When looking for groupsets, most cyclists rarely care to venture outside the big three – Shimano, SRAM, and Campagnolo. With tried-and-true performance and reliability, these groupsets have shown they’re worth their high price tags.
Every now and then, though, a new brand comes along and generates some buzz – so it is with Sensah. The Chinese company debuted in the last decade, and now offers budget options that are supposedly on par with top brands.
Here, we’ll go in-depth on our impressions of the shifting performance and ride feel of the Sensah Empire Pro model, and see how it compares to its top alternative, the Shimano 105.
First Impression of the Sensah Groupset
For our review, we used the 12×2 Sensah Empire Pro groupset. The groupset also comes in an 11-speed option. It is cheaper and might suit you better, I’ll explain why later.
There’s a variety of packages available online that offer different sets of components, but we only tried out Sensah’s right and left shifters, the front and rear derailleurs, and their cassette. At the time of writing, this set came in at $252.00.
As for the brakes, chain, and crankset which are included in some packages, they’re not actually made by Sensah, but by a brand called Zrace. While Zrace’s quality seems passable – the crankset is nothing special and there have been a few bad reviews of the brake components included in the Sensah set. The brakes in particular seem not to be worth the money, gaining reports of low performance combined with increased weight.
We’d recommend simply sourcing any other components you may need from a trusted brand such as Shimano or SRAM, or doing your own research into other third-party brands, for a better value.
If you’re fairly new to bike-building, we should also note that the set didn’t include an English-language user guide or installation instructions, nor does there seem to be an official English version available.
You’ll more than likely run into some difficulties if it’s your first time assembling a groupset, and you may want to check out if there are any how-to guides online to help you out.
Also worth mentioning is that the Sensah shifters are not compatible with hydraulic disc brake calipers. You can still use Sensah shifters on a disc brake bike frame, but you will have to use cable-actuated disc brake calipers which will never perform at the same level as a true hydraulic disc brake.
Weight & Quality
Right out of the box, the components don’t feel particularly cheap, which is what you might have expected for a groupset costing less than $300. The look is sleek, and the finishing seems clean, with no rough edges or loose components in sight. At least on the level of visuals, the mechanics seem promising.
The front derailleur, however, is noticeably small, leading us to cast some doubt on its performance. The rear derailleur and shifters seem fairly standard and well-constructed.
While the cassette is decently light for a 12×2 size, the groupset overall is not especially lightweight, despite the fact that we tried out the carbon version, supposedly the lightest of the options Sensah offers. The shifters in particular had some decent heft to them – not necessarily what you’re looking for in a model that’s supposed to minimize weight.
The shifters borrow the double tap style from SRAM and the 11-speed version is actually compatible with SRAM components, but as far as ergonomics go, these feel more like Shimano’s – which is good news for the comfort of your hands, because everyone I know hates SRAM mechanical shifter’s shape.
If you want to pair Sensah shifters with Shimano derailleurs, then get the Sensah Team version rather than the Empire.
Riding with the Sensah Groupset
Now, of course, we can get onto what really matters – how the Empire Pro set performs when you’re riding with it.
The answer is, fairly well. Once we got the components set up and indexed correctly on the bike, we took the groupset for a considerable test run and didn’t run into any major problems. While that kind of performance can be taken for granted with a more established brand, it was a welcome reassurance in this case.
At this point, we’ve ridden the groupset for about 2000 km, and it hasn’t experienced a single chain drop, which is a pretty strong start.
Overall, riding with the Sensahs was decent as far as shifting goes. In the face of earlier doubts about its size, the front derailleur shifted smoothly – though we should note that this was while using a Shimano 105 crankset and chainrings, which may have aided in the overall performance.
The impression the shifters initially gave of being more ergonomic than SRAM’s proved mostly correct. We noticed that it was less awkward to shift and make it easier to avoid accidentally shifting up or down an extra gear, a problem that’s more frequently experienced with SRAM. If you prefer the style of SRAM’s shifting levers to Shimano’s, the attention to comfort in the design of the Sensah may be a real consideration.
