Your complete guide to the Shimano Claris groupset, including its features, strengths and weaknesses
Anybody looking for a new road bike around the £500 mark will be familiar with the Shimano Claris groupset. Although Shimano has lower-priced gearing options in the form of its Tourney range, the full Claris groupset is the most popular choice on mainstream entry-level road bikes.
Why is this? One of the most attractive things about Shimano Claris is the fact it comes with Shimano’s famous STI integrated brake and gear levers. While Tourney uses a pivoting brake lever and thumb button to control gear selection, Claris uses Shimano’s established Dual Control system.
That means a paddle underneath the brake lever can be clicked to move the chain down, while the paddle and brake lever pivoting together will push the chain up. In operation, then, Claris works in exactly the same way as Shimano’s other higher-quality groupsets.
Claris also comes with the benefit of being a complete groupset — comprising brake levers, brake calipers, chainset, cassette, and front and rear derailleurs — while Tourney doesn’t have its own series brakes.
How does it compare to other Shimano groupsets?
Because Shimano Claris is the entry-level option, you have to expect compromises, and the biggest comes in the form of the number of gears available. Claris is an eight-speed system, meaning the rear cassette has eight sprockets. In comparison to Shimano’s other groupsets, that’s one more sprocket than Tourney, but the next step up, Sora has nine; Tiagra has 10; and then 105, Ultegra and Dura-Ace are all 11-speed.
However, because Shimano Claris is a relatively new offering, the rear derailleur can cope with sprockets featuring anything up to 32 teeth, resulting in a very broad range of gear sizes. Combine this with Claris’s choice of compact chainset — with chainrings featuring 50 and 34 teeth — or triple chainset — 50, 39 and 30 teeth — and you have a perfect system to help new riders cope with climbs. Claris even has a ‘super compact’ chainset with 46 and 34 teeth, but we’ve never managed to get our mitts on one of those.
A small point, but one worth saying, is that the Claris chainset uses Shimano’s Octalink bottom bracket system, which is a little more refined than the old-fashioned square-taper bottom brackets you may find on other entry-level bikes. That chainset is also astonishingly pretty considering its place in the Shimano hierarchy.
Shimano Claris does have one down side. While Shimano groupsets allow a limited mix and match of components, it’s only usually where they share the same available ‘speeds’. So while 11-speed Shimano Ultegra parts may be compatible with 11-speed Shimano 105 parts, because Claris is the only eight-speed groupset currently in Shimano’s line up, its compatibility with other series is restricted.
Claris put to the test
In use, Claris is a surprisingly adept performer. As expected, gear changes aren’t quite as smooth and refined as Shimano’s ‘posher’ options, but once set-up correctly, it all works very impressively. The relative lack of rear sprockets isn’t a huge issue — in fact, some would argue the eight-speed system is slightly easier to adjust than the more advanced options — but that largest possible 32-tooth rear sprocket is of noticeable assistance on climbs. As with Shimano’s Sora and Tiagra groupsets, the levers feature a small window so you can see which gear you are in.
The brake calipers look a lot those found in a previous version of Shimano’s 105 groupset, and also work very securely. As with most stock brakesets, fitting new aftermarket brake blocks will improve their performance. Meanwhile, the levers are comfortable and feel very similar to Shimano’s other systems.
Finally, there’s no getting away from the fact that the lower down Shimano’s order you go, the heavier the groupset becomes. However, in action we doubt any rider would notice any weight difference between this and, say, Shimano Sora or Tiagra.
So Shimano Claris features all the engineering expertise you would expect from the Japanese component giant. It might be a little heavier and a little less silky-smooth to operate than its more expensive siblings, but Claris is very much a ‘proper’ Shimano groupset.
Bikes with Claris
The least expensive new bike we’ve seen fitted with a full Shimano Claris groupset — a Merlin PR7 — has the astonishing retail price of £299.99. However, the vast majority of mainstream bike manufacturers — Trek, Specialized, Cannondale, Boardman — tend to fit it to their entry-level models, which normally retail between £500-£600.
We’ve tested it on a number of different bikes — to read our reviews of Shimano Claris in action, click away below.