Shimano GRX Components: Checkpoint – by MG
Without a doubt, one of the hottest stories of 2019 in the gravel world is the introduction of Shimano GRX. As the world’s first dedicated component family for drop bar gravel and ‘cross bikes, GRX offers options to fit most riders’ needs.
Today, we’ll share Guitar Ted’s impressions of the 1x GRX group he’s running on his Noble GX5, and I’ll give my thoughts on the 2x mechanical and Di2 versions of the group. Since we’ve already covered them in earlier posts, we won’t dive into specs, configurations or prices in this post.
Catch up on our earlier GRX-related posts:
- Shimano GRX Di2 Components: Getting Rolling
- Gravel Grinder News: Shimano Debuts First Dedicated Gravel Road Group (specs, configurations and prices)
On the Road with GRX 1×11
Guitar Ted has been rolling on the 1×11-speed GRX group for a couple months now, and his impressions have been overwhelmingly favorable. He’s running a 42t chainring with an 11-42t cassette for gearing, and since he’s running a 1x drivetrain, his left GRX brake/shift lever is equipped to activate a dropper post with the shift lever.
He’s still working on getting the right dropper post for his bike, so it’s a feature he hasn’t used yet. Based on my experience with the PRO Discover dropper post on my GRX Di2-equipped GT Grade Carbon Pro however, I suspect it’s a feature he’s going to like a lot.
“Shifting is… What can I say? It’s typical Shimano, with smooth, effortless lever movements and quick reaction from the GRX rear derailleur,” said Guitar Ted. “Coming off a Force 1 group, the shifts felt less obtrusive and more seamless with GRX.”
“Compared to the Force 1 Double Tap levers, the GRX levers are a bit faster to actuate, and shifts resulted in very little chain noise unless I was shifting under pressure… which GRX will do swimmingly, by the way.”
He said that, unlike Shimano’s 11-speed MTB derailleurs, the clutch on the GRX derailleur doesn’t change the shifting feel at the lever when engaged. Plus, the stability of the clutch makes GRX 1×11 a stable, silent drivetrain.
“Quiet drivetrain heaven” is the term Guitar Ted used to describe his experience so far. That’s big praise from a guy with very high standards.
“The gearing range seems fine, for now,” Guitar Ted said. “I haven’t had the opportunity to hit the big hills yet, but for my immediate area, it is spot on. I don’t miss the front derailleur, for now at least. Time will tell if I change my tune there.”
GRX 2x Drivetrain Impressions
I have been riding the 2×11-speed GRX mechanical group since late-July, and the GRX Di2 group since late-August. Now fully broken in, the parts run and shift even smoother today than on early rides. That’s amazing.
As Guitar Ted noted, shift quality is a particular strength of the GRX components. That’s no less true on the 2x iterations of the group. Regardless of whether it’s the mechanical or electronic versions of the group, shifting is smooth, easy and silent.
Compared to the SRAM Force eTap AXS group I was riding on our Cannondale Topstone Carbon test bike, shifts are quieter on GRX. And while shifts to larger cogs are similar in quality between the groups, GRX is noticeably smoother when shifting to smaller cogs in the rear.
Gear range is another area where 2x GRX shines when compared to SRAM’s AXS offerings. Shimano’s pairing of 31/48t chainrings with an 11-34t 11-speed cassette is excellent. The low gear is plenty low for the gravel I ride, and the 48-11 big gear is as tall as I need on the top end.
Shifting – Mechanical or Di2?
When running a 2x GRX drivetrain, Di2’s ability to automatically, simultaneously shift both derailleurs is a distinct advantage. It enables the drivetrain to minimize the gearing difference of a chainring shift with compensating shifts in the rear. The electronic shifting also ensures every shift is completed consistently and successfully. It’s virtually impossible to miss a shift.
I have my GRX Di2 set up to make a two-cog shift in the rear whenever I change chainrings, which makes the massive 17t jump a lot easier for my legs to manage. With Di2, this all happens with one click of a button, but on mechanical GRX, I need to work both shifters to do the same thing.
Over the course of a long ride or race, the reduction in hand effort can be a big deal. In 2018, after I finished the 350-mile Dirty Kanza XL, my hands and forearms were extremely sore from all the shifting required over 34+ hours. As a result, I now place a higher value on the ease of shifting and automation GRX Di2 offers, particularly for long rides.
That said, there’s very little to want for in the 2×11 GRX mechanical drivetrain. In fact, I chose to race our GRX mechanical-equipped Niner (over the GRX Di2-equipped GT) in a recent 40-mile gravel event. It performed flawlessly, and the mechanical shifters may have actually been easier to operate while wearing my thick winter gloves.
From my perspective, GRX mechanical is as good as cable-operated drivetrains get, with smooth positive shifts to both larger and smaller rear cogs or front chainrings.
