It’ s common to use “durability”, “resilience”, “strength”, even “repairability” interchangeably.
Formula 1 engines, depending on conditions, last as low as 1000 km’s. However, they have enormous strength – even the best performance car engine parts cannot stand those conditions a few seconds. An old Mercedes diesel engine can last over a million kilometers; they were extremely durable and repairable.
For bike parts, that’s a bit more complicated, or straightforward, depending on how you approach the case. Bike components does not have to endure huge amount shock, except the …shocks. When you buy and wear out a bike component, it’ s hard to say when it becomes “useless” or “dangerous to operate”. If you’ re happily riding an old 7×3 Tourney bike, going out for short rides slowly and enjoying the scenery, this bike can serve you for life. On the other hand, a high-end Dura-Ace road bike may become a major headache just after 500 km’s, because the bottom bracket is creaking, though it can be heard by a stethoscope !
A nice and well-tuned groupset is silent, precise, strict and lightweight. I cannot say if it’s “durable” or “resilient” enough for you; that depends on many factors: how hard you use it, do you crash your bike? Are you looking after it religiously? Or, are you expecting too much of it ?
I prefer a Deore XT / XTR mix depending on my budget; yet I rode Tourney, no-names, Altus, mix of everything in
the past. Even with Tourney, I did not have too much to complain. As I said, it’s mostly about expectations, but obviously, if I raced, I’d never settle down anything under Ultegra, or XT (A notch down after highest ends, Dura Ace for road and XTR for MTB).
So, why do people pay hundreds, even thousands of dollars more for a groupset? It’s mostly psychological, at least for most people. For me, there is nothing wrong in investing a lots of money to a bling groupset, if that makes you ride your bike more, and most of the time, it does: if you pay something more, you are more inclined to use it. One other thing: it confronts you with your limits. If you ride Tourney, you may blame the frame, groupset, even tires to set you off becoming a world champion.
Getting into a new thing is hard…so get good quality bicycle parts, but XTR or alikes are bit of excess…
I have a aquarium hobby, started when I was 14 or so. I start with a small tank, crappy filters and absolute zero knowledge. Then bought a bigger tank, better filter, which is a tad better then cheap of the cheapest. Fishes lived more, yet did not breed or grow bigger. Because I still have very limited knowledge, and a year later, I gave up.
When I was 30, I revisited the hobby, reading and watching everything I can find, and getting top notch equipment. In a year so, I became a well-known breeder in a small circle, having 7 big tanks! A year after, I was so into it that I made my own primitive, cheap, DIY filters that are immensely effective, so much so that I sold my Eheim filters, which are considered as top of the line.
Morale of the story is, when you have knowledge, experience and time invested on anything, equipment does not matter. Second time I started, I got the best equipment available, so if I fail, it’s me that failed: not the equipment, not the fate, not the world against me. I gained confidence, and really started enjoying my hobby, instead of hunting for the best equipment.
It’s the same with bikes for me now, nowadays I don’t care about groupset grades that much.
It’s not just bling factor, or longevity
It’s no surprise that a good groupset is more pleasant to ride, especially good shifters feels much better. An XT crankset probably 20 years old shifts better then a recent Altus, no matter how good recent Altus
cranksets are. And it still looks better then an Altus. Made better.
You may wonder how 50 year old Mercedes wonder around while 10 year old ones are falling apart. Well, the ones you see, 50 year old models, was very expensive at the time, and better made for this reason: you’ll see an AMG GT 50 years later, but not an A-class. It’s not too hard to find every part for an 50 year old Mercedes, yet good luck with a 20 year old C-Class. People tend to keep old but expensive, nice items. That’s what “antique” is – it is not an old, crappy thing, but a very nice item, “made with love” at the time.
I can still find chainrings, even the originals, for my XT cranks. And probably will for at least a decade more. Is it feasible? No! I can get a nice Deore crankset instead of buying chainrings to an XT, by only paying a small extra, and I believe current Deore’s are better. Ritchey or Time frames, Klein bikes, Look pedals, Brooks saddles will always hold their value, though most of it can be just sentimental, but who cares?
Campagnolo: if it looks better, it should perform better, right?
