Components: The Big Three Major Players, and Some Minor Ones

English: Taken by Andrew Dressel
Taken by Andrew Dressel (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

As we continue to take a break from the parts onslaught that was beginning to feel like a college course in amphibian philosophy, we are going to take a look at the big three component manufacturers. What I mean about components are the major components such as drive train, shifters, brakes, and so on. Just for your information, the first three I list are the ones most people will see. Two of these companies are responsible for a majority of the bicycle OEM (Original Equipment Manufacturer) market. The third company is an old manufacturer with a distinct personality. I will be opining a bit in this post, so bear with me. Catch it after the break.

Shimano

Shimano Dura Ace 25th groupset
Shimano Dura Ace 25th groupset (Photo credit: quality_vintage_bikes)
Shimano is probably the most well known. Chances are when you look at a new bicycle, there is a pretty high percentage it is using parts from this Japanese manufacturer. Think of Shimano as compared to Windows. It’s everywhere. Shimano manufactures many parts for bicycles under its roof. The parts most people will be familiar with are the shifters, brakes, and drivetrain. One of the redeeming qualities about Shimano is that is is a very easy shifter to use. Shimano engineers its shifters on feel as much as function, so the shifting action tends to be light and precise (especially the further you go up the line). Shimano strives for smoothness and complete integration. As such, I will always tell customers that Shimano works really well with Shimano. The more complete your shifter/brake/drivetrain is towards a Shimano setup, the smoother it will be. Believe me, some people can tell the difference. I can for the most part.
Trivia Fact: Ultegra, Shimano’s second to top of the line, stands for Ultimate Integration. The t could be used from either, but Ul seems rather odd.

SRAM

Deutsch: Schaltgriff sram 7 für Fahrradgangsch...
Deutsch: Schaltgriff sram 7 für Fahrradgangschaltung (Photo credit: Wikipedia)
SRAM is the baby of the group. USA born, SRAM wanted to bring precise shifting to the masses at a reasonable price point. My first foray with SRAM, as many others, was the Grip Shift shifter. Instead of a trigger or thumb-style shifter that was actuated with your fingers on the hugely popular mountain bikes at the time, this was shifter that required you to twist it with your hand, similar to a grip throttle. This was a new way of shifting that required fewer mechanical parts than the Shimano Rapid Fire trigger shifters. SRAM even went as far as to make a version of Grip Shift for road bikes that mounted on the ends of the drop bars. Eventually, SRAM designed trigger shifters and proper drop bar brake/shifter combinations. Utilizing a one to one ration of lever movement to derailleur movement has resulted in a reliable, quick shifting drivetrain.

Campagnolo

Parlee Z5SL with Campagnolo Super Record 11 an...
Parlee Z5SL with Campagnolo Super Record 11 and Lightweight Ventoux Wheels, Courtesy Parlee Cycles (Photo credit: KevinSaunders)

What is there to say about Campagnolo, or Campy, to us bike nerds? Italian heritage, Italian styling, Italian name, Italian thingies. If Shimano is Windows, Campy is Apple. It’s all about the end user experience. You end up paying a lot for that experience, but what you receive is a reliable, rebuildable, and unique drivetrain that has the potential to remain with your bicycle long after you have left this Earth. Campy has long been on road bicycles. They did dabble in mountain bike drive trains for a short time, but it was hard to compete against the ubiquitous Shimano and the young, upstart SRAM. Concentrating on road drive tr
ains, Campy has evolved into a near bulletproof system that, like Apple, riders love fiercely, or hate vehemently. Campy fanboys tend to be a hard lot to like for the most part, defending the high price for admission, and Campy’s long held tradition of a front derailleur shifter with more that three to four clicks. But it’s hard to fault a company so steeped in tradition and bicycle history. It’s rare to find Campagnolo as an OEM kit, but it is possible. Be prepared to empty out part of the bank account to do so. You will see a lot of old Campy riding around due to the fact that the shifters are rebuildable. You can’t go wrong with Campagnolo, though you may want to hide the receipt from your spouse.

Trivia Fact: The founder of Campagnolo invented the quick release. History has it that his hands were so cold, that when he tried to fix a flat in the mountains, he couldn’t turn the wing-nuts that held his wheel on. Hence, the quick release skewer was designed.

Minor Players

There are some minor players in the component game, most notably, Suntour. In fact, Suntour is the company that refined the design of the rear derailleur, making it function much better than earlier designs. They still make components, just not in the wide range that the big three manufacture. SunRace is another small player in the component game. It’s most noted for being OEM spec on some low to mid-range bikes due to its price. Product managers love this because it allows them to play with specs more, maybe leading to better frames or wheels.
So there you have it. The players. This wasn’t meant to be all-inclusive, or an outright history lesson. Hopefully it gives you some idea of the different manufacturers that are out there, so when you are searching or shopping for parts for your trusty steed, you have some idea of who to look for.
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