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4 months in: reviewing my budget bike parts


A little over 4 months ago, I posted about some low cost shifters that I bought - the Sensah Team Pros from AliExpress. In the interim, I’ve also bought a few other cheaper parts from AliExpress in an effort to keep maintenance costs down. Particularly on my commuter, the costs can mount up quickly for chains & cassettes, and even derailleurs see a lot of wear, so I figured anything I can do to reduce that price would be ideal.3 I’ve had a few months to try them all out, so here are some thoughts and warnings.

I’m including links to the products/stores I bought the components from, however these are not affiliate links and I’m not being paid/sponsored to post any of these, it’s purely for information. Also, the listed price paid is the total price including VAT, rather than the list price.

Sensah Team Pro 2x11 speed shifters

Link: https://www.aliexpress.com/item/1005005648190524.html
Price paid: £64.77
Rating: 5/5

Sensah gear shifters mounted onto a road bike

These shifters are excellent. I’ve done maybe 2000km on them, and they’ve been faultless so far. They’re light, feel really comfortable, and shift beautifully. I bought them to replace some broken Shimano 105 shifters, as these are compatible, and haven’t looked back once. I’d quite happily use these on every single bike I owned, I’m that impressed with them - they’re mechanical only, but pair them with some Shimano 105 derailleurs to get an excellent mini groupset for < £100[1].

Sensah Ignite 2x9-speed shifters

Link: https://www.aliexpress.com/item/4000814671100.html
Price paid: £40.68
Rating: 5/5

I bought these for my commuter bike because I needed new brake levers anyway, and was running a Shimano Claris derailleur at 9-speed via friction shifting. The Claris can run 9-speed indexed too, as they have the same pull ratios, so I figured why the hell not? Picked these up, fitted them, and just like the Team Pros they’ve been great. The feel of the aluminium isn’t as nice - it has a sort of chalky texture to it - but otherwise I’ve got no problems with them at all. After my Claris derailleur suffered from a bad case of “ripped apart by my wheel spokes”, I replaced it with a Sora derailleur and it’s been shifting perfectly since.

ZTTO rim brake calipers

Link: https://www.aliexpress.com/item/1005006054821364.html
Price paid: £13.97
Rating: 3/5

Black ZTTO rim brakes mounted onto the front fork of a road bike

I’m going to preface this by saying these brakes haven’t ever failed (yet). In the “does this stop the bike” sense, they’ve been absolutely fine. These are £14 rim brake calipers I bought after my Tektro ones bit the dust and I needed an interim replacement. Where they fall down is the build quality - clearly a lot of the bolts and screws aren’t made of decent stainless steel, because after even a short while they were quite rusty. Secondly, both calipers seem to stick quite a lot (as in they don’t release fully after letting off the brake), and nothing I’ve tried so far (adjusting tension, lubricating the springs) has made much of a difference. However, I suspect it might be a cable routing issue, so I’m going to try swapping the cables & housing, and see how that pans out.

Overall though, I wouldn’t bother. Don’t gamble with brakes, spend the extra bit of cash and get a decent set of branded brakes - the Shimano 105 brakeset can come in at < £60 in some places, which is a worthwhile purchase in my opinion.

ZTTO V-Brakes

Link: https://www.aliexpress.com/item/1005003734849084.html
Price paid: £15.32
Rating: 1/5

Again, I bought these (along with some cable pull actuators so that the levers would work) for my commuter bike, because I just could not get along with the cantilever brakes, and the cable stop at the front kept causing my stem headset to loosen[2]. To put it bluntly, they’re terrible. I had lots of trouble with the tension spring, so I’d frequently have one side that wouldn’t disengage. Then, just before I was about to head home from work, the front brake decided to call it quits and straight up split, meaning I had to ride very carefully home with just the rear brake.

These brakes suck, please do not buy them.

ZTTO chains (various)

Price paid: £7-£15
Rating: 1/5

Lo and behold! More ZTTO stuff that’s absolutely useless! I’ve had a few of their chains in 8,9, and 11-speed options. Each one lasted maybe 2 weeks before being completely stretched, even in relatively dry weather and with frequent cleaning & lubrication. The 11-speed had stretched to well over 0.75% wear after less than 2 weeks. There are decent chains on AliExpress - the YBN chains are reportedly good, which I’ll be trying out soon - but these just aren’t one of those.

Suntour Self-Energising cantlever brake

Link: https://www.sjscycles.co.uk/brakes/0-suntour-selfenergising-se-cantilever-brakes-rear
Price paid: £12.49
Rating: 4/5

These are slightly different because they’re not from Aliexpress, and they’re from a real brand! But they’re surprisingly powerful cantilever brakes that operate using a “self-energising” method; essentially, the arms have small springs in them that, as the brakes are engaged, will “pull in” with the rim and add extra power. They were surprisingly effective, and a bit easier to configure than normal cantilever brakes. The only downside was that this model is only for the rear, and I couldn’t find a matching front brake anywhere.

  1. The Shimano front derailleur, the RD-R7000, is only £7.99 at Ribble right now ↩︎

  2. This didn’t actually solve that problem, I wound up replacing the headset ↩︎


About the author

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I'm Lewis Dale, a software engineer and web developer based in the UK. I write about writing software, silly projects, and cycling. A lot of cycling. Too much, maybe.