The clutch-equipped GRX rear derailleurs keep the chain stable over bumpy roads, regardless of gear combination. I haven’t dropped a chain on either GRX drivetrain – impressive considering the rough roads and trails both test bikes have been subjected to. The large 13t derailleur pulleys guide the chain smoothly and consistently, even in inclement conditions.
For most riders, the decision of mechanical or Di2 drivetrain will boil down to personal preference and/or budget. It’s considerably less expensive to equip a new gravel bike with mechanical GRX, and clearly some folks aren’t interested in electrifying their drivetrain.
After riding both the mechanical and Di2 groups, it’s difficult to deny the advantages of Di2, particularly with a 2x drivetrain. That said, there’s no clear cut ‘winner’ that’s right for every rider. Each rider will have a unique set of wants and needs. Fortunately, Shimano has equipped GRX with enough options to satisfy most riders. Choice is a good thing!
GRX Brakes – Raising the Bar
Guitar Ted says the GRX hydraulic disc brakes are the best Shimano drop bar brakes he’s used to date. Here’s his full take on the GRX brakes:
“The lever travel is about half that of previous Shimano drop bar hydro brakes I’ve used, with a bit more positive feedback and better bite. I’m really impressed! Additionally, the shaped GRX lever, while not the high-pivot type (which is only on the Di2 levers for now), was excellent.”
“Shimano did their homework here, as I found every curve and shape to be ergonomically pleasing. In fact, I was surprised by how natural the lever felt at times, as opposed to searching for a nice place to rest the fingers. It seems like there aren’t any bad places on the levers at all. The hoods are also much improved. The new texture and rubber feel great with bare hands, and I imagine gloved hands will find a good grip as well.”
I can confirm that gloved hands do, in fact, get a good grip with the GRX hoods, and Guitar Ted’s assessment of the performance of the GRX hydraulic disc brakes is spot on as well. They’re top notch.
GRX Lever Comparison – Mechanical vs. Di2
Since I’m testing the 2x mechanical and Di2 variants of GRX, I can speak to the effect the levers have on ergonomics and braking performance.
While it’s easy to feel the increased leverage the GRX Di2 levers’ 18mm higher pivot point offers, the mechanical levers are still very good. That said, the Di2 levers take brake power and modulation to a new level, impressive considering the calipers, pads and hoses are all the same.
Also, for off-road drop bar riders, the GRX Di2 hoods represent a distinct step forward in terms of hand retention. The hook shape at the top of the hoods, combined with the increased leverage of the raised brake lever pivot, make it easy to grip and control the bike, especially over bumpy terrain.
Where the mechanical levers have more of a slope upward as you move forward on the hoods, the Di2 hoods transition to vertical in the same space. The pocket this creates holds the hands noticeably more securely over rough ground, enabling me ride with a more relaxed grip on the lever.
When combined with the improved brake lever pivot point and easy to use Di2 shifting, the next-generation ergonomics of the GRX Di2 levers make long rides just a bit easier on the hands.
GRX Wheels – Solid Performance & Value
Shimano’s GRX wheelset offers up impressive performance and competitive weight (1,650g/set in 700c), all at an affordable price. They have been easy to set up tubeless with a variety of tubeless-ready tires, and Shimano’s renowned cup-and-cone bearing system rolls smooth and is easy to service.
Guitar Ted and I felt the ride quality of the GRX wheels was excellent, and durability has been solid as well, despite some rough use. Guitar Ted elaborates:
“I accidentally dead-headed an embedded rock about the size of a child’s head on a recent ride, and the stiffness of the GRX wheels was such that the rim did not deflect oddly. Instead, it tracked up and over the rock and I was able to retain control. Nice!”
The GRX wheelset is a great example of the unbeatable price to performance Shimano products bring to the table. It weighs less than 100 grams more than the awesome Cantu Rova wheelset we tested last year, yet it costs less than 1/3 as much ($420 vs $1,595). While the Cantu wheels use wider, deeper carbon rims, the overall performance the GRX wheels deliver is surprisingly similar. This makes the GRX wheelset one of the best value wheelset upgrades available today, in our opinion.
The Verdict on Shimano GRX… For Now
If you’ve made it this far, you won’t be surprised to learn that we’re quite smitten with Shimano GRX. Regardless of configuration, GRX represents a true step forward for dirt-going drop bar bikes. GRX components are also reasonably priced for the performance they deliver, and for the most part, are compatible with existing Shimano road groups. As such, GRX is a reliable, cost-effective choice when building a new bike, or replacing worn parts on an existing ride.
We’ll continue riding our GRX-equipped test bikes and will report back on our long-term impressions of the group in our “At the Finish” post. Look for that to come in early 2020.
In the meantime, you can learn more about Shimano GRX at Gravel.Shimano.com.
Please Note: Shimano sent the GRX components for test and review to Riding Gravel at no charge. We are not being paid nor bribed for this review and we strive to give our honest thoughts and views throughout.