Everything you need to know about Dura-Ace, Ultegra, 105, Tiagra, Sora and Claris
Shimano are one of the most recognisable brands in the bike industry – and they don’t even make road bikes. It’s all down to the presence of Shimano groupsets on practically every major bike brand’s machines in one form or another – with the vast majority of the market share going to Japanese giant over the likes of SRAM and Campagnolo.
Why could this be? For one, Shimano offer groupsets at relatively competitive prices, while they also have an unrivaled stable of options available, which get updated in a trickle-down cycle, to suit every budget and rider. Whether you’re a budding pro or just starting out, chances are Shimano have a road groupset (that usually includes the shifters, derailleurs, chainset, chain, cassette and brakes) to suit you. Here’s what the heirachy looks like: Shimano Dura-Ace Di2, Dura-Ace, Ultegra Di2, Ultegra, 105, Tiagra, Sora and Claris.
At the top of the range, you’ll find the recently overhauled Dura-Ace family of groupsets. There are two here: electronic ‘Di2’ and standard mechanical, with a plethora of new technology designed to make the whole system work as one seamless unit – it even boasts an integrated power meter if you choose it, but more on that later.
Next up is Ultegra (again with both Di2 and mechanical versions), still a perfectly viable lightweight racer’s choice with the capacity for keen club rider use. Then there’s 105, which represents the midpoint of the range and arguably the best compromise of value versus performance.
Below that in the range sits Tiagra, with a step down to ten speeds, and the nine-speed Sora, which itself has also seen a recent face lift for 2017, with Shimano taking care of both ends of their offering to bring its looks into alignment with the more premium groupsets. Finally, at the bottom of the pile sits Claris – a perfect beginner bike groupset, and ideal for those on a tight budget.
Read on for a more detailed run-through of the entire range of Shimano groupsets available for 2017, their key features and what makes them stand out.
Some were a little surprised that they neglected to update the electronic Di2 versions with wireless shifting capability (to rival SRAM’s top-of-the-line Red eTap), but with engineers claiming it didn’t actually add performance to the bike as a whole, their efforts went elsewhere in this new version: into achieving ‘System Supremacy’.
What they did update was the shifting method on the Di2 versions with Synchronized Shift, which means gear selection and derailleur position is optimised whatever gear you’re in. Set it to ‘Full Sychro’ and you’re able to control the groupset using one lever; effectively a sequential setup that will move you into the next available ratio when you press the desired up or down shifter. You can also use satellite shifters for easy access to gears too.
The ‘Semi Synchro’ setting, on the other hand, adjusts the rear derailleur position to maintain a steady cadence when you actuate the front derailleur. Pop it into the big ring, for example, and the rear derailleur will move so that you’re in the next effective ratio without the need to click up the cassette manually to find it.
Both settings are selectable by using the E-Tube app on your phone, and can be switched off entirely if you want full control, while the app also offers other opportunities for customisation, too.
An additional significant cosmetic change bespoke to Di2 is with the junction box, which now – instead of sitting underneath the stem – can be tucked away inside one of the handlebar end, cleaning up airflow at the front of the bike and just making things look a bit nicer.
The mechanical versions of Dura-Ace, known as ‘R9120’ and ‘R9100’ for disc and rim brake versions respectively, share many further updates with its Di2 sibling – most notably an optional integrated power meter, and dedicated levers for the hydraulic brakes that have dropped much of the bulk that plagues other disc brake hoods.
Of course, rim brakes are also available in both Di2 and mechanical guises, with the calipers now redesigned to comfortably accommodate 28mm tyres, and the shifters ergonomically re-profiled and with a shorter throw and greater adjustability – ideal for riders with smaller hands.
The derailleurs have also had an overhaul, with Shadow technology from Shimano’s mountain bike range finding its way into the groupset. Firstly, it brings the rear derailleur further in board, protecting it in the event of a crash, and secondly allows a flexible range of movement in tandem with its longer cage that can accommodate anything up to a 30t cassette.
The front derailleur has shed a few grams, and eschewed the long shifting lever entirely, giving it a more compact profile.
This is Shimano’s most advanced and lightweight groupset to date, now bang up-to-date with both disc and rim brake options in Di2 and mechanical guises.
*Prices calculated as a sum of the necessary parts for an entire ‘standard’ build groupset; retailers may group components with variations of specification, and prices for specific components – for example, a TT version crankset or band-on front derailleur – may differ slightly.
6870 Di2, 6800 mechanical
While Dura-Ace is Shimano’s flagship groupset, Ultegra is never usually too far behind in the line-up. That’s because it’s normally next in line to receive the trickle-down updates Shimano favours, spreading its latest tech across the range as each new iteration gets updated.
