Everything you need to know about the Shimano Sora groupset
The Shimano Sora is possibly the most easily overlooked groupset in the company’s range. While budget bike hunters are impressed by the effective gear swapping of low-end options such as Shimano’s Claris and Tourney, and more demanding riders look towards — on a sliding scale — Dura-Ace, Ultegra, 105 and now 10-speed Tiagra, Sora tends to exist on those bikes which are not eye-catching bargains, nor particularly aspirational.
That’s actually a shame, because as far as reliability goes, you’d be hard pushed to find a more resilient road bike groupset than Sora, yet it comes with all the aesthetic niceties you’d associate with Shimano.
The current Sora range — technically designated as Shimano’s 3500 series — was introduced in late 2012 and appeared on 2013 model year bikes, so going by Shimano’s constant upgrading cycle it’s probably due an upgrade again reasonably soon. The previous iteration used a thumb lever to drop the chain down, but as with all its more expensive siblings, the modern Sora features Shimano’s much-lauded double paddle Dual Control technology.
Shimano Sora vs other Shimano groupsets
Because of that Dual Control set-up, the Sora levers certainly look and feel very similar to higher-end options.
The operating system used to change gears — a click of a small paddle inside the brake lever to move the chain down, the paddle and brake lever pivoting together to push the chain up — is essentially no different to what you would find on mechanical versions of more expensive Shimano groupsets.
One small difference is that Sora levers — along with those found in the Claris and Tiagra series — feature small lever-top windows letting you know what gear you’re in. Higher-end levers don’t provide this.
Sora only comes with a choice of nine available speeds at the back — you can only use it conjunction with cassettes featuring nine sprockets — compared with the 11 found on Dura-Ace, Ultegra or 105, or the 10 speeds found on Tiagra. However, nine speeds are still more than you’d find on Tourney or Claris.
For easy spinning up hills, the Sora rear derailleur will cope with a biggest sprocket of 32 teeth, down to 11 teeth on the smallest sprocket for high-speed fun. Further forward, Sora offers the option of fitting either a compact chainset — with chainrings featuring 50 and 34 teeth — or triple chainset — with 50, 39 and 30 teeth. There’s also a cyclo-cross specific 46/34 Sora chainset.
The Sora brakes are fairly unremarkable aluminium dual-pivot calipers. And the whole groupset has been given a relatively underwhelming black finish. That appearance might fit Sora’s functional character, but it’s a little dowdy and far less sexy than the gunmetal grey found on Claris.
Finally, as with Claris, Sora suffers from a lack of intra-Shimano compatibility. While the 11-speed groupsets have some interchangeable parts, Sora is the only nine-speed groupset in Shimano’s range, so upgrading the drivetrain isn’t particularly simple.
Shimano Sora performance
Sora has always had a slightly agricultural feel about it — gear changes tend to need positive force and aren’t quite as smooth as the more refined road cycling options in Shimano’s stable — however, that’s also its most endearing quality.
Sora is most often fitted to aluminium bikes around £700 to £800 and at this price point people tend to want something that works securely, all-year-round, and are happy to forego a little refinement in exchange for reassuring function. To that end, Sora delivers.
In fact, calling it ‘agricultural’ is a little harsh — ‘utilitarian’ would be fairer. It simply works. Rear gear changes might not swoosh quite so imperceptibly as Ultegra, but we’ve rarely — if ever — found ourselves cursing a misbehaving Sora rear derailleur. Similarly, all Shimano’s front derailleurs work very assuredly, and the Sora version is no exception. It’s also a very receptive system for home mechanics to work on.
Sora’s not all perfect, though. Those unexceptional-looking brakes are unexceptional in performance too. A swap to improved aftermarket brake blocks certainly helps, but fresh out the box we’d prefer the supposedly lesser Claris brakes.
Bikes with Shimano Sora
The B’Twin Triban 500 is the least expensive new bike we’ve seen fitted with a full Shimano Sora groupset and retails at an astonishing £429.99. However, mainstream bike manufacturers tend to fit it to aluminium models priced from about £700 upwards, and there are even some great value carbon bikes fitted with it, from about £1,000.
Shimano Sora is the tough nut in the Shimano groupset family. In fact, rather than think of it as an inferior product, we see it simply as a groupset designed for a different role. If you’ve got a road bike that you want to pedal without worry all year, through all conditions, Sora offers an almost perfect mix of function, resilience and wallet-friendly performance.