The shifters’ levers require quite a long push to change down to lower gears, however – so they may not be ideal if your hands are on the shorter side, and would be even less so if you’re in the drops.
If you’re an amateur racer, we’re confident the Sensah groupset won’t slow you down.
Sensah Empire vs Shimano 105
However, riding with the Sensah may not totally be up to pro standards – let’s compare it with the Shimano 105, “the groupset of the people,” which is the industry standard it’s automatically being measured against.
While the shifting was fairly smooth on the Sensah, we have to say that the Shimano 105 still offers a truly premium ride that you just don’t get here. The 105 is also noticeably quieter, with significantly less drivetrain noise.
Again, despite its carbon base, the Sensah isn’t much lighter than the Shimano 105. Perhaps the brand’s use of carbon helped them offset the weight of the other elements, but it doesn’t make a noticeable difference overall.
However, the Sensah still has an advantage in its price and number of gears.
Other Shimano Models that Compare
If you’re considering the Sensah but are put off by the inferior ride, a Shimano Tiagra is definitely worth considering as a comparable option – even on a lower-tier bike, Shimano’s ride quality is going to beat the Sensah.
One downside of the Tiagra is that it only offers ten speeds, but in our opinion, the extra one or two gears that you get with Sensah are hardly going to be missed by the average cyclist. After all, extra gears won’t make you faster – they’ll only give you a couple more options, making the transitions between gears smoother.
Where Sensah Shines
While all that may sound harsh, ultimately we’d say the Empire Pro’s shifting performance is just as reliable as the 105’s if you can overlook the slight downgrade in ergonomics and ride feel, especially when you consider that it’s only about half the price of the 105.
There are also some modifications you can make if you have certain preferences. We’ve already advised that you ditch Sensah’s suggested brakes and crankset – the derailleurs seem to be the most solid aspect of the set.
If the shifters are too heavy for you, you can purchase just the derailleurs and use some old SRAM Red 22 shifters, which are compatible with Sensah Empire 11-speed (but not the 12-speed). This would be an especially great option if weight is a bigger concern for you. Paired together, they are lighter and still cheaper than even a Shimano Dura-Ace.
However, as we noted above, the SRAM shifters aren’t going to be any more ergonomic for your grip.
Our Final Recommendation on the Sensah Empire Pro
Is the Sensah Empire Pro Worth the Price?
There’s no doubt that the Sensah Empire Pro is definitely a great value for a well-performing groupset. There aren’t any groupset you can get at this price point that offers comparable reliability and number of gears.
However, we’d also consider the hype they’ve received a bit overexaggerated. While they make a decent groupset, we still wouldn’t put them on the same level as the Shimano 105s, for more than a few reasons. The ride quality ultimately doesn’t compare, and while you can trust Shimano for essentially your entire groupset, you’ll almost definitely end up mixing and matching with the Empire Pro.
For some, this may not be a detriment to Sensah at all – after all, half the fun of building your own bike is found in customization and finding a unique combination that works for you.
Empire Pro Set Durability
While we can only speak for the groupset after 2000 km of riding, the durability of the set seems to be very good so far as well. The only components that we’ve noticed any wear on have been the hood covers for the shifters, which are starting to come a bit loose and probably wouldn’t last us much longer.
Other reviewers have noticed that their right and left covers are made of two different materials, likely the result of a mix-up or shortage – so maybe hood covers are not Sensah’s strong point.
The Sensah groupset also doesn’t come covered by any type of warranty. This may be what you expect for the price, but it doesn’t help the brand’s reliability to know that manufacturing defects won’t be covered. If there is an issue, you could always try contacting the brand, but it doesn’t come with a guarantee.
Ultimately, of course, it comes down to whether the Sensah Empire Pro Set fits what you’re looking for as a cyclist. If you’re just getting into groupset building and want a solid option that doesn’t require a lot of investment, Sensah is probably one of your best ways to go. The same is true for experienced cyclists who want to break out of components they’ve grown used to and try something new – though personally, we think they may end up going back to Shimano in the end.
If you’re interested in the Sensah Empire Pro groupset, you can buy them from AliExpress.