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Shimano Dura-Ace vs Ultegra: Clash Of The Groupset Titans

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)

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.

Dura Ace 9100 groupset

Shimano’s new Dura-Ace 9100 groupset (the mechanical version) in all its glory…

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)

  • Dura-Ace
  • Ultegra
  • 105
  • Tiagra
  • Sora
  • Claris

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).

Digit-tastic

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]

Helpful, no?

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.

Shimano Ultegra 6800 groupset

And here’s the full Ultegra groupset. Quite different to the Dura-Ace no…?

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.

Performance Parp

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.

SRAM RED eTap groupset

This is what a fully wireless gear shifting system looks like (SRAM’s RED eTap)…

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…).

Conclusion

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…)

And Finally…

Sportive Cyclist is free to read (frankly, who’d pay for this crud?).

It does cost money to run though. If you’d like to help me out, you can buy stuff through one of my links and I earn a small commission. It doesn’t cost you anything (and might even give you a warm glow inside…).

To that end, please consider clicking the following links and see if there is anything that takes your fancy:

  • If you’re in the market for a new bike: Wiggle has a fine (and well-priced) selection; Ribble Cycles are amazing value and their ‘Bikebuilder’ feature allows you to change components to see the effect on the price.
  • If you’re looking for bike components or clothing, again Wiggle is my go-to website.
  • Finally, if you buy anything on Amazon, I’ll get a commission if you do so after clicking through my link. All you have to do is click here and then forget about it!

Many thanks – every click means a lot to me!

Muchas gracias!

{ 11 comments… add one }
  • Jack Scullion says:

    Good review!

  • Luc says:

    Excellent review Monty!
    I currently ride on (used) Campagnolo Chorus (mechanical) which I believe is the equivalent to Shimano’s Ultegra (although die hard campy fans will argue that point)… top of the line components are nice, but some will point out they have a tendency to last a little less longer (weight saving factor in the build, perhaps)… something to consider, since most of us aren’t sponsored… 105 and/or Ultegra is definitely sufficient for most of us, unless of course money is not an issue 🙂

  • sanjay grover says:

    i use both Monty, dura-ace di2 and mech ultegra, biggest plus with di2 is the sprint shifters, so nice in the drops, shifitng in rolling terrain.
    But di2 is a pain with having to charge, when the battery runs out, the front derraileur goes, leaving you with about 100 shifts in the rear. The cold makes it the battery drain.

  • James says:

    Nice summary, Monty. I’m currently on 10-speed SRAM Red (mechanical) since it came with my Trek Madone, but replacement prices are shocking — e.g. $270 for a cassette, and I go through at least one a year. Luckily I purchased a 3-year Trek CarePlus warranty with the bike, and they’re covering (with extreme reluctance) all my replacement parts — cassettes, chains, handlebars and a rear deraillleur I broke in a crash, etc. When the warranty expires, I’ll replace the drive train with mechanical Ultegra, since I’ve had good results with that in the past. (I already replaced the crappy first-generation Bontrager direct-mount brakes with Ultegra.) Dura-Ace is nice, but I don’t see it being worth the extra dough. I’m also not excited about electronic shifting, although SRAM Red eTap seems like a step in the right direction — i.e. it’s actually potentially better than mechanical shifting, rather than just an electronic replacement of it. And I’m not in any hurry to get disc brakes, although maybe if/when I upgrade to carbon wheels designed for disc brakes so that there’s no weight penalty.

  • Ethan says:

    (It’s a parenthesis party in here)

  • Matt says:

    Hey, I’ve been scouring google for good reviews and comparisons between DA9100 and Ultegra or 105. Here’s my deal. I have a KTM Revelatory purchased in June 2015. 105 equipped, I’ve replaced the cockpit and wheels but kept the drivetrain until I “wore it out” as I told myself. The problem is, 105 is bulletproof! I mean it just gets it done. I preferred the color scheme of the 105 anyway. ANYWAY, I’ve made a few bucks at my new job, and want to upgrade my drivetrain. I firmly don’t believe it’s worth to buy Ultegra if I have 105. But do I want the DA upgrade? I say I do, simply bc I have Dura Ace C24 wheels and DA pedals. I don’t manage a bike shop so I don’t get discounts anymore, but Merlin is offering DA for $1350 shipped right now. That’s an incredible deal. You ride 105. If you pretended to be me in my riding situation, would you think it a worthy upgrade? I

  • Hesham says:

    Hi All,
    Very interesting discussion. I’ve a question and thought that you could help me, which one should you choose, the Ultegra Di2 or the Dura Ace Mechanical one? Excluding their prices from the comparison.
    Thanks,

  • Very good review. Comprehensive analysis. Thanks

  • Aff says:

    fufufu 300g is not so little. That’s almost a pound huehuehuehue 😎

  • Jack Scullion January 22, 2017, 3:33 pm

    Good review!

