When it comes to cycling groupset manufacturers, the “Big Three” you generally come across are Shimano, SRAM, and Campagnolo, with Shimano being the most widely used in the world.

However, on budget-friendly bikes in particular, there’s a major contender in town: microSHIFT.

Many bikes come equipped as standard with microSHIFT, which tends to target the cheaper end of the market rather than attempting to compete with the major manufacturers for high-end components.

microSHIFT’s groupsets don’t tend to be particularly refined, but they’re effective and cheap, which can help bring new cyclists into the sport.

In this article, we’re going to be telling you everything you need to know when it comes to microSHIFT vs Shimano. Which is better for riding, and all the parts that are cross-compatible. We will be discussing:

Who Are microSHIFT?

microSHIFT has been around for since 1999 when a set of industry veterans got together to make a new groupset that would accommodate the current market and compete with bigger, long-standing brands. 

microSHIFT has over ten groupsets that are designed for road, gravel, mountain biking, and even city riding.They focus on components primarily between 8 to 11 speeds.

In my opinion, microSHIFT are fantastic at keeping it simple and just making solid components at affordable prices.

microSHIFT Groupsets Explained

Here are the groupsets that microSHIFT currently makes and what disciplines they are made for. We are also going to list the compatibility with Shimano components.

microSHIFT GroupsetPurposeCompatible With Shimano?
R8 (8 Speed) Road Yes
R9 (9 Speed) Road Yes
R10 (10 Speed) Road Yes
Centos (11 Speed) Road Yes
Mezzo (8/9 Speed) Mountain Biking Yes
Marvo (9 Speed) Mountain Biking Yes
XLE (11 Speed) Mountain Biking Yes
XCD (10/11 Speed) Mountain Biking Yes
Acolyte Mountain Biking No
Advent Mountain Biking No
Advent X Mountain Biking No
Sword Gravel Biking Only with Advent X (microSHIFT)

Who Are Shimano?

Shimano Ultegra shifters on my road bike.
Shimano Ultegra shifters on my road bike. © Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

Shimano is the industry leader when it comes to cycling components.

They have been around since 1921 and are at the forefront of cycling technology. They spend huge amounts of research and development and are constantly improving cycling further through their technology.

Shimano makes groupsets for every type of bike, from simple city commuters to professional racing bikes. They not only utilize mechanical components but also electronic components.

They are known for not just performance but reliability. You won’t be able to cycle far without seeing the Shimano logo on a bike.

Shimano Groupsets Explained

Shimano GroupsetPurposeCompatible With microSHIFT?
Dura-Ace (12 Speed) Road No
Ultegra (12 Speed) Road No
105 (11/12 Speed) Road Yes (only 11 Speed)
Tiagra (10 Speed) Road Yes
Sora (9 Speed) Road Yes
Claris (8 Speed) Road Yes
XTR (12 Speed) Mountain Biking No
Deore XT (12 Speed) Mountain Biking No
SLX (12 Speed) Mountain Biking No
Deore (10/11/12 Speed) Mountain Biking Yes (only 11 Speed)
Saint (10 Speed) Mountain Biking Yes
Zee (10 Speed) Mountain Biking Yes
Cues (11 Speed) Mountain Biking No
Alivio (9 Speed) Mountain Biking Yes
Acera (9 Speed) Mountain Biking Yes
Altus (9 Speed) Mountain Biking Yes
GRX800 (12 Speed) Gravel  No
GRX600 (11 Speed) Gravel  Yes
GRX400 (10 Speed) Gravel  Yes
Tourney (6/7/8 Speed) General Purpose Yes
Alfine (8/11 Speed) City Yes (Hub Gears Only)
Nexus (3/7/8 Speed) City Yes (Hub Gears Only)

Are microSHIFT And Shimano Cross-Compatible?

Shimano and microSHIFT are very cross-compatible, and they have been designed in that way to help you mix groupsets if required.

The majority of Shimano and microSHIFT groupsets share the same cable pull ratio (the amount the derailleur moves compared to the amount of cable pulled through by the shifter), meaning they can be interchanged.

However, although most are, bear in mind that not all microSHIFT and Shimano components are cross-compatible.

microSHIFT’s new gravel groupset, called Sword, uses a proprietary cable pull ratio, meaning it isn’t cross-compatible with Shimano. The same is true of microSHIFT’s Acolyte and Advent mountain biking ranges.

Another important point to note is that microSHIFT do not offer a hydraulic brake lever, so you wouldn’t be able to pair Shimano hydraulic disc brakes with any microSHIFT brake lever.

The same is true of electronic shifting. microSHIFT only produce cable-actuated groupsets, so you won’t be able to use Shimano Di2 components.

Check the charts above to ensure the specific groupset you’re using is cross-compatible!

My Shimano Ultegra hydraulic disc brake caliper wouldn't be compatible with microSHIFT brifters.
My Shimano Ultegra hydraulic disc brake calipers wouldn’t be compatible with microSHIFT brifters. © Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

Comparing microSHIFT Vs Shimano

When it comes to comparing microSHIFT and Shimano, there’s a lot to discuss. Here’s where you are going to notice some differences in the real world.

Cost

The first place we are going to start is cost. microSHIFT is very cheap, and you can clearly see the difference in price between Shimano and microSHIFT. If you are building on a budget, then microSHIFT is great for the bargains you can get. 

