Shimano 105 or Ultegra: which one to choose?
In this Article
Published on November 30, 2023
Shimano Ultegra or 105? Given the price difference, this question often arises in discussions among road cycling enthusiasts. And it won't surprise you to hear that there's no universal answer. The choice between Shimano 105 and Ultegra depends on the bike, the rider's level, the type of cycling, any upgrades already made... So, it's not always worth upgrading to Ultegra, even though it's undoubtedly a significantly more performance-oriented transmission group. But before we delve into that, let's go over the differences between Shimano 105 and Ultegra.
What's the difference between Shimano 105 and Ultegra?
These two transmission groups are arguably the most commonly encountered on mid-range bikes.
In the Shimano group hierarchy, they sit between the Tiagra (an entry-level group mainly for those starting in road cycling) and the Dura-Ace (Shimano's top-tier group found in most professional teams).
The 105 and Ultegra are the groups offering the best value for money.
However, between 105 and Ultegra, there's still a price difference of around 30 to 35%. Ultegra is thus one-third more expensive, but does that justify it in terms of performance?
When compared, they mainly differ in three aspects: weight, smoothness, and braking quality.
On the scale, Shimano 105 is about 15% heavier than Ultegra. This is partly explained by some steel components, instead of aluminum, and some carbon components instead of aluminum... Also, Ultegra components are slightly more refined to reduce the need for material, affecting the weight.
However, it's essential to note that this 15% weight difference should be considered relative because, in absolute terms, it's only 300 grams... Not a significant factor for an average-level amateur cyclist.
Another notable difference between Ultegra and Shimano 105 is smoothness. It's clear that gear changes are much smoother on Ultegra. Besides enjoying the convenience of a responsive transmission, this smoothness is especially felt when chasing the clock. There's almost no delay when removing or adding a gear.
Finally, because a group is more than just transmission, the braking is sharper on Ultegra (even though with discs, it always brakes very well anyway).
For a while, there was another difference: electronics. Ultegra was available in Di2 version a little earlier. Now, 105 is also available in Di2.
👉 By the way, if you want to know the advantages and disadvantages of mechanical and electronic transmissions, we have, of course, an article on that 😉
On other points of comparison between Ultegra and 105, there are no major differences. The aesthetics are similar, only purists might detect a slightly superior finish on Ultegra. The assembly is identical as we stick to Shimano's good-quality technology. Finally, in terms of durability, maintenance will make the most significant difference. Well-maintained, a 105 group won't wear out significantly faster than an Ultegra one.
Shimano 105 vs Ultegra Transmission: For Which Road Bike and Practice?
Now that you know the main differences between these two Shimano groups, the question remains: is it worth upgrading to Ultegra, or is it better to stick with the more affordable 105?
This choice can be primarily based on two criteria: your cycling style and the road bike you ride.
Shimano Ultegra is the group most commonly found in amateur competitions. It indeed offers an excellent balance of performance, responsiveness, and weight, making it a reliable ally in races. If you compete, it's undoubtedly the best choice for you.
For a sporty but non-competitive practice, the choice depends on your skill level. If you ride two or three times a week with structured training, it's better to lean towards Ultegra.
It will allow you to make the most of your abilities. Approaching pro-level equipment will also provide a significant room for improvement, sufficient for most enthusiasts, even at a very high level.
However, for more occasional cycling less focused on performance, the Shimano 105 group will do just fine. You'd need good legs and thousands of kilometers to feel its limits and consider a useful upgrade to Ultegra.
The other criterion to consider when choosing between Shimano 105 R7000 and Ultegra R8000 is your bike... Yes, equipping an entry-level bike with Ultegra is not very meaningful. Of course, you'll feel a clear difference from your old group (if you were using Tiagra, for example), but you won't be able to fully exploit Ultegra's potential.
To invest in an Ultegra group, it's preferable to have at least a good mid-range bike. In other words, a bike worth more than 3000 euros new (or 2000 euros if you opt for one of our superb reconditioned road bikes 😉).
On these models, you can fully enjoy the new possibilities offered by this group. Indeed, these bikes, through their frame geometry, structure, or the quality of their components, are designed from the ground up for performance. Ultegra replacing a lower-quality group will enhance these intrinsic qualities.
In summary, Shimano Ultegra is especially worth it when you have a good bike... and good legs! 😉
Shimano Ultegra or Shimano 105 Group: the "Hybrid" Choice
Even if you are convinced of the benefits of choosing a Shimano Ultegra R8000 group, your wallet needs to follow suit... With a price approximately one-third higher than Shimano 105 R7000, this choice is not necessarily open to everyone.
One solution to lighten the bill is to opt for a hybrid group... As long as you stick with Shimano, there's no compatibility issue between Ultegra and 105. So, there's nothing preventing you from buying some Ultegra components to upgrade your 105 group.
For example, an Ultegra cassette is only about thirty euros more expensive than its Shimano 105 equivalent... The efficiency gain is marginal, admittedly, but you already save some weight, thanks in part to an aluminum lock ring instead of steel.
However, compatibility is not assured with SRAM equipment. Sometimes it's compatible, and sometimes it's not... We strongly advise discussing this with your bike shop before venturing into risky combinations with SRAM Rival or SRAM Force components (to stay at the same quality level).
Explore Other Avenues
While the group is an important element, there are other ways to improve your road bike performance.
Wheels, for example... Before considering upgrading your bike with a Shimano Ultegra group, take the time to assess the quality of your wheels.
Opting for a pair of high-quality aluminum or carbon wheels can improve your performance more significantly than a group change. Indeed, we tend to forget, but wheels represent about 20% of a bike's weight... That's the influence they can have on its efficiency.
It's very clear that it's better to ride with 105 and good wheels than to spend the same amount to ride with Ultegra and entry-level wheels.
Another element that can have a considerable impact on your level (and without costing you anything financially) is your physical condition and training.
We explained when discussing the opportunity to choose an Ultegra group, it's primarily a matter of skill level. If you're not really fit, start by losing a few pounds before seeking a marginal weight gain. Similarly, if your training is not regular and not really structured, there's significant room for improvement on that front.
Upgrading to an Ultegra group comes at a cost. For it to be worthwhile, your bike itself must be of a very high standard. One doesn't install a Porsche transmission on a Dacia, for example... Beyond the frame, the stem, handlebars, and, of course, the wheels must also be at the same level!
So, if you really want to upgrade to boost your performance, why not go all the way by turning to a reconditioned bike? You can ride on high-end bikes for a much lower price than the same new model!
Fully inspected by our seasoned mechanics, our bikes often come equipped with an Ultegra or even Dura-Ace group (you'll also find SRAM Force, and even SRAM Red!). You doubly capitalize on the investment by acquiring a higher-quality group that's verified... and already installed 😉