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I have a pretty heavy bike I use to travel long distances with a lot of luggage. It has a mix of XT, deore and other Shimano equipment. I bought it second hand so I don't really know the details. I have ridden 10,000km with it without replacing anything in the drive train, and it's now so used up the chain skips when I apply too much force on the pedals, and my foot just goes straight to the ground.

I want to change the 11-34 cassette and the chain to solve that. On the website I will order from, they have:

  • a 14€ HG400 Alivio Sora

  • a 16€ HG201 Acera

  • a 47€ M770 XT

I have no idea what explains the price difference. As far as I can tell they are all compatible with my XT derailleur but the XT one is lighter. I don't really care about weight as I use this bike to transport heavy equipment anyway, but I do care about durability.

What should I buy? Should I also change the rings at the same time?

Thanks a lot for your help.

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In most cases with bicycle parts, more expensive means lighter. There can be exceptions, especially when you get to the super low end parts where cheaper can also mean cheaper construction.

Since you put so many miles on your bike and it seems important to you, I would spend the extra 2 pounds and grab the Acera. XT is generally used on mountain bikes where weight matters.

Most importantly: Absolutely replace your chainrings! If your cassette and chain are that far gone, your chainrings are as well. You will get terrible chain suck the minute you put a new chain on.

You can avoid needing to replace the cassette and chainrings by periodically replacing the chain before it gets too worn. Invest in a chain wear checker, they are cheap. Replacing your chain periodically will save you a lot of money!

  • Thank you, I will buy the Acera one and upgrade the rings! The largest one got hit so it misses a tooth and is a bit bent. I stopped using it and planned on replacing it because of that. – Mintar Jul 9 at 21:35
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    @Mintar Regardless of the damaged ring, the chain skipping indicates that all the teeth are badly worn and the chainrings need replacing even if you don't upgrade. – David Richerby Jul 9 at 23:26
  • For those who can DIY, yes. For those of us that need someone to change chain for them, it's the service cost that is usually the highest... – 9ilsdx 9rvj 0lo Jul 11 at 7:37
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    If you can count to three and use basic tools, you can change a chain yourself. You simply need a new chain, a chain breaker and the ability to follow simple instructions. In fact most bike maintenance jobs are easy DIY once you've watched the right video on youtube. Whether it's worth your time and effort is another story, but I'd say it's good to know basics so that you can DIY when can't get to a shop. – Lou O. Jul 11 at 8:44
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    I'd also add that even if you don't want to change the chain yourself you can check it periodically and once it's worn you can bring it to a shop and have them change just the chain. – Fingel Jul 11 at 21:04
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XT will shift a bit better and be lighter, but probably won't last any longer. The difference between the Sora and Acera is probably down to largest cog size - on MTB sets its larger. (Road will be around 11-28, MTB 11-34).

The way I buy cassettes is decide a price point and look for something being sold at the biggest discount, so I aim for great value for my money. Don't limit yourself to $himano, brand does not usually matter with 9 speed cassettes. At the price point of Acera/Alivio Sunrace and Microshift probably give better value as this is their target markets.

If you have done 10000km on the same drive train, you really need to replace the chain rings as well. These will be worn and will wear the new chain, and therefore new cassette prematurely.

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    When you are shopping for rings, shop for a whole crankset. That seems crazy, but I have built several bikes in the past few years with custom, 3x, short cranks, and in every case, it was far cheaper for me to buy an entire crankset with matched rings (ramped, pinned, and aligned for smooth shifting) than it was to buy just rings. (I remove rings, sell the new arms cheap on ebay w/o rings.) You can either transfer the rings to your old crank or install the new crank and sell whatever parts are left to offset the costs. – WPNoviceCoder Jul 9 at 21:15
  • Thank you both for your help. I checked and it is a bit cheaper only if I sell back the arms I don't use. I don't think I'll do it that way this time but that's a good deal if you need new arms or can sell them back easily. For the smallest ring, I only find 22 teeth rings or 26 ones that are sold as "10 speed". My current one is a 26 teeth. Is the 10 speed ring compatible or should I buy the 9/22 one? – Mintar Jul 9 at 21:30
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    10 speed rings are fractionally narrower but generally it can be done with no problems. – mattnz Jul 9 at 23:31
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    XT will shift a bit better Maybe. I've raced on Tiagra cassettes (IIRC the 11-25 I wanted for a certain course was available only in Tiagra...) I didn't notice any difference in shifting between that Tiagra and the 105 or Ultegra cassettes I normally use. None at all. – Andrew Henle Jul 10 at 9:19
  • You need rings that will fit your crank. Match BCD, bolt count (4/5), bolt pattern, for good shifting particularly with a triple you will want to get the three chainrings together and make sure their ramps all line up, so a 39 for example can be different as a middle than an inner, etc and they vary depending on what you are pairing them with. You can do 10 on 9 if you KNOW what you are doing but there are so many other things that could have changed. To be honest if you are new to this it's really easy to screw this up and get the wrong rings, which is a reason to buy a complete crank. – Ivan McA Jul 11 at 16:26
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I have no idea what explains the price difference.

