A group of mountain bikers ride up a rocky climb in sunny weather.
A group of mountain bikers ride up a rocky climb in sunny weather.

Shifters & Derailleurs for your Mountain Bike – An Overview

XTR, XX1, X01, Deore, etc. – The choice of shifters & derailleurs for MTBs is huge. Find out which is the right one for you here.

There is a lot to consider when it comes to mountain bike drivetrains. All individual parts must fit your bike and interact perfectly with one another. With ready-made complete groupsets and upgrade sets from SRAM or Shimano in our selection, we make your purchase even easier. You simply order the components of your new drivetrain with just a few clicks and make sure that they are compatible with one another. Here we’ll explain which groupset is the right one for you and what to look out for so that the parts fit your bike.

Two mountain bikers, one of them on a Liteville 301 E-bike, ride along a trail near the coast in sunny weather.
Two mountain bikers, one of them on a Liteville 301 E-bike, ride along a trail near the coast in sunny weather.

With the right MTB shifters & derailleurs, you can bike on any terrain.

A mountain biker is riding uphill on stony ground. She’s wearing a backpack and bike wear that match the spring-like weather.
A mountain biker is riding uphill on stony ground. She’s wearing a backpack and bike wear that match the spring-like weather.

A high gear range allows you to ride both uphill and downhill at a comfortable cadence.

A mountain biker rides down a trail in a forest on a bc original Podsol.
A mountain biker rides down a trail in a forest on a bc original Podsol.

If you want to put together your own shifters & derailleurs, you should always pay attention to the compatibility of the individual components.

Complete Groupset or Upgrade Kit?

Our shop stocks complete groupsets and upgrade kits – the difference between them lies in what’s included in the box. Complete groupsets include a rear derailleur, shift levers, cassettes, a chain and a crank with a chainring. Upgrade kits, on the other hand, come without a crank and in some cases without a cassette. They are a good option if you want to upgrade to a higher quality shifting system but continue using existing components. If you only want to replace your worn-out cassette and chain, we also offer wear kits.

Number of Gears and Gear Range

On current mountain bikes you will usually find shifters and derailleurs with cassettes consisting of twelve or eleven sprockets, and in most cases only one chainring on the crank. Thanks to cassettes with a spread of ten to 51 or even 52 teeth, the gear range of these 1x drivetrains is also sufficient for trips through the mountains. If you often ride in very steep terrain, you can install a smaller chainring to get lighter gears. If you want to book it in high gears, then you should opt for a slightly larger chainring. By eliminating the front derailleur on 1x drivetrains, you save on weight, your drivetrain becomes less complicated and runs more quietly. Space is also freed up on the handlebars, which can be used, for example, for an ergonomic remote control for your dropper post. In addition, the suspension on many frames works better when the chain is always on the same chainring. Thanks to narrow and wide alternating teeth and a vibration-damped rear derailleur cage, it remains steady on the chainring. SRAM relies mainly on 1x12 (Eagle) and also offers a 1x11 option. Even Shimano now mainly offers 1x drivetrains with ten, eleven or twelve speeds for high-quality mountain bikes, but also options with front derailleurs and two or even three chainrings. This allows you to achieve an even wider gear range, and you can ride with a finer-grade cassette. Our shop allows you to easily filter according to the number of gears you want to have on the cassette and crank.

A group of mountain bikers ride up a rocky climb in sunny weather.
A group of mountain bikers ride up a rocky climb in sunny weather.

A cassette with the largest possible sprockets pays off especially on steep climbs. © bc GmbH

Shimano: XTR, XT, SLX and Deore

The various groupsets offered by Shimano differ in price, weight and build quality. At the top of the hierarchy is the XTR. It is particularly lightweight thanks to the use of high-end materials and can be found on bikes belonging to many World Cup pros. Directly below it is the high-quality and indestructible XT, which has been around longer than any other mountain bike groupset. It has undergone continuous development since 1983. SLX followed by Deore are more affordable due to the use of lower-cost materials. You don’t have to sacrifice shifting quality and gear range, but the two groupsets are somewhat heavier than their higher-end siblings. The biggest differences can be found in the cassette and crank. With the SLX, they are slightly lighter than with the Deore. The addition of Di2 in the name indicates it’s the electronic version of the groupset. 

