Shimano 105 vs Ultegra: Is It Worth It To Upgrade?

There comes a time in every road cyclist’s life when it becomes clear* that the quickest way to progress to professional standards of performance is to splash more cash on a random bike component.

(*Not all that clear)

That time occurs before you buy your bike, roughly a week after you’ve bought your bike, then on a weekly basis until you cycle off this mortal coil.

So now is the time to consider whether upgrading from Shimano 105, a perfectly functional bike groupset, to Shimano Ultegra, a perfectly functional bike groupset, will take you from dog-dog to Froome-dog.

It won’t.

But it will be interesting to compare the two. No, it will. Begin!

Note: This post contains affiliate links. If you click and buy something, I get a commission, at no extra cost to you.

Shimano Ultegra vs 105: Which Is Better? (YouTube Edition)

Want to know whether you should upgrade from 105 to Ultegra but can’t be bothered with all these pesky words?

I have a solution for you: I madez a YouTube on the subject. Sit back, relax, neck an energy gel and get ready to talk groupsets.

(And please remember to hit ‘Like’ on the video – it really helps me out with the YouTube algorithm – many fanks).

Now, back to your originally scheduled article…

What Is A Groupset: A Quick Recap

I’ve shown this photo before, but include it again for reasons of laziness.

What is a groupset?

Now a (very) quick canter through the different elements of the groupset:

  • Crankset / chainset – the bit the pedals attach to – chain rings, cranks – that sort of thing;
  • Derailleurs – the bits that move the chain between the different chainrings (at the front) and the various cogs of the cassette (at the back);
  • Shifters – attached to the handlebars – the bit you manipulate with your hands;
  • Cassette – the bit in the middle of your back wheel – lots of teeth;
  • Chain – the, er, chain…

You get the idea.

If you want more of an idea then this article provides a pretty comprehensive overview of the various groupsets on the market.

Where In The Range (And Some Naming Conventions)

If Dura-Ace is the top of Shimano’s range of groupsets for road bikes (don’t worry, it is), Ultegra occupies second place in the list; 105 is third.

(For completeness, Tiagra is next, followed by Sora and Claris. These are also the middle names of my daughters.)

I think what I’m about to write is something of a cyclo-cliché, but that has never stopped me before, so… 105 is the first of Shimano’s “serious” or “proper” groupsets.

Tiagra and below, despite being perfectly adequate for your first few sportives (probably all your sportives) and for your daily commute, should be eschewed in favour of 105 or Ultegra as soon as your functional threshold power hits 150W.

Or something like that.

Even Shimano makes the distinction, with this little grey line on its website:

Shimano road groupset range

In truth, what tends to happen is that you get your first road bike and it comes with whatever it comes with (in my case it was a ragtag set of Campagnolo and Miche components). You finally succumb to the rule of n+1 and you start looking for your first ‘proper’ road bike. Then you start looking into gears a bit more. And you end up getting a bike with 105.

You gaze adoringly at your clean-shiftin’ 105 drivetrain for a couple of years… and then start to wonder, “Would I be faster-stronger-sexier if I had Ultegra on my bike?”. And so the world turns.

We Really Wanna See Those (Model) Numbers

If you want to become a Shimano knowledge-sensai, you need to be aware that there is a number that corresponds to each named groupset (okay, need is a strong word).

I imagine there is some sophisticated reason why these numbers are there (like, I don’t know, maybe to identify all the individual components within a given set). It’s most helpful in working out which generation of a given groupset you have/you’re buying.

Shimano Ultegra R8000 groupset
This, amigos, is an Ultegra R8000 groupset (the rim brake version)

This was all quite straightforward (okay somewhat straightforward), until Shimano started adding an ‘R’ at the beginning of some of them, and I got a bit befuddled.

Anyway, to aid comprehension, here’s a little table I knocked up to show the range numbers of the current and prior generations of top end Shimano groupsets:

Shimano road groupset model range generation table

The dates show the ‘model year’ for when each new generation was launched. Unhelpfully, Shimano released products for, say, 2018, in mid-2017, so there might be the odd inaccuracy. Still, it gives the general direction of travel (i.e. we’re probably due an update of the Dura Ace range next).

You want to take care when buying individual components (e.g. replacement parts, a cassette with different gear ratios), that they’re compatible with the gear bits (technical term) that you’ve already got.

If You Want Electronic …

… Then you gotta get Ultegra.

(Which I reckon is a song lyric waiting to be put to music*).

(*By Kraftwerk, if there’s any justice in the world).

For the time being, only Ultegra and it’s pro-sibling Dura-Ace have electronic rather than mechanical gear shifts. Rather than you changing gear physically by pulling on (or releasing) a cable, electronic shifting uses little motors attached to the front and rear derailleurs in order to make the changes.

Ultegra Di2 vs mechanical front derailleur

The electro-versions of Ultegra and Dura-Ace have Di2 added at the end of their names to make it clear that no cables are required (though unlike SRAM’s wireless eTAP electronic system, Shimano does still require the use of wires).

The origin story of the term Di2 is shrouded in mystery…. (okay, I couldn’t be bothered to Google what it stands for).

