After a suggestion from a user, we have dared to list all the groupsets available for gravel. Some of them are not specific to this specialty, and come from road cycling or, even, some of their components were taken from mountain biking.
On the other hand, we have relied solely on the sets that are normally mounted on models intended for off-road cycling. For this reason, many coexist with various disciplines.
As the first group we will focus on this set that is specific to gravel and that the Japanese brand released in mid-2019. Many of the 2020 and 2021 gravel bikes come equipped with the new Shimano GRX.
GRX has three levels that we will describe from highest level to lowest. The highest level is represented by the RX800 series which is equivalent to the Shimano Ultegra for road cycling. With this option we have the electronic version (GRX DI2) and the mechanical version. Both models are presented with 11-speed developments, with a single-chainring and double chainring version (48 / 31t), and with various combinations of gears and cassettes.
In second position and also as an 11-speed option, we have the RX600 that is equivalent to a Shimano 105. This group is usually installed in a middle-class gravel model and, like the previous one, you have the double chainring options (46 / 30t) and single point. The combination of cassettes is extensive.
And finally, there would be the simplest group of 10 speeds: the RX400. This set only works with double plate solutions (46 / 30t). As for their level, as you can imagine you can equate them to a Shimano Tiagra. Therefore, we will see it installed on low-mid-range bikes.
The new Shimano GRX group allows us to be able to combine multiple options. We can install from single-plate to double chainring solutions, 10 or 11 speeds, various types of cassettes, or we can choose between a mechanical or electronic transmission.
This gives the “new” Shimano groupset for gravel a very versatile appearance, adapting to different types of terrain, or to the tastes of users.
Until 2019 Shimano lacked specific groupsets for gravel, since purely asphalt groups such as the Shimano Ultegra, 105 or Tiagra used to be installed on bicycles. With GRX, the Japanese brand caught up with the American Sram in terms of specific solutions for gravel or CX.
Most common combinations
Here are the combinations that are most commonly seen installed on the gravel bikes that come with GRX:
• For double chainrings GRX offers us a sub-compact solution of 48 / 31t, or 46 / 30t. We would opt for the second option more since we find it more oriented to gravel and even, for adventure cycling since it will allow you to pedal better with load. Plus, your knees will thank you.
• As for single plate solutions, we have 4t and 42t options. If you opt for a single chainring, we recommend 42t if you want more speed, although the effort on steep climbs will be greater.
• As for the cassettes, obviously we have a great variety and most are compatible with GRX, but we recommend that you confirm it with your mechanic. For double chainring we have the options of 11-25t, 12-28t, 11-32t, 11-34t and 11-36t. For single plate or 1x, you have the following settings: 11-40t, 11-42t, 11-46t.
It is true that before the appearance of the Shimano GRX, road groups were normally used. If we look at many models prior to 2019, we realize that they are mounted with route-specific sets adding only sub-compact chainrings. There are even models that present developments remarkably close to asphalt with a 50/34 double chainring and discrete 11 / 32t cassettes.
We believe that it is not the ideal solution for gravel, but we should not discard it either. There are users who like the versatility that gravel bikes offer but continue to bet on road developments. In this way, we make sure to move with some agility both on forest tracks and on asphalt.
Among the Shimano road groups that we usually see installed on gravel bicycles would be Ultegra, 105, Tiagra, Sora, Claris and even the Tourney. We haven’t seen any gravel that is mass-marketed with Shimano Dura-Ace, although some boutique brands may include it.
With Shimano road groupsets we also have several options. The Ultegra and 105 are 11-speed groupsets, the 10-speed Tiagra, the 9-speed Sora, the 8-speed Claris and finally the 7-speed Tourney. They are all double chainrings, either options with compact (50 / 34t) or sub-compact (48/32 and below).
It is obvious that with the existence of the SRAM 1x and the Shimano GRX, these asphalt alternatives are proliferating less. But we insist, they are still a very valid solution, and we recommend them for those who come from asphalt cycling and want to have similar feelings.
Most common combinations
Here we have a little of everything and we will highlight only the most common options:
• We usually see 50/34t chainrings, or 48/32t subcompacts installed. It is also possible to replace the small plate with one of 30t.
• As for cassettes, they are usually used similar to those we see installed in some bicycle touring models: 11-32t and 11-34t. Smaller solutions are not usually observed for gravel models.
Since the appearance of 1x by the American brand Sram, we see many models for gravel or cyclocross that have opted for this alternative. As an advantage, with respect to double plate solutions (either subcompact or compact), it is that they are usually easier to use. This is because you focus solely on one lever for change.
We will only address the most common groups. The Force 1 for high-end bikes, Rival 1 (mid-range) and Apex 1 (for starter models).
If we make an equivalence with the Shimano groups, Force 1 is equivalent to a GRX 800 or Ultegra, Rival 1 to GRX 600 or 105, and finally, Apex 1 to GRX400 or Shimano Tiagra. But this is a comparison of us since its operation and characteristics are somewhat different.
We know that there are other solutions such as the Sram eTap AXS (high end level and expensive) that is combined with cassettes of 10-28 or 10-33 and with plates of 36, 38 or 40 teeth. It seems that the most suitable development of this electronic set for gravel, according to the brand, would be based on a solution based on a double plate or subcompact 46/33t and a 10/33t cassette.
Most common combinations
• Normally as for the Sram 1x groups, we usually see unique 36t, 38t, 40t, 42t chainrings and we have even seen with 44t (Merida Silex 300), although it is not usual.
• As for the cassettes, an 11/42t one is usually mounted.
There are few bikes with MicroSHIFT groupsets, but there are. An example is the new Triban GRVL 120. This model mounts 10-speed XLE levers that remind us of the old Shimano levers with external cables, M665 rear derailleur that is specific to Mountain Bike, 38t single chainring combined with a Microshift H100 10 speed cassette 11-42.
Admittedly, the Taiwan group has a somewhat specific set for gravel or off-road bikes. This is the 9-speed Advent. We found an example, like the Marin Nicasio with MicroSHIFT Advent levers and derailleurs, a 42T single chainring and an 11-46t SunRace cassette.
Most common developments
• In this case, and as we discussed earlier, we found few examples. What we can conclude is that they are single-plate solutions (from 42 to 38t) and with large cassettes of 11/42 or 11/46t.
Within the Campagnolo range, we find very few examples. Most groups are specifically designed for road bikes. We would only highlight the new 12-speed Campagnolo Chorus DB (for disc brakes). It is a set that we only have the option of double chainring.
To adapt it to gravel, we can install the sub-compact or 48/32t chainring option combined with an 11-34t cassette.
Most common developments
• Sub-compact or 48/32t double chainring combined with an 11-34t cassette.
There are other groupsets that we do not normally see installed on gravel bikes, but which may also be valid options apart from those discussed. Example, are the group FSA K-Force WE, ROTOR 1 × 13, or even the Empire or SRX PRO sets of the Chinese company Sensah.
If you are interested in learning more about which groupset and which combination of chainrings and cassettes is best for your gravel and for your physical condition, we recommend you visit Bike Gears Calculator.