Do you know the difference between a Shimano XTR derailluer versus a SRAM X7? How about a set of SRAM XX grip shifts versus a set of Shimano deore trigger shifts?

If you have been riding for a long time, chances are you have a pretty good idea of which parts rank where. This is intended for beginners to mountain biking, find out what quality of product you’re paying for. Telling the difference between all the brands and where they stack up is kind of a pain in the rear.

There are two major players in the mountain bike components game. Shimano & SRAM. Just about every mountain bike that you purchase will have components made by one of these two companies, they are the big dogs and dominate the market. They each have several tiers of product categories, some not as good as others. So for the untrained eye, which ones should you be willing to pay just a bit extra for and which ones should you avoid?

Something to keep in mind

For the most part, you can mix and match components from each set to customize your bike to your preferences. Every group has each part sold individually, not as a comprehensive package. This is great for us as we get to start with something affordable and then slowly upgrade parts until we have a more high end bike.

My bike for instance was purchased brand new with SRAM X7 and X9 components, but slowly I am trying to upgrade the entire set to either X0 or X9 components. There isn’t a rush, but if I ever have a few extra dollars around I toss it into a jar that is saving for those upgrades.

If you are looking for a place to purchase new components my first recommendation is to make good friends with your bike shop and buy through them.

If you would prefer to shop online and need your gear in a hurry I highly recommend buying through Amazon.com. They have great prices and lots of sales. An added benefit is that any purchases you make through that link gives a small portion back to helping keep this website running. You can help us by clicking the text link to Amazon or by clicking the small banner just below this paragraph. To anyone who does make a purchase with that link, thank you so much for your help in supporting our work.

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Overall Component Rankings

These are my educated opinion and word of mouth from some of the best experts I know. Everyone has their own personal preference as to what they like, if your preference differs from mine, I’m down with that. Go with what you know and like.

Personally I am a SRAM fanboy and my personal rankings reflect that. My personal preferences are highlighted and notated.

  1. SRAM XX or XX1
  2. SRAM X0 - My preference for racing. Incredible performance and lightweight.
  3. Shimano XTR
  4. SRAM X9
  5. Shimano XT
  6. SRAM X7 - My choice for recreational riding. Reliable and durable at an affordable price.
  7. Shimano SLX
  8. Shimano Deore
  9. SRAM X5
  10. Shimano Alivio (I don’t recommend it for trail use)

Recommendations

Depending on what kind of riding you do I have a couple of simple recommendations.

For Racers

I assume that you are an amateur since you’re reading this and you’re probably learning your way through Cat 3 or 2 races. For you I recommend the SRAM X9 components or maybe the SRAM X0 if you are really serious about your racing and can afford to part with a little extra cash. The Shimano XTR group would be another good bet, but you will likely end up paying a premium for it and frankly I just think the SRAM components are better.

For Recreation Riders

Stick with the SRAM x7 or x9 gear or potentially the Shimano XT group. These are long lasting and durable products that will keep you on the bike and not constantly in the shop. At least that is the hope, your mileage may vary.

SRAM Component Rankings

SRAM Component Rankings

SRAM product levels. SRAM does make it pretty easy to distinguish where their parts rank because of the simple naming convention, start low at X5 and go higher to eventually XX.

Thank you SRAM for keeping it simple! This list goes from high end at the top to low end or budget at the bottom.

SRAM XX

The SRAM XX group is highly regarded as the best component set on the market. This high level of quality has even been passed on in being incorporated into several front forks made in conjunction with Rock Shox. If you have the money and have to have the lightest parts and best performing this is your match.

The full XX Line includes:

  • Brake System including handle levers, rotor and callipers.
  • Crankset (includes crank arms and chainrings, does not include pedals)
  • Shifter (trigger or gripshift)
  • Chain
  • Front and rear derailluers
  • Cassette
  •  Front Forks (made with a Rock Shox partnerships)
  • Bottom Brackets

SRAM XX1

The SRAM XX1 is a brand new offering exclusively for riding a new 1×11 setup. With 1 chainring in the front and 11 in the back it gives you a more versatile range of gearings than a 1×10 could before.

While this is primarily intended for downhill application, I can see some cross country (XC) racers using it as well. But overall I feel that a 2×10 setup is the best for cross country racing.

The full XX1 group includes:

  • Crakset (includes crank arms and chainrings, does not include pedals)
  • Shifter (trigger or gripshift)
  • Chain
  • Rear derailleur
  • Cassette

SRAM X0

The SRAM X0 group is the second place product only to the XX set. SRAM builds this group for the most serious riders and it incorporates incredible weight savings along with top of the line performance. This group is less expensive than their XX counterparts, but still pricey.

