Shimano Tiagra vs 105: Which One Should I Buy?

When it comes to choosing which make and model of gears for your first road bike (or your first ‘proper’ one), there’s a good chance you’ll be deciding between a Shimano Tiagra and a Shimano 105 groupset.

For those that already ride with Tiagra, 105 seems the natural upgrade path.

But which offers the best value, given the relative prices? Is it worth upgrading to 105?

In this post I’ll explain the key differences (and similarities) between the two ‘gruppos‘ and give some thoughts on how best to decide.

Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you click and buy something, I receive a commission.

I Say Gears, You Say Groupset (Gears! Groupset!)

Shimano, like competitors Campagnolo and SRAM, produce a range of components for bikes that are designed to be used together.

As well as the parts that make up the gearing system (chainrings, cranks, cassette, front and rear derailleur, chain), a groupset will also include the gear shifters and brakes.

On a new bike, the manufacturer will either specify all of a given groupset or mix and match between different ranges (for various reasons, but generally it comes down to price).

What is a groupset?

Where Do Tiagra and 105 Sit In The Shimano Range?

Well, Shimano’s lowest cost range is called Claris. Then Sora. Tiagra sits above that, followed by 105.

After 105, there is Ultegra and Dura-Ace, both of which have mechanical and electronic shifting (known as Di2) versions. Professional teams that ride with Shimano components spec Dura-Ace for their pro riders.

Either confusingly or helpfully, each range is also described by a four digit number. Aficionados, looking to confuse us mere mortals, will sometimes refer to a groupset simply by this number.

Even more confusingly, as part of its 2019 update, Shimano 105 transitioned from being a number only (the prior 2015 generation was known as 5800) to being a number preceded by the letter R.

The current generation of Shimano 105 is therefore also known as R7000. This brings it into line with the new naming convention with its two higher end siblings, 2017 Dura-Ace (R9100) and 2018 Ultegra (R8000).

And actually, now I delve deeper into this product number rabbit hole, I see that the newer versions of Sora and Claris also have ‘R’ numbers. Which actually makes Tiagra the odd one out in the Shimano range in not having adopted an ‘R’. Perhaps this means it is due for a “major update”.

Incidentally, in case you’re interested, the version of 105 on my bike (shown in the photos in this post) is 5700 (the 10-speed ‘2011 groupset’, released in 2010 (!???!)).

What Are The Key Differences Between Shimano 105 and Shimano Tiagra

Well, for me, there are two key differences and a few minor ones. Starting with the big kahunas:

Number of Gears (or Speeds)

The current and the prior versions of Shimano 105 are 11-speed groupsets. The cassette has 11 cogs/sprockets of varying sizes, offering a total of 22 different gears (because you generally have two chainrings at the front), although not all of them are useful.

Shimano Tiagra is firmly a 10-speed system, reducing the number of potential gearing combinations by two.

This may or may not be a problem for you. There is a marginal benefit in having an extra rear gear. The progression through the gears is smoother with smaller ‘leaps in hardness’ (another technical term). And, like Dave Brailsford, we’re all for the accumulation of marginal gains.

As far as my tuppensworth goes, I’ve never had a problem riding 10-speed Shimano 105, and I ride in a particularly pointy part of the UK (the Peak District). And I am not the owner of the strongest pair of legs by any means.

You can buy a Tiagra cassette that goes up to 34 teeth on the largest sprocket. As part of a compact chainset, this will be able to get you up even the most offensively-steep of ascents.

Still, some people are always going to want more gears. If you want 11 of them, then you’ll need to go with 105 (or Ultegra or Dura-Ace).

Price (It Always Comes Down To Money)

The most notable difference between 105 and Tiagra is probably the price. They both do the same job and they do it effectively. They are both durable and reliable.

You can find plenty of people online that extol the virtues of the cheaper option. There is enough noise to believe that this isn’t solely down to a desire to get one up on higher-spending (Ineos-Grenadiers-kit-wearing*) cycling brethren

(*Presumably.)

