Shifters & Derailleurs for your Gravel Bike - An Overview

Gravel bike shifters have to meet special requirements. There are a variety of gravel shifters & derailleurs on the market. We’ll give you an overview.

The Best Groupset for Your Gravel Bike

The first gravel bikes were mainly outfitted with road bike components. However, it quickly became clear that the requirements for gravel shifters & derailleurs are somewhat different. While a fine gradation of gears is important on a road bike, the shifters on a gravel bike must be capable of more. When you turn off-road, lighter gear ratios make sense, particularly in situations such as bikepacking. The gears on a gravel bike should also be robust and insensitive to dirt. Currently, you no longer have to mix mountain bike and road bike parts: gravel shifters & derailleurs combine the decisive aspects of both worlds. If you’re curious, a whole Mullet world of MTB and road bike parts is also open to you. Either way, our tips on what to look for will help you find the right shifting system for your gravel bike.

Cyclist riding a gravel bike with GRX shifters across a trail.
Cyclist riding a gravel bike with GRX shifters across a trail.

Unlike a road bike, with a gravel bike it is especially important that you can shift smoothly across uneven terrain.

A biker rides through a large puddle.
A biker rides through a large puddle.

Since you often go across water and dirt when gravel riding, the gears of your bike should be able to withstand a lot.

All Parts in a Complete Gravel Groupset

A complete groupset for gravel bikes includes a derailleur, cassette, crankset, chain, shift/brake levers and brake calipers. For groupsets with multiple chainrings, the rear derailleur is of course also included. If you build your new bike yourself and order a complete groupset, you can be sure that all parts will be visually and functionally cohesive. Upgrade kits usually come without cranks, some also without cassette and chain. They allow you to upgrade certain parts and keep others or choose individually. Wear & tear sets give you the option of replacing just the parts exposed to the most wear.

How Many Sprockets and Chainrings Does a Gravel Bike Need?

The wide range of uses for gravel bikes means that a variety of gear ranges and ratios can work. Groupsets with 1x cranks have advantages off-road: they are quiet, light, work better in the dirt and have a tidy appearance. For cassettes with ten to thirteen sprockets, you have the choice between fine gradation or large spread. This way you can tailor the groupset to your needs. Chainrings with alternating narrow and wide teeth (narrow-wide) ensure that your chain remains in place. By omitting the second chainring and the front derailleur, more space is left in the crank area for short chainstays and wide tyres. For this reason, some gravel frames are only compatible with 1x cranks. If your frame is outfitted for installing a double crank and a front derailleur, then you have the possibility to get a fine gradation and a wide gear range at the same time. By the way, the filters in our shop allow you to narrow your selection according to gradation on the crank and cassette.

A man and a woman ride their gravel bikes along a forest path.
A man and a woman ride their gravel bikes along a forest path.

Gravel riding is fun on forest paths and trails...

A gravel biker rides over a gravel path.
A gravel biker rides over a gravel path.

... but just as often leads you over gravel roads.

Disc Brakes for Full Control

Disc brakes are standard on gravel bikes. While many mechanically-actuated brakes were still being installed as custom solutions as of a few years ago, current complete groupsets come with hydraulic brakes. They are easy to dose and function almost maintenance-free thanks to automatic pad adjustment. In order to mount the brakes on your bike, you should consider the type of brake caliper. Shimano and Campagnolo only offer their groupsets with flat mount brakes, with SRAM you can also choose post mount. The addition PM or FM in the article designation serves as a helpful hint here. Most gravel frames and forks are designed with a flat mount, but some also have a post mount. Adapters can in some cases mitigate between systems. However, it is better to choose the right brakes from the start. We also recommend that you order one or two pairs of matching spare brake pads directly.

Shimano GRX

The complete Shimano GRX groupset is available in three levels of quality that differ in price, weight and workmanship. GRX RX815 and RX810 are the lightweight top groupsets. The highest quality materials are used here. The crank arms are hollow to save on weight. The RX815 shifts electronically (Di2) and the RX810 mechanically. Just below the top groupsets you will find the GRX RX600. It takes the rear and front derailleurs from the 800 series and saves on the other parts to offer better value. The crank arms, for example, are not hollow. With slightly cheaper materials and manufacturing methods, the groupset is somewhat heavier, but retains all other advantages. You can choose between 1x11 and 2x11 gears for both the 600 and 800 series. The GRX RX400 below is currently only available as 2x10.

Detail Shot of a Shimano GRX Rear Derailleur.
Detail Shot of a Shimano GRX Rear Derailleur.

