Is Ultegra redundant now that Shimano 105 has gone electric?

There is an upheaval in the natural order of things. Shimano 105, since its inception, has always been the go-to option for enthusiasts. Those runners who don’t race, but enjoy a quick club run on the weekends. It has always been a successful band, but its price has never been unaffordable.

The launch of the new 105 Di2, with its disc-only all-electric option, has been hailed as an electronic shifter for the masses, but with a price tag that tops its predecessor by £1000, in my eyes it breaks the bounds of accessibility for the amateur and bring him squarely into the realm of competition.

If that’s the case and the performance is comparable to Ultegra, does that leave Shimano with two second tier groupsets, leaving Ultegra in no man’s land as a choice for amateur racers that just costs more? And more pressingly, can Tiagra fill the power vacuum and take over as the go-to group for weekend warriors?

A half built black bike with shimano 105

My first major update, swapping Sora for the modern 105 in 2015 (Image credit: Will Jones)

What 105 means to me

My first road bike was a very basic 2012 Specialized Allez, fitted with a Sora groupset. I rode it in college every day, then after I graduated I started riding it more for fun. After my first paychecks I invested around £500 in my first proper upgrade, a full 105, 5800 series, the first of the four arm era. It taught me a lot about the mechanics, but it wasn’t too difficult to work with thanks to easygoing standards and the external cable routing of my Go. It turned my old commuter workhorse bike into what I thought at the time was a ‘proper’ road bike, and allowed me to enjoy riding a lot more at club level, before only to be relegated to winter bike duty after I later graduated to carbon fiber and Ultegra.

In my opinion, this is the work of 105 more than any other group; serve as a gateway to performance riding for those who want to take the plunge. I’m also not saying you need to go beyond that as it’s always been a very capable setup, but it’s there to be the gateway to the top performers.

A black bike with wired shimano 105

Is cabled departure 105 the last accessible version of the group? (Image credit: Will Jones)

Freddo-style price hike

Each country has its cultural criterion of inflation. Here in the UK, it’s the Freddo bar, a little frog-shaped chocolate bar. It was 5 p.m. and everyone lost their minds when it passed 10 p.m. We are currently sitting around the 25p mark. Just check out the Freddo Index if you don’t believe us.

Now I’m well aware of the differences between a little chocolate frog and a bike band, but the jump in price of the new electronic 105 over the old 105 is more than that mind-blowing 100% cost increase from Freddo that made a whole nation lose it.

The new Di2 105 is 142% more expensive. A total of £1,000 more expensive than the previous generation by £700; the difference alone is enough to buy a perfectly capable budget road bike. I realize that being able to spend £500 on bike components is a luxury not afforded to many, but it is at least what some of the cycling community would consider a manageable cost. At over £1700 for the new version I don’t think it’s too bold to say that puts it out of reach of a reasonable amount to spend on a hobby for many people, and so, if not for amateurs then by default it should be for those who are already fully invested in cycling, or those with deep enough pockets to hoard some cash.

Is 105 for runners now?

For convenience, I’m going to use the term “runners” not just for people who race bikes, but also for members of the cycling community who don’t necessarily race, but enjoy cycling much more. as the norm for the community, and keen to use race-level technology for their regular riding.

Dura-Ace is for pros, Ultegra for racers, and 105 for everyone else. It was always the opinion I had when I was younger, riding in clubs several times a week. If 105 isn’t for everyone anymore, then is it for runners?

On paper, the similarities between the new 105 and the latest Ultegra are quite striking. Both are 12-speed, both are fully electronic and offer disc brakes. From what I can tell, Ultegra offers weight savings, but I suspect switching between the two systems will be comparable outside of a back-to-back environment. The Ultegra brakes have Servowave, a technology from the MTB world that takes up more of the space between the pads earlier in the lever travel, resulting in better modulation, so there will likely be an advantage in terms of braking performance too, but enough to spend an extra £600 on the privilege? £600 could get you plenty of coaching and nutrition advice, a gym membership, extra aero finishing gear or kit, or a whole host of other performance upgrades.

That leaves Ultegra caught somewhere between a 12sp e-shifting rock and a 12sp e-shifting hard spot. Realistically, he can’t get more bounty without encroaching on Dura-Ace’s prestige, but there’s also no wiggle room below now that 105 has upped his game?

A white trek made with the new di2 shimano 105

With bikes as speed oriented as the new Trek Madone that ships with the new 105, it’s clear that it’s now an option for serious racers. (Image credit: Trek)

Can Tiagra close the gap?

When I upgraded to 105 it was already 11 speed, whereas today’s Tiagra 4700 is still only 10 speed. That’s a small difference considering they both offer comparable speed ranges, but it’s a sign that Tiagra isn’t quite there yet.

I rode the latest Tiagra, and the shifting is outstanding for the price. It’s on par with my old Ultegra stuff that’s currently on my fast bike, and given that it has hydraulic discs it’s easy to see that it’ll probably adopt some technology from the outgoing 105 group soon, and we we expect it to go 11sp too.

So no, maybe not quite yet, but soon. At £750 it’s already more expensive than my first 105 experience by a noticeable margin, and will likely get more expensive in the next iteration too, so it’s not done and dusted.

About Keith Johnson

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