The price difference if you’re buying a groupset on its own (i.e. not as part of a bike purchase) is surprisingly small. A cursory search (and this blog is built on cursory searches) suggests you can purchase the new 105 set for an inner tube less than £500 ($625), whilst the Tiagra groupset (the disc brake version) is at £450 ($560).

For those who are hard of maths, that’s a saving (or additional cost) of ~£50.

But… most people don’t buy a groupset on its own. They buy it as part of a new (or second hand) bike. The price differential tends to reflect throughout the full bike, as one equipped with 105 is likely to be slightly higher ‘specced’ in terms of wheels and other finishing gear.

For new bike purchases then, you will tend to see Tiagra specced on models priced at less than £1,250 (or on carbon frames a touch above that price level). 105 is generally found on bikes priced from £1,250–2,000, although the waters are slightly muddied by whether a bike comes with rim brakes or disc brakes (with the latter tending to bump up the price).

A Few Other Random Differences

(Other than the fact Tiagra doesn’t have that ‘R’ we talked about.)

Shimano 105, like Dura-Ace and Ultegra, only features integrated brakes/shifters for drop handlebars. The Tiagra range includes shifters and brake levers for flat handlebars (i.e. that sit parallel to the handlebars).

You can also buy Tiagra with a triple crankset, three chainrings (50-, 39- and 30-teeth) that, along with the 10-speed cassette, provide 30 gearing combinations. The 105 system, like most higher end groupsets, is only available with two chainrings at the front.

Whilst a third chainring adds weight, and many of the added gear combinations will be similar to those that you’d get on a 20-speed system, the smallest 30-tooth chainring will provide a couple more very easy gears. If you have a cassette that goes beyond 30 teeth, that means you’ll have one or two combos with a ratio below 1. Very useful if you want to ease yourself up those steeper slopes.

(If you want to know more about gear ratios – who doesn’t!?! – check out my post on the subject.)

The Trickledown Effect…

… Is not just what happens after an all-out effort to get up that final hill.

It’s also what happens, year after year, as a company updates its product ranges.

Just as we’ll all no doubt have windscreen head up displays in our 2022 Kia Ceed, today’s groupsets inherit features from their higher-priced cousins of yesteryear.

The raft of improvements in the current 105 groupset (lighter, less bulky lever hoods; ability to run an 11-34 cassette; redesign of the rear derailleur to give it more ground clearance) weren’t that long ago added to Shimano’s Dura-Ace and Ultegra offerings.

In a previous version of this post, I noted that Bradley Wiggins won the Tour de France in 2012 riding Dura-Ace (although perhaps it was the non-Shimano assymetric chain rings that made all the difference). By 2015, everyone riding a bike with the new Shimano 105 groupset was effectively riding with the same tech.

All of which is to say, as 105 becomes more like (the previous) Ultegra as each generation goes by, so Tiagra gets improvements in line with the Shimano 105 groupsets of old.

But What Do They Look Like (And Is It Easy To Tell The Difference)?

Ah yes. Now we’re getting into the most important topic. We all want our bike, and how it looks, to say something about us as a rider and our velo prowess (what? you don’t? just me then?).

I wouldn’t say it’s keeping me up at night, but visually the version of Shimano 105 on my bike makes clear that it is not the current version. Indeed, those in the know would recognise it as being from the generation before last:

old Shimano 105
You will please ignore the mud…

 

Nowadays, and perhaps this is a reflection of the ‘trickledown’ effect, the R7000 version of the 105 crankset looks very much like the current generation of Dura-Ace and Ultegra. SirMadam will note the 4-arm design and the chunky crank flavours.

Shimano 105 R7000 crankset

If we compare this to the current generation Tiagra 4700 crankset, you will see…

Shimano Tiagra 4700 Crankset

… that the visuals are very similar. Certainly compared to my version of 105.

Now actually, the Tiagra looks very similar to the previous generation of 105 (5800 – no ‘R’) and Ultegra (6800 – no… you get the picture).

But apart from the fact that Tiagra is written on the crank arm (I’m sure a liberal application of mud could mask this), the casual observer would be hard pushed to tell the difference from recent higher end models.

You’ll note that in this section I’m not talking about other aspects of the groupset: the rear derailleur, the gear/brake levers, the bottom bracket. I’m a reasonably enthusiastic road cyclist and there is no chance I’d be able to tell the differences between model ranges on these components.

