Judging by the popularity of my other posts comparing different rungs on the Shimano road gears product ladder, I thought it high time that I looked at the tippity top of the company’s groupset range, Shimano Dura-Ace, and how it compares to Ultegra.
So, behold, here are my considered musings (alright, ill-considered musings).
Products Mentioned In This Post (This Shouldn’t Come As A Surprise)
- Shimano Dura Ace groupset – click here for latest prices
- Shimano Ultegra groupset – click here for latest prices
So What Are We Talking About When We Talk About Groupsets?
We’re talking about bike components.
Specifically, the selection of (mostly) crucial bits that are attached to the bike frame in order to help the bike (and it’s rider) perform the essential functions of a bike: go forward; go forward quickly; go forward up a hill; slow down; stop.
If you buy a new bike, generally it will come with all of the groupset components attached (unless you’ve just bought the frame, clearly…).
In a groupset, you’d expect to find:
- some stuff on the handlebars: brake levers and shifters
- a fandango down by your feet: pedal cranks, chain rings, bottom bracket and front derailleur
- and a few gubbins at the rear of the bike: the cassette, rear derailleur and the chain itself
- Oh and don’t forget brakes, whether they be ye olde calipers or new-fangled (and contentious) disc affairs.
Shimano, like the other major road bike component manufacturers, Campagnolo and SRAM, makes a few different groupset ranges, at a variety of price points.
Dura-Ace is the name of Shimano’s top-of-the-range line (and therefore its most expensive), with Ultegra occupying the next level down.
Shimano also uses these range brand names for other bike components that you wouldn’t normally class as being part of a groupset. Again, the name denotes the level of performance, prestige and price (all the ps…).
You can buy Dura-Ace pedals (which I suppose could be in a broader definition of a groupset) and Dura-Ace wheels (which definitely aren’t part of a groupset).
You can’t buy Dura-Ace chammy cream for your undercarriage, though. Which is something of an oversight from Shimano.
A Quick Word On Numbers
The current Shimano line up of road cycling groupset ranges looks something like (ok, exactly like) this:
(Starting with the poshest)
BUT (Mont shouts), it’s not as simple as that. Okay, it might be. The extra detail is that each of those ranges corresponds to a 4-digit number classification system (oooh, complex…).
[Mont gets out his Enigma machine]
The first digit denotes the overall range: 105 starts with a 5 (cunning), Ultegra numbers start with a 6, Dura-Ace with a 9.
The second digit changes depending on the generation of the groupset in question. So the version of 105 on my bike is 5700, but the newer set is called 5800. The current generation of Ultegra is 6800.
The latest version of Dura-Ace, 9100, was announced in the middle of 2016 and found its way into the shops over the remainder of that year and into 2017 (although some elements – I’m looking at you, integrated power meter – don’t yet seem to be available).
The last two digits are sometimes used to identify different variants within the same range. I’ll come back to this in a moment (hmm, mysterious…).
The point is, it’s worth getting familiar with these numbers (or at least the ones in the range or two that you’re looking at buying). Parts within a given ‘name’ range may or may not be compatible with one another, depending if they’re in the same generation.
When I recently upgraded my rear cassette to Ultegra, I had to make sure I bought a 6700 10-speed cassette rather than the newer 6800 version, as the latter (which is 11-speed) would not have been compatible with the 10-speed 105 (5700) elsewhere on the bike.
Hang On, Current Ultegra is 6800 But The New Dura-Ace Is 9100. What Gives?
Good (and slightly pedantic) question.
And a question I don’t know the definitive answer to.
So I will follow my usual protocol, give it a quick Google search and craft an answer based on a few skim-read articles and the few lines of text that appears below each item in the search results.
Ready? Let’s go.
So, the ‘answer’ is that Dura-Ace, prior to entering the 9000s, was trooping merrily through the 7000s. However, it was ‘ahead’ of the other Shimano gear families in terms of numbered generations – version 7900 was released in early 2009 at the same time as Ultegra 6700.
When the time came for the next generation, presumably the decision was taken was taken to miss a thousand because, like, where is Ultegra gonna go after the 6s?
I hope that’s a sufficiently speculative and unsubstantiated response for you.
What I don’t know of course is what they plan to do after the 5900 version of 105. Presumably invent a whole new number?
Di Another Day
Ultegra and Dura-Ace have one thing in particular in common that is not shared with other groupsets in Shimano’s line up.
They are both available with electronic shifting, as opposed to the more common mechanical approach. Electronic shifting uses motors to drive the derailleurs that in turn move the chain from one cog (or sprocket) to another. Shimano uses the letter-number combo ‘Di2’ to denote that the system in question is electronic.
Going back to my slightly vague comment about the last 2 digits in Shimano’s product numbering system being for identifying variants within a given a family, Di2 is a good example (and also a confusing one, as it happens).
The Di2 version of Ultegra is known as 6870 and the previous generation Dura-Ace version was 9070. So far, so simple.
But for this new generation of Dura Ace (91xx…), the Di2 version is 9150, whilst 9170 is instead used for….
[Whisper] Disc brakes… [/whisper]
Can You Get Disc Brake Versions of Dura-Ace And Ultegra?
Wash out your dirty mouth, you hairy-legged satanist. You come round here asking about disc brakes…?
The answer is yes though.
Shimano brought in hydraulic disc brakes for Ultegra in 2014 and for Dura-Ace for its latest 9100 version (so announced in mid–2016, available end of that year, start of 2017).
