The Shimano Ultegra groupset combines a competitive price with top-level performance. In this article we'll take a look at some of the best Ultegra road bikes around at the minute.
The majority of manufacturers don't hang an Ultegra groupset on anything but a carbon fibre frame — only two bikes here are aluminium, though one of them is exceptional value for money as a result, and one each are steel and titanium
With its rated ability to handle a 34-tooth sprocket (and actually cope with up to 40 teeth if set up carefully) the current Ultegra is Shimano's most versatile high-performance groupset ever
The namecheck of Ultegra in Half Man Half Biscuit's 'Excavating Rita' is believed to be the only mention of a bicycle groupset in popular song
Ultegra-equipped bikes start at about £1,200 and go up to around £5,000
What are the key factors when choosing a new road bike? It might be price, purpose, style, weight, but for some, it might very well come down to what groupset the bike is equipped with. And one of the most popular groupsets is Shimano's Ultegra, a groupset that combines a competitive price with top-level performance.
Here, then, is a roundup of Shimano Ultegra road bikes, and we’re going to focus on the mechanical version because it covers a wider range of prices. Shimano launched the latest R8000 version of Ultegra in 2017 and now all new Ultegra-specced bikes have swapped over to the new components. The new version is functionally very similar to 6800 but styled to look like its Dura-Ace big sister.
If you read Mat’s head to head feature, pitting Shimano Ultegra against its rival SRAM Force, you’ll know that Ultegra road bikes can range in price from just over £1,000 right up to £3,000 or more. That means there’s a wide selection of bikes to choose from, with different frame materials and riding purpose, and a choice of disc brakes or aero frames.
Some bikes will feature a full Shimano Ultegra groupset, but at both extremes of the price spectrum, you’re going to find some manufacturers mixing in some other components to help them meet key price points. The most common changes are brake calipers, especially on cheaper models, and sometimes chainsets get swapped for another make.
Let's dive in then...
The Vitesse EVO CRS Ultegra uses the same frame as the Vitesse Evo Team Stu reviewed recently. Of that bike, he said "The Vitesse Evo Team eTap AXS is described as a true pro race bike by Vitus and boy oh boy, does it ever ride like one. The frame is great, not only in the way it delivers the ride quality but also in terms of handling." You get the same frame — and therefore handling — here for over a thousand quid less, making this one of the stand-outs of the current Vitus range.
It's "a lovely bike to ride," says Stu. "With a low front end, the riding position feels purposeful and aggressive, and thanks to loads of stiffness in the lower half of the frame it's a bike you can really ride hard. The Vitesse wastes nothing when accelerating hard from a standstill, going for a sprint or attacking a climb out of the saddle, and you can see why the Vitesse Evo is the bike used by the Vitus Pro Cycling team. The front end feels really tight and direct when steering into technical bends on a descent or when hauling on the front brake for an emergency stop."
With the successor to the popular CAAD12 Cannondale haven't focused on shedding grams — a CAAD13 frame weighs about the same as a CAAD12 — but on ride quality. After a brief spin on the new bike at Cannondale's launch, David Arthur wrote: "in the CAAD13, Cannondale have produced a bike that is wonderfully smooth all-round. The Cotswolds isn’t generally known for its smooth roads, and over the crusty surface on some quieter country lanes, the CAAD13 blew me away with its ability to not just provide a smooth and calm ride, but to really close the gap to a carbon fibre bike."
Cannondale have also made the CAAD13 a shade more versatile than its racing-orientated predecessor. The rim-braked bike has room for 28mm tyres, the disc bike will accommodate 30mm rubber, and both have mudguard eyes discreetly tucked away in the drop-outs.
This model complements the new frame with the Ultegra groupset for a bike that looks like a winning combination of performance and value.
Here’s the 2021 Trek Émonda SL 6, which features the slightly-less-exotic-but-still-light 500 Series OCLV version of Trek's pared-down Émonda platform.