As far as the visuals go, it’s all about the crankset (or chainset, depending on your geographical persuasion).

A Word About New Versions And Replacement Parts

Without wishing to sound like a broken (Strava personal) record, we all know by now that I have 10-speed Shimano 105, a range that was launched getting on for 10 years ago.

Despite that, I have absolutely no problem getting replacement components: cassettes, derailleurs, chain rings.

I can still buy official 5700 parts (the number for my version of 105). I assume Shimano is still making them, even if it isn’t selling them as a complete groupset.

As a 10-speed system, I can also use compatible components from other 10-speed Shimano groupsets: Ultegra 6700 and, yes, current version 4700 Tiagra (indeed I just bought a Tiagra cassette because it had the range of sprockets I wanted). I just need to be careful around chain rings.

This is not the post to go into which bits are compatible with what.

But I do want to make the point that if you are choosing between current 105 or Tiagra, you don’t need to worry about access to components in the future. The user base for both is so vast that it’ll continue to be served by Shimano making replacement parts to serve the aftermarket for many years to come. There will always be a solution here (that feels like a bold statement…).

How Do You Decide Between Tiagra and 105?

If we’re talking about a new bike specification, the choice of gears is not made in isolation. Tiagra often finds itself on an entry-level steed; 105 starts to present itself further up the price spectrum. Tiagra will be allied to other entry-level equipment (the wheels, frame material, saddle).

If you’re looking to spend $1,000/£750 on a bike with 105 (which probably isn’t possible anyway), the manufacturer will have to have cut costs when it comes to the frame and wheels. There is no point having a marginally-improved set of gears if your wheels were made by a blacksmith.

If we’re at the $1,300/£1,000 level and there is a choice between two bikes from good quality manufacturers, one with 105 and one with Tiagra, I’d be minded to select the Tiagra one, on the basis that it’s more likely to have a better frame and other components (though you’d want to check).

If you have a budget of $2,000 – $2,200 /£1,500 – £1,700 then you’re likely to see 105 gearing installed on a good quality carbon frame with wheels and finishing components of a similar level. Stepping down to Tiagra on a mid-range bike like this is unlikely to be worth it.

Applying the savings you make to other areas of the bike won’t get you much of an upgrade. The only caveat to this might be where a manufacturer has used cheaper wheels to bring the bike in on budget (which is common) – spending extra to upgrade the wheels is probably something you would feel the benefit of.

Should You Upgrade From Tiagra To 105?

Maybe. But with a few provisos.

If you have a $650/£500 bike that you bought off the shelf (strong shelf), that wasn’t really sized correctly and doesn’t really fit (essentially the story of my first road bike purchase), then don’t upgrade your gears. Save your pennies and buy a bike that gets all the fundamentals right.

If, on the other hand, you have a frame you’re happy with (perhaps you’ve had it professionally fitted) and you’re starting to think about replacing bits of your drive train, then I think an upgrade to 105 makes a lot of sense.

According to Cycling Weekly, the R7000 generation 105 is so similar to Ultegra in performance that the only thing counting against it anymore is that the name doesn’t carry the same ‘cool factor’. To a certain segment of the population, choosing performance and value, eschewing the bling brand name is in itself a badge of honour. The difference in weight for the full groupset is in the order of 174g (less than the weight of a third full water bottle). The key point is that for 99% of the riding population, 105 will perform admirably.

A word of caution though before pulling the upgrade trigger (typing in your credit card details). Dissatisfaction with the performance of your current gearing set up could be down to maintenance.

I recently overhauled my Domane, in particular fitting new gear and brake cables, and the improvement in ‘shifting crispiness’ (technical term – I guess I could have said ‘precision’) is light and day versus how it used to perform. I’m delighted with it (even if it is an old groupset…). The experience has dispelled any dark thoughts I had about upgrading bits of it to Ultegra. Perhaps a lesson for wider application.

Have You Ridden 105 AND Tiagra? What Say You?