SRAM: XX1, X01, GX and NX

The groupsets offered by SRAM also differ from each other in price, weight and workmanship. XX1 Eagle is the lightweight top groupset for cross-country use. X01 Eagle offers the same level of quality, but more stability and durability for enduro and trail bikers who are happy to take on more weight for this. GX Eagle is the mid-range and NX Eagle the affordable groupset for beginners, which (unlike the other SRAM groupsets) does not rely on the special XD freehub body for the cassette. By the way, only twelve-speed groupsets bear the name “Eagle” because of their broad gear range or spread of the cassette. AXS refers to the electronic shifters and derailleurs that are controlled wirelessly.

The electronic SRAM XX1 AXS was combined with a cassette and chain in oilslick on this mountain bike.
The electronic SRAM XX1 AXS was combined with a cassette and chain in oilslick on this mountain bike.

The SRAM XX1 AXS is the top groupset from SRAM and shifts electronically.

Pictured is a Shimano XT rear derailleur mounted on a bc original Podsol.
Pictured is a Shimano XT rear derailleur mounted on a bc original Podsol.

The XT groupset from Shimano is considered extremely robust and is the perfect choice for bikers who want to reel off a lot of kilometres and rely on perfect performance.

A Santa Cruz Megatower is equipped with a SRAM GX rear derailleur.
A Santa Cruz Megatower is equipped with a SRAM GX rear derailleur.

The GX forms the mid-range class at SRAM. The system shown here shifts mechanically, but can be converted to electronic shifters with a corresponding upgrade kit.

Shifting with Bowden Cables, Cables or Wirelessly

Most shifters and derailleurs still utilise Bowden cables for shifting.
The mechanics are tried and tested and, when maintained appropriately, reliable. Alternatively, Shimano offers cable-based electronic shifting – recognisable by the addition of Di2 (Digital Integrated Intelligence) in the name. SRAM, on the other hand, relies on wireless components with AXS (pronounced “access"). You can learn more about electronic shifting systems with and without cables in our article on “Electronic Shifters & Derailleurs for Road and Mountain Bikes".

Pictured is a Santa Cruz full-suspension bike equipped with an electronic SRAM X01 EAGLE AXS in the forest.
Pictured is a Santa Cruz full-suspension bike equipped with an electronic SRAM X01 EAGLE AXS in the forest.

The X01 Eagle AXS shifts electronically. AXS stands for wireless components at SRAM.

A SRAM controller shifter is mounted on MTB handlebars. This is the electronic version of the shift lever.
A SRAM controller shifter is mounted on MTB handlebars. This is the electronic version of the shift lever.

The SRAM controller shifter triggers the shifting process electronically thanks to AXS technology.

A Shimano XT mechanical rear derailleur is shown on a Santa Cruz bike.
A Shimano XT mechanical rear derailleur is shown on a Santa Cruz bike.

The Shimano XT installed here shifts in the classic mechanical way. With proper care, this technique is proven and reliable.

A Shimano Deore XT shifter is mounted on mountain bike handlebars, which functions with the help of a Bowden cable.
A Shimano Deore XT shifter is mounted on mountain bike handlebars, which functions with the help of a Bowden cable.

The shifting process is passed from the shift lever to the rear derailleur with the aid of a Bowden cable.

