We've come full circle again. With its recent 105 revamp, Shimano's 5700 groupset completes the trio at the top, having brought ‘old faithful' bang up to date and in line with Ultegra 6700 and Dura Ace 7900.
The key difference with 105 is it's a much more price-driven groupset, so while we knew full well there'd be no titanium or carbon in sight, what we really wanted to know was how it would ride. Here goes.
It was a foregone conclusion that 5700 shift levers would mimic Ultegra and Dura Ace, specifically the move to internal cabling - it's clearly the way forward. On the outside the levers are more comfortable in your hands, most noticeably a smoother, flatter transition from the bars to the hoods.
Inside, the mechanics of the levers have been tweaked, resulting in an appreciable shortening of the shift lever throw, by adjusting the cable pull ratio: a welcome upgrade.
Combined with a new rear mech design, again pinching the technology from higher up the pecking order, the 5700 shifting response feels as instant as any top-end mechanical groupset.
What helps translate this into a crisp and precise gear change is a new cassette design, based on a stiffer aluminium carrier, but most importantly a directional chain. By identifying that its inner and outer plates perform different roles, Shimano's new specific chain design provides smoother, quieter shifting, and an impressive ability to shift sweetly under load.
The same can be said at the front end of the drivetrain. One of the comments we made after our first look at 5700, was it was slightly disappointing not to have the latest Hollowglide chainring technology. Aesthetically, the 5700 is left looking cheaper but what's clear from riding is the front shift quality is significantly improved, suggesting the improvement is much more to do with the new wider chainring spacing and broader pivot stiffening up the front mech.
As we've already said, Shimano has to watch the pennies as 105 is price sensitive so there's got to be give and take and, to be honest, giving very high priced Hollowglide rings a miss is a good judgement call. The combination of the other updates seems to take care of any front shifts just fine. It's a superior shift quality that we would not usually expect from 105-level components.
The only shifting-related gripe is actually not unique to 5700 - it's apparent in all of Shimano's new shift levers. The move to internal cabling seems to add a degree of cable friction, resulting in a heavier shift than we'd like. It's acceptable, but there's room for improvement, especially given it's only going to get worse as the cable condition deteriorates.
Another feature that could improve is reach adjustment. Shimano's shim system, either 5mm or 10mm, just seems like a bit of an afterthought. Arguably it's still effective but some form of grub screw, as found on other manufacturers, seems a better solution.
All this talk of shifting, you'd think the brakes had been forgotten, but not so. Beginning to sound a bit like a broken record, again there are further improvements all round and in line with features used in Ultegra and Dura Ace. Relocating the pivot inside the lever seems to have had the desired effect of helping braking power when your hands are on the hoods. It's never really been a point of contention for me personally, but it would be beneficial for those with smaller hands.
Equally, I've never really had cause to call Shimano's brake caliper performance into question. Historically, they've delivered top rate, predictable braking force, but an improved brake pad compound and adjusted caliper linkage seems to provide even more oomph when you really need to hit the anchors.
In its original 5700 press release Shimano claimed that the average rider would be hard pushed to notice the difference in terms of function compared to its pricier groupsets. Now, having ridden it I'd say I disagree - any rider, not just Mr Average, would be hard pushed to notice any functional discrepancy between 5700 and Shimano's flagship mechanical group.
It's indicative of how the top end drives the technology. With a little bit of patience the end result is it's the lower end that benefits most. The ‘trickle down' effect means that besides the glitz and glamour, the 105 level components are functionally superb and at a price that is hard to believe by comparison - amazingly, cheaper than the current 105 kit, and only about one third of the cost of Dura Ace, where it all began. Pretty outstanding.
So far, with only a month's riding under our belts, longevity has yet to enter the equation but if 5700 is at all like we've come to expect, you can be pretty sure Shimano's got that covered.
This article first appeared in the 3rd June issue of Cycling Weekly. You can subscribe here and have it delivered to your door every Thursday.
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