Tech Tuesday: MTB Bike Component Levels Explained

Tech Tuesday
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One concern that so many women (and guys) have with owning a bike is the basics of fixing it, or how to do basic road side repairs. I do recommend that as an avid cyclist even with some mechanical skills that you should become best buds with your local mechanic (beer or ice cream works well.) I also want women to feel empowered and to have a better idea of what they are talking about. Tech Tuesday is the remedy for common tech questions!

A common inquiry I receive is whether a certain component is worth the upgrade. To begin I’m going to simply touch on mountain bike parts, next week touching on road. I’m going to do my best to spell out the two main component brands, SRAM and Shimano, and their levels of parts. There are several other component manufactures out there and if you have specific questions please comment below.

SRAM

SRAM Logo

From Wikipedia:

SRAM Corporation is a privately held bicycle component manufacturer based in Chicago, Illinois, founded in 1987. SRAM is an acronym comprising the names of its founders, Scott, Ray, and Sam, (where Ray is the middle name of company head Stan Day).[2]

In 2008, the company received a strategic investment from Trilantic Capital Partners, formerly known as Lehman Brothers Merchant Banking, the buyout arm of Lehman Brothers. The firm invested $234.8 million in SRAM in a deal that closed Sept. 30, 2008.[3][4] On May 12, 2011, the company announced in a filing that it intended to raise up to $300 million in an IPO.

SRAM was first known for grip shifters, which are still used to date and are normally featured on internally geared hubs, children’s and hybrid bikes. Grip shifters can be found on the higher end bikes, but are not available in the new 10 speed components.

SRAM also owns RochShox, Zipp, Avid and Truvativ that make up a complete component line of shocks, wheels, brakes, handlebars, seatposts, pedals, cranks, etc.

SRAM Mountain Components

SRAM was the first to bring 10 speed drivetrains to the masses with XX, or 2×10. The 10 speeds in the rear is now available from both SRAM and Shimano. For me SRAM and Shimano don’t have even playing fields in mountain since the XX technology is far lighter than the XTR from Shimano.

Heirarchy of 2011 SRAM Mountain Components

XX - the best. If you have the money, or must have the lightest parts. This is the level
X0 – Traditional the best from SRAM, but was trumped by XX. 2×10 technology (Comparable to XTR)
X9 – Shifts amazing, a bit heavier and no carbon! Go with if you are worried about weight, but don’t want to break the bank. 2×10 technology (Comparable to XT)
X7 – The most affordable of the 2×10 technology, will last and give you the advantage. Not the lightest, but won’t break your wallet (Comparable to SLX)
X5 – Found on mid level, what I would consider the lowest end for off road worthy parts. 9 speed(Comparable to Deore)
X4An entry level, found normally on hybrids or mountain bikes not intended to be ridden off road. Perfectly fine if not abused or ridden off road.
X3 – Normally found on kids bikes or very entry level bikes. Will need more maintenance and parts will wear out more quickly.

Shimano

Shimano LogoFrom Wikipedia:

Shimano, Inc. (TYO: 7309) is a Japanese multinational manufacturer of cycling components, fishing tackle, and rowing equipment. Shimano product sales constitute 50% of the of the global bicycle component market. Its products include drivetrain, brake, wheel and pedal components for road, mountain, and hybrid bikes.

Shimano is the best known name within bicycle parts. The first to introduce mountain bike specific groups (Deore XT) and continue to push the envelope with electronic shifting to the masses, and innovation technology.

Shimano Mountain Components

XTR has been known over a decade as the bee’s knees of mountain bike parts. Still to this day, the clean and etched look of “XTR” on your rear derailleur or cranks will show folks you know your parts.

Shimano Mountain Heirarchy

(Much of this was borrowed from Wikipedia)

XTR [M980] – Top of the range for XC mountain bikes. 10 speed, comparable to SRAM X9
Deore XT [M770] – The longest running of a mtb component line. Amazing shifting, with a bit more weight than XTR. 9 and 10 speed, between SRAM X9 and X7
SLX [M660] – The best bang for the buck in the mtb line, still great shifting but more weight and won’t last as long as XT. 9 and 10 speed, comparable to SRAM X7
Deore [M590] –  Entry level, good place to start but will wear out after a couple years of hard use. 9 speed, comparable to SRAM X5

Trekking component

Deore XT
Deore LX
Deore

Downhill/Freeride component

Saint [M810] – Top of the range for downhill and freeride bikes, and many components are based on the XT groupset but more durable.

Recreational mountain bikes component

Alivio [M410 and M430] 8 and 9 speed
Acera [M360] 8 speed
Altus [M310] 8 speed
Tourney 6, 7, 8 speed – Includes several different levels of quality, and can be found on department-store bicycles

4 Comments

  • Jack B says:

    MTB rear derailers are popular for road touring bikes. For this application the wide range of cogs supported is important but so is reliability (often equating to no carbon). The other factor important to touring is how easy to repair including getting parts. Finding parts will vary depending on where you are touring. In Asia, Africa or South America you would have a different situation than in the USA, Canada or western Europe. Also the bikes often have drop handle bars so they use different shifters. Sometimes brifters will work but people also use bar end shifters.

    Do you have any information on which groups lend themselves to touring?

  • Larry says:

    Getting index-shifting touring-worthy components is more of a challenge right now than in past years or, hopefully, than in the near future. The reason I say this is that Shimano road shifters — both STI and bar-ends — used to be fully compatible with MTB rear derailers, but no longer are (and shifting is significantly worse). Shimano plans to come out with components soon-ish, but for now tourists are left in the lurch, IMO.

    SRAM DoubleTap rear shifters are supposed to be compatible with the XX & XO rear derailers, so there is some potential there, but they don’t offer a triple left shifter or derailer.

    My advice is to get a new-old-stock Shimano MTB rear derailer to use with Shimano shifters. Hurry up with that touring group-let Shimano!

  • Leon Ouellette Jr says:

    This was a great write up! Really got my head straightened out; I guess replacing wornout x4 shifters and derailleurs with x4 shifters isn’t an upgrade after all! After riding a 2012 Trek Marlin into the ground with over 10,000 miles on it, my first mountain bike ‘build’ will now be an informed decision!

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