The Shimano Ultegra groupset is an almost flawless performance product, with lots of Dura-Ace's top technology at more palatable price
Smooth and light shifting
Consistent and reliable braking
We commend Shimano for moving its top-end groupsets closer together because the result is a product as good as Shimano Ultegra at astonishing value.
For this reason we’re awarding Shimano Ultegra a spot on our Editor’s Choice list for the second consecutive year.
Shimano Ultegra R8000: The design
It would 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 now is, do the two perform the same?
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 Shimano Dura-Ace, because it just wants to release the best platforms for the riders and consumers, and we applaud that.
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 Shimano's 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, giving a 1:1 ratio with a compact front setup, and 28mm tyres for the added grip and resilience.
Naturally, the Shimano Ultegra R8000 had to hit its price point. That means glass fibre brackets in the hoods rather than the carbon fibre of Dura-Ace, 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 and is made with a different mould.
All in all, mechanical Ultegra (R8000) is 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".
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.
At this point it should come as no surprise that the mechanical setup is now identical to the Dura-Ace equivalent, this means new cable routing into the front derailleur with a new way of indexing the gears. Equally, the hoods are slim and comfortable to rest on for long periods of time.
If I was to pick out the real stand out piece of the Shimano Ultegra groupset puzzle it would be the rim brakes.
The design has been updated since Shimano Ultegra 6800, and now the brakes, unsurprisingly, look a lot like Shimano Dura-Ac and feature a similar thin metal plate between the brake arms that’s said to improve efficiency.
Having tested both the traditional and direct mount options I’ll happily say that the direct mount brakes offer the best performance. Not just the best performance of the two Shimano brakes however, but the best performance of any rim brake on the market.
The new stoppers are improved in both power and modulation. A squeeze of the lever yields great stopping power but the lever feels good too, and it’s easy to know where you are through the stroke of the brake.
Shimano Ultegra also boasts the same front derailleur design and cable routing as Shimano Dura-Ace. It’s a neat looking design and it offers a light shifting action. There’s also a nifty cable tension adjustment that’ll allow you take any slack over the course of many miles of riding.
The rear derailleur has a stark and angular design and on the rear changes were precise and met with a reassuring clunk.
A note on Shimano Di2 and hydraulic braking
First introduced for Dura-Ace, Shimano’s extensive Di2 technology has trickled its way down to Ultegra.
We’ve found that Shimano has improved its Di2 levers. 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.
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, impressively fast and crisp, shifting with a reassuring clunk.
The Shimano Ultegra R8000 options also get the same top buttons on the hoods, which can be programmed to either shift or switch your Garmin screen. Plus, there's plenty of opportunity to add additional button shifters for sprinting or just a more ergonomic ride.
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.
All this means a greater integration of Syncroshift into your riding, and now with three different settings it's efficient and useful, and you'll never have to cross-chain again.
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 hoods, which sat comfortably in our hands despite being chocked full with the master cylinder and electronics.
Pair this to greater reach and free-stroke adjustment and you’ve got a setup that even the smallest hands can agree with.
Hydraulic braking is powerful and the lever feel makes it easy to scrub off speed without grabbing a handful of brakes as I’ve is the case with SRAM. I have found the Shimano rotors to be prone to warping under high load, especially if not bedded in properly.
>>> See more at Freewheel.co.uk
On a technical level, Shimano Ultegra R8000 is a magnificent piece of work, it works exceptionally and is an improvement in all the right places on the previous model. But we're as equally impressed by Shimano's willingness to produce such quality at the expense of its Dura-Ace groupset, putting the rider first.
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