Every sport has its dominating manufacturers. Pick one and you will find at least two or three, sometimes four or even five competing companies, who make the gear needed to play the sport. Basketball, tennis, football, alpinism, no matter what you do, some companies lead the charge and help make the sports better.
In cycling, the two major manufacturers are Shimano and SRAM. Shimano has been around longer, but SRAM burst onto the scene and made strides and leaps with their devices. Which one is better? That cannot simply be answered. What you should know is that one or the other may be better for your use case. Here is how they differ.
Shimano – The Older and More Established Brand
Even the non cyclists often know that when a bicycle has Shimano gear, that must mean that the bicycle is good. Now, whether that gear is a decade or more old and has been used to its last breath, that is another story.
Shimano, being founded in 1921, hails from Japan and is a well-known company for making innovations in the world of cycling. The odds are if your bicycle has any sort of newer Shimano gear, it will be reliable in the planned use case scenario (do not take a road bike mountain biking, no manufacturer can save you in that case).
Professionals seem to prefer Shimano gear on road bikes and the split is 50/50 for gravel and cyclo-cross bikes (the ones meant for light off roading and asphalt). Mountain bikers prefer SRAM just as road bikers prefer Shimano.
SRAM – The New Kids on the Block
SRAM isn’t as new as the subtitle makes it to be, but compared to Shimano, they are a newer company. Established in 1987, SRAM had to do a lot of work to catch up to Shimano, but mostly in regards to brand recognition. In those 2 or 3 decades while the internet was ramping up, SRAM did lots of good work. They designed a grip shift system, allowing cyclists to have their hands on the drop-bar while shifting gears, which was an innovation that came before Shimano’s version.
Today, SRAM has a great reputation as a manufacturer, and if one were to look up bicycle gear online, they would likely find the two companies, and perhaps some emerging ones with lower quality parts.
Which One is the Right for You?
Well, this question can be answered by trying out their gear. Depending on what kind of cycling you are doing, you may go with the majority for road bikes or mountain bikes, and head towards either Shimano or SRAM.
If you have the opportunity and you are serious enough about cycling to change your entire set of derailleurs, drivetrain, cassette and everything else, then you should try both.
If you are a hobbyist cyclist and you just want any kind of reliable gear, both SRAM and Shimano will be a great choice. An amateur cyclist or a professional will have the opportunity to try both and make an educated choice.