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Shimano 105 vs Ultegra Groupsets

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Once you have perfected your cycling tan lines the next logical step is to invest in a performance oriented groupset. 

If you have the pro look, then your bike also deserves the pro look. 

Shimano is a name familiar among cyclists and they rightly deserve their highly respected reputation for excellent groupsets. They have a groupset for every budget:

  • Claris
  • Sora
  • Tiagra
  • 105
  • Ultegra
  • Dura Ace

When you start to focus on getting better on the bike you need a groupset with performance to spare. In this article we look at the Shimano 105 versus Ultegra groupset to help decide which one is best for you and your budget.

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Ultegra vs 105: The Key Differences

  • Number of sprockets. At this level of groupset, both the 105 and Ultegra have 11 sprockets. 
  • Weight. Thanks to better quality components, the Ultegra groupset offers a substantial 300g overall saving compared to the 105.
  • Brakes.  Both the 105 and Ultegra groupsets come with the excellent dual pivot rim brakes as well as a hydraulic disc option.
  • Electronic. If you have cash to burn and want to really be like the pros, the Ultegra groupset comes in a Di2 version with full electronic shifting.

Gears

Shimano 105 Cassette

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Both the 105 and Ultegra groupsets come with an 11-speed cassette. This is the gold standard in the cycling world at the moment. 

More sprockets means a superior shifting performance with less torque changes between sprockets. 

Having more sprockets means that you can find the perfect cadence to match your efforts, whether that is spinning up hills or grinding on the flats. 

The 105 cassette comes in 11-28, 11-30, 11-34 and 12-25 teeth options so there is a gear ratio for everyone and every terrain. 

Without turning this into a mechanical engineering lecture, these numbers basically represent the number of teeth on the smallest and biggest sprockets of the cassette respectively.

The gear ratio on a bike simply means how many times the back wheel turns for each full pedal stroke.

The bigger number helps you pull your bike over tough climbs. The right cassette for your bike comes down mostly to the terrain you ride. 

The Ultegra comes with the same cassette options as the 105 with an additional 11-25 and 14-28 option. The 14-28 option in particular is great for those doing some cyclocross in winter. 

It is also great if you find you don’t use the high and low gears much on a more standard cassette. Swapping for a 14-28 means less jumps between the gears and more chance to find the perfect cadence for your effort. 

Since the cassette has the same number of sprockets on the 105 and the Ultegra, the chain is the same dimensions on both groupsets. 

The difference in price of the two chains comes down to the fact that the Ultegra chain has low friction treatment on both the roller link plates and the pin link plates. The 105 chain only has friction treatment on the roller link plates.

It is debatable if this would be noticeable to the average cyclist and is an area most would be happy to save some money.

Video: Understand Your Bike Gears

Rear Derailleur

Shimano Ultegra R8000 Derailleur

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The rear derailleurs on both groupsets feature Shimano shadow technology. This technology has been adopted from the mountain biking world and basically helps to protect the rear derailleur in a crash. 

A big cause of poor shifting performance on the bike can be traced back to an out of shape rear derailleur. 

The 105 and Ultegra rear derailleurs come in long cage and short cage models.

The only subtle difference between the 105 and Ultegra rear derailleur is the slightly better pulley bearings on the Ultegra derailleur. 

There is also the option of a clutch operated rear derailleur with the Ultegra groupset that is designed to stop the derailleur shifting outwards and dropping the chain under heavy loads. 

Crankset

Ultegra Crankset

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The trickle-down effect means that the 105 groupset shares the same spider crankset as the Ultegra and Dura-Ace premium groupsets. 

The four unevenly spaced bars on the crankset help to transfer power from the rider to the bike in the most efficient way. It saves weight whilst still maintaining stiffness where it is needed.

Both groupsets come in a 53-39, 52-36 and 50-34 teeth crankset option.

The Ultegra groupset also comes with a 46-36 teeth option squarely aimed at cyclocross riders. 

Both cranksets use a 110mm bolt so it is possible to swap big rings to suit your preference even when using a 105 groupset.

