in neck deep in a few weeks. During my hayday, while overseas, I spared absolutely no expense and built an MTN Bike from scratch with a HARO 6061 frame and outfitted it with the best Shimano stuff you could get at the time (cira 96-97) XTR. Helis pro shocks etc… Rode the bike so hard I eventually cracked the frame. I’ve honestly never heard of SRAM, but Shimano never let me down, not once, and I crashed on rocks, rode off cliffs, buried it in sand and mud, the bike even fell off a roof bike rack riding down the highway (someone else’s) and the bike rode without adjustments (other than a slight front rim). After reading all these comments, I’m sticking with the best…

    Bob on

  • Real nice article and informative, thank you for all the good information.

    Israel on

  • SRAM has had a large number of rear derailleur spring failures, so their metallurgy in these parts is substandard/suspect. Frequently failing parts like the parallelogram spring cannot be replaced, so you’ve got to replace the rear derailleur. It’s not much fun being stranded or stuck in one gear a long way from home. I’ve had this happen twice in six years using SRAM Red and Force rear derailleurs, and never with 30 years use of Campy and Shimano.

    Stuart on

  • This is a very good article with comprehensive comparisons. Long time MTB rider and for me it’s SRAM brakes all the way both in ergonomics and feel. I ride A LOT of very technical terrain (often in the wet) and DON’T want an on/off feel from brakes. When the wood is slippery you don’t want to lock up the brakes. Also, I have short stubby fingers and I like to ride with my hands at the end of the bars so I have a hard time reaching Shimano levers. I am a little more indifferent WRT the drive train – I like my SRAM setup and it works well. That said after approx 1,300 Km of riding (one riding season) I have to replace it including the rear derailleur. Have knocked out a number of teeth on the rear cassette and bent the derailleur. I probably would have bent a Shimano derailleur but suspect a Shimano rear cassette, chainring, chain would have lasted longer.

    Chris P. on

  • I went back to “real” cycling about 12 years ago after some 15 years of sailing and riding only 3 speeds rear hub folding bikes for errands. Looking for a new road bike, the owner of a small bike shop in Costa Rica told me: “All Shimanos systems work well and they are reliable. The difference between them is weight and price”. SRAM was not much around at that time and my last pre sailing road bike had friction shifters on the frame. Some years ago, I had my 1st SRAM system, a SRAM Red on a Look full carbon bike. Really enjoyed the double tap lever until the main recall spring broke in the rear derailleur. Could not be fixed, had to be trashed away… My wife has a Look too with Rival double tap. Small metal cage crossed by the axis of the rear shifter spool gear broke off (no shock, no fall). When you look at it, your only comment is “meant to broke”. Could not get the part, got it repaired by a jeweller with a silver welding. We have 3 Turbo Levo 6 fatties, all SRAM. One shifter had to be replaced: index shifting was all screwed up. Guide brake need a lot of maintenace… Too much in fact. Never had this amount of problems with any Shimanos. So, as far as I am concerned, reliability is prime. No more SRAM.

    Robert Fleury on

  • @jordan fowler I’ve been riding Shimano for 30 years including every version of the integrated shifters. I have never one time ever confused a brake with a shift. I’m sure there are reasons to prefer one over the other, but this is not among them.

    Kenny Andersen on

  • Nice, informative article!

    Dorice R. Walker on

  • Thank you so much for this excellent brief. Very useful to us bicycle builders !

    Marc Duchesne on

  • Interesting review, however, as an end user I am more interested on these products reliability. Replacing the components is quite expensive and everyone is looking for long lasting parts.
    In automotive there are warranty reports available that shows reliability charts and help us to avoid lemons.
    Is something similar available in bike industry?

    Adrian M on

  • Fantastic article, very in-depth and informative

    Ammar on

  • Excellent article, a real pleasure to read and very informative. Many, many thanks

    Joe Blackham on

  • For the lower end stuff I think Shimano offers better value for money.

    Mark Power on

  • Omitted from this comprehensive presentation was the clunky Shimano 3x system, in 3×9 and 3×10. SRAM killed it with their compact 50×34 cranks + 12-32 and 11-32 cassettes. Took Shimano years to catch on and catch up, during which time my bikes were built only with SRAM. But SRAM front derailleurs were unreliable and I replaced them with Ultegra. And early SRAM Force and Red rear calipers would not clear 28mm tires so those rear calipers were replaced with Shimano, vintage Shimano from when the two brands used same cable pull distances. Nice article, pleasure to read.