Since I know you were all particularly taken by the concept of each groupset have a name and a number, Ultegra Di2 is also known by its East German spy code of R8050.

And yes, Dura-Ace Di2 is R9150 (it doesn’t take an Enigma machine to work out the pattern – although the fact that the prior generation used ’70’ to denote Di2 means perhaps you do need some codebreaking nouse).

Will Shimano 105 Get Di2?

Well, when Di2 first came out, initially for Dura-Ace then followed by Ultegra, it seemed a reasonable bet to say that 105 would be next in line for electrification.

But the thing is, that all occurred in the previous generation of these two groupsets. Shimano didn’t come out with a ‘105 Di2 5870’. 105 stayed firmly mechanical.

And then the next generation of Dura-Ace and Ultegra came out (i.e. the current ones), again with Di2 options.

Now we find ourselves with R7000 (the current 105) as Shimano’s most recent update (of this higher-end trifecta), and people talking about Dura-Ace being due the next upgrade. No sign of a R7050.

Maybe, for once, the trickledown effect of high spec features gradually moving down the price spectrum won’t apply in the case of 105 electrification.

Given I’m more Nosferatu than Nostradamus, this probably means that 105 Di2 is going to be announced tomorrow.

What Price/Spec Of Bike Gets 105 Versus Ultegra

My bike is a Trek Domane 4.3 (the 2013 version), which at the time cost £1,800. It came with a full Shimano 105 groupset (5700 – model range number fans).

At the time, this was probably at the top end of what you would pay for a carbon frame with 105. Pay a couple of hundred quid more and you’d be into Ultegra territory.

Shimano 105 R7000 Groupset
And this is an R7000 105 groupset

It’s no longer as clear cut. Whether a bike has disc or rim brakes affects price quite considerably. Other features (frame, wheelset) can move the price point of the whole range, independent of groupset.

Case in point, the Trek Domane range is no longer a good example – whatever tech they’ve put into it means the frame is quite expensive and savings are made by speccing the equivalent bike to mine (the SL4) with some Tiagra components.

Speaking to a few data points in the ‘endurance bike’ category (all of which are carbon frames):

  • The Giant Defy Advanced 2020 model costs £1,949 ($2,514) with Shimano 105 and £2,199 ($2,837) with Ultegra (£250 difference for the hard of mathing);
  • Canyon’s Endurace CF SL Disc 7.0 with Shimano 105 is £2,099 ($2,708) and the Ultegra-equipped Endurace CF SL Disc 8.0 is £2,699 ($3,482).
  • The Cannondale Synapse Carbon 105 2021 model costs £2,200 ($2,838) whilst the Ultegra version is £2,700 ($3,483);
  • Specialized Roubaix Sport (with 105) costs £2,750 ($3,548); the Roubaix Comp (Ultegra) comes in at £3,500 ($4,515).

(For the USD prices, I just converted the UK prices at $1.29:£1 to give an indication. Showing the actual prices just complicates things further.)

See, I told you it wasn’t clear but. You get some idea of the relative costs though. The Giant Defy is probably the cleanest example of the 105-Ultegra cost differential, with the specifications on the two bikes otherwise being very similar, if not identical. Canyon, Cannondale and Specialized upgrade other components as you move up the range (wheels, for instance).

It’s worth noting that some bike makers do an aluminium-framed version of their end above bikes, fitted with Shimano 105. This brings the entry price point for a bike with the 105 groupset down considerably. By way of example, the Cannondale Synapse (non-carbon) 105 costs £1,300. You won’t generally see Ultegra specified on aluminium frames.

Aesthetics (Or Does 105 Look As Nice As Ultegra?)

Well, have a squiz at the full groupset images above. There’s really nothing in it.

Because they’re both in the current ‘design generation’ (is that what we’d call it), they both share the modern-looking chunky crank design.

Shimano 105 R7000 vs Ultegra R8000 cranksets

Purists might point to a little more finesse in the Ultegra front and rear derailleur, but there’s not much in it. And I am not a purist.

Shoot me down if you like, but I’m erring towards the 105 in terms of looks. I think I prefer the proportions of the crankset. The 105 has a bit more ‘heft’.

So Which Is Better? (FIGHT!)

Ah, the million dollar £500 (or $700) question.

The answer is Ultegra. The question is whether the difference is worth the money.

Clearly if you want electronic shifting, then Ultegra is, for now, your only option.

The consensus amongst the online cyclo-rati is that there’s not much in it. Indeed, the recent upgrade of 105 from 5800 to R7000 makes it even more comparable to Ultegra, performance wise.

Wait, Does Shimano 105 Weigh More Than Ultegra?

Why yes friend, it does. But also, friend, it doesn’t matter.

The different combos of what might comprise your chosen groupset (e.g disc brakes versus rim) makes trying to come up with a useful summary very difficult.

I’m sure a scouring of the internet would allow you to add up the weight of each individual component. In summary, both of them weigh about 2.5kg.

The difference is approximately 200g (i.e. 105 weighs 200g more, all else being equal), which in the grand scheme of anything other than pro cycling is kind of irrelevant.

Lose your belly then we can talk.

Price Difference: Ultegra versus 105

This is also something of a moot point.