It’s Ultegra’s turn next, although right now the ‘old-but-current’ 6870 Di2 and 6800 mechanical versions, launched in 2013, are no slouches, aimed simultaneously at racers and keen club and sportive riders.
Key features include the stiff and lightweight four-arm crankset that has now become near-ubiquitous in style throughout the Shimano range, with the same high-performance design of the components as the previous iteration of Dura-Ace, such as carbon brake levers and option of direct-mount brake calipers.
There’s no Synchronized Shift capability for the Di2 groupset, though, and Ultegra retains the old-style junction box so gets sited below the stem. If you want to customise the shift behaviour, including shift response and multiple shifting up to three ratios, you need to plug it into your laptop to access the software.
The great thing is – like the new Dura-Ace Di2 – it works seamlessly with Garmin’s Edge range of bike computers (510 and later), so you can see a visual display of your current gear ratio, and current battery levels of each derailleur.
There’s also a degree of flexibility built into Ultegra – hence its suitability for a wide range of riders from racers to sportive riders. On both the Di2 and mechanical versions you can specify a go-anywhere 50-34t compact chainset, through to a semi-compact 52-36t and standard 53/39t version, with the capacity for a wide range of cassettes from a tiny 11-23t up to get-out-of-jail-free 11-32t.
And, while it doesn’t currently have its own dedicated (i.e. Ultegra-badged) disc-brake setup, you can use it in tandem with one of Shimano’s ‘RS685’ hydraulic disc brake systems too.
The best thing about Ultegra is it still offers 95 per cent of the overall performance of Dura-Ace, without the wallet-quivering, purse-string-tightening price tag. And, as it’s due an update sooner than later, retailers are making a mockery of RRPs too, so it’s a great time to get a proven race-ready groupset on the cheap.
Advanced club riders
Great value race performance
Di2 and mechanical versions
Wide range of gearing options
£1,999.99 (6870 Di2), £999.99 (6800 mechanical)
**Based on grouped retailer pricing
Leaving the lightweight-led, race-bred groupsets behind, next up is Shimano 105. Its position in the market is aimed towards all-round use, from long winter longevity, right up to great capability in sportives and gran fondos. If there’s a groupset that can legitimately claim to be “all things to all people”, then 105 would probably be it.
Its last update in 2014 heralded a serious upgrade for the groupset, bringing it far closer to Ultegra in terms of performance than before. There’s no Di2 version, but we think if you close your eyes (we know, not to be recommended while on the road), you’d have the devil’s job telling the difference between the two when it comes to mechanical shifting and braking performance.
That’s because it’s also an 11-speed groupset, with the range of ratios that entails (compact, semi-compact and standard chainsets, along with the capacity for an 11-32t cassette). Shifting performance, meanwhile, pretty much mirrors its premium brothers.
The brakes also use Shimano’s proven dual-pivot design, so ultimate braking power is right up there with Ultegra, while modulation is close too. You can even buy 105 with a 30-39-50t triple chainset if you want plenty of gearing options on the climbs.
It’s not all sunshine and rainbows, though – naturally, in order to meet its near-50% RRP price tag of Ultegra, it’s the weight that takes a hit. For example, the compact chainset weighs 40g more than its direct Ultegra counterpart. Add this proportional difference over the whole groupset componentry, and the penalty can be significant for racers.
Still, that extra weight brings with it extra beef to the construction, making 105 a hardier and potentially more reliable groupset over extended periods of use.
Throw in the fact Shimano launched the ‘RS505’ hydraulic disc brake system for 105 in late 2015, and that means it’s right up the street of the bulk of club riders in the UK, whether as part of a main sportive bike or winter mile cruncher.
105 is arguably Shimano’s best-value mechanical groupset when you observe the braking and shifting performance in line with the relatively cheap price – and it’s not at the cost of quality, either.
Great value all-year performance
Similar braking and shifting performance as Ultegra
Huge range of gearing options, including a triple chainset
Visually, the latest update brought the groupset in line with the others above it in the range, now also featuring a four-arm crankset and redesigned levers that have the same ergonomics as Ultegra and 105, as well as a tidier setup with cables that sit under the bar tape, cleaning up the front end of the bike.
Tiagra is the first groupset in Shimano’s range that drops a sprocket from the cassette, now at ten speed, but you still get a range of gearing flexibility in the form of compact, semi-compact and triple chainset configurations, and the capacity for an enormous 34t cassette if you have the long cage derailleur installed in tandem with a compact or semi-compact chainset.
