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Do all parts of the drive train have to be of the same brand? Can the chain be a different brand from the rest of the drive train? Cassette, crank, derailleurs?

  • There are a number of tips, tricks, and adapters for mixing Shimano and Campagnolo drivetrain parts (search the web for "Shimergo" or "Shimagnolo"). Typically these only work for specific combinations of shifter, derailleur, and cassette--it's not at all mix-and-match. – Adam Rice Aug 7 '19 at 17:39
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The general answer is no. There are a number of standards that have emerged in the industry that mean different manufacturers products can be used in the same drivetrain.

Chain pitch and inner width are standardized so chains are generally interchangeable, but need to be of the correct external width to match the number of sprockets in the cassette of course.

Shimano and SRAM use the same freehub body design, so wheels, hubs and cassettes that use that standard all work together. Campagnolo uses a different freehub body design I believe.

Cranks have the match the number of speeds in the rear (chainring spacing has to match the width of the chain), provide the right chainline and fit in the bottom bracket (for which there is a confusing number of standards). New bikes are often outfitted with a non-Shimano or SRAM crank. FSA cranks are very common for instance.

Shifters and derailleurs do have to be from the same manufacturer and compatible with each other. Shimano mountain derailleurs and road shifters don't work with each other for example. Same for hydraulic brakes.

There's more interchangeability with mechanical rim brakes as the only thing that matters is the cable pull ratio. All linear pull (V-brake) calipers and levers work with each other for example

The back end of the drive train does not care what the front end is, as along as the crank is compatible and the rear derailleur can deal with the difference in chain ring sizes. A bike could be outfitted with a Shimano rear derailleur and shifter and SRAM front derailleur and shifter for example.

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    Shimano and SRAM use the same freehub body design, so wheels, hubs and cassettes that use that standard all work together. This is increasingly untrue. Sram are moving on to their XD driver and I imagine Shimano's Microspline will be pervasive soon enough – Paul H Aug 7 '19 at 17:06
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The parts don't need to be from same brand, but determining compatibility may be difficult if the components are not marketed explicitly as compatible. Chain is the most common non-brand component. There are many brands that specialize in chains, and compatibility with other components is determined by width or number of speeds.

If you are not afraid of measuring, math and looking up things, seemingly mismatched parts can be made to work. My personal commuter bike has 8-speed Shimano cassette, 9-speed Campagnolo chain shifted by 9-speed Shimano derailleur and Campagnolo shifters, front being TA rings on Truvativ crank. The shifter/derailleur setup is only part that required any adaptation.

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  • That's my opinion as well. On the other hand, at the LBS I was specifically told that: "with shimano cassette you can ONLY use shimano chain (of course same sp number)". – Alex Par Aug 7 '19 at 6:57
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    Many lbs employees are incompetent or have incentives to sell what they have in stock. – ojs Aug 7 '19 at 8:25
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    @AlexPar That's total nonsense. It's extremely common to use different chains. I've used both KMC and SRAM chains on my Shimano-equipped bike with zero problems. – David Richerby Aug 7 '19 at 12:38
  • You can use any chain if the speed-number matches. This may not be true for the newer 12-speed systems, though. And Campagnolo chains have very slight dimension differences that may make the brand cross-incompatible to other brands. – Carel Aug 8 '19 at 16:08
  • For less than 12 speed chains, the incompatibility is mostly FUD. Quick links aren't compatible, though, except Connex that works with Campagnolo. – ojs Aug 8 '19 at 16:44

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