Well, basically: quality of materials and construction. Lighter weight, stronger materials are more expensive. Better designs tend to be more complicated which means more manufacturing steps at higher precision, which costs more to execute.

There's also demand and what consumers in the market will pay. For bicycle components it seems some people will pay exponentially more for incremental improvements in function and quality.

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    Don't forget the "bling" factor. Many a cycling snob will pay more to avoid the bitter ignominy of putting a Sora or Acera cassette on their very expensive bicycle. So higher-end cassettes demand a premium. I doubt the $200 Dura Ace cassette costs Shimano any real fraction of $160 more to make than the $40 105 cassette. Maybe the Dura Ace's titanium costs $10-20 more than the 105's steel, maybe a handful of dollars for the marginal cost of more expensive tooling. But I suspect the vast majority of the 500% price difference is "No, I MUST put a Dura Ace cassette on my Dura Ace bike!" – Andrew Henle Jul 10 at 9:40
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    @AndrewHenle Absolutely. If you buy a container load of cheap tee-shirts for $1 each and can't sell them at $5, try putting the price up to $10. Everybody "knows" that $5 only buys cheap junk but $10 is better quality!!! – alephzero Jul 10 at 15:24
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It is rumored that the god father of Mountain Biking Keith Bontrager once stated that components have 3 characteristics cheap, light and durable. The problem is you only get to pick two. The low end of a component line tends to be relatively inexpensive but also likely to be heavy. The top of the product line tends to be the most expensive and the lightest but not the most durable. Pro riders are more concerned with weight and performance than durability. Most sources will tell you the best bang for the money is the product tiers one or two levels below the top tier line. You will get near top tier performance at a cost savings at the sacrifice of some extra weight. For a Road Group this is likely Shimano 105 and Ultegra. A similar Mountain Group would be SLX or XT.

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    For cassettes, I've found that "the cheapest one that has the number and range of gears I need" is the sweet spot. I don't really care about the weight difference between lower-end cassettes and something like 105 or Ultegra, and I've never noticed any significant differences in shifting performance. And FWIW, the last time I checked the only real difference between 105 and Ultegra cassettes is the retaining ring - it's steel on 105, aluminum on Ultegra. Which is why Ultegra cassettes are 2-3 grams lighter than 105 cassettes. – Andrew Henle Jul 10 at 9:45
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    From your description "the lightest but not the most durable" it seems that you can only pick one. – Carsten S Jul 10 at 16:35
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XT cassettes are a slightly different and more complicated design. The large sprockets are on a nice aluminium carrier for lighter weight. Unfortunately this means they're not as strong - we folded one on our MTB tandem. We've not broken a cheaper one. So I'd buy one of the cheaper ones.

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This was initially thought to be a comment, but then I realised none of the questions covered the confusing part of the shown prices. Generally Alivio is higher in the product hierarchy than Acera. With Shimano you can go by the first digit in the product name to get the tier. So based on this the HG400 is better than the HG201. Better as in higher quality materials, lighter weight and probably better workmanship (a. i. better precision).

However, you can see that the better part is cheaper than the lesser one. Prices sometimes fluctuate based on stocks (old models) or special offers, so some higher tier components can be had for less than lower tiers in the same shop even. It's not an uncommon thing to find this kind of price inadvertence, so I think this is what you see here.

Even without the very good deal you have in front of you I think the HG400 marks a sweet-spot in price/quality. It's what I myself buy for my bikes, when I try to keep the budget low but don't want to compromise too much on quality and reliability.

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