A good example is currently on a popular online cycling shop you can get an 11-speed microSHIFT Centos rear derailleur for $15.

microSHIFT Centos is roughly equivalent to Shimano 105. A 105 derailleur on the same site currently costs $55. That’s a big difference for a part that does the same job, even if the Shimano part is likely to slightly outperform the Centos.

Limited Components 

It’s important to understand that microSHIFT is limited regarding components. You can’t buy brakes or other components from them.

In their current range, you will find shifters, cassettes, front derailleurs, rear derailleurs, and cranksets (in certain groupsets).

You will find that when using microSHIFT, you will need to invest in other parts from different brands. With Shimano, you can buy a complete groupset and even wheels, making it much easier to buy in bulk. 

Hydraulic Disc Brake Limitations

Another vital factor to mention when we speak about microSHIFT vs Shimano is the lack of hydraulic brake lever options. microSHIFT doesn’t do hydraulic disc brakes, just mechanical levers that can work on mechanical disc brakes.

This is particularly problematic for road or gravel bikes using drop bars with brifters, as the brake and gear levers are integrated. This limits your choice to mechanical braking groupsets only.

The brake levers are typically separate from the gear shifters on flat bar mountain bike groupsets, so this is less of a problem.

Shimano offers a much more comprehensive range for different braking systems, and microSHIFT offers no braking components besides levers. 

Technology 

Shimano has always been at the forefront of cycling technology. They use electronics in modern groupsets, which have the ability to self-adjust while you’re riding. They invest millions into product development year after year to push boundaries further.

microSHIFT is relatively basic by comparison. Although they might seem behind on speeds and have limited technology, they are going down a different route. They want to keep it simple and affordable and just focus on it working well.

For example, microSHIFT’s top-level road bike groupset, Centos, has traditionally been considered as equivalent to mechanical Shimano 105 11-speed, which is in Shimano’s upper-mid-range.

In modern times, I think Centos is closer in performance to Shimano Tiagra, a step down Shimano’s hierarchy, after riding both extensively.

That’s not a bad thing, especially considering the price difference, but I think it’s a realistic reflection of the fact that microSHIFT’s flagship groupset is only equivalent to Shimano’s mid-range components.

If your priority is getting components at the cutting edge of cycling technology, microSHIFT won’t be for you.

Instead, they focus on reliable, decent-quality components at very affordable prices, even if the technology trails five-to-ten years behind the likes of Shimano, Campagnolo, and SRAM’s top-shelf offerings.

Performance

There’s no denying that, in my experience, Shimano performs much better than microSHIFT. It’s much silkier and smoother, and under heavy load, it freely clicks across with very few problems or issues.

There’s a reason professionals are winning with Shimano Dura-Ace rather than microSHIFT race after race.

microSHIFT works well, but if you are planning on racing, it doesn’t shift as well under heavy load, in my opinion. They are not bad components at all, but they are not what you’re going to see in the Tour de France.

Where I have found a great use for microSHIFT components is on my winter training bike. The parts are affordable enough that I don’t get precious about them being exposed to the elements, and still offer enough performance for training rides.

When the cycling season comes around, however, I’ll be switching back to Shimano Dura-Ace or Ultegra for racing on.

Looks

There is no denying that Shimano’s and microSHIFT’s components both look great.

I would be happy with both on my bike. Shimano has a sleeker look, and the shadow derailleurs look incredibly sporty, but microSHIFT doesn’t look bad at all, especially in their most recent groupsets such as Sword.

Reliability

Shimano is known for excellent reliability, and you buy it because you know it works and will last.

The same is true with microSHIFT, especially further up their ranges. I have no complaints after speaking to many users and having a lot of time with microSHIFT components myself. The company does a great job of offering long life expectancy for its groupsets, despite the low cost.

The added advantage with microSHIFT is that when you eventually need to replace a component, it’s much cheaper to do so.

Availability

You will find microSHIFT parts in many online stores, most of which will offer next-day delivery, but only in some local bike shops.

Shimano, on the other hand, is everywhere. It’s in every shop and on nearly all the cycling retailers’ websites, and although some parts may get low on stock at times, there are always options for other Shimano components that might work.

microSHIFT Sword gravel groupset on a black bike.
microSHIFT’s new Sword gravel groupset. Credit: microSHIFT.

Which Should You Choose: microSHIFT Vs Shimano?

In my opinion, choosing between Shimano and microSHIFT is not a tough choice as they offer quite different design philosophies, and should be based on your priorities.

Who Should Choose Shimano?

If you’re looking to buy everything together, Shimano is the way forward. You can buy a full groupset with all you need, and it all pairs perfectly. This can make a bike build much simpler, and for cyclists like myself who like keeping it all one brand, it goes a long way.

Likewise, if you want a high-performance groupset at the cutting edge of technology, Shimano is a much better choice than microSHIFT. 12-speed drivetrains, electronic shifting, and hydraulic brakes are all currently out of reach for microSHIFT users.

It’s likely only a matter of time before these technologies trickle down to microSHIFT too – although by then, Shimano and the other major players will already have moved on to the next big innovation!

Who Should Choose microSHIFT?

If you are looking for bike components on a budget or are happy to mix and match, then microSHIFT is a great choice. It’s an incredibly budget-friendly option, and although they might not offer the performance or technology Shimano does, they are still amazing. 

When it comes to mountain biking, microSHIFT is a great way to go, as quite often, you buy groupsets without brakes. You will also find they are easy to install with much less adjustment required compared to complex top-level components.

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