My experience with Tiagra gears (particularly the recent generation) is limited. My old Dawes chugs along on an odd mix of Campagnolo components, made at some point in the Dark Ages (early 2000s).

I’ve been very happy with the 105 groupset on my Domane.

Is there anyone out there with experience of both sets? Or who is a massive fan of their Tiagra and wouldn’t swap it for all the EPO in a Spanish pharmacy?

Let me know in the comments below.

Monty - Sportive Cyclist
Monty is an enthusiastic road cyclist with only moderate talent. He started Sportive Cyclist in 2013 to record the journey to his first 100 mile ride, the RideLondon 100. Over time the blog has expanded to include training advice, gear reviews and road cycling tales, all from the perspective of a not-very-fit MAMIL. Since you're here, Monty would also like you to check out his YouTube channel. Also, Monty really needs to stop referring to himself in the third person.

28 thoughts on “Shimano Tiagra vs 105: Which One Should I Buy?”

  1. My last bike started out as Tiagra and had various bits gradually upgraded to Tiagra as they needed to be replaced. I think that this is a pretty good upgrade path as the price difference between the 2 components is generally very low and you’re not throwing away a working Tiagra component – you’re replacing it anyway.

    At one point in the life of the bike they replaced my 105 rear derailleur with a Tiagra one based on what they had in stock. I noticed immediately and asked them to change it to another new 105 as soon as possible. The shifts were not as crisp or as immediate. Probably only a tiny difference but as I was so used to the 105 I found myself waiting for the chain to click into place before I got back on the power.

    Reply
  2. Speaking from a mountain biking background, 105 is similar to SLX, if one has the luxury of being able to buy new.. and this years then I’d say 105 like SLX is the best value for money..if you’re buying second hand, or last years model then I’d go for the XT eqivalent, namely the Ultegra..
    On a slightly diferent tack.. most of us are of a more chubby frame, and as you get more cogs on the back, you also get a thinner chain, and thinner chains stretch/wear quicker, and are more expensive to replace..I still think 10 is the most you want on the rear cassette..the 7 speed block I’ve got on my ancient work bike is still running the same chain..three years on..my MTB chains on 10 speed blocks last about 1000kms..road bikes maybe a bit..well quite a lot more..but then you go much further in an hour on a road bike..

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  3. I have a Genesis CDF on Tiagra and Trek Madone on Ultegra. Your point about quality of frame and wheels is the key. Both Groupsets are good, the CDF is a steel bike, mudguards, tour tyres etc. It is a great bike, the frame and wheels are commuter bomb proof and fast, (in spite of the weight). The groupset is reliable but is not as crucial as what it is bolted too – there would be no point in upgrading this to the 105 (or Ultegra) as the bike is great as it is. There is an honest truth in the idea that it is not the gear, it is the bloke (or lady) pushing it!!

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    • Hi Reuben, whilst your final comment is true, one cannot deny that for lesser mortals there is a psycological effect in terms of better gear. We run two 735 CdFe’s one with a tiagra triple and XT rear combo, and one with 105 compact (and upgraded hope hubbed wheels.) group set.
      The frame does make the biggest difference, and as you indicate it’s not all about wieght, next to frames wheels also make a big difference, once you get into the groupsets you are talking more phsycology than actual effect, although wider ratios definately work better with MTB groupsets (hence the XT on the triple set-up.)

      Reply
  4. As alluded to already for my discounted (last years model) giant defy the choice came down to ally frame with 105 carbon frame with tiagra with a price difference of about £100.
    Being a label type and a bit tight I really wanted to go for ally/105 yet on riding there was no noticible difference in group set performance but a huge difference in frame performance. The result 1 carbon defy bought.
    So from my limited experience getting the right frame for you is the main concern. But if I was to change the group set I’d go up 2 spots not just the one.

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  5. You forgot (I think, I’m in the pub and my wife has vanished) to mention the hidden cables under the handlebars which is very nice on 105 and not available with Tiagra. I know it is an aesthetic thing, but it is nicer!