If you opt for a triple, your cassette capacity drops to a mere 32t, but that’s no issue given the 30t small ring on the chainset. There’s also a RapidFire Plus shift system available for flat bar bikes too.
Performance across the board also received a welcome shot in the arm – at launch, Shimano claimed a 30 per cent increase in rim braking performance over the previous iteration thanks to similar-to-105 direct-mount dual-pivot callipers, while the front derailleur received a redesigned shift arm to mirror the latest Ultegra and 105 designs, giving easier shifting response at the lever.
One area where Tiagra differs from the premium groupsets, aside from the ten-speed setup, is in the brake shoes – where on higher models you can swap in and out brake pads independently of the shoes, here you have to swap the entire one-piece brake shoe and pad.
One thing that shouldn’t be sniffed at, though, is the price. An entire groupset – chainset, levers, front and rear derailleurs, both brake callipers, cassette and chain will cost you £449 RRP, and around £260 if you ferret around.
Throw in the fact it’s virtually bomb-proof with the little added weight over 105, and this makes it a great upper entry-level or winter club riding groupset.
If you want a groupset that looks like the bigger boys in the Shimano stable, with many of the performance features, then Tiagra is a decent option for the entry-level or club cyclist.
Upper entry level
Riders with winter bikes
RS405 disc brake system available
Large range of gearing options, including a triple chainset
£449.00 (4700 mechanical, road bar version)
**Based on grouped retailer pricing
Along with the headline-making Dura-Ace, Sora also received an update in 2016. This one was much quieter – you’d have been forgiven for missing it – but like Tiagra’s update a year previously, it brings the groupset bang in line with the clean look of the Shimano range above it, including the lighter four-arm crankset.
Also featuring for Sora are redesigned dual-pivot rim brake callipers and brake levers that have been ergonomically reshaped to match those of Tiagra and above, including dual-control STI shifting.
You also get the tidier ‘internal’ cable routing that fits underneath the bar tape. In fact, on the face of it, it looks remarkably similar to Tiagra – and therefore the rest of the range above it. Evidence once again of Shimano’s ‘trickle-down’ approach to product updates.
Where it differs is in sticking resolutely to a nine-speed setup, with gearing a little more restricted thanks to no semi-compact crankset option. Instead, your options are compact or triple chainset, although with a re-profiled long cage derailleur the capacity for an 11-34t cassette remains, albeit with relatively gappy intervals between sprockets for keen riders.
The front derailleur has also seen a trickle-down redesign, with a long arm introduced for easier shifts, and if you want a disc-brake version, it’s the Sora-level (‘R317’) mechanically-actuated setup for you.
They work via a cable system, just like the rim brakes, so no need for redesigned levers to house hydraulic hoses (a potential positive given the bulky ergonomics of some of the hydraulic disc levers currently available).
In line with the additional fitness and commuter focus of the groupset, flat-bar bike compatibility is also provided, with specific trouser-leg friendly five-arm compact and triple chainsets with RapidFire Plus shifting and brake levers.
Now up-to-date in terms of its overall look, and with a lot of flexibility for use and capacity for easy gearing, Sora is a great entry-level groupset for the new roadie. It’s also cheap despite the looks, which it a strong option for riders on a budget.
R317 mechanical disc brake system available
Flat-bar/commuter versions also available
£374.99 (R3000 mechanical, road bar version)
**Based on grouped retailer pricing
Claris is Shimano’s bottom-of-the-range road groupset, and there are elements that show it. An eight-speed transmission means gaps between ratios are biger, especially if you opt for an 11-32t cassette, and the groupset is the only one in the range not to conform to the black or dark grey four-arm chainset protocol.
Instead Claris comes finished in a lighter grey-silver colour, and features an older-style five-arm chainset currently available in compact, triple, or a smaller 46-34t double setup.
The derailleurs are simple but effective, with only a limited amount of the latest trickle-down tech having arrived at the groupset as a whole so far.
Alongside the chainset, this means the front derailleur lacks a long arm of higher-level groupsets, so actuations to shift the chain to the big ring require a heftier and prolonged push at the lever.
However, dual-pivot brakes in the mould of the previous generation 105 do make the cut, along with dual-control brake levers with gear selection indicators.
Naturally, Claris is the heaviest groupset of the bunch – the focus here is on longevity and easy access to road cycling technology – but it’s also the cheapest to put together, and while you don’t get a disc brake option in the current generation, this only serves to keep things simple if what you want is a bike with a simple groupset.
Claris is a basic groupset, but therein lies the charm. It offers a cheap entry into the road bike market and is based on reliable and time-tested technology.
Compact, double or a 46-34t double chainsets
Approximately £300 (2400 mechanical, road bar version)
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