A first ride review of the new Shimano Ultegra R8070 groupset and an in depth look at materials, Di2 and disc brakes

Product Overview

Overall rating:

Score 10

Shimano Ultegra R8070

Pros:

  • Massively improved ergonomics
  • Excellent rim brakes
  • On a par with Dura-Ace performance

Cons:

  • Heavier than old Ultegra

Product:

First ride: New Shimano Ultegra Di2 R8000 series

Manufacturer:

Shimano Ultegra has, for a long time, been the bread-and-butter groupset of most riders, and the new Shimano Ultegra R8000 series not only reaffirms that but injects it more than ever with the performance of Shimano Dura-Ace.

As a refresher, here’s what Shimano’s numbers mean:

  • Shimano Ultegra R8000 – mechanical
  • Shimano Ultegra R8020 – mechanical shifting and disc brakes
  • Shimano Ultegra R8050 – rim brakes and Di2
  • Shimano Ultegra R8070 – disc brakes and Di2

Here, we’ll be looking predominately at Shimano Ultegra R8070, purely because it was the groupset we’ve been able to spend the most time. However, we did manage a ride on the new rim brakes, so we’ve touched upon these a bit further down.

An uncanny resemblance to Dura-Ace

It’ll be almost impossible to write this review without referring to Shimano Dura-Ace, and it doesn’t take an eagle eye to realise that the two now look identical. But the question is whether the performance would be too.

Chainset on the Shimano Ultegra R8000 series

It’s very much Dura-Ace in style Credit: ProCyclingShots

A nuanced answer would make clear the distinctions in materials between the two groupsets, and how the construction differs (don’t worry, we’ll get to that).

But in short, the groupsets have never been closer in performance, and more importantly, Shimano doesn’t care.

It doesn’t care that Shimano Ultegra R8000 might step on the toes of the higher end Dura-Ace, because it just wants to release the best platforms for the riders and consumers.

Cassette on Shimano Ultegra R8000 series

The longer cage rear derailleur can accommodate a 34t cassette Credit: ProCyclingShots

>>> New Shimano front shifting tech trickles down for Dura-Ace to 105

Even better, the desire to cram as much tech into a lower price point is matched by a desire to make the groupset more accessible.

According to Tim Gerrits, the man in charge of product development, there’s no hard or fast definition of road cycling any more. For Shimano, this fluidity and evolution meant creating a groupset that can accommodate a 34t cassette and 28mm tyres.

According to Shimano, a 34t cassette allows riders to run a normal compact front setup, and still get 1:1 range on a variety of terrain.

The brake and shifters of Shimano Ultegra R8000 Series

There are some material differences between Shimano Ultegra and Dura-Ace Credit: ProCyclingShots

Naturally, Ultegra had to hit its price point. That means glass fibre brackets in the hoods rather than the carbon fibre of Dura-Ace.

Alongside this, there are steel bolts in the rear derailleur over alloy, steel front derailleur cages instead of aluminium and aluminium levers rather than carbon.

Importantly, the crankset is constructed differently: the Ultegra version is shaped differently is is made with a different mould.

The weights of Shimano Ultegra R8000 Series

Shimano Ultegra weights – what you need to know

All in all, mechanical Ultegra (R8000) 336g heavier than Dura-Ace as a system, and – weight-weenies cover your eyes – even heavier than old Ultegra 6800 by 46g across the mechanical system.

Happily, the new Shimano Ultegra R8070 system is lighter than the old R6870 by some 197g, leaving it 250g heavier than the same Dura-Ace system.

So, while the differences do drive the weight up, Shimano also says it “drives the price down for Ultegra, and you still get the technology”.


Watch: Shimano Ultegra R8070 first look


The setup

The Ultegra R8070 setup, which in Shimano parlance means electronic shifting and hydraulic braking, was immediately striking in just how different it looks to the old Ultegra system– and how much it looks like Shimano Dura-Ace.

Gone are the large hoods and equally large levers. In their place sit slimmer tops which are compact and small enough to fit comfortably in a riders hands, even when stuffed with electronics and the hydraulic master cylinder.

The new hoods of Shimano Ultegra R8000 Series

Resized hoods and levers are comfortable Credit: ProCyclingShots

Pair this to greater reach and free-stroke adjustment and you’ve got a setup that can even the smallest hands can agree with.

Unlike old Ultegra – and just like new Dura-Ace – the hoods now have a chamfered surface, for a bit of added stickiness, although they were still a bit slippery under sweaty hands.

Such improvements extend to the Di2 levers, too. Whereas once they were too close together, and shifting too ambiguous for our liking, now the spacing has been improved and shifting is met with a resounding click.