    Richard Handler on

  • Nice overview and history of these two companies. I’m approaching 62; grew up with Peugeots and a full-Campy NR-equipped Masi Special (purchased in Boulder in 1975) that I raced on as a junior. I recall thinking, in 1989 when I purchased my first new bike ever, an Alberto Masi-built 3V with full Super Record, “This is perfection. Why would I ever need another bike?” Ha! Time moves on. I still have that bike, but also (much) more modern bikes with Campy, Shimano, and SRAM, including eTap and Di2. No quibbles; they’re all good. Enzo Ferrari said many decades ago, “Competition improves the breed.” Whether that’s on the road/gravel/single-track/downhill racing scene or in the market place, the adage still applies: We all benefit. Can’t wait to see what comes next!

    Dave Walker on

  • Congratulations Bruce…. that gave a phenomenal comparison in a very positive way… also enhanced my understanding on both these group sets and improved my clarity on the subject… kudos👍🏻👍🏻👍🏻

    Sanjay Nandani on

  • Well, okay…I started riding a road bike decades ago, now, back when a Suntour gruppo was still available (anybody remember that brand?) The first roadbike I had was a Raleigh, which had a gruppo from Shimano on it, but I started working at a local bike shop, and their mechanic sold me one of his old Bianchis, with Campagnolo Athena on it. Oh, by the way, let’s not forget that back in those days, indexed shifting was still not around, so I exclusively used downtube shifters without the indexing between gearsteps – challenging to say the least! Eventually, Gripshift started being sold, and one of the mechanics at this bike shop recommended it as a way to get indexing even for my Campy Athena gruppo, and it worked great. I could, I suppose, go ahead and describe that bike-build, but what’s important now is that I currently have a mountain bike with Shimano Deore XT, and a cyclocross bike with Shimano Ultegra. Happy? I think I AM pretty-much happy. I sure DO miss Campagnolo, though!

    Devin Barlow on

  • Very helpful and timely. One sub-topic probably hard to address meaningfully in an overview like this is variability within product lines for each company. For example, my situation is I recently bought a mostly well-spec’d Trek MTB w/ SRAM Guide R brakes widely reviewed and regarded to be inadequate to the platform. After only limited personal use as a novice rider, I totally agree with these reviews. So I’m in the market to upgrade brakes on a $3700 bike 3 months after I bought it, not ideal. Shops I’ve spoken with have given me varying guidance on which direction I should go. SRAM Code RSC or Shimano XT M8120 are the final contenders. The Code RSC supposedly is a much better brake for my bike and riding style. Which leads to the question…why wouldn’t Trek put that brake on in the first place? Price impact in the end would be net positive to end user vs having to replace under-built brakes. Anyway, thanks for the info, very useful! (Leaning towards SRAM on the replacement by the way)

    Bix on

  • really a personal decision……and for me Shimano translates reliability, durability, tradition and efficiency, more than SRAM. I have Shimano in my mountain bikes, Shimano in one of my road bike and Campy in my other road bike………(unfortunately Campy is not commented here). Have already tried SRAM, but no chemistry…..

    Daniel on

  • might wanna edit this as the XD driver was introduced with 11 speed, not 12 speed, great article, just thought id point that out

    stephen on

  • I have had all SRAM 11v NX and GX systems replaced by SHIMANO XT8000 on all my MTBs and eMTBs (3x full suspension and 1x hardtail). Never regret it.

    Claudius on

  • Maybe worth mentioning that finally, now you should be able to mix SRAM and Shimano shifters and derailleurs, starting from the 11-speed generation (I think 12 uses the same cable pull). I prefer Gripshift for the quick shifting both up and down and paired it with an SLX rear mech. Works perfectly.

    Geri on

  • SRAM guy all the way because I don’t want to accidentally brake when shifting (like can happen on Shimano).

    jordan fowler on

  • Well done! I’m a Shimano guy through and through since the 90’s and my first MTB with the LX setup. Now I run their DXR on my bmx bike and it’s by far and away the top gear in BMX. There’s some expensive handmade brakes, levers, and cranks, but for the price and quality no much beats Shimano. Now I wish I could figure out how to run old XTR cranks, brakes, and levers on my BMX bike. I only know SRAM from seeing it in bike shops on all the current MTB’s. Must be comparable for brands to risk their reps on their top models. Thanks!

    Mike Chaney on

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