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SRAM Force 22 or Ultegra 6800 - The Perfect Pro Carbon?

The Pro Carbon has been our most popular bike ever since it was introduced; it offers a combination of good looks, outright performance, versatility and value for money that remains unbeatable. Available with a selection of groupset options from SRAM, Shimano and Campagnolo its popularity with legions of keen cyclists has never faltered - now it's poised to ascend to mega-stardom once again.

The recent re-introduction of Shimano into our 2015 line-up has allowed us to pit SRAM and Shimano in a head to head battle where only you can decide who will be the victor. We've two amazing 11 speed Pro Carbon builds at the incredible price of £999.99.

We've chosen Shimano's 11 speed Ultegra 6800 groupset to represent the Japanese giant. With flawless ergonomics and shifting, Ultegra offers riders 95% of the performance of Dura Ace at a significantly lower price point. From the SRAM range we've selected their incredibly lightweight and accurate Force 22 groupset. With carbon fibre shift levers and chainset, SRAM Force 22 trims all the fat to deliver 11-speed shifting performance at weights that other manufacturers struggle to match.

While the general features and functions of Ultegra and Force 22 lineup equally against each other, there's actually quite a lot to separate them and plenty of good reasons why any rider would prefer one over the other. Let's run them up and see which one is right for you.

Shimano and SRAM both use 'brifters' (integrated brakes/shifters) to control their derailleurs, but they do function slightly differently from one another. In the Shimano STI shifter the brake lever functions both as a brake and gear lever, pull to brake, push inwards to shift to a larger ring. There's a smaller secondary lever behind the brake lever that shifts inwards to move the chain to a smaller ring.

Planet X recommendation, choose whichever feels the most natural and logical.

SRAM's Double Tap levers differ in that the brake lever is only ever a brake lever and can only be pulled back towards the bars not pushed inwards. So you can be sure with SRAM's levers that when you go to grab a handful of brake that is exactly what you'll get. The gear change is effected by a small lever that sits behind the brake lever. You can press inwards one click and release to drop down a single gear or you can push inwards 2, 3 or 4 clicks in one sweep to up-shift 1, 2 or 3 gears at a time. Both systems offer light, fingertip control of gear changing and both have extremely well thought out lever ergonomics that facilitate effortless shifting and comfort during even the longest rides.

Though rear shifts are almost identical between Shimano and SRAM, front shifting duties couldn't be any more different. SRAM uses a unique YAW front mech which not only rotates up and down to shift the chain between the front rings, but it also rotates about the vertical seat tube axis to facilitate cleaner and quicker shifts. The SRAM YAW front mech only has two actuation positions, one for the small and one for the large chainring. It requires no 'trim' positions and you can move the chain up and down the entire rear cassette without ever having to adjust the front mech.

In contrast, the Shimano front mech operation still relies upon the use of 'trim' positions to ensure that the chain never rubs on the front derailleur as you shift up and down the rear cassette. So the Shimano set-up requires more user attention when riding to ensure quiet chain running. The trade off is that the SRAM set-up is more fiddly to set-up initially.

Planet X recommendation, choose which seems the easiest for the way you ride and your previous experience.

Shimano and SRAM both make excellent chains, well regarded for durability and quietness in shifting and pedalling there's really nothing to choose between them. They are interchangeable between brands and drivetrains as they are both built to the same mechanical tolerances. SRAM however, have stolen a march on Shimano in offering a wide range rear cassette with an 11-32 tooth spread. This gives SRAM riders the option of using easier gear ratios for hill climbing without having to think about what rings they have on their chainset.

Shimano tackles the task differently and offer a range of rear cassette and front chainring options to let you build the perfect gear ratio for the way you ride. Riders can choose between a 52/36 or 50/34 chainset and from 11-25 or 11-28 rear cassettes to achieve the overall gear ratio spread that they desire. Ultimately the SRAM set-up gives you a broader range of gears with the largest difference between top and bottom gears though this is at the expense of slightly larger steps between gears.

There are significant differences between the construction of the Ultegra and Force 22 chainsets. Shimano uses a lightweight, hollow forged crank arm to deliver maximum stiffness and minimum weight while SRAM build their crank arms out of carbon fibre with aluminium pedal inserts. There's a 60gram weight difference between them that favours SRAM that may or may not steer your choice.

Planet X recommendation, if hill climbs regularly defeat you then we'd go for SRAM.

Shimano Ultegra and SRAM Force 22 both come equipped with forged, dual pivot rim brakes. The dual pivot design originated at Shimano and they have certainly perfected it over the years offering gobs of stopping power and easy modulation. SRAM's Force 22 brakeset is similarly effective and well resolved.

Planet X recommendation, there really is nothing to choose between them.

With two such refined groupsets there really is no substitute for trying them out to see how the small details stack up and where your own preference lies. Truth be told they are both so good that either of them offer considerably more performance than the top groupset offering of five years ago from Shimano or SRAM. You simply can't go wrong with either of them- and at just £999.99 when bolted onto the Pro Carbon frameset you'd have to be insane to pass up this opportunity to upgrade your current bike.

15 June 2015

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