Old groupsets definitely look better, but Campagnolo is something different. My experience with Campagnolo may be less then 10 minutes; but you don’t have to ride it to appreciate. It still looks like as if it is produced a bit of different then the rest, though it lost most of its flair of the old days. Campy looks still a bit more refined, designed by artists, not engineers. Does it effect your performance? Absolutely! People are emotional creatures, even when they are doing the most rational things. If that makes you love riding, or feels “different” from the rest, why not, then it is the best groupset!
Any rational motives to buy the best groupset ??
Well, there is. Even with Deore / Tiagra, you can still gain a hefty weight advantage upon moving to XTR / Dura Ace, if not XT / Ultegra. When you already reached your maximum potential, that will give you some performance boost, albeit not much, yet its there.
From my experience, it is the longevity that matters with the best groupsets. These things are produced with best materials. Anything including Deore, even SLX, have still some steel parts that will rust, yet the XT / XTR / Dura Ace / Ultegra will look brand new with no corrosion after a few decades. I like XT a bit better than XTR – XTR goes too much on saving weight, so some components on some series have less longevity compared to XT.
If you’ re really after best available components without the huge price tag, it’s better to mix and match some high end parts rather then getting a whole XTR / Dura Ace. XT and Ultegra cranks are really nice, especially in some years, XT is better because it uses more standard parts. Shifters? If you have the money, go for XTR / Dura Ace, yet XT and Ultegra is still perfect. But if you get used to XT like me, you can sense the little improvement in XTR and will definitely appreciate it.
For chains and cassettes, Deore is perfect, chains are consumables if not waxed, and Deore cassettes are more durable then anything. XT and XTR, for cassettes, are too light for their own sake, wearing out faster then Deore’s.
For front derailleurs, I can go with SLX. I have some SLX front derailleurs, but also XT’s too, so I always end up using XT and having lots of SLX spares. Construction-wise, the difference is trivial, and my experience with SLX is too brief to judge.
For rear derailleurs, everything from Shimano worked perfectly for me, as I’m not jumping around a lot. For shifting, it is the shifter that makes the big difference, most of the time, provided that you use good quality cables, the drivetrain is well maintained and properly adjusted. My lowest spec Shimano recently was a Sora, which was as perfect as XT, and I used it on an MTB with an 11-32 cassette.
I also know, whatever I say or even scientifically prove will not change your mind, if you want a certain thing, unless you rent bikes, or compete in a big event. So, I know it’s strange to say this, but get whichever you like!
Spending money on what really matters: wheelset
Shaving off 300 grams out of a groupset probably won’t be worth a lot, especially you’re riding a road bike and not racing, for only lightweightness in mind. But shaving off 100 grams out of wheelset can make a huge difference, at least in bike terms!
Rotational Inertia = I = amr^2 (I is inertia in kg m2, m is mass in kg, r is the radius in meters and a is a coefficient which can be taken as 1 for ring forms – for the sake of simplification, let’s take a=1)
Less the inertia, you can accelerate faster. By oversimplifying the formula and the wheelset, let’s say we have a “heavy” front wheel, Shimano WH-RS100, which is about 120€ a set and front wheel weighs 805 gr. For the tire, we’ll take the cheapest Schwalbe Lugano II, which is 365g. And take, Roval Alpinist CLX, the front is 562g sans tire, and let’s pick a tire: Pirelli P Zero Velo 4S, which is 220gr. Let’s omit inner tubes, as both will have one, and that can be the same. The expensive set is 780gr’s, while the cheaper set is 1170gr. Price difference? 10x! Still, that’s 2000$ give or take, but Roval is not the price/performance ratio leader. For half the price, you can get a great wheelset still, maybe 100gr heavier (both).
Let’s calculate rotational inertia for both:
Roval – Pirelli: 0.095 kgm2
Shimano – Schwalbe: 0.143 kgm2
That means you have to push 50% more to accelerate on a heavy wheelset. By just settling a notch lower, for example, Ultegra instead of Dura Ace, you can get superb wheels that will at least give you over 40% advantage on acceleration. And it is not just the “Tour de France” class advantage – you’ll benefit in every ride, every discipline, every day.
A top-of-the-line groupset may make you feel better, but there are better areas to invest in: cockpit, saddle, and definitely wheelset / tires. If you are after improving your bike, start with these first, and if you still have some money left, either keep it or get the best groupset you can. A groupset alone will not improve your performance, but a wheelset, with even better tires will definitely do.