SRAM and Shimano, two brands that are synonymous with cycling components. You will find groupsets from both of these market leaders on a large proportion of bicycles on the road.
The SRAM Apex is the entry-level road bike groupset by SRAM. In contrast, Shimano’s Tiagra groupset is the third in its hierarchy (after Claris and Sora).
Shimano’s Tiagra is, however, the relative equivalent of SRAM Apex. Despite them being very similar, there are some critical differences between these groupsets.
Let’s start by looking at the different components that make up each groupset.
The hoods are comfortable and ergonomic.
If you are not used to SRAM shifters, they may take a little getting used to. Rather than having a hinge on the brake lever, the SRAM lever uses a double-tap system (you will find the same across their whole range). You push the lever behind the brake hard (two clicks) for a higher gear and not so hard (to drop down a gear).
The shifters are responsive and as soon as you get used to the mechanism, gear changing is relatively instantaneous. However, I would suggest testing out changing gears on the flat, before you inadvertently increase your gears at the start of an incline. Once you have touched the lever, you are committed to changing gear, which can feel a bit clunky and forces you to take good care of the cables and derailleurs’ alignment.
Shimano has opted to get rid of the window that allows you to see which gear you are in on Tiagras, which is another similarity to the higher end groupsets they offer, making them look and feel very similar to the 105 shifters.
The mechanism feels good and allows for easy shifting and braking. The hoods are comfortable enough to perch on, but you do not get the same patterned rubber that you do with the more expensive Shimano groupsets.
The SRAM Apex front derailleur works perfectly, no matter how much abuse you throw its way. You cannot make micro-adjustments as you can with the higher-end groupsets, but honestly, you should not need to.
Available for both double and triple chainrings. The front derailleur looks and performs much like the higher end groupsets from Shimano. Shifting on the front chainrings is easy and there is little to no chain friction across the whole range of gears (even on the triple).
SRAMs Apex rear derailleur is surprisingly effective when you consider this is their entry-level groupset. It does not suffer the same skipping or stiffness that you often get with Shimanos cheaper groupsets.
It comes in two options, a short cage suitable for most cassette sizes and a mid cage version designed for the 11-32T cassette.
The longer cage helps to take the extra slack from the longer chain required when you have a larger cassette and chainring. Both seem to handle the normal rigors of riding without skipping or jumping gears.
SRAM’s Apex benefits from WiFLi (Wider range than a triple crankset, with a Faster shift and Lighter overall weight) set-up, despite being their “entry-level” groupset. This is a nice touch and helps give you a wide range of gears on the chainset/crankset.
As with the SRAM Apex, you have the choice of a short or long cage version for the rear mech.
The longer cage is designed for 34t on a double chainring or 32t for the triple. Despite this groupset being considerably cheaper than the higher end Shimano models, the derailleur is responsive and reliable. Perfect for sportive riders.
Something that SRAM successfully brought to the market before their competition was a wide range of gears without the need for multiple chainrings up front, by cramming more cogs on the rear cassette. The Apex comes with an available chainset/ crankset of 53/39, 50/34 and 48/35.
There is also a 1×11 option, something that is unique to this brand and usually only found on mountain bikes. However, this gearing (basically one front chainring) is surprisingly versatile thanks to the large 11 gear cassette that gives you plenty of variance.
You have plenty of gearing options with Tiagra groupset, from 52/36t to 46/34t. Additionally, there’s the classic triple-option of 50-39-30t. The chainset is heavier than SRAMs Apex, but it is stiff and responsive.
Although this groupset only comes with Brake Callipers, they do everything you need from a set of brakes, they help you stop smoothly. Their performance does not quickly deteriorate as can be the norm with other “entry-level” groupsets. You also get plenty of clearance for wider tires (up to 28mm).
The dual pivot brake calipers look and feel similar to the higher end groupsets. The performance is as good as the much more expensive groupsets, even if they are a little heavier. You do not have the option to replace the brake pads. So, be prepared to buy new units when they become worn.
For the price, these are both excellent groupsets for your road bike. Yes, they are heavier and lack some of the same gearings or micro-adjustments you benefit from on higher-end groupsets.
However, for entry-level or even winter training bikes, both the SRAM Apex and Shimano Tiagra groupsets will serve you well.
SRAMs Apex is a compact setup, meaning that it has small chainrings at the front and big rings at the back. It also comes in a 1x front chainring. If simplicity is your vice and then you cannot go wrong with the SRAM Apex groupset.
Personally, Shimano Tiagra offers the best value for money. I struggle to get used to the double-tap shifting on SRAM, and the Tiagra groupset feels like a more robust and well-rounded groupset that will see me through many a winter.
I’ve spent way more time in the bike trade than anyone should reasonably want to. In that time I’ve wanted to make cycling jargon and marketing easier to cut through to help people get the bike of their dreams.
When I’m not writing about bikes, I can be seen out bikepacking on single speed bikes or teaching kids how to ride.