>>> New Quarq DFour91 power meter: more accurate and specific to Shimano Dura-Ace R9100

The ride

The rotors on Shimano Ultegra R8000 Series

The rotors aren’t the same as Dura-Ace, but there’s plenty of power Credit: ProCyclingShots

First introduced for Dura-Ace, Shimano’s extensive Di2 technology has trickled its way down to Ultegra.

Electronic integration has been pushed further and now there’s absolutely no difference between Shimano Ultegra Di2 and Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 – the electronic motor and shift speed are exactly the same.

The Ultegra Di2 options also get the same top buttons on the hoods, which can be programmed to either shift or switch your Garmin screen.

Frankly, the technology on offer is staggering, and riders are completely free to customise their shifting through the eTube app which is now available on phone or tablet.

Testing the Shimano Ultegra R8000 Series brakes

Ample time to test the brakes, both hydraulic and rim Credit: ProCyclingShots

All this means a greater integration of Syncroshift into your riding, and now with three different settings there’s always an opportunity to be reminded that you suck at shifting. Once mastered, it’s efficient and useful, and you’ll never have to cross-chain again.

In terms of braking, the Shimano Ultegra rotor cooling fins are not covered with the black heat dissipation material like Dura-Ace’s are. While they do have Shimano’s Freeza technology, they’re plain aluminium, and as a result don’t dissipate heat quite as well.

Rotors of the Shimano Ultegra R8000 Series brakes

Good performance, even if there was a lot of squealing Credit: ProCyclingShots

Happily, the power is still good, and there’s plenty of it, even on the steepest and longest Alpine descents. There’s also a reassuring lack of brake fade, although prolonged use was met with a sharp “squealing” from the brakes.

When pressed, Shimano assured us it was normal, and could be because of any number of variables, but it was most likely the increased forces from the powerful stoppers affecting the pads and the frame.

For those perhaps looking to make the jump into hydraulics for the first time, it’ll be relief to hear that additional free-stroke and reach adjustment is now offered underneath the hoods. They’re also a piece of cake to bleed, meaning you can always have plenty of power on tap.

A quick word about Shimano Ultegra R8000 rim brakes

Rim brakes on the Shimano Ultegra R8000 Series

Ample stopping power from the rim brakes Credit: ProCyclingShots

While there was no opportunity to ride a fully mechanical version of the groupset (keep an eye for a forthcoming review), we leapt at the opportunity to try the new Ultegra rim brakes, if only for one ride.

Again, the materials differ and the brakes are heavier than Dura-Ace, because they’re more overbuilt and they can accommodate 28mm tyres.

But rim brake fans will be pleased to hear that the performance is still excellent, if not on parr with Dura-Ace thanks to plenty of feel and stopping power.

R8000

ST-r8000             319.99      Shifters
FD-r8000            49.99        Front derailleur
RD-r8000            84.99        Rear derailleur
BR-r8000            69.99         Front brake
BR-r8000            69.99         Rear brake
FC-r8000            249.99       Crankset
CS-r8000            74.99          Cassette
CN-HG701            34.99        Chain

R8020

ST-r8020            649.99       Shifters + calipers
FD-r8000            49.99        Front derailleur
RD-r8000            84.99        Rear derailleur
FC-r8000            249.99      Crankset
CS-r8000            74.99         Cassette
CN-HG701            34.99       Chain
SM-RT800            49.99      Rotor (each)

R8050

ST-r8050            299.99       Shifters
FD-r8050            209.99      Front derailleur
RD-r8050            244.99      Rear derailleur
FC-r8000            249.99       Crankset
BR-r8000            69.99         Front brake
BR-r8000            69.99         Rear brake
CS-r8000            74.99          Cassette
CN-HG701            34.99        Chain
SM-JC41            27.99            Internal junction
EW-RS910            109.99      Bar end junction
Di2 wire            21.99 each    6 needed (minimum)
BT-DN110            149.99        Battery

R8070

ST-r8070            649.99        Shifters + calipers
FD-r8050            209.99       Front derailleur
RD-8050            244.99         Rear derailleur
FC-r8000            249.99       Crankset
CS-r8000            74.99          Cassette
CN-HG701            34.99        Chain
SM-RT800            49.99       Rotor (each)
SM-JC41            27.99           Internal junction
EW-RS910            109.99     Bar end junction
Di2 wire            21.99 each   6 needed (minimum)
BT-DN110            149.99       Battery

Verdict

It's not hard to notice the staggering similarities between Shimano Ultegra R8000 and Shimano Dura-Ace. But these similarities aren't just skin deep, they're at a performance level too. Sure, it's heavier on the bike (by very little) but it's a lot lighter on the wallet, and just as good.