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  6. Worth bearing in mind 11 speed Shimano cassettes won’t fit on most 10 speed wheels, which can suddenly make your groupset upgrade more expensive, or be a convenient excuse for some new shiny wheels…

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  7. I’m riding a 2014 Domane 4.0 with Tiagra and I’m very dissapointed with the shifting. My 18 Year old Trek 7500 hybrid shifts better. I’ve spent over a year tweaking the adjustments and finally got satisfactory shifting but not perfect and still not as good as my old hybrid. I would not buy this bike again. I would buy the same bike with the 105 hoping it would shift better.

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  8. Hi Vurnis, Your trek 7500 is shifting better because I suspect it has fewer cogs, and a trigger shifter..
    I’ve recently been trying to get a better (as I am now towing upwar4ds of 20k on a trailer..) lower range gearing onto my Road bike, (Croix de Fe).
    Surprisingly the 105 rear mech is coping with a 34 toothed rear cog (the block is a mixture of the road top gears, 11,13,15,17 and then some MTB cogs…) However the shifters and adjustments are a nightmare..Indexing is the main issue, it seems to be impossible to get all the gears to sit well..and unlike with a trigger shifter you can’t make adjustments whilst actually riding..
    I just think that the trigger shifters on MTBs and hybrids will always be better shifters..
    One could always go beack to the old days..when all shiters were none indexed, and you could fine tune each alignment..

    Reply
    • You make a good point about the number of cogs. My Trek 7500 only has 8 and the Trek Domane has 10. I can adjust it to shift good on 8 of the 10 but can’t get it to shift good an all 10. I’ve got it adjusted where it shifts good in the middle gears where I ride most of the time but it doesn’t shift well at the extreme high or low end. The 7500 has Sram twist grip shifters.

      Reply
      • Hi Vurnis,
        I’ve recently been messing around with my rear cogs, trying to get even lower gears for hauling my trailer (and keeping up with my partner whose climbing abilities have improved dramatically with more time spent on the bike..), and like you I’ve been having bother getting all the gears to connect without ghost shifting..a couple of tips, is the retainer (of the cogs on the freewhyeel/hib) threaded cap thingie really tight, sometimes they work loose over time, and you shouldn’t be able to move any of the individual cogs independently…if it has worked loose then you may have gotten wear in the retainer splines..and need a new cog carrier bit..
        The other ‘possibility’ is that you are missing some/a spacer between one or more of the cogs..
        You really need to make friends with your local bike shop mechanic, as when shimano shifetrs work they are superb..and often it’s only a minor adjustment that’s required, but you need to know what to ‘adjust’. Best of luck..
        alternatively you could (and I’m thinking about it..) consider going for a hub gear..they last for ever and ever and ever.. are really bomb proof, and use heavier chains..
        Perhaps Our sportive cyclist Monty could do some work on comparisons?

        Reply
  9. Interesting comments
    I have an older ChroMo Norco we built from ground up
    Tiagara throughout and live it
    I do 59k rides every day no issues
    My Scott has Tiagara also, but the previous generation and it is noisy as heck
    I am thinking 105 for the Norco and kit the Scott with the newer Tiagara

    Reply
  10. To summarize. It sounds like the main drawback for the Tiagra is that you have to hunt/wait for the gears a bit more. If you aren’t in a hurry, or if you shift infrequently (touring, fitness, long climbs in 1st gear) that isn’t an issue. Of course if you race or if safety depends on fast shifts (mountain biking, cyclocross) then you must upgrade. If you race, you probably care about the 200g (7 oz) as well, which counts for more than frame weight because it is rotating. Of course if you are into “fashion”, get the dura-ace components. Chicks love ’em.

    Reply
  11. So I’m building a bike from the ground up as well, and my question is this.. Would I be able to get Tiagra Brifters.. 105 Derailleurs.. and a Tiagra cassette and be good (e.g. compatible) ? Another friend of mine has the same bike from the factory, and hasn’t changed a thing. His has Sora Brifters, a Tiagra Rear Derailleur, and a Sora Front Derailleur.. (idk the cassette, probably Tiagra). Could I do the same on mine with a version of each up (refer to my previous sentence about what I would setup instead)?

    Reply
  12. Very good article on Shimano Tiagra Vs 105.