The 2021 Émonda SL and SLR bikes are actually a bit less pared-down than previous incarnations, because Trek has tweaked them for better aerodynamics. The idea, for the high-zoot Émonda SLR at least, was to create the fastest possible bike up l'Alpe d'Huez, the iconic Tour de France climb considered by many to the mountain where Tours are won and lost.
Émonda SL 6 Disc has a full Ultegra transmission and disc brakes (there's no rim-brake version), and the Bontrager Aeolus Elite 35 Tubeless Ready carbon fibre wheels mean going tubeless is just a matter of fitting tubeless tyres.
Blending aerodynamics and low weight is all the rage for 2021, and here's Specialized's contender, the new Tarmac SL7. It's "one bike to rule them all, putting an end to the idea of a climbing bike and an aero bike," says Specialized's Cam Piper.
Tester Stu Kerton found the top-end Specialized S-Works Tarmac SL7 Dura-Ace Di2 to be "one of the fastest road bikes I have ever ridden". With only a few concessions to keep the price under control, the Tarmac SL7 Expert will be in the same high-speed ballpark, with only its shallower wheels and conventional handlebar slowing it down compared to the £10,500 flagship.
Tester Stu was deeply impressed with the D12-equipped version of this bike. He wrote: "I've ridden a lot of bikes over the last 20 years, especially in the 10 that I've been with road.cc (41 in 2019 alone), and while a lot of them have been very good, there are probably ten or so that really stand out as brilliant – and the Venturi is one of those.
"I like a stiff bike. I want that feeling of performance, and if that sacrifices comfort, I can deal with it. I like a frame that feels alive, a bit on the edge, I want to feel everything that is going on from that tiny rubber footprint on the ground, and if I need to take a little bit of a battering to get that then so be it.
"The Venturi delivers that in spades, but the carbon lay-up used means it manages to do that while being very comfortable too, without taking anything away.
"This means you can ride the Orro for hours at a decent pace with little fatigue. It's not the sharpest handling race bike I've ridden but it isn't far off, and you can really take those descents with the bit between your teeth and not really feel out of your depth. The Venturi just flows between bends and gives you that surefooted feeling of confidence."
Another Stu Kerton favourite, and an absolute shoo-in as the answer to the question "Which steel-framed bike would be awesome with an Ultegra groupset?"
When he rode the 105-equipped version of the Mason Resolution, Stu wrote: "Selecting each individual tube rather than an 'off the shelf' tubeset is what gives the Resolution, Mason Cycles steel framed four season speed machine, its identity. Each tube has a specific role and delivers on that with complete precision, the real trick though is how they all unite to deliver what can only be described as a phenomenal ride. I like this bike A LOT. In fact 'like' is probably not a strong enough word.
"Whatever your passion is in life, when you find what you think is the pinnacle of whatever that is there is no better feeling in the world.
"The Resolution delivers that buzz for me, it's addictive and the beautiful thing is that it's a feeling that hasn't diminished no matter how many times I've ridden it."
The Ribble R872 Disc is a carbon fibre road bike that's built to a sportive-friendly geometry and it offers a much higher performance than you've a right to expect at this price. Plus, there's the bonus that you can tweak the spec to suit your taste and budget.
The feature that surprised us most about the Ribble R872 Disc's ride is the front end stiffness. In this respect it feels like a bike costing way more than this. Haul on the alloy handlebar and everything is absolutely rock solid. You might not pull out your best Mark Cavendish sprint all that often but you'll appreciate the rigidity when climbing out of the saddle and also when cornering hard – you can really chuck this bike through the bends.
Scott's Addict RC is the company's offering for anyone who wants a full-on race bike whether you plan to actually pin on a number, or just like zooming through the countryside adding the whoosh of wheels and pedals to the soundscape.
The Addict RC 30 is built on the same Addict RC Disc HMX Carbon frame as the £6,300 Addict RC Pro, so what you're getting here is a pro-level frame with the Ultegra groupset to keep the price under control. There's a 52/36 chainset for all-out efforts and Scott's own Syncros handlebar and integrated stem for tidy lines.