Most full groupsets are bought in conjunction with a new bike. If that’s you, then you’ll be more interested in the price point of the full bike, which I’ve discussed above.

I’ve had a go at summarising the supposed recommended prices for the various current (R8000/R7000) Ultegra and 105 options in this table. Healthy disclaimer though – the prices seem a bit all over the place. Also, as before, I’ve just converted the GBP prices to USD.

105 vs Ultegra price comparison table

Don’t worry though (who you calling worried?), the actual prices you’ll need to pay are substantially lower if you decide to build up a bike from scratch. They’re available from ‘the internet’ in some cases for less than half the recommended price.

Should You Upgrade From Shimano 105 to Ultegra On A Piecemeal Basis?

In other words, when a 105 component wears out on your bike, should you take opportunity to upgrade to Ultegra?

Assuming you’re working across compatible families, this is certainly possible.

I’ve done this myself, with my 10-speed 105 5700 groupset. When I knackered the front derailleur, I replaced it with the equivalent Ultegra version (10-speed 6700). Then I probably bought an Ultegra cassette and maybe an Ultegra 10-speed chain (my memory is a little hazy). I stopped short of replacing the rear derailleur or the shifters.

This is quite an expensive way of doing things: an extra £20-30 per component soon adds up. And like a cyclist in a pan of gradually heating water, you don’t really notice each incremental improvement. All the more so if the new component’s improved performance is held back by an otherwise, ahem, moderately maintained drivetrain.

For what it’s worth, if you’re looking for a noticeable improvement in shifting quality, a full overhaul at your current groupset (be that 105 or whatever) will give you the best bang for your buck.

Domane rebuild new cables

I just did this on my Domane – new cables, cassette, chain, brake pads and chain rings – recorded in this series of YouTube videos – and the improvement has been amazing. Way more noticeable than when I upgraded the front derailleur from 105 to Ultegra (I’ve now gone back to 105-only on the Domane).

So Where Does This Leave Us?

None the wiser, that’s where. Well, perhaps a little bit wiser.

I’ll certainly be thinking about getting Ultegra on my next bike. But I’m deluded and believe that this might make me a better cyclist.

I’m also from Yorkshire and therefore have deep pockets and short arms. This outweighs my ‘better equipment better cyclist’ delusions.

I’ll probably stick with 105 on the basis that the 11-speed R7000 version offers a significant upgrade versus the 10-speed 5700 that is on my current Domane.

That said, if I ever feel that getting electronic gear shifting is an absolute must – perhaps you count yourself in this category –  then clearly Ultegra is the only choice (assuming I/you don’t have Dura-oodles of cash for the top of the range alternative).

Where Do We Go From Gear?

Which is a mangled sub-heading if ever there was one.

Gravel, or adventure, cycling seems to be a la mode right now. Shimano even has its own dedicated gravel groupset (gr-oupset… no, wait, that hasn’t worked).

Anyway, check out my comparison of the Shimano GRX groupset with 105. You won’t regret it.

I’ve also done a Shimano 105 vs Tiagra comparison, if that floats your leg boats.

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.

42 thoughts on “Shimano 105 vs Ultegra: Is It Worth It To Upgrade?”

  1. Ooh, I seem to be first. Well, I have both – the current iteration of 105 on my Cannondale winter bike and Ultegra on my summer carbon Vitus jobby. I’m no Froome-dog and I’ve only returned to cycling reasonably seriously in the last 3 years but my experience is that there’s little between them (unless, of course you want the electronic do-dah). The newest 105 is very slick and, I suspect, the best value of all Shimano groupsets for serious cyclists. The only gain I can see from upgrading needlessly (ie you haven’t knackered something in your existing set-up) is that Ultegra seems to have a certain cache that is lacking from the ‘lesser'(?) groupsets. Whether that’s important, one must judge for oneself.

  2. I think that by comparing complete groupsets you are doing everyone a disfavor. I too have a Domane 4.3 but 2014 model. It came with 105. I would spend my money getting a comfortable frame with 105 components. As things wear, replace them with a higher grade chain and cassette. Spend the money you save by upgrading the wheelset.
    If you ride significant miles you eventually start replacing components as maintenance items. Once your chain is at .75% wear replace it. Replace your cassette every two chains. That is how I started. The chain became an Ultegra and then the chain and cassette did. Chain only showed very little change, but the new chain and cassette had a very noticeable improvement. I subsequently found a decent deal on used Di2 electronics and was able to slap them on. There was no improvement in performance but the fun factor increased. I found it helped me because my hands are arthritic and it really relieved the pain going to larger cogs. After about 17,000 miles I felt it was time for the chainset and bottom bracket to be replaced and I went with Ultegra at that time – did not notice any change in performance. Still have the 105 calipers, so I think that is the only remnant of the original groupset.
    You talked about wheels and I strongly agree that lighter wheels make a huge performance and fun improvement. That would be the first major upgrade for me. I purchased a used set of Dura-Ace and have well over 10,000 miles on them now. I had to have the front retuned about 750 miles ago. Also I recently came across a used set of Zipp 404s which I bought. I’ve only tried a couple of rides with them and find they accelerate quicker than the DAs but climbing is about the same. The Zipps are deep dish carbon. The Zipps are 2 oz heavier than the DAs. All dressed up with tires and cassettes both sets come in under 6 #.

