Electronic vs. mechanical groupsets

|Know-How

Mechanical or electronic? We’ll show you the main differences between the two shifting systems and explain which advantages and disadvantages they have.

Electronic vs. mechanical groupsets

Which road bike shifting system wins the race? 

You want to buy a new road bike for the coming season and already know exactly which features it should have? The only thing you're not sure about is the shifting system: SRAM or Shimano? Electronic or mechanical? 

We’ll show you the main differences between the two systems and describe the advantages and disadvantages of each. We’ll also take a closer look at the groupsets of the manufacturers that Simplon uses on its road bikes. 

How do mechanical and electronic groups work?

Mechanical shifting is still the most common type of shifting for road bikes. The gears are changed via thin shift cables, so-called Bowden cables, which on Simplon road bikes are routed completely inside the frame. These cables are the connection between the gear lever, the front derailleur, and the rear derailleur. By operating the shift lever, the shift cable is shortened or lengthened by a predefined distance. The front derailleur lifts the chain onto a different cog, and the rear derailleur moves the chain from sprocket to sprocket.

With electronic shifting, on the other hand, electrical impulses ensure that the rear derailleur and front derailleur are actuated. The shift signal is transmitted to the rear derailleur or front derailleur – either via a cable or sometimes even wirelessly. A small servomotor then carries out the shifting process. One or more small rechargeable batteries serve as the power source. Bowden cables, as in the mechanical version, are no longer necessary.

Take a look at Simplon’s road bikes – featuring both electronic and mechanical shifting!

What are the advantages of a mechanical groupset?

Mechanical groupsets might be old school but they clearly have their merits: They are easy to use, lightweight and inexpensive. If you ride your road bike a lot, are not treating it too gingerly and have a limited budget, this option is the better choice for you. 

In detail: Mechanical shifting is the most lightweight form of road bike shifting. The reason? Neither a battery nor additional cable housings need to be installed, which leads to a lower weight compared to electronic shifting. 

"Inexpensive" is a good keyword for the mechanical alternative. In principle, mechanical shifting is lower in price than its electronic equivalent (even though you can get everything from cheap to high-end when it comes to mechanical groupsets). This applies not only to the purchase price, but also when replacement parts are needed or repairs are required. Thanks to the relatively simple and easy-to-understand design of the derailleur, defects can be repaired more easily. Individual parts – especially the ones that experience a lot of wear – are also available pretty much anywhere. Particularly when travelling by bike, this is a big safety plus. 

But similar to the question of whether to use a manual or automatic gearbox in a car, the choice between mechanical and electronic road bike groupsets is more a question of comfort. 

Pros and cons at a glance

Pros Cons
less expensive than its electronic alternative wear of the cables 
lighter less consistent shifting performance 
easy maintenance & repair   
readily available replacement parts       

  
 

What are the advantages of electronic shifting?

Electronic groupsets are very much in vogue right now – that's for sure! Both in the competitive and in the hobby sector, more and more road bike enthusiasts are opting for the more comfortable system. But what are the benefits? Is electronic shifting really so much better that it justifies the higher purchase price? 

One thing should be said: Sentences like "Once you've tried it, you’ll never go back" are heard more and more often in the road cycling scene. Anyone who has given the Dura-Ace Di2 or Red eTap AXS groupsets a try is amazed by the added comfort – and for many cyclists, the pure joy of use justifies the higher price. 

Now in detail: Simplon has been installing electronic groupsets on bicycles since 2010. And there are several good reasons for this. One main argument is that you can change gears from different locations on the handlebars – like drops and tops – without much effort. Sounds negligible at first. But anyone who has ever sat in the saddle for longer periods of time and wants to conserve as much energy as possible will be happy about being able to change gears simply by tapping a button with their fingertip. The energy expenditure is reduced considerably.

By the way: Electronic shifting is extremely convenient, especially for smaller hands. After all, frequent braking and shifting can often be hard on the hands and wrists.

Another advantage: The shifting process is much more precise. The rider does not have to worry about having to readjust gears – because the shift motor takes care of that. The best chain line is automatically selected, so the infamous "intermediate gear" on the front derailleur no longer needs to be used. Even those who pedal at full wattage benefit from flawless shifting – for instance, when riding uphill.  

Last but not least, it’s the appearance of the road bike that benefits from electronic shifting. At least one annoying shift cable on the handlebars is eliminated. The wireless SRAM version looks even cleaner. 

The only downside: The battery needs to be charged regularly. However, the systems are so economical that the battery charge usually lasts for many thousands of shifting operations. 

Pros and cons at a glance

Pros Cons
highest precision when changing gears       dependent on a battery and motor
no readjustments required   slightly heavier than mechanical groupsets
user-friendly & high-comfort higher purchase price 
less force required to actuate a shift   
easy assembly    
low maintenance requirements      

Which groupset manufacturers are there?

Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo: These are the three top dogs among groupset manufacturers. Each one has a wide range of mechanical and electronic systems – all with their own unique technology. 

Overview of the best groupsets by Shimano and SRAM 

Simplon uses only the best components for its high-end road bikes. Among them is the flagship and top-of-the-line among road bike groupsets: the Dura-Ace groupset by Shimano. The electronic Di2 version features wires instead of shift cables. A rechargeable battery supplies the necessary power for two small servomotors that change gears at the touch of a button via the front and rear derailleurs. The Dura-Ace is most often found on professional bikes at the Tour de France. No wonder, since it boasts a low weight, maximum precision, and a butter-smooth shifting performance.

The American premium model is the Red (eTap) AXS road bike groupset by SRAM – the lightest complete groupset on the market. Whether in the classic mechanical or in the fully wireless eTap version – SRAM offers high-end at its highest level.
 

  Groupset Speeds Brakes Shifting system Target group
Shimano Dura Ace (Di2)           2 x 11 calliper or disc               mechanical or electronic Professional athletes, regular tours & races
  Ultegra (Di2) 2 x 11 calliper or disc mechanical or electronic Amateur athletes, occasional participation in cycling races
  105 2 x 11 disc mechanical Novices
SRAM Red eTap AXS 2 x 12 calliper or disc electronic Professional athletes, regular tours & races
  Force eTap AXS 2 x 12 calliper or disc electronic Amateur athletes, occasional participation in cycling races 

Do you have any more questions about how to find the right groupset? Contact us or a dealer near you! We will be happy to help you!

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