For the more expensive of the brace of new aluminium-framed Van Rysel bikes, Decathlon has taken the unusual step of using a full Ultegra groupset, a spec most manufacturers reserve for their carbon fibre bikes these days. That makes it by a considerable margin the cheapest bike here.
Along with Fulcrum Racing 4 wheels and Hutchinson HDF>5.2 tyres, this should be a fine machine for eating the miles.
German direct-sales brand Canyon has enjoyed a meteoric rise in popularity and sales in the UK, and it can always be counted on for providing very good value for money. The Endurace’s carbon fibre frameset is designed to offer a more upright and comfortable riding position than it’s racier Ultimate. You get a full Shimano Ultegra groupset with a compact chainset, along with DT Swiss P1800 wheels and a claimed bike weight of 7.5kg.
If you prefer a speedier ride, then the Canyon Aeroad CF SL 8.0 (£3,049) swaps the sportive frame for one designed in a wind tunnel and switches to deep-section wheels. It retains the identical groupset. It’s a good demonstration of how Ultegra road bikes dominate the manufacturer's range.
Some people say you should never put a Shimano groupset on an Italian frame. We say you should make up your own mind. The Bianchi Oltre XR3 draws inspiration from the company’s top-end race-ready Oltre XR4, but uses less expensive carbon fibre to hit lower price points. It’s a full Shimano Ultegra groupset too, including brakes. Wheels are Fulcrum’s Racing 7 LG shod with Vittoria Zaffiro Pro Slicks in 25mm width. Once he learned that this was a bike to be coaxed to speed not thrashed, tester Stu had a great time with it.
Maybe you’ve got your heart set on a road bike with disc brakes? Well, Giant has completely overhauled its Defy endurance/sportive model with disc brakes, and for its £2,199 RRP, the Defy Advanced 1 offers you a carbon fibre frameset, designed to provide a comfortable ride, with a Shimano Ultegra groupset. For 2017, Giant upgraded the brakes to Shimano hydraulics, a significant improvement over the previous mechanical discs, and that spec carries over for 2020. Giant supplies its own-brand finishing kit and tubeless wheels, along with 25mm tubeless tyres.
Giant launched the Liv sub-brand to cater for women cyclists, and the Avail Advanced 1 shares many design features with the Defy, but the company says the carbon layup has been tuned specifically for women. As well as that, the geometry has also been adapted, and Giant has optimised the stem lengths, handlebar width and drop, crank arm lengths and brake lever reach across the size range. It’s similarly equipped, with a Shimano Ultegra 11-speed components and hydraulic disc brakes.
Looking for a bargain? There are still some 2019 versions round at substantially reduced prices.
Cervelo's S3 might have been around since 2009, but it’s still regularly the choice of racers and professionals, and in 2013 it received an update so it's still a decent choice. It's a frame, reckoned by some to still be one of the most aero choices, that combines comfort with skinny rear stays, so you can have your aero cake and eat it.
And finally, to prove there's more to life than bikes made from what titanium pioneer Gary Helfrich used to call "glue and hair" here's a thoroughly modern, and thoroughly lovely UK homegrown titanium bike from Mark Reilly.
Dave Arthur wrote of the original, rim-braked T325 "The Reilly T325 provides a very smooth ride with the sort of handling that will allow sporty types to indulge their performance aspirations. It's fast and very direct. It's a worthy alternative to a carbon fibre race bike."
This latest version takes that heritage and modernises it with a 44mm head tube for a tapered fork, through axle dropouts, flat mounts for disc brakes, and what Reilly calls a Disc Specific Tube-set in butted 3Al/2.5V cold worked titanium.
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David has worked on the road.cc tech team since July 2012. Previously he was editor of Bikemagic.com and before that staff writer at RCUK. He's a seasoned cyclist of all disciplines, from road to mountain biking, touring to cyclo-cross, he only wishes he had time to ride them all. He's mildly competitive, though he'll never admit it, and is a frequent road racer but is too lazy to do really well. He currently resides in the Cotswolds.