  3. My summer bike is all Ultegra, and my winter bike has 105 shifters, mechs and an RS500 crankset. I do think the Ultegra runs slightly quieter and shifts slightly more smoothly, but both seem equally durable (2500 miles on each). Side by side, the Ultegra materials look more premium.

    My advice would be to focus on the frame and get as much 105 on there or better at the start, though I believe RS500 cranks are comparable to 105. Consider Ultegra as parts wear out, bearing in mind there is little reason to change brakes and shifters due to wear so it’s worth ensuring they are what you want at the start. I think the best non-wear upgrade is wheels.

    Just a quick note about brakes: I read recently that while Ultegra were the highest rated rim brakes, 105 use the same mechanical action and should perform the same (I can’t compare as my winter bike has discs).

  4. The 105 5800 groupset I bought complete with wheels and tyres for £230 was a real bargain and I found that overall it performed better than my ultegra 6700 groupset except that the brakes are not as well finished. But the shifting was better but I was disappointed with the wheels shimano still do cones and cups for wheel bearings, and the cassette freewheel had lots of play .

    My other wheelsets use proper cartridge bearings all round and never need adjustment, so for my next project (another titanium frame) I will buy up a new just taken off a bike 105 groupset and try and find some good used wheels

    • It’s one extra. And it lets one run a larger range cassette. I know because like a jackass I went my traditional 12-25 on my new 11sp cassette and I basically have a 1 tooth jump between cogs. Seriously, how practical is that? It means a lot of constant shifting and often over two cogs. A 12-28 would have been far more practical and although I don’t think I “need” the 28, I do live in a very hilly area and would have embraced the spin if I had that smaller gear. But the extra ‘spacing; between cogs would have been nice.

      There are a lot of new bikes out there with 30 and 32 tooth largest cogs. It might not look traditional hard core but it screams common sense. Just my 2c.

    • As Jantzen says it is only one extra gear.
      I ride a 10s but many of the people I ride with have 11s. There does not seem to be a great deal of difference between the two. 11s is the newest and will have spare and replacement parts available longer, and that, I believe is the biggest advantage. That being said I think my 10s can last my lifetime (I’m 65 now) plus many years. I live and ride in the Sierra foothills and San Francisco Bay area, so I can use all the help gearing will give me. Presently my bike has a 40 cog with a compact 50-34 crank. The 40 cog is aftermarket, and I took out the 11 cog to make it work. The cassette started as a Deore XT 11-36. The derailleur started as a Ultegra di2 (small cage) which is modified with a Deore long cage. Not all these mods are available with 11s yet. Anyways parts are readily available now for the 10s option.
      Starting with a 105 group is a good idea. As things wear you can upgrade to Ultegra if you want, or you can experiment with changes. The key thing is to enjoy what your bike and to make it comfortable for you. Many are going to disk brakes. I avoid riding in the rain so the added braking power is not something I look for, but you may consider.

  5. I agree with Jack, start with selecting a frame on a good bike. If that’s 105, fine. Then as things start to wear out upgrade. I did that with a Cannondale and eventually it was 95% Ultegra, the bottom bracket just kept on turning. I will note that my current bike is Ultegra, I got it 2 years back. I remember when test riding bikes that the Ultegra shifters “felt” better than the 105. However I suspect that the 105 would have been fine for many years of fun and excitement.

  6. Thanks for the article, it came at the right time for me as I am looking for a new bike and still ponder between 105 and Ultegra….
    As you discuss only 11 speed groupsets, my question is about upgrading from 105 10s to 105 11s or even Ultegra 11s? Is any of the upgrades worth? I am a beginner/intermediate riding a Specialized Elite 2014 Hybrid.
    The bike I am looking at is a Pinarello Razha K from 2013 (still new as per the store manager) with 105 5700/Most.
    I am also looking at a Colnago CLX 3.0 Ultegra 2015. Can anyone comment on how the 2 compare?
    I appreciate your comments :-)

    • Buy the bike that is most comfortable for you.
      Regarding 10s vs 11s you likely won’t notice a difference. Most of the change allows closer gearing in the middle of the cassette. Of course the chain is also thinner in 11s. 11s is the new norm and you will be able to easily get parts further into the future than 10s. I would guess you’ll be able to find 10s parts for many years to come. You should check that the rear wheel can be used with both 10s and 11s – this will only come into play if you decide to change later from 10s to 11s. 10s 105 or Ultegra can be used with XT deore cassettes (sometimes derailleur needs to be changed) and this can allow expanded gear ratios for climbing. As far as I know 11s road and mtn are not interchangeable. These are just some points to consider.
      IMHO 105 vs Ultegra should not play a determining factor in your decision. The marginal upgrade in performance does not justify the significant higher cost. When you are due for chain and cassette replacement switch to ultegra.

      • Thanks Jack for your comments, I appreciate it!
        I am much inclined to go with the current 105 10s configuration and leave more expensive upgrades for later. Might upgrade though to S105 11s now if the price delta is acceptable. And the wheel doesn’t work with 11s.

