The term group-set are defines a component manufacturer's organised collection of mechanical parts

The term group-set comes from the Italian word for group (‘gruppo’) and defines a component manufacturer's organised collection of mechanical parts. It generally refers to all of the ‘running’ components that make up a bicycle, excluding the frame, forks, stem, wheels, tires, and the bits you hold-on with, like the saddle and handlebars.

So a group-set comprises: crank, bottom bracket, front derailleur, rear derailleur, cluster, brake/gear levers, cables, calipers and chain.
Shimano and SRAM are the big two manufactures of bike group-sets for mountain-bikes.

Shimano and Campagnolo fight it out on the road.

The Japanese bicycle company Shimano have been around since way back in 1921, and have always been a market leader (with a share 80-90%, depending on the country) in terms of high-end bicycle components (road/off-road) as well as some of the best ranges of cheaper bike parts and cycle components.

The Shimano group-sets are marked out by a series of letters.

The 2008 ranking of Shimano mountain bike components is (from best to worst):

Deore XT
Deore LX

Footnote: To equate these to what’s on a road-bike, it’s XTR = Dura Ace, Deore XT = Ultegra, Deore LX = 105, Deore = Tiagra, Alivio = Sora

Not quite the new kid on the block, (they’ve been about since 1987) the other major MTB group-set manufacturer is U.S based SRAM, which is steadily gaining ground on its Japanese competitor. This company started out with Grip shift, a twist grip shifter company, and has grown into a huge international company with a broad range of components from suspension forks to cranks, mainly by acquisition of other parts manufacturers. SRAM now own fork giants Rockshox, crank manufacturers Truvativ, and brake manufacturers Avid. So SRAM offers parts under different brand names and it’s only the Shifters, Chains, Cassettes – that you’ll see the name SRAM. So you need to get this straight in your head, unlike Shimano, SRAM do not produce their group-set range, under the one banner (rumour has it, 2010 is the year, this quirk of business will change)

Footnote: Another SRAM subsidiary company, you’ve probably heard of, is Zipp the wheel manufacturer.

SRAM rank their branded mountain bike components (from best to worst):

SX 4

And here’s how both Group Sets rank, were we to line-up Shimano & SRAM together, and compare their respective product range.

Shimano versus SRAM dollar for dollar & pound for pound (over 12 rounds, no standing 8 count)

XTR = X.0.....Pro: Lightest strongest most efficient
XT = X.9.....Expert: Light, strong, durable, efficient
LX = X.7.....Sport: Strong, durable reliable
Deore = X.5.....Sport: Strong reliable
Alivio = X.4.....Recreational
Acera = X.3.....Recreational
Altus = No comparitive.....Entry Level

Confused by now?

You should be, and to make things worse for the uninitiated, few complete bikes actually come with a full group set of the same brand. Manufacturers/importers tend to mix and match, in order mainly to save costs. So if SRAM gives them the best deal on cassettes at a set level – that’s what will be on the bike.

So print this off, before you next venture into a bike-shop, and appear for all intents and purposes, to be a well-versed punter, to the ‘all-knowing’ tech freak selling you a bike. Go forth, fully prepared to throw-in a few terms like, “how does XT compare to X9”? Or “why is this bike running quality XTR on one part & only LX on another?”.