One of the first thing that I learned as an enthusiat cyclist was that Shimano’s products stand for quality. Even if that was quite a long time ago, recently I discovered that this quality has lasted throught the years, and, even better, has been intertwined with features such as modern visual appearance, and clock-work like precision and functionality. Now that I’m done painting the big picture about the Shimano Ultegra 6800 groupset, we should be getting into details.
Launched in May last year, the Ultegra 6800-series got the „slighlty-heavier-Dura-Ace-version” label instantly. At first it seemed an overstatement, considering the performances of the Dura-Ace groupset, but this very well acted as a trigger to undertake a long-term review of the Ultegra. So, here I was standing in front of the freshly-delivered dark boxes containing the various components. The manufacturer makes sure all the parts get to you intact, but even more than this, the wrappings themselves announce that top products are about to emerge from those boxes. Yep, Shimano knows how to make an impression from the very beggining, and I am this close to naming the sheer excitement of unboxing the components a strong reason to purchase a high-end, brand-new groupset.
And what better moment for a close and thorough inspection of the subjects that are about to be tested as soon as the last bolt is tightened? As far as visual appearance goes, Ultegra 6800 is as impressive in real life as in the product pictures that accompany any press release, with the mention that you are acutally holding them in your hands. The finishing touches and attention given to details remind me why Shimano is such a big name in the industry, and they are further proof that compromises are out of the question in the case of top-end products. You can find no trace of spilled lubricants, no dry screw, no manufacturing flaws, but only perfect harmony between all the units that comprise the Ultegra 6800. I think that this is where the most powerful reason for buying a complete groupset emerges, because all these parts are designed to work as a whole, ensuring superior functionality of the bike, and further on, a great riding experience for you. It’s the small things that count, and contribute to achieving great results, so Shimano even provided the high-quality copper cables that link the levers to the derailleurs and brakes.
Leaving aside the great quality that’s typical for Ultegra, I’d like to point out two more things about the new iteration. Firstly, even if the new generation prospers on the trickled-down features from Dura-Ace, as it also did in previous years, this time it’s much more similar to the real thing, talking from the appearance point of view. Complying with the current stealth trends, Ultegra 6800 doesn’t look anymore like a cheap copy of its superior, but mimics it in a very truthful manner, save for the actual anodized visual. But then again, it had to be different from Dura-Ace in some way… The second observation has to do with less than exciting trends in the bicycle industry, that may be the result of new materials being developed or may be the simple desire to reach a weight as low as possible. Or maybe there are other reasons, but I couldn’t help noticing that more and more plastic material is used instead of the die-hard aluminum alloys, and there’s no better way to see this than by stripping the levers of their hoods. I do not question the quality of the new material, at least not after this long-term review, but it can raise some questions in the way of durability and product lifetime.
Now, what improvements has the Ultegra 6800 brought over the old 6700? If you’re tempted to point out the extra cog, I’d suggest you take a moment to think about this issue. Currently, 11-speed drivetrains have become the rule for anyone who finds himself in categories above the enthusiast cyclist one. For instance, Shimano has another 2 11-speed drivetrains, 105 and Dura-Ace, SRAM takes great pride in the Force and Red 22, while Campagnolo has no less than 4 such groupsets: Super Record, Record, Chorus and Athena. And I didn’t include the electronic versions in this list!
So, what other aces has Ultegra up its sleeve? Well, first of all, the small weight penalty compared to the Dura-Ace, which in numbers looks like: 2.328 grams vs. 2.016 grams, keeping in mind that this last value is an official figure that doesn’t include some hardware parts, while the first is what we recorded on our very own scales. The weight figure for the Ultegra corresponds for a 53/39 crankset, with 172.5mm crank arms, an 11-28 cassette and a braze-on front derailleur, and you can find the broken down by parts weights at the end of this article.
Probably the biggest perk of the set is its functionality. A special award goes to the brakes which after the first usage make you think why would someone need disc brakes on his road bike. When you actuate them lightly, they act according to Shimano’s oh-so-famous linear response technology, and when you pull them hard… well, you shouldn’t pull them really hard unless you like failed backflips. Eleven sprockets mean that the chain will sit in more positions than until now, so that’s why the front derailleur features 4 positions: 2 exactly above the chainwheels, one between them and another one slightly to the outside of the crankset. And you will use all of them. But the front derailleur’s revampment doesn’t stop here. It puts an end to the need for brute force required to send the chain on the large chainwheel thanks to its longer arm. There’s just one question that remains: why on earth didn’t they think of this sooner? As for the rest of the drivetrain, it doesn’t stand out by anything for the simple reason that it runs smoothly, working with a precision that makes you feel avenged for all those times the rear derailleur didn’t feel like working properly or the chain squeaked. The only moment when you really appreciate it appears at the end of the ride when you realise that there were no technical breakdowns. However, you might want to bear in mind that 11-speed also means the more timely wear of components, chain in particular, and the financial penalty inflicted by this. I already mentioned the light action needed to actuate the levers, and another certain plus is their new ergonomical shape which has a very a natural feel once you put your hand around them.
Even if the 11-speed groupsets are gaining ground, there are still a lot of users that ride on 10-speed drivetrains. Therefore, the obvious question arises: does a 11-speed cassette work on a 10-speed hub? Well, not really, in Shimano’s case the engineers developing the Hyperglide-C freehub for the new format.
All in all, Shimano Ultegra 6800 continues the tradition of its predecessors, featuring a great functionality level even after a longer usage period. For Shimano, it’s kind of hard to outdo itself because a groupset like the Ultegra never left to be desired, but even so it wouldn’t be an overstatement to say that this set was reinvented with the introduction of the newest generation, and it’s as close as it ever was to the top-notch Dura-Ace.
Shimano Ultegra 6800 groupset overall weight: 2.328 grams
Crankset (53/39, 172.5mm): 696 grams
Bottom bracket: 76 grams
Front brake: 172 grams
Rear brake: 171 grams
Front derailleur (braze-on): 87 grams
Rear derailleur (short cage): 195 grams
Chain: 263 grams
Cassette (11-28): 250 grams
Dual-control levers: 418 grams (pair)