    • Andrew Montgomery January 22, 2017, 3:36 pm

      Thanks Jack!

  • Luc January 23, 2017, 12:12 pm

    Excellent review Monty!
    I currently ride on (used) Campagnolo Chorus (mechanical) which I believe is the equivalent to Shimano’s Ultegra (although die hard campy fans will argue that point)… top of the line components are nice, but some will point out they have a tendency to last a little less longer (weight saving factor in the build, perhaps)… something to consider, since most of us aren’t sponsored… 105 and/or Ultegra is definitely sufficient for most of us, unless of course money is not an issue 🙂

  • sanjay grover January 23, 2017, 1:34 pm

    i use both Monty, dura-ace di2 and mech ultegra, biggest plus with di2 is the sprint shifters, so nice in the drops, shifitng in rolling terrain.
    But di2 is a pain with having to charge, when the battery runs out, the front derraileur goes, leaving you with about 100 shifts in the rear. The cold makes it the battery drain.

  • James January 23, 2017, 4:45 pm

    Nice summary, Monty. I’m currently on 10-speed SRAM Red (mechanical) since it came with my Trek Madone, but replacement prices are shocking — e.g. $270 for a cassette, and I go through at least one a year. Luckily I purchased a 3-year Trek CarePlus warranty with the bike, and they’re covering (with extreme reluctance) all my replacement parts — cassettes, chains, handlebars and a rear deraillleur I broke in a crash, etc. When the warranty expires, I’ll replace the drive train with mechanical Ultegra, since I’ve had good results with that in the past. (I already replaced the crappy first-generation Bontrager direct-mount brakes with Ultegra.) Dura-Ace is nice, but I don’t see it being worth the extra dough. I’m also not excited about electronic shifting, although SRAM Red eTap seems like a step in the right direction — i.e. it’s actually potentially better than mechanical shifting, rather than just an electronic replacement of it. And I’m not in any hurry to get disc brakes, although maybe if/when I upgrade to carbon wheels designed for disc brakes so that there’s no weight penalty.

  • Ethan June 10, 2017, 9:16 am

    (It’s a parenthesis party in here)

    • Andrew Montgomery June 10, 2017, 9:19 am

      (Ain’t no party like a parenthesis party!)

  • Matt August 17, 2017, 1:04 am

    Hey, I’ve been scouring google for good reviews and comparisons between DA9100 and Ultegra or 105. Here’s my deal. I have a KTM Revelatory purchased in June 2015. 105 equipped, I’ve replaced the cockpit and wheels but kept the drivetrain until I “wore it out” as I told myself. The problem is, 105 is bulletproof! I mean it just gets it done. I preferred the color scheme of the 105 anyway. ANYWAY, I’ve made a few bucks at my new job, and want to upgrade my drivetrain. I firmly don’t believe it’s worth to buy Ultegra if I have 105. But do I want the DA upgrade? I say I do, simply bc I have Dura Ace C24 wheels and DA pedals. I don’t manage a bike shop so I don’t get discounts anymore, but Merlin is offering DA for $1350 shipped right now. That’s an incredible deal. You ride 105. If you pretended to be me in my riding situation, would you think it a worthy upgrade? I

  • Hesham August 24, 2017, 6:54 pm

    Hi All,
    Very interesting discussion. I’ve a question and thought that you could help me, which one should you choose, the Ultegra Di2 or the Dura Ace Mechanical one? Excluding their prices from the comparison.
    Thanks,

  • Carlos Sangiorgio September 20, 2017, 5:16 pm

    Very good review. Comprehensive analysis. Thanks

  • Aff September 28, 2017, 1:20 am

    fufufu 300g is not so little. That’s almost a pound huehuehuehue 😎

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