Sensah Empire Pro Review: A Cost-Effective Option

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When serious cyclists seek out groupsets, they tend to overlook lesser-known brands in favor of the tried and true performance and reliability exhibited by industry stalwarts like Shimano, SRAM, and Campagnolo, despite their higher price points.

Occasionally, however, an upstart brand emerges that generates interest – such is the case with Sensah. Having debuted in the last decade, the Chinese company now offers budget options that they claim match the performance of top competitors.

Sensah Empire Pro Groupset Box Zoom
Sensah Empire Pro Groupset Box Zoom

In this analysis, we will provide an in-depth exploration of our impressions regarding the shifting performance and ride feel of Sensah’s Empire Pro model groupset and compare it to a widely utilized benchmark, the Shimano 105 groupset,

in order to determine whether the Sensah groupset constitutes a cost-effective option worthy of consideration by budget-conscious yet discerning cyclists.

First Impression of the Sensah Groupset

For the purposes of this assessment, we utilized the 12×2 speed Sensah Empire Pro groupset. Sensah also offers an 11-speed variant that may prove preferable, as I will explain below.

Groupset Components

The groupset components included Sensah’s shift levers, front and rear derailleurs, and cassette. While some packages include Sensah-branded brakes, chain and crankset, these are actually made by the Zrace brand.

Zrace’s quality appears adequate though the crankset is unremarkable and the brake components have received poor reviews for low performance and high weight.

Sensah Empire Pro Groupset
Sensah Empire Pro Groupset

We therefore recommend sourcing brakes and other parts from a trusted brand like Shimano or SRAM for better value.

Novice bike assemblers should note that Sensah did not provide English installation instructions or a user manual, nor does an official English version seem to exist. Difficulties are likely for first-time groupset builders, so online how-to guides may help.

Notably, the Sensah shifters are incompatible with hydraulic disc brake calipers, restricting users to lower-performing cable-actuated brakes on disc bike frames.

In summary, while the price is attractive, several caveats emerged during testing.

The lack of documentation, compatibility issues, and questionable components indicate Sensah groupsets may underdeliver for serious cyclists seeking a seamless experience, though budget-conscious riders could be satisfied if expectations are appropriately calibrated.

Weight, Build Quality, and Design Impressions

The Sensah Empire Pro groupset components do not appear cheaply made as one might expect for a sub-$300 groupset.

The finishing and aesthetics create a sleek, well-crafted initial impression with no obvious blemishes. However, upon closer inspection, doubts emerge.

Notably, the front derailleur appears noticeably diminutive, casting doubt on its performance. The rear derailleur and shifters seem fairly standard and robustly constructed.

Sensah Empire Pro FD and RD Weight
Sensah Empire Pro FD and RD Weight

While the 12-speed cassette is decently lightweight for its class, the groupset as a whole cannot be considered especially light, even the carbon variant purportedly the lightest option. The shifters in particular feel heavier than desirable for a model aimed at weight savings.

The shifters mimic SRAM’s double-tap design but remain compatible with 11-speed SRAM components, though ergonomically resemble Shimano’s more comfortable shape, which many prefer over SRAM’s mechanical levers.

To pair Sensah shifters with Shimano derailleurs, the Team variant is recommended over the Empire Pro.

Sensah Empire Pro Cassette and Shifters Weight
Sensah Empire Pro Cassette and Shifters Weight

In summary, while initial visual impressions are promising, closer inspection reveals potential flaws like the small front derailleur and mediocre weight that indicate performance and design limitations, though build quality appears reasonably good for the price point.

Performance Impressions From Extensive Riding

The true test of any groupset lies in how it performs while riding. After proper setup and indexing of the Sensah Empire Pro components, we took the groupset on an extensive test to gauge real-world performance.

Though reliable functioning may be expected from established brands, the Empire Pro’s trouble-free operation during testing provided reassuring confirmation for Sensah, a lesser-known brand.

After approximately 2,000 kilometers of riding, the groupset had yet to experience a single chain drop, a promising start to its durability.

Shifting performance was adequate but revealed several areas for potential improvement.

Upshifts were reasonably quick and decisive, though occasionally accompanied by subtle noises indicating imprecise alignment of the mechanisms. Downshifts were slightly sluggish at times, requiring deliberate lever inputs.

Overall component feel leaned more toward functional rather than refined, as cables required more frequent readjustment than expected and lever throws lacked the crispness of pricier options.

While the Empire Pro groupset proved capable of delivering basic trouble-free performance over extensive testing, several shortcomings in shifting precision, component feel,

and mechanical refinement indicate this groupset may not satisfy discerning riders seeking a truly seamless experience, though budget-conscious buyers seeking good value for money could find the trade-offs acceptable.

Shifting Performance Impressions From Extensive Riding

While riding, the Sensah groupset provided decent – albeit unrefined – shifting performance. Despite initial doubts about the front derailleur’s size, it shifted smoothly, though this may have been aided by using a Shimano 105 crankset and chainrings.

As initially perceived, the shifters proved more ergonomic than SRAM’s. We noticed it was less awkward to shift and easier to avoid accidentally shifting an extra gear – an issue more common with SRAM.

If you prefer SRAM’s shifting lever style over Shimano’s, Sensah’s attention to comfort may be a real consideration.

However, the shifters required quite long lever throws to downshift into lower gears, so they may be unsuitable for riders with shorter hands, especially in dropped positions.

