Cycling groupsets consisting of brakes, shifters, front and rear derailleurs, gear cassette and cranks are priced within a broad range. The difference in price is typically the result of materials used in the product; the more expensive the product, the more carbon fibre and titanium are used in the pieces. As a result the more expensive groupsets will also be lighter in weight. The more expensive sets may also have additional features but this is the general rule. There are three main manufacturers of groupsets, Campagnolo, Shimano and SRAM. The SRAM Rival and Shimano Ultegra groupsets are designed to meet the needs of more budget-minded road cyclist. The one that is right for you is a matter of taste.
Shimano is an old and established name the cycling world. Originally founded in 1921 by Shozaburo Shimano as the Shimano Iron Works, they started manufacturing bicycle freewheels. Since then the company has established a global presence and extended into other products such as fishing and rowing equipment. In the range of cycling groupsets, Ultegra components are placed in the midpoint of the Shimano line.
The newest version of the long running Ultegra groupset is the 6700 and it includes some upgrades from previous models. Internally routed cables have been added to the new version which adds to the aesthetic look of the bike and makes it easier to adjust your hands on the bars without getting fouled in brake and gear cables. According to Emily Wren, writing for Cyclingnews.com, this has added to friction making a harder push on the gear levels and a longer push on the shifters to change gears compared to SRAM.
SRAM began in 1987 in Chicago, Illinois and made its name through innovation. It developed the "Grip Shift" which was the mounted the shifters at the end of the handle bars, instead of the downtube. The Rival is the entry level groupset from SRAM.
According to Bikecyclingreviews.com, the Rival set is very responsive to changes gear and is durable. Their only complaint is that SRAM used caliper brakes rather than center-pull, although this was more an issue of aesthetics than for performance. SRAM's chains also have a reputation for strength and durability. The Rival groupset also has SRAM's "Double Tap" system for gear changing. Shifting up or down is accomplished by moving the shift lever in the same direction; a short tap shifts up through the gears, while a longer push on the lever downshifts.
Which One Should you Choose
Of the two brands, Shimano is certainly the most well known and the easier of the two brands to find spare parts for. Most bike stores sell complete bikes equipped with Shimano groupsets. However, this should not be the sole basis for your decision. SRAM, like Shimano, offers a high quality product but it is newer to the marketplace. In the end you should choose the product that feels most comfortable for you because you will be spending a lot of time with it.