The same crank length options are available on each groupset namely 160mm, 165mm, 170mm, 172.5mm and 175mm crank lengths. 

The right crank length for you comes down mostly to the best fit on the bike but there are performance gains with shorter cranks. A shorter crank ultimately makes for a more aerodynamic rider position. 

Read more: Standard vs Compact cranksets

Brakes

105 Brakes

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The 105 and Ultegra groupsets use the highly rated SLR-EV dual pivot rim brake that will more than satisfy the purists. The symmetrical twin pivot system equalizes the braking force across the pads for better modulation and stopping power. 

The SLR-EV brakes are wide enough to accommodate up to 28mm tires, reflecting the trend in cycling in recent years for wider tires. The science has shown that wider tires may in fact be more efficient and certainly more comfortable.

For riders looking for great braking in all conditions, the 105 and Ultegra groupsets also offer a uniformly excellent hydraulic disc brake option. 

Shifters and Levers

Ultegra ST-R8000 Shifters

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Right across the range of groupsets, Shimano makes excellent shifters. As you would expect at the higher end, the shifters or STI’s (Shimano Total Integration) on the 105 and Ultegra are precise and smooth with a short stroke. 

You really only need one finger to brake leaving you feeling in more control.

The Ultegra STI’s are carbon-fibre reinforced plastic brackets and main levers whereas the 105 STI’s are glass-fibre reinforced plastic brackets and aluminum levers

Although there are no real noticeable differences in the performance between the 105 and Ultegra STI’s this difference in materials does translate to some weight savings. 

If you have spent your hard earned money on an Ultegra groupset you will be glad to know that the name is emblazoned on the STI levers. Fellow riders will know that you are serious when you turn up for the Sunday morning cafe ride.

105Ultegra
Number of Sprockets11-speed11-speed
Overall Weight*5.58lbs (2.53kg)5.16lbs (2.341kg)

* Rim brake option

What Exactly Is A Groupset?

The groupset is a collective term for the mechanical components on the bike. In simple terms this means the drivetrain or those components that convert leg power into bike power and the brakes. 

On the drivetrain side this means the crankset, cassette, chain, derailleurs, bottom bracket and shifters.

Bringing all these components under the umbrella of a groupset means that you can be confident that all of the components work seamlessly together. It also means replacing components is straightforward as there are no compatibility worries. 

Within each groupset, not only will the components work together but they will all be of similar quality within the same price range. 

Since groupsets are split across different budgets to appeal to different riders, there are differences in the build quality and materials that ultimately affects the overall performance. 

For example, across the Shimano groupsets the main difference tends to be the number of sprockets in the rear cassette. Generally, the more you spend the more sprockets you get. 

The extra sprockets are important for dialling in the perfect cadence for any efforts out on the road. It also means smoother shifting with less torque difference between each shift. 

Spending more money also means lighter components and every cyclist knows that saving weight is essential to a high performance. Going by the specifications these weight savings may seem small but they make a difference in the real world, especially when you hit a climb. 

Moving away from the drivetrain, the groupset is completed by the brakes. On modern bikes, following their acceptance in the pro-peloton, this could mean hydraulic disc brakes especially on the higher end groupsets.  

Once you reach the 105 and Ultegra groupsets the emphasis is most definitely on performance. 

Final Words

The Shimano 105 and Ultegra groupsets are uniformly excellent with a focus on outstanding performance. 

When choosing between the 105 and the Ultegra groupsets, the choice really comes down to weight. If you want to eke out every possible marginal gain on the bike then this weight savings of the Ultegra could be for you.

If you would rather save money for a new jersey the 105 groupset still has performance to spare. 

We hope that you enjoyed the content and it helped you to make your mind up between the two groupsets. Comment below which one you spent your money on and why it works for you.

If you are bidding to be more like the pro’s, buying better components, like the Shimano 105 and Ultegra groupsets, can bring easy performance gains

Bike Push - Mark W
Mark W
I’m a cycling enthusiast, and the founder and chief editor of Bike Push. If I’m not working on this website, then I’m out on the bike clocking up the miles. I want to help others get the most out of cycling.

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