The Cassette Must Fit the Hub

To ensure that your desired groupset also fits your bike, you should definitely pay attention to the cassette. It must match the freehub body on your hub. There are currently three systems that are not compatible with each other. Shimano uses cassettes for the Micro-Spline freehub in its top twelve-speed groupsets. SRAM switched to the XD freehub a few years ago. Both manufacturers also offer cassettes for the classic HG freehub (Hyperglide) in the less-expensive versions. However, sprockets with less than eleven teeth do not fit here, so you won't get the widest possible range. In our article “Freehub and Freehub Body: Function, Compatibility and Conversion”, we give you a comprehensive overview of the topic. Find out what type of freehub body is installed on your bike and then check the description of the groupset for the cassette! Our shop filters will help you out if you already know what you want. If you want to upgrade your hub to one of the newer systems, it is best to check with the hub manufacturer. Most hubs let you do this by replacing the freehub body.

Contents in Detail

Make sure to look closely at the product description and the contents listed in our shop! In many cases we have provided links to products that you need to order separately to complete the set. Bottom brackets, for example, are almost never included. Shimano usually includes cable sleeves, but SRAM does not. For this you have to order the cables separately for Shimano electronic gears. Unlike road bike groupsets, brakes are not included with a complete mountain bike groupset.

MTB Gears: Options and Versions

In our shop you will find various groupsets and upgrade kits that seem very similar at first glance. The product name tells you the number of gears by manufacturer and groupset, and whether it is an electronic (Di2 or AXS) or mechanical system. This is followed by the size of the chainring if a crank is included. Before you add your groupset to your cart, you will in most cases still have to choose the right design, where various other factors can come into play. Choosing a colour is the easiest part. The dimension 170 or 175 millimetres refers to the length of the crank arms. Shimano also offers you the choice between a shift lever with a clamp or for mounting on the brake lever (I-Spec). By the way, a clamp is included for SRAM Matchmaker shift levers. At the very end of the model type is usually the gradation of the cassette, i.e., the number of teeth of the smallest and largest sprocket.

Mountain Bike Shifting Systems with Front Derailleurs

The designs are somewhat more complicated for groupsets with front derailleurs. If you want to shift between several chainrings, there are three aspects to consider when choosing the right front derailleur: the swing direction (side-swing, down-swing or top-swing), the type of mounting on the frame (direct mount, e-type, high-clamp or low-clamp) and the cable linkage (front-pull, down-pull or dual-pull). When mounting with a clamp, the diameter is important – the usual dimensions are covered with adapters. The best way to find out about this is to contact the manufacturer of your bike or take a look at what has been fitted so far. Of course, our service team colleagues are more than happy to help if you don't know what to do.

A 3-speed MTB crank is shown here with a compatible front derailleur.
A 3-speed MTB crank is shown here with a compatible front derailleur.

2 or 3-speed shifters require the installation of a front derailleur on your MTB. © bc GmbH

E-bike Shifters & Derailleurs

SRAM groupsets or upgrade kits for e-bikes are distinguished by single-click shift levers, which only allow simple shifting increments even when downshifting. Both Shimano and SRAM also offer e-bike drivetrains with greater durability. Some groupsets have fewer gears and are heavier.

The Custom Assembled Drivetrain

If the complete groupsets in our shop do not fulfil your ideas for a custom drivetrain, you can of course put together a personalised solution. Cassettes, cranks, chainrings and chains are available from considerably more manufacturers than Shimano and SRAM. In this case, however, you should pay particular attention to part compatibility. This also applies if you want to mix parts from different groupsets or manufacturer years.

A combination of Hope Evo crank and SRAM shifting components is displayed here.
A combination of Hope Evo crank and SRAM shifting components is displayed here.

For that extra dose of customisation on your drivetrain, you can choose from Hope- or e*thirteen-compatible components. © bc GmbH

The Right Tools for Assembly

In addition to a set of hex and possibly Torx wrenches, you will need some more specialist tools to assemble a groupset. To change the cassette, you will need the appropriate cassette remover as well as a chain whip. In order to remove your old chain and bring the new one to the right length, you’ll need a chain tool. A pair of master link pliers is a helpful addition to your toolbox. SRAM includes a very helpful adjustment gauge for the optimal adjustment of the shifters and derailleurs. When it comes to tools, be careful! Your old chain tool may not be compatible with narrow twelve-pin chains. The same applies to chain whips or cassette removers.