From the previous article, you may have already found out what this GRX is all about and whether the new gear from Shimano makes any sense (We'll answer that here too - Yes, it most certainly does!). We also dispelled any doubts about the eternal struggle between 2x11 and 1x11 drivetrains.
So, what if you're buying a gravel bike, but haven't had any contact with the road shifters yet?
In the beginning, you'll most likely be faced with the choice of SRAM versus Shimano. Here, along with all the other million bicycle discussions, there’s really no end to it - there are as many followers of the American company as there are of the Japanese.
What groupset can you build your Loca bikes gravel bike on?
As with other technical matters, we strive to focus on the freedom of customer choice - with us, you can assemble a bike with your dream components. However, we have to admit that the undisputed market leader until recently was (which is not surprising at all) Apex 1, a groupset that we can describe as strictly a cyclocross-gravel groupset.
The gravel bike - Shimano GRX doesn't have a simple task
Installing 1x11 drivetrains on gravel bikes has become extremely popular in recent years, SRAM is the pioneer of this solution (they started producing 1x11 groupsets for mountain bikes in 2012. Before that, the majority of us were riding with two chainrings), and Apex is the undisputed gravel king when it comes to price/quality ratio of the components. It’s also one of the cheaper 1x11 groupsets that’s suitable for gravel riding.
Only recently the competition of the American manufacturer entered the market - Shimano. They released their gravel-dedicated groupset - Shimano GRX which was supposed to be a response to SRAM's Apex, Rival, and Force.
Shimano GRX or Sram Apex?
How do these groupsets relate to one another? Let's compare Shimano GRX RX600 in the 1x11 version with SRAM components.
First of all, it's hard to place Apex exactly in the Shimano hierarchy. To make things simple, the starter equipment of the American manufacturer is at a class slightly below Shimano 105. For the purpose of this article, we are taking GRX 1x11 to the workshop, but if you prefer a different version of the drivetrain, the Japanese manufacturer offers its gravel groupset also in 2x10 and 2x11 versions, which you can read about here.
SRAM definitely wins here, you can get Apex for around 540€, while GRX RX600 in 1x11 version, at this very moment, comes at an expense of 680€. But you can count on the price of this product coming down soon as it’s relatively new on the scene.
The derailleur works well in both systems. The gears shift precisely, and the clutch works as it should (maybe SRAM has a slight advantage) and effectively keeps the chain from slapping about, making rides on forest trails a pleasure.
This is where we find the most interesting differences. First of all, the shifting systems from both companies work quite differently. In Shimano's case, the small gear lever shifts the chain down to a smaller cog, while pressing the entire brake lever shifts the chain up to a larger cog (a maximum of 3) depending on how hard we press it. With SRAM, it's a slightly different scenario. We use what is called the DoubleTap system. Unlike Shimano, the brake lever remains rigid, serving only the brakes. The dedicated gear lever, on the other hand, shifts the chain both up and down the cogs. A single click inward shifts the chain down to a smaller cog, but a 'deeper' click, in the same direction (past the first click until the second), shifts the chain up to a larger cog. Like Shimano, we can upshift multiple gears at a time (a maximum of 3) if we keep the lever pressed in.
There are no winners here, if you've ridden on both systems, you'll probably have your favorite, if not the only way to decide is to ride with each of them.
However, we have a favorite when it comes to the shape of the shifters themselves. The ergonomically wide Shimano GRX brake levers are simply better. Your hands lie very securely on them, the axle is high, which makes braking even easier (with fabulous hydraulic calipers is still very easy). However, We can't really say it makes such a big difference that the Apex is in any way diminished in terms of comfort. The Americans seem to be doing it very well, their shifters are sleek, ergonomic, and work very well, but Shimano is just doing it a little bit better. Additionally, RX800 shifters use Servo Wave technology known to MTB. This tech reduces the force required to brake and improves modulation.
Cranksets and bottom brackets
Another issue is cranksets. We're not going to get into the differences in stiffness because most of us out there aren't really going to feel it unless it's a change from a square taper to an integrated axle, or a cheap aluminum to a carbon crankset. Both companies, of course, use Narrow Wide chainrings, meaning the teeth alternate in width between wide and narrow, so they hold the chain more securely. Combined with a clutch, this gives us a drivetrain that we don't have to worry about when it comes to the chain falling off.
There is a difference in the life span of the bottom brackets. This one from Shimano is better due to its construction and it’s able to better withstand harsh weather. Additionally, the crankset assembly system is friendlier on the bearings. The result is a longer life of bottom brackets from the Japanese manufacturer.
Another argument in favor of Shimano is the price. Bottom brackets for their cranksets can be obtained for as little as 15€, while SRAM GXP starts from 25€. Regardless of what you decide, this, fortunately, isn't a part that we have to change every month.
What else? SRAM is certainly more accessible at the moment. Apex has already been on the market for a while, so spare parts are easy to get your hands on, and if we want to hunt down a particular part of the groupset, it'll be, for sure, much easier than in the case of Shimano GRX.
Additionally, we've noticed that Apex works quieter than GRX. It doesn't affect the efficiency of the drivetrain in any way, but perhaps the auditory aesthetics may influence your decision.
SRAM Apex or Shimano GRX, what's better on a gravel bike?
If you've already ridden on groupsets from both of these manufacturers, you’ll probably already have your favorite.
But what if you’re limited by your wallet? Then, go for Apex. The groupset works accurately, it's problem-free, robust, and the components from Rival and Force are compatible with it, so you can easily make upgrades over time.
What if price doesn't matter? Really, it's best to go for a ride on both groupsets because it's a hell of a subjective decision to make. We feel that the shifters and brakes work better from Shimano. Apex, on the other hand, is a little bit quieter, it shifts gears with a clear, pleasant click, and the system itself seems to us subjectively more intuitive. We can, of course, argue about the appearance, but at first glance, Shimano GRX looks as if it has been made more precisely, with more attention to detail.
Do you want to buy a gravel bike but still aren’t sure which groupset to go for? Get in touch! We'll happily answer any questions that you have, and what’s more, we'll put a nice bike together for you.
On our website in addition to fixed gear and city bikes, you can also find the latest range of Loca Bikes gravel bikes. Write to us, we'll happily answer any questions that you have, and what’s more, we'll put a nice bike together for you.