        • Hello! I am trying to choose between a 2015 Cannodale CAAD 10 105 for $1100 or a Cannondale CAAD 10 with Ultegra for $1750. I found the upgraded bike at a local shop and the other bike I found online and the person is willing to ship to me for free. I am not certain if I should spend the money now for the upgraded bike. Any help or advise is greatly appreciated. Thank you

          • What is your skill level and how much riding will you do? The better you are and the more you ride the more you would appreciate the upgraded bike.
            I assume both bikes are 10s.
            Buying from a Local Bike Shop has a value because you’ll be given preferential treatment over someone off the street when you go in for subsequent work. I assume the bike from the LBS is new and the online one used. Again a value to the LBS. If the upgraded bike has upgraded wheels that is a big value. Make sure the upgraded bike has the full Ultegra group – crankset, bottom bracket, chain, brakes, shifters, cassette.
            I assume both bikes are the same size and you are sure the size is correct for you; this is even more important than group.
            If the upgraded bike is 11s and the online one 10s there is a slight value to the LBS bike.
            The upgrade from 105 to Ultegra is incremental from component to component and much can be done as parts wear because parts are interchangeable.
            If it were me, and once again assuming the online bike is used, I would go with the Local Bike Shop. If both bikes are new I would take the information to your LBS and see if they would reduce their price 2-300 or if that embarrasses you just get the online one. If the online bike seller accepts returns if their description is incorrect and pays return shipping then that is a value in their favor.
            Hope this helps and is only my opinion.

          • Jack thank you so much for you advise, I do greatly appreciate it. Both bikes are new and and both had 22 gears. The bike at $1750 is a size 52 and the bike online at $1100.00 is size 54. The bike online for $1100.00 includes shipping and any fees. The bike at $1750.00 will have tax added to that price. I am on the fence on paying up if it’s not too big of a difference. I have been searching for awhile and my head is spinning. I have been looking at carbon fiber, Trek, Specialized and Cannondale…there’s so MANY options. I started my search last year and it was so overwhelming I just said forget it.
            Currently I am riding a 20 year old mountain bike on paved trails. Right now I ride about 20-30 miles 2-3 days a week. I am hoping to increase both miles and how many times per week, possibly to join a riding group as well. Thank you for any advise I greatly appreciate it.

          • My two cents worth. Size is most important of the factors you mentioned. I suggest you go to a different bike shop, tell them you are just shopping but not ready to buy and you want to try size 54 and 52 bikes to see which is more comfortable. If one is more comfortable than the other go with that size. If they both seem about the same goes with the smaller size. It is easy to change a couple of components later to make the bike feel like a larger size. You are not riding great distances yet, and you don’t want a poorly fitted bike to destroy your riding enjoyment.

  7. Having ridden both 105 and Ultegra (currently riding Ultegra) I can say, that from my experience that Ultegra:

    – gears runs more smoothly when changing gears (especially on hills) compared to 105
    – feels stiffer than 105
    – brakes better than 105

    But not on a huge margin.

    And I am comparing 105 5700 with Ultegra the Ultegra 6800. I suspect the difference will be smaller when comparing to 5800.

    Ultegra is better than 105 – no doubt about that. But on a limited budget I would prioritize:

    – Frame (really the most important decision)
    – Wheels
    – Saddle
    – Groupset (and I could easily live with 105 5800)

    The upgrade groupset parts as they become worn out.

  8. Hey Andrew,
    Thanks for this comparison. When it comes to purchasing a gift for our babies, nothing says I love you like a new groupo. As we spend more time on the bike and rack up the miles, it makes sense to upgrade assuming your bike fit is dialed in.
    In my experience, the upgrade from 105 to ultegra was significant. If you are just getting started, it will not make a difference. As we begin to understand what we like and what we don’t like, after that 10,000 shift, we begin to appreciate ulegra and it’s smoothness.
    Does the weight make a difference? Absolutely not. Let’s all make a commitment to lose a pound or two around our bellies. There is your performance increase right there!
    And the price. Well, let’s face it. As much as we may protest, we enjoy purchasing gifts for our bikes.
    I agree, when you are ready, or when your bike is ready, make the leap to ultegra.
    Thanks Andrew.

  9. To take a left-field view on all this; people are talking of buying a different sized bike, to get Ultegra, but the most important this is how the bike fits you. A post by Monty from a year or two talked about a custom bike fitting service and that really struck me: for $30-400 you are measured with lasers to ensure the perfect bike fit. This has the potential to maximise comfort and, most importantly, performance far more than by choosing one iteration or another of Shimano’s group sets.

    A final point is that it is well known that last year’s Ultegra is effectively this year’s 105, so a two year old bike with Ultegra is likely to be equal, perhaps inferior to the current model 105. I have tried this myself and can vouch for it.

    In the meantime I’ll go back to my heavy, but rugged Diverge that is probably 6 pounds heavier than most of your bikes, and still runs well on Sora ;-)

  10. The heavier groupset will make you stronger because it’s heavier, then later when you upgrade to the lighter more expensive groupset you’ll be stronger and faster. But saying that loosing a few kg/s would be the cheaper option.