The downsides were balanced by some positives. Upshifts were accomplished quickly and decisively, though occasionally accompanied by subtle noises indicating imprecise alignment. Downshifts were slightly sluggish at times, needing deliberate inputs.

While the groupset delivered basic trouble-free performance during extensive testing, lacking refinement in shifting precision and component feel indicate limitations that may dissatisfy discerning riders seeking a truly seamless experience.

However, budget-conscious buyers seeking good value for money could find the trade-offs acceptable, and the groupset will likely not hold back amateur racers.

Comparing Sensah Empire vs Shimano 105

While the Sensah groupset provided relatively smooth shifting, it does not match professional-grade performance – let us compare it to the Shimano 105, the “groupset of the people” and industry standard against which Sensah is inevitably measured.

Though Sensah shifting was fair, the Shimano 105 delivers a distinctly premium ride quality that Sensah cannot match. The 105 groupset is noticeably quieter with significantly less drivetrain noise.

Despite its carbon construction, the Sensah groupset is not meaningfully lighter than the 105, indicating carbon’s weight benefits were offset by other components.

However, Sensah retains advantages in price and gearing options. The Empire Pro offers 12 speeds for less cost compared to the 105’s 11 speeds, expanding versatility for amateur riders seeking increased gear ratios.

In summary, while Sensah delivers acceptable performance for the price, substantive differences in refinement, noise, weight and user experience favor the Shimano 105.

Serious cyclists seeking a seamless groupset will likely prefer the 105’s superior attributes, though budget-conscious riders prioritizing value may find Sensah a viable alternative, especially given its additional gear and lower cost.

Alternative Options: Comparing Sensah to Comparable Shimano Groupsets

If Sensah’s inferior ride quality concerns you, the Shimano Tiagra provides a viable alternative – even on lower-tier bikes, Shimano’s performance exceeds Sensah’s.

The Tiagra’s downside is offering only 10 speeds versus Sensah’s 11 or 12, but for average cyclists, one or two extra gears are unlikely to be missed significantly.

Extra gears do not inherently make a rider faster; they merely provide some additional transition options between gears.

For a slightly higher expenditure that bridges the gap between Tiagra and 105, Shimano 105 offers noticeable upgrades – 11 speeds, lighter weight, refinements that enhance shifting precision and drivetrain silence.

While costlier than Sensah, the 105 delivers a markedly better overall experience for moderately dedicated riders.

If Sensah’s limitations dissuade you, Shimano Tiagra and 105 groupsets at comparable price points provide alternatives with reliably superior ride quality, refinement and performance – trade-offs budget-conscious riders must weigh against Sensah’s lower cost and additional gearing options.

But for most cyclists, the enhancements of equivalent Shimano groupsets generally justify their modest price premiums.

Where Sensah Empire Pro Excels

While our critique may sound harsh, ultimately we would argue the Empire Pro’s shifting performance is just as reliable as the 105’s – if one can overlook the minor downgrades in ergonomics and ride feel, especially considering Empire Pro’s approximately half the price.

Modifications are possible to suit preferences. As advised, discarding Sensah’s suggested brakes and crankset in favor of higher-quality alternatives – the derailleurs seem to be Sensah’s most solid components.

If the heavy shifters displease you, purchasing only the derailleurs while pairing them with older SRAM Red 22 shifters, compatible with Sensah’s 11-speed but not 12-speed groupset, provides a lighter – yet still cheaper than Dura-Ace – option especially for weight-conscious riders.

However, SRAM’s shifters offer no better ergonomics to compensate for Sensah’s.

In summary, Sensah’s main advantages lie in its attractively lower price point for comparable shifting reliability, especially considering modifications to improve performance and user experience.

But significant compromises in refinement, comfort and versatility remain that may dissatisfy all but the most budget-constrained riders. For most cyclists, minor gains from Sensah likely fail to justify its substantive drawbacks.

Our Overall Assessment of the Sensah Empire Pro Groupset

Is the Sensah Empire Pro Worth Its Price Point?

There is no doubt that the Sensah Empire Pro offers great value for a well performing groupset. You will be hard pressed to find another groupset at this price point that matches its reliability and number of gear ratios.

However, we also view the hype surrounding Sensah as somewhat exaggerated. While the Empire Pro makes for a decent groupset, we would not place it on par with Shimano 105 for several reasons.

The overall ride quality cannot compare, and whereas you can trust Shimano for an entire groupset, you will likely end up mixing and matching components with the Empire Pro.

For some, this may not detract from Sensah’s value proposition – after all, part of the fun of building a bike involves customizing and finding a unique combination that works.

Paired with budget carbon frames and wheels, you can build a lightweight bike at a much lower cost than entry-level Western carbon frames.

Who Should and Should Not Purchase the Sensah Empire Pro?

The Sensah Empire Pro is an excellent choice for beginners unfamiliar with the ride feel of higher-end Shimano and SRAM groupsets.

If your entry-level road bike has Shimano Sora or Claris and you want to increase gear selection while spending a little extra, then Sensah Empire Pro is perfect.

The groupset also suits those building a budget road bike from scratch. But riders already using Shimano 105 or SRAM Rival seeking to save weight may be disappointed. In such cases, sticking with Shimano or SRAM is likely preferable.

In summary, the Empire Pro strikes an ideal balance of value and performance for new riders and budget enthusiasts, though experienced cyclists will likely gravitate back to established brands in the long run.