As mentioned, Shimano use 9170 to refer to the disc brake specific components, thus breaking what looked like a xx70 convention for electronic shifting. Brilliant…
What Are The Differences Between Ultegra and Dura-Ace?
Dura-Ace is clearly positioned at the top of the pile as far as Shimano are concerned. It’s their premium option. This is obviously reflected in the price.
The current version of Dura-Ace is also two years ‘newer’. Not only do you have the (understandable) tendency for Shimano to introduce features first on its higher end offering, where it can charge a premium for them, but markets and technologies have changed in the last two years.
Disc brake technology for road bikes is improving quickly as it finds its way (in fits and starts) into the pro peloton. ‘Power’ is on the verge of becoming affordable for the masses. Shimano is looking to put features into its groupsets that would previously have been performed by third party products, in order to capture the profit for itself.
Tsk, capitalism. Speaking of which…
Dura-Ace Costs More
There, I said it.
Whilst the manufacturers recommended retail price is not what you’d pay online, nor is it what bike manufacturers pay to put it on their bikes, it is nonetheless a useful comparator.
The mechanical version of Ultegra 6800 seems to have a list price of £999 / $1399 (which comes down to be about half that if you want to buy it on t’internet).
The full Dura-Ace 9100 groupset (again mechanical version) is £1,875 in the UK. I can’t seem to find anywhere in the US that sells a full, bundled together groupset, but the price differential in (rapidly-devaluing) British Pounds still makes the point. The discount available is a lot lower (~22%) right now, presumably because it is so new.
Wait But What Weight?
I can’t seem to find how much the new 9100 weighs (if you could agree which of the many variants you wanted to weigh).
By all accounts, the mechanical version of Dura Ace 9100 weighs about the same as 9000. Dura Ace 9000 weighs just under 300g less than Ultegra 6800.
To be honest, though, I think the weight differential between Dura Ace and Ultegra is a moot point for the vast majority of riders. This probably includes you.
Unless you’ve got your body fat percentage down to 5% and, Bradley Wiggins-esque in 2012, you’ve shed virtually all of your upper body muscle, I’d suggest there are cheaper (and more performance enhancing) ways to reduce weight on the bike.
The 10 million mile question: how much better Dura-Ace is in performance terms? (Is Dura-Ace better in performance terms?)
People expend a lot of hot air (kilobytes?) trying to answer this (or at least trying to persuade others of their view). There is a more relevant question (or two):
- How much better will Dura-Ace make me in performance terms?
- And is the extra cost over Ultegra worth it in order to buy this incremental performance improvement?
Speaking personally, I find it highly unlikely that making the jump to Dura-Ace will increase my performance, or indeed enjoyment, on a ride. I would find it extremely hard to persuade myself to spend the extra moolah to go full Dura Ace.
Power To The (Prosperous) People
A key difference between Ultegra and the newest Dura-Ace, as alluded to above, is that the latter is available with an integrated power meter option.
Or rather it will be – the integrated power meter version of the Dura-Ace chainset should be available in April 2017.
I was about to say that this is the first time that a drivetrain manufacturer (Shimano, Campagnolo, SRAM) has offered a power meter as part of its groupset offering. This is certainly the impression that has been given.
Wrong though, as it happens. SRAM owns Quarq (purveyors of power) and they offer a chainset (or crankset) with integrated power meter as part of their top-of-the-range RED groupset.
Shimano probably represents the greater threat to 3rd party power meter makers though, given its market share and the potential in the future for power options to filter down to its Ultegra and 105 offerings.
Still, if you want an integrated Shimano power meter as part of your groupset purchase, then right now you have to go with Dura-Ace (and delay your purchase until April).
The Electronic Elephant In The Room
Finally, and since we mentioned the SRAM RED groupset (yes, we did…), there is a further similarity between Ultegra and Dura-Ace that you’d think Shimano would have rectified by now.
SRAM’s eTap system, which is only available with the Red groupset, is fully wireless. The shifters send wireless signals that control the derailleurs. Indeed, there is even a wireless hydraulic brake system, to further reduce the amount of cabling on the bike.
Both Ultegra and Dura-Ace Di2, including the brand new 9150 version, use wires for their electronic shifting. Cables run from the front shifters, through (generally) the bike frame, to the front and rear derailleurs in order to send the electronic signal that commands the motors there to shift gears.
There are some wireless elements to the new 9150 Di2. The system can connect via private ANT+ and Bluetooth Smart to head units (i.e. Garmins) and smartphones and tablets, in order display current gear selections, configure the system and download firmware updates.
As part of this, as far as I can see, you can set the system up such that you simply choose whether to change up or down a gear. The system itself decides how it does that (i.e. whether it changes gear at the front or rear derailleur, or both…).
But Shimano still hasn’t introduced a fully wireless shifting system (yet…).
Look. This is a website for sportive cyclists.
Unless I win the lottery, I’m unlikely to buy Dura-Ace for my bike and I’m guessing you’re in the same boat (which isn’t a super-yacht).
As you may have picked up from previous posts, I’m in the (glacial) process of upgrading from my current 105 setup to Ultegra (so far I’ve bought a whizzo new rear derailleur, cassette and chain).
I’m unlikely to recommend that you should choose Dura-Ace over Ultegra.
Still, it’s interesting to look at what you get when you go right to the top of Shimano’s range. Maybe some of those features will trickle down to 105 before too many years pass.
Right, who rides Dura-Ace and who rides Ultegra? Have you ridden both? What do you think? Let me know in the comments below! (please…)
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