  11. That was many words, but I missed the part of describing how 105 performs differently from Ultegra apart from the weight. I’ve got full Ultegra 6800 11 speed, mostly because I bought a year-end clearance Giant for $200 less than my LBS was selling a Domane with 105 10 speed. I doubt I can tell the difference as I’ve only been riding recreationally (75-100 miles weekly) for 2 years. Can you include more on how these two group sets perform?

  12. I have a Scott Speedster FL20 with 105 for 2 years and already run through 2 chains and continue to have chain slipping when running the front smaller gear and on the 12, 13, 14 on the rear cassette. I’m thinking this is wear on those rear gears. Given that, thinking that I would need to replace the cassette, I thought I might upgrade to the Ultegra, along with the derailleur and chain.

    Do you think it would be worth it? Seems the cost for the Ultegra set is within 20% of getting 105s.

    • Has this been happening since new or is it a recent development? Chains and cassettes wear out a lot faster than derailleurs. Also the cables stretch. Go to your bike shop and have them check the chain and the derailleur alignment. Both are very quick checks. The alignment is a quick adjustment.
      If your chain is at or very close to 0.75% stretched change it. If it is over 1% change the chain and cassette.
      Also have them check the chain length. If your this has been happening since new possibly the chain is too long or the B screw needs adjustment. If it is on the long side for your set up talk to them about removing a link. One test I use is to go small/small on the gears – if the chain becomes noticeably slack the chain is too long.
      Have you ever dropped the bike and possibly bent the derailleur or hanger? If not then they are likely ok and I wouldn’t change them.
      Assuming all you have are wear and maintenance issues I would upgrade the chain and cassette to Ultegra and keep the derailleur.

    • Sorry, I missed the part about already having gone through 2 chains when I posted my first reply. My guess is that your chain is too long, and/or you have a bent hanger or derailleur. Before changing anything I would look for the real problem. Unless your derailleur is bent I wouldn’t change it.

      If your bike shop doesn’t find anything wrong, try having them shorten the chain by one pair of links. This assumes that you are able to go big/big with the shortened chain.

      Once you find the problem change the chain and cassette then adjust alignment and the B screw.

  13. Its time to cut the crap. If you like to show off with your Ultegra with its shinier finish fine. (Harry Enfield I’m considerably richer than you). If you think 70g weight difference in shifters the pair (5800-6800) is going to make you faster than me good. talk of slightly crisper shifting, smoother shifting, faster, easier shifting or difference in durability has me laughing. you could be deluding yourself because you spent all that extra money and would feel a fool if there was no functional difference. what does this turd know I hear you say to yourself in your head.
    well I’ve had 5800 shifters apart next to 6800 shifters, I mean totally apart like they’re not supposed to. There is zero difference in any of the moving parts in shape or function. they appear to be made of the same materials also but I haven’t done a Vickers hardness test. there is no difference that would give rise to a different shifting experience in reality (I studied mechanical engineering degree level at university, I have reasonably trained opinion I think). The sole differences I can see are a different plastic material in the bodies (the shape is identical) and composite plastic levers instead of aluminium alloy. superficial difference in the lever tops which I would guess is to stop you from putting Ultegra nameplates on 105 levers. I can’t help thinking the rest of the poopset is along similar lines.
    For function or longevity is it worth the price, can’t be as they’re the same. If you want to go faster get a bigger engine (legs).

    • me back, ive got sneaking suspicion the the only difference in the tiagra 4700 mechanism is 10 teeth on the ratchet instead of 11. as far as my eyes can reach looking in a shop display I cant see any difference in the exposed parts of the mechanism. it would cost shimano more to have different production lines than to just put the same parts in several levers it would cost more to make the cheaper levers cheaper. ultegra-change a couple of materials to save a haircut in weight, tiagra-put 10 teeth on the ratchet wheel instead of 11.

  14. i’m considering a Cannondale Slate. It’s considered a “new road” bike, both the 105 and Ultegra versions have hydraulic disc brakes (yay) the one in 105 comes in a puke green, while the Ultegra comes in a muted grey.

    in addition to that, the Brake/Shift hoods on the 105 have a wierd ergonomic feel to them. like a silly hump for your thumbs to get annoyed by.

    that being said, i’m only looking at the ultegra model because of the “better” color option, and the ergonomic design . how stupid is that?

  15. I changed shifters from 5700 105 to 4700 Tiagara keeping the 10 speed drive train. Dreraillers had to be changed to match the shifter. I sold the old parts. So it was a 35£ side grade. But two huge advantages. Precise shifting and much better ergonomics. The 5700 105, 6700 ultegra shifter design was horribly uncomfortable and the reason I changed. The shifting is so precise you don’t need Di2 and that was a bonus.

  16. Not sure if anyone is still active on this post or not, but thought I’d give it a try. I have an aluminum Specialized and now upgrading to carbon. I happened to run into a 2015 Cannondale Synapse 3 the other day, for $2150. I didn’t love it, but did like the price and the components. Today I found a 2017 Trek Silque 5 (I am female) for $2000 but love the color and the frame seems more comfortable. I can tell the components aren’t as “shiny” but almost felt more at home with the 105.
    In reading all these comments one sticks out to me — yesterdays ultegra (i.e. the 2015 Cannondale) is today’s 105 (the 2017 Trek). Is that the case? If it is, I like the look of the Trek more but keep wanting the Cannondale because it has more expensive components and wheelset!
    Any opinions?