For anyone looking to do amatuer racing, this is the component group that I suggest.

The full X0 group includes:

  • A full brake system including calipers, rotors and handle levers
  • Crankset (includes crank arms and chainrings, does not include pedals)
  • Shifters (trigger or grip shift)
  • Chain
  • Front and rear derailleurs
  • Cassette

SRAM X9

The SRAM X9 set is where SRAM begins to really get affordable. This group is commonly found as components on new mid to high level bikes in a shop. This gear is like their endurance series of arts. You may gain a little bit in weight, but you will make up for it in longevity and product life out of these parts.

The full X9 group includes:

  • Crankset (includes crank arms and chainrings, does not include pedals)
  • Shifters (trigger or grip shift)
  • Chain
  • Front and rear derailleurs
  • Cassette
  • Hubs (for building a wheel)

SRAM X7

The SRAM X7 group is the beginner to mid range package and is a great value for the price. The weight is a little bulky but it is incredibly reliable and affordable. This set is comparable to the Shimano SLX group and rounds out the budget category.

The full x7 group includes:

  • Crankset (includes crank arms and chainrings, does not include pedals)
  • Shifters (trigger or grip shift)
  • Chain
  • Front and rear derailleurs
  • Cassette
  • Hub (for building a wheel)

SRAM X5

The SRAM X5 group is the budget class from SRAM. These are good to start off with initially, but once you wear them out, look to upgrade if you can.

The full X5 group includes:

  • Crankset (includes crank arms and chainrings, does not include pedals)
  • Shifters (trigger)
  • Chain
  • Front and rear derailleurs
  • Cassette

Shimano Component Rankings

Shimano Component Rankings

Shimano product levels. This list goes from high end at the top to low end or budget at the bottom.

Shimano XTR

The Shimano XTR group is the highest end mountain bike components put out by Shimano. If you are looking for top of the line performance and light weight from a Shimano set then this is the one you want. You will pay for that top of the line technology though as a full set of XTR gear will cost up to a couple thousand dollars.

The full XTR group includes:

  • A full disc brake system including calipers, rotors and handle levers
  • Crankset (includes crank arms, chainrings and SPD pedals)
  • Shifters (trigger)
  • Chain
  • Front and rear derailluers
  • Cassette
  • Wheels and Hubs

Shimano Deore XT

The Shimano XT is a set of high end components that trade some of the weight savings of the XTR for a more budget oriented price point. The XT group is often very similar to the prior years XTR set but instead of focusing on light weight race products the focus is placed on longevity and product life.

The full Deore XT group includes:

  • A full disc brake system includin calipers, rotors and handle levers
  • Crankset (includes crank arm, chainrings and SPD pedals)
  • Shifters (trigger)
  • Chain
  • Front and rear derailluers
  • Cassette
  • Wheels and Hubs

Shimano SLX

The Shimano SLX package is performance oriented components at an affordable price. You won’t find the weight savings of the XT or XTR sets, but you’ll find the price much more attractive.

The full SLX group includes

  • A full disc brake system includin calipers, rotors and handle levers
  • Crankset (includes crank arms and chainrings does not include SPD pedals)
  • Shifters (trigger)
  • Chain
  • Front and rear derailluers
  • Cassette
  • Hubs (for building a wheel)

Shimano Deore

The Shimano Deore package is not to be confused with the Deore XT group. You can tell the difference because Deore will say “Deore” on each piece while the Deore XT set just says “XT”.

The full Deore group includes:

  • Brake system, either disc or V-brake, includes handle levers and rotors/calipers or V-brake pads depending on which brake system is chosen.
  • Crankset (includes crank arms and chainrings, does not include pedals)
  • Shifters (trigger)
  • Chain
  • Front and rear derailleurs
  • Cassette
  • Hubs (for building a wheel)

Shimano Alivio (9 speed specific)

The Shimano Alivio group is made specifically for bikes using a 9 speed cassette and shifters instead of the more common 10 speed. These are entry level components that are an ok starting points until you decide to upgrade to a better performing set.

The full Alivio group includes:

  • Brake system (V-Brake) including handle levers and V-brake pads
  • Crankset (includes crank arms and chainrings, does not include pedals)
  • Shifters (trigger)
  • Chain
  • Front and rear derailleurs
  • Cassette
  • Hubs (for building a wheel)