The mechanical rear derailleur of the Shimano GRX groupset can be used with both 1x11 and 2x11 gears. © bc GmbH

Campagnolo Ekar

The Ekar from Campagnolo offers a high-end groupset for your gravel bike. There is no front derailleur here, but there are 13 sprockets. Carbon is used for the cranks and rear derailleur – and only the best materials in other respects. The Ergopower shift/brake levers have been optimised for the gravel bike and equipped with a revised thumb lever.

SRAM Mullet XX1, Force, Rival and Apex

At SRAM you can also choose between different groupsets: the top groupset is the wireless SRAM Mullet XX1 Force eTap AXS. The term “mullet” refers to the hairstyle and is used on mountain bikes where a smaller rear wheel and larger front wheel are mounted. For gravel shifting systems, the term means the combination of mountain bike rear derailleur and cassette with road bike crank and brake levers for dropbars. Thanks to SRAM’s eTap-AXS wireless technology, the XX1 Eagle rear derailleur works smoothly with Force shift/brake levers. The twelve-speed cassette from the mountain bike groupset offers a very wide gear range. Below that, SRAM does not yet offer any gravel-specific groupsets – however, we can absolutely recommend 1x11 road groupsets for your gravel bike as well. Force 1 is the lightest and highest quality here, followed by the Rival 1 and Apex 1, which are more affordable but also slightly heavier.

Electronic or Mechanical Shifting?

Shimano, Campagnolo and SRAM offer mechanical groupsets, i.e., shifters with Bowden cables. The technology is reliable and proven. As an alternative, Shimano has Di2 in its range, which is a cable-based electronic shifting system. SRAM uses a wireless technology called eTap AXS for electronic options. We will outline the advantages of the systems in an extra article.

Enlarged view of an electronic bicycle shifting system
Enlarged view of an electronic bicycle shifting system

Whether you want to use mechanical or electronic shifters & derailleurs is a matter of taste - both systems have their advantages. © bc GmbH

The Right Cassette for your Gravel Bike

Pay attention in the product description to the type of freehub body for which the cassette is made. Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo rely on different solutions. The cassette should fit your hub. Alternatively, you can also convert many hubs by changing the freehub body. We have described the different types of freehubs in this article. If you are unsure if you have the right groupset in your cart, please contact us!

Designs and Variants for Gravel Shifters

In the shop you will usually find several versions of a gravel groupset. If you look closely, you will see the differences in each item description. For Shimano, this applies to the chainring size and groupsets with or without front derailleur. With Campagnolo it only applies to the chainring size. SRAM distinguishes between the different brakes (FM for flat mount and PM for post mount) and between cranks for different bottom brackets (GXP or BB30). Here you should learn as much as possible about what type of bottom bracket shell your frame has in advance. Once you have selected a groupset, you will in most cases be faced with choosing a type. There are options here for the crank length and the gradation of the cassette. With Shimano Di2 you also have the choice between internal and external distributor.

What’s in the Box and Completing a Groupset

You should read the product description and the listed contents carefully. For many cases, we have provided links to products that you need to order separately to complete the set. In very few cases, brake rotors and adapters for installing the brakes are included with the complete groupset. The same applies to bottom brackets. For Shimano electronic shifters, the cables must be ordered separately.

The Custom Groupset for the Gravel Bike

Gravel bikes are used in so many different ways that it is difficult to select a complete groupset that covers all conceivable requirements. If you have particular ideas, you can also put together a custom groupset using individual parts. There are plenty of manufacturers to choose from, especially for cranks, chainrings, cassettes and chains. However, you should pay close attention to part compatibility. Parts belonging to different groupsets or model years from one manufacturer do not automatically mesh together. If you mainly ride your gravel bike on asphalt and well-maintained gravel paths, you can also have a look at road bike groupsets.

Shown here is a Praxis Works crank on a 3T Exploro bike.
Shown here is a Praxis Works crank on a 3T Exploro bike.

For that extra portion of individuality on your drivetrain, manufacturers such as e*thirteen offer compatible components. © bc GmbH

Tools for Assembling a Complete Groupset

To assemble a groupset, you will need hex and Torx wrenches as well as some specialist tools. To change the cassette, you will need the appropriate cassette remover and a chain whip. To remove the old chain and cut the new one to the right length, you will need a chain tool. A set of master link pliers can also be helpful. SRAM includes a very helpful adjustment gauge for the optimal adjustment of the shifters and derailleurs. If you want to shorten the brake lines, you will probably need the appropriate bleed kit. When it comes to tools, be careful! Your old chain tool may not be compatible with narrow chains in a 1x13 groupset. The same applies to chain whips or cassette removers.

Gravel_Schaltungen_Modelluebersicht_Abschlussbild_mobilBild Mobile 1454 x 1285.jpg
Two gravel bikers ride with verve over a gravel path.