    I ride about 80-150 miles a week June – October and hope to do some century rides.
    Thank you!

    • LJ, yes, still here by default I think. Your logic is impeccable and it is exactly what manufacturers want you to think; whether it be a bike, a car or a computer. The perception of ‘better’ is is always what fuels sales of higher end products.

      There has been plenty of discussion here on the differences (or non-differences) in components, so whether there is any genuine performance difference between the two product lines is a matter for conjecture.

      I say go with your heart, not your wallet. Go with what looks best to you and the one that is the most comfortable.

      • Thanks Nick! That’s the thing – the price is almost the same but the 2015 has Ultegra and the 2017 has 105. Which I suppose makes sense since one is two years old (but is new).

        My real question is this – are the 2015 Ultegra parts close to the 2017 105 parts? :) If so, I like the 105 bike more.

        So true about what you wrote, seems the Ultegra make a difference for racing and for “looks” to be in the elite crowd. Which I am part of neither!

        • I am very happy to be corrected, but from my understanding of Shimano, and what I have seen posted here, this year’s Ultegra are next year’s 105 – so the 2017 105 should equal (or exceed?) the 2015 Ultegra.

          I’m certainly not elite and with the roads in our area, I ride a Diverge that is 2Kg+ heavier than most road bikes :-(

    • It looks like because of the way this is written / appearance on Google that a lot of newer cyclists are taking “yesterdays Ultegra is today’s 105” literally. This should not be the case.

      That expression doesn’t come from literal year, but from model year. Ever since Shimano finally succeeded with index shifting in the 1984, real improvements in groupsets start at the highest end and then trickle down the component line as models are REFRESHED. (Fun fact, Shimano put index shifting first in entry level models pre-1984, it was an abysmal failure until they put it in their top of the line Dura-Ace). Since the model years overlap, Shimano maintains the difference in overlapping years in the form of weight (use slightly different metals/parts on the largest pieces to save weight) and finish (higher groupsets will look nicer and follow finishing trends/colors from the pro-peloton) as well as staggering the technology changes.

      So, for instance, in the article, 11 speed first appears in 2012 in Dura-Ace (9000), then a year later in Ultegra (6800), and then two years later in 105 (5800) and has yet to appear in the Tiagra line (presumably the 4800). Similarly, electronic shifting (Di2) first appears in 2009 (7970), then two years later in Ultegra (6770, but with 10 speed only), and still has yet to appear in the 105 (presumably with the 5870 or 5970). I could probably look up when they changed the crank from 5 bolt to 4 bolt or when they changed the bottom bracket design to have outboard bearings and see a similar trend. These real differences matter because many parts need to change/are incompatible between these lines (for instance from 10-11 speed, you need a thinner chain, new cassette, new rear derailleur, freehub body, and brake/shifter levers, though the crank/chainrings are compatible though Shimano will tell you otherwise). The same trend is appearing in hydraulic disc brakes and changes to the electronic shifting (current model Shimano hydraulic disc brakes are not attached to any groupset, the first groupset to get its own disc brakes will be Dura-Ace).

      What this means is that in the example above the 2017 105 “parts” is the SAME “parts” as 2014 5800 ones, while the 2015 Ultegra is the SAME parts as 2013 6800. Right now other than 200g and some reviewer claims that the rim brakes are better, the only real difference is the available of electronic shifting with the Ultegra 6870 which can be ignored in the case of this commenter.

      Since those are a couple years apart, the difference is EXACTLY what the article is about (comparing Ultegra 6800 to 105 5800). The difference between BIKE model years is in the frame colors, sometimes the changes in a couple parts, and every so often a major frame redesign (in the specific example the Trek Silque 2017 model has Trek’s “IsoSpeed” decoupler applied to the headtube). Shes also comparing two different model bicycles (an endurance carbon bike from Cannondale with a women’s specific endurance carbon bike from Trek).

      In the case of LJ’s specific example, it’s pretty easy to decide: just ride both and then choose the one she likes more, since she is comparing two complete bikes with different designs. The frame geometry, design, and sizing/fit is going to matter more than the components (which is not that much weight and mostly the finish), the only exception is that if the Cannondale Synapse happens to be a disc brake version (in 2015, Canondale made both in the Synapse line).

      • Thank you for your reply. I did read that about the span being more than an actual year. This was all very helpful, and gives me some more information to consider before making my choice!

  17. Hey all, Thank you for your contributions. Of the the articles on the web, this one answered my question best about whether or not I’d made a mistake by purchasing a new Cannondale Synapse with 105 after 24 years of riding two bikes that had, in succession, a 1993 model bike with Shimano 600 (which I believe became Ultegra the next year) and just plain Ultra on my 2004 model bike. My local REI (US cooperative outdoor equipment chain of stores) priced the one I ordered at $1799, a ridiculously low price, and an expert there said I’d be surprised at how good the model 105 group-set is nowadays, and that I’d probably not be disappointed.

    Back in the day, there was a big difference in smoothness of shifting, also weight between the groupsets. Also braking performance and feel, which of course is really important over the long haul.

