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Shimano’s groupsets have some fairly unique names. Here are the names, arranged in each hierarchy from lowest to highest cost:

Mountain:

  • Tourney
  • Altus
  • Acera
  • Alivio
  • Deore
  • SLX
  • Deore XT
  • XTR

Road:

  • Claris
  • Sora
  • Tiagra
  • 105
  • Ultegra
  • Dura-Ace

Urban:

  • Alfine
  • Nexus
  • Metrea
  • Capreo

Downhill MTB:

  • Zee
  • Saint

There’s also the gravel series GRX. I’m also aware of the historically used names, such as Deore LX, Exage, etc. Let me know if I forgot anything else.

What inspired each of these names? Considering Shimano has been making parts under these names for several decades now, they are certainly not a recent invention. Is there some kind of historical context for each? For instance, I’d love to know why 105 is the only numeric name in either hierarchy.

Edit: see Criggie’s comment for a great explanation of most of the road side.

SRAM’s nomenclature seems much more mundane in comparison and is not really worth discussion.

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  • 1
    @Criggie Should I open a new question to discuss Campagnolo or instead should I add it to this one?
    – MaplePanda
    Nov 17, 2021 at 8:33
  • 1
    Probably a different question would be good - the answers would get combined otherwise.
    – Criggie
    Nov 17, 2021 at 8:33
  • 1
    Related (but not a dupe) bicycles.stackexchange.com/questions/59615/…
    – Criggie
    Nov 17, 2021 at 8:34
  • 1
    @Renaud Totally unintentional! Forgot about GRX (although it’s likely just GR for gravel and X for explore or something). I’m unfamiliar with the urban side, so I’ll add them in.
    – MaplePanda
    Nov 17, 2021 at 9:16
  • 2
    You are missing a fairly important one: Shimano Saint. Nov 17, 2021 at 20:20

2 Answers 2

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GRX

GRX, unlike Shimano's other model names, identifies a family of groupsets. That is, GRX is available in 3 spec levels equivalent to Tiagra, 105, and Ultegra. GRX was the first groupset to be specifically designed and/or marketed as a gravel group, and it was released in mid 2019.

In mid 2018, Shimano released a niche component, the Ultegra RX800 clutch rear derailleur. My recollection is that at the time, no road double group had a clutch rear derailleur, although SRAM included clutches on its Red and Force AXS road rear derailleurs released in mid 2019, and SRAM appears to have had clutches on the Force HRD 1x road group that was active in 2018. Shimano intended the RX800 to be used on terrain like Paris Roubaix, which was where the RX800 rear derailleur made its debut.

Starting in 2016 with Dura Ace R9100, Shimano's official branding prefixed the model numbers for its top 3 road groups with R. I can't find anything on the history of the RX800 designation, but they hadn't used Xs in any road group for many years (the last example I know of being the 600 AX road groupset released in 1981). Xs are common in the model names for their MTB components, e.g. XT, XTR, LX. X does seem to evoke notions of going off tarmac roads, so I speculate this was their intention with the RX800 designation.

Again, I don't recall and haven't found anyone asking Shimano about the history of the GRX name. However, it seems reasonable to speculate that G is for gravel, and it may have seemed like a logical prefix to append to "RX". Shimano appears not to have chosen to give brand names to each of the groups under the GRX umbrella, and they currently refer to each group by its numeric designator. For example, GRX 800 or 810 would typically be understood as the GRX group equivalent to Ultegra (and to be pedantic, the numeric designator for the 800-level GRX cranks and some other components is 810, whereas it's 600 for the 600-level cranks; there are further variations to designate Di2/mechanical shifting or 1x/2x components).

Road Groups

For reference, the current Wikipedia page for Shimano has a table of historical models for each road and MTB group or its equivalent if available. I am not 100% sure about this, but earlier versions of the Ultegra groups introduced before 1998 (when the 7-speed Ultegra groups were launched) may just have been branded as '600'.

This answer by @RoboKaren describes how the brand names for Dura Ace, Ultegra, and 105 originated, although it was Google Translated from the original Japanese on a forum, and we don't necessarily know how reliable the provenance of the forum post is. Quoting her translation:

Finally, I will introduce my knowledge about the origin of each grade name [in the Shimano series]. The name of Dura Ace which was born in 1971 is a combination of Duralumin of the material and Durability meaning durability combined with "Ace" which wish of the world's best component. The birth of Ultegra in 1976 is a component that means Ultimate + Integrate. Concerning 105 which was born in 1982, it inherited the model number of the double lever SL-A 105 at that time and now it has become the grade name of 105.

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  • @JoeK can you corroborate? On Wikipedia, the MTB groups tend to be listed with the M prefix, but DA 9000 is not listed with the R prefix in its name. Shimano's webpage says "Dura Ace 9000 Series" and "R9100 Series". Therefore, I believe the R prefix entered their official branding for road groups only in 2016. DA 9000 link here, and a Velonews review of DA 9000 here
    – Weiwen Ng
    Nov 17, 2021 at 19:47
  • Nope!...........
    – Noise
    Nov 17, 2021 at 20:07
  • So it would be fair to call GRX a model lineup in the same way Road is, or MTB, or Commuter ?
    – Criggie
    Nov 17, 2021 at 21:15
  • 1
    @Criggie yes in functional terms. except that in speech might say, e.g. “GRX 800” but we wouldn’t say “Road Dura Ace”.
    – Weiwen Ng
    Nov 18, 2021 at 14:24
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Tourney, Altus, Alivio and Acera are all quite recent rebrandings of ranges that have had other names in the past.

Deore is the classic touring group that Deore XT, for off-road (extreme terrain?), launched off. XTR is XT for racing and is from the early 1990s.

And we have lost Exage, STX and STX-RC for mountain and Exage, RSX etc for road, and many others. Even Claris is very new and was just 2300 until maybe 2013.

If you are interested in the development of these I suggest you have a look through these websites:

https://www.disraeligears.co.uk/site/shimano_derailleurs.html

https://www.disraeligears.co.uk/site/shimano_derailleurs_-_from_skylark_to_world_domination.html

https://www.disraeligears.co.uk/site/shimano_derailleurs_-_the_deore_xt_story.html

Branding changes over time to ensure the product remains attractive to current buyers, I think that's the short of it. The actual lineage has various names over time.

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