    My personal experience is that when I was shopping for a new bike a couple of years ago, one of my key purchasing parameters was the shifting. I rode a bunch of bikes from moderate to expensive… Cross bikes & road bikes of varying levels, (all in the Trek line-up). I finally settled on a 2013 Trek Domane’ 2.1c in large part because the bike shifted so well compared to others, especially those with 105. The advantage of the Tiagra, (which on a Domane’ is a full group set), was that each shift was super easy and accurate. The Tiagra is a very intuitive feeling shifting system, easy to figure out and get used to quickly. Its super easy to up-shift and downshift quickly without much thought, which is a good aspect on bike paths, streets, etc. and anywhere else traffic signals, stop signs, pedestrians, cars, dogs, etc. may suddenly force you to shift. I think this is because the throw on the shift levers is far shorter and has less resistance than on the more expensive 105, which seems to require a very concentrated mental and physical effort to change gears.

    The advantage to the 105 seemed to be that when it does shift, its a very positive and crisp gear change. The deal breaker for me was that it took so much effort compared to the Tiagra, (which shifts almost as quick as you can think about changing gears), the 105 seemed like it wasn’t well suited to my application fitness and recreational riding. I assumed this was perhaps because the 105 has stiffer springs in the derailleurs to prevent miss shifts or the gears skipping in competition, (where most of the 105 and Ultegra is utilized). Not being a competitive cyclist racing under demanding conditions, I figured the 105 was designed to be placed in a gear and not changed as frequently as one might need to in an uncontrolled environment. Long story short… I even completed the Tiagra group set with a Tiagra chain and brakes. The Taigra hubs I skipped and instead swapped the “Bontrager Approved” setup with far better Bontrager wheels (Selenium RXL’s with RXXXL Carbon hubs and Aero spokes, Swiss bearings and 28c AW3 tires). <<< YES LIGHT WHEELS AND LOW ROLLING RESISTANCE MAKE A HUGE DIFFERENCE highly recommended 😉

    Keep in mind I was checking out 2013 and 2014 models when I purchased my bike because it had Tiagra instead of 105. Today I had the chance to test ride a brand new Trek Crossrip 3 with a full 105 groupset and it seemed to shift as smooth and quick as my Tiagra, but with the more crisp positive feel of the 105. Not sure, but perhaps Shimano made some improvements to the 105 system since 2013 / 2014. And if you're curious, the Crossrip 3 was a sweet ride… Not quite as refined or smooth as a Domane' but what it lacks in refinement, it makes up for in fat tire clearance and crazy stopping ability with discs… The longer frame and adventure style geometry felt very nice. At $2100 its a big decision though.

    Reply
  13. I bought a Fuji Sportif with Tiagra components in 2014. After replacing the front derailleur twice with Tiagra, I finally chose to upgrade it to 105. It now shifts much more smoothly and the new derailleur has lasted twice as long as the previous ones so far (knock on wood). The Tiagra would constantly get hung up mid-shift and deform the derailleur cage outwards, bringing it into contact with the right crank. I plan on replacing other components with 105 as needed. Note: there is no substitute for regular drivetrain cleaning!

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  14. Amongst my family bikes we have multiple Tiagra setups, and then on my racing bike I have the 105s. I rode multiple bikes with both component sets, and always found the 105 to be more responsive.

    I just bought a used bike for my daughter to get started, and the Tiagra setup is more than nice enough for her to have a positive experience as she dips a toe in the sport.

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  15. I’m looking at 2 bike at the minute they are Fuji Roubaix 1.3 2017 Road Bike and a Boardman SLR 8.9a Mens Road Bike

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  16. Thanks for all of you comments very helpful for all the information you gave for someone who is thinking of upgrading to a better groupset.

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  17. I think you need to also bear in mind what you’re using the bike for when deciding on groupset. I have a Ribble Racing Sportive Disc, which is shod with the hydraulic Tiagra groupo. I use this bike in the winter, and so don’t really want to be replacing more expensive components that are being ground to a paste during those winter months. Tiagra works, and it works really well on my winter bike. I should imagine it would work on my summer bike as well, but I do have a more exotic groupset on that one.
    Buy what works for you, everyone’s situation is different.

    Reply

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