    I surmise that, compared to my 2004 Litespeed Titanium, which has about 22,000 miles and thus has lost some of its comfort to metal fatigue, I will probably not notice much difference between my 13 to 14 year old Ultegra set and the current 105 set in any of the above areas (definitely not in weight, since my Ti has a triple X 9 gear setup).

    That said, i will report back when I get some conclusive impressions.

    I certainly saved enough to replace the brakes if I feel they are really inferior on the 105 compared to what I am used to.

    Now will I ever like Carbon as much as Titanium? That’s another question, and something I’m, going to find out (and REI gives you a few months to try it out, then you can still return it, thus my snapping up the bargain price without having a bike there to try out on the spot-REI is a seriously great company!!)

    That I am still asking these questions at age 66, and still riding at least 2K miles a year while working full time tells you how great a sport biking is!!

  18. So I recently picked up a 1991 Cannondale SR800 that is wearing 105 (1055). The front caliper is nearly hosed, so looking to upgrade, and for $90 shipped I can have Ultegra 8600 calipers. The bike was originally 600 Ultegra, so would be a nifty trick to upgrade to an Ultegra drivetrain over the long haul. That said, my bike is setup for 126mm dropouts and is a 7 gear rear with downtube shifters. What model Ultegra can I upgrade to as parts begin to fail? I don’t mind spending $90 for calipers…the best brakes you can buy is never a bad choice in my opinion.

  19. Some misc thoughts: Titanium frames are essentially permanent; ie, there is actually zero measurable loss of resilience over time, especially from the miniscule stresses a bike frame feels, compared to radical loads of say an airplane. If you feel a difference, it is a placebo effect. My soft tail Ti mtb is going on 17 years, and the flexing chainstays move hundreds of thousands of times with no apparent change. Fatigue would show as a ‘set’ as a permanent sag, simply not there at all. Aluminum would have snapped long ago, with any flexing at all. The dents also reveal how many carbon frames might have been trashed in those years. Keep the road Ti, forever.
    Components have generally improved, but not across the board equally. Pedals are lighter, wider, and Shimano bearings have never failed me. The earlier SPD-SL (three-bolt style) pedals had flat plastic plates that can be replaced for like .99, but of course Ultegra were slightly different shape from the Dura-ace, so you needed to clip a corner off first-trivial. The newest all have stainless plates which should last much longer, but again look different on each model, a totally cosmetic aspect that pisses me off, and so far I have NOT found these plates to be available separately; cleats being plastic should wear first, but another quibble with the designers and the young customers who never experienced old school parts that could actually be serviced and rebuilt.

    • Yup you’re exactly right but I there’s one thing to keep in mind with “keeping a frame forever”. I had a Cannondale 2.8 from the mid 90’s. OK, it was aluminum, but I don’t ride that hard to cause frame issues : ) After 10 or so years I upgraded from low end 105 to Ultegra and things were excellent. Then another 10 years pass by and it’s time again, the right shifter wasn’t shifting that smooth anymore. But, by then it was 11 speed all around and the rear fork distance has move out a couple of millimeters. So I was faced with buying 10 speed stuff that was fast becoming obsolete and impossible to service or a new bike. New bike it was.

      There has to be a limit to rear wheel spacing and a limit to the number of gears that are useful. Maybe 11 speed is it. I’ll know in 10 or 20 years!

  20. I’m a little late getting in on this, but I just got a bike with Ultegra 6800, and wanted to chime in. I also have a cross bike with 105 5800, so I can give an honest comparison. The only thing I can’t speak to is the 105 brakeset, since I have Avid disc brakes on the cross bike. I can say, though, that the Ultegra brakes are amazing. My last bike had a Dura Ace 10-speed groupset, and the Ultegra brakes are better than those. They take very little effort to stop, yet they don’t catch bad enough to throw you over the bars.

    As far as everything else, the difference between the 6800 and 5800 is negligible except for the rear derailleur and shifter. The front derailleur, shifter, crank, shifting force, noise, etc., are indistinguishable (unless you took them off and put them on a scale). The rear is a different story. The 105’s tend to be less consistent when shifting. Sometimes it’ll change immediately, with hardly any noise, sometimes there will be a slight delay and a definite clunk when it goes. With the Ultegra’s, it is almost always an immediate shift and just enough feedback to know it went, but not enough to be annoying. The shifter also feels much tighter with the Ultegra. The lever throw seems a little shorter, and it is harder to miss a shift, especially going up the cassette. Overall, I would say the Ultegra are comparable to the 10-speed Dura Ace, if not even slightly better (especially braking). It’s definitely my favorite groupset I’ve ever owned, and I’ve had a lot. If you have to go 105 for the cost, you won’t be disappointed, but it is definitely worth it to think about upgrading the rear derailleur and possibly the levers.

  21. your daughters names are Sora and claris.. Nice.. and you are a good writer.

    For me I bought 105 sets because of the price point.. They update every few years so I just replace them when new sets come out. I’m not a pro rider and I just use my bike for city riding. And like you mentioned you can buy better wheels or frame.

    I went with carbon wheels, carbon frame, 105 gearset. The 105 updates are great.


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