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Although it's great to look at new and shiny Dura Ace (and Di2) kit, it's always the announcement of the new Ultegra groupsets that generates the most excitement here at road.cc towers. Ultegra has always been the smart choice in the Shimano range: affordable enough to be a serious consideration with first dibs on all that innovation trickling down from the top.
Dura Ace 7900 was a fairly big leap in a market that mostly makes incremental changes, and Ultegra 6700 has stepped up a notch too, taking on plenty of the new technology at a price point that's much more within the reach of the keen amateur cyclist.
Ultegra now has the hollowglide chainring of Dura Ace. It also shares the internal lever cable routing, the Carbon lever blade, redesigned hood shape and repositioned pivots on lever and brake. In fact there's not much that it doesn't have, really only the no-trim shifting of the front mech. So what's the performance difference between the two groupsets?
Hand on heart I'd have to say that blindfolded I'd be very hard pressed to tell the difference between the two. There's no real performance advantage to be had by buying Dura Ace kit over the new Ultegra, not one you'll notice out on the road at least. The new Ultegra kit is excellent: shifts are crisp, braking is noticeably better, power transmission is near faultless.
In the end it all comes down to weight: Dura Ace 7900 is about 300g lighter than Ultegra 6700. If you can honestly say you'd notice half a pound more kit hanging from your frame then you need to consider the top-of-the-line groupset. For everyone else, myself very much included, the smart money's with Ultegra. Forget the RRPs for a minute: In the real world 7900 is going to cost you a grand, and 6700 can be had for less than £600. For me it's a no-brainer: if you're a Shimano fan then Ultegra 6700 is definitely the groupset that gives you the most bangs per buck. Here's how we rate the components...
The most obvious difference between 6700 and the previous incarnations of Ultegra is that the new groupset shares the Hollowglide chainring technology introduced with last year's Dura Ace. Essentially this means the big ring is made from two sheets sandwiched together, with a void in the middle. Shimano tell us it's lighter and stiffer – isn't everything? – and it also improves the look of the chainset which has very smooth lines. It might not make you go faster, but you will feel a bit faster! Where the Dura Ace chainring uses two Aluminium plates the Ultegra chainset utilises a composite inner plate. We tested the compact 50/34 version, which runs on the now ubiquitous outboard bearings.
With Hollowtech II crank arms, a Hollowglide chainset and external bearings you'd expect the 6700 chainset to be stiff, and it is. Really stiff. No amount of jumping on the pedals could persuade the chainset to flex, it's an excellent pedalling platform. In conjunction with the redesigned front mech the shifts between the rings are nice and crisp; shifting up to the big ring particularly is an improvement. Shimano have been fiddling with the spacing between the two rings and they've added an extra millimetre of space between the rings on the doubles. That doesn't sound a lot but it means you get a greater range of gears available in the small ring without having to worry about chain rub. The only possible downside of that extra millimetre is that it means you need to buy a double- or triple-specific STI lever, which makes changing from one to the other a costly job. Best to do some some hard thinking if you're unsure.
The chainset is probably the place to talk about the finish, as it's the most obvious component. It's a sort of dark gunmetal grey, and it'd be fair to say that it's divided opinion a bit. My main issue is that the Hollowglide chainring doesn't quite match the spider, more in terms of lustre than actual colour, but some folks just don't like it. I expect they'll come round though, it's a bit different but you could hardly say that the 6700 kit is ugly, far from it.
There's plenty of Dura Ace 7900 – the shape of the unit, the Carbon brake lever and the internal cable routing – evident here. Less obvious but just as important in terms of the feel of the lever is the repositioned pivot which changes the action of the lever slightly. From the hoods (and I spend a lot of time there) it's easier to use the brakes, you don't need to grab quite as much lever which will be good news for riders with smaller hands. And there's more good news in that regard: pop off the front cap and you get a reach adjustment screw to dial the levers in.
The internal routing is mostly a cosmetic improvement – it doesn't affect the function at all, really – but I much prefer the clean look, and my money's on the technology filtering right down the range. The only slight issue is when fitting tri bars, as there's more wires coming out where the clamps go. However, not wrapping the tape as close to the stem cures the problem, giving the cables more room to get out of the way.
The shifting action initially felt a little heavier than last year but a few hundred miles and some GT-85 later it's more or less the same in terms of weight. The throw is similar too, and the action is a little bit more positive. Shifting from the hoods is very good with both levers easy to locate and simple to use. In terms of action and performance it's pretty much indistinguishable from Dura Ace, the only noticable difference being the trim position on the front lever; Dura Ace is now trim free.
On the drops Shimano and Campag are both giving ground to SRAM, in my opinion. The main advantage of the DoubleTap system for me is that when you're on the drops you can pull the control lever back independent of the brake and use that one lever to shift up and down. Ultegra is perfectly usable from the drops but it can be a bit of a stretch to upshift; in fact I dialled the reach on the levers in a bit to make the action from the drops better, even though I've got hands like spades.
The hoods aren't as big as the look of the levers would have you believe, I found them very comfortable throughout testing though my thumb tends to fall into the hole where the shift mechanism is. It's not a big problem but it would be nice if the rubber extended a bit further down.
The Rear mech comes in short- or mid-cage flavours, the latter for the triple chainset. The main change from last year is that the outside link plate is a bit wider to stiffen up the structure. It's an all-alloy unit with an Aluminium pulley cage and it's finished to match the chainset. At 190g it's giving away ten grams to Dura Ace and Record but I doubt you'd notice. Performance is excellent: tidy shifts and very few problems. It's possible to make the chain jump a bit if you really try, but in the normal course of riding you can go for hours without missing a single shift. I suspect that the new mech is more sensitive to misalignment than in previous years; a quarter of a turn on the barrel was the difference between perfect shifting and a bit of searching at the rear. However, when it's dialled it is, for the most part, perfect.
Normally there's not much to say about the front mech but this year the Ultegra unit has undergone a fairly major redesign. Whereas in previous years the inner link of the parallelogram was braced at a single point top and bottom, now the linkage looks much more like the rear mech: wider, and with two points of contact. This should make the mech much stiffer and Shimano claim that shifting at the front is improved as a result. And it is. It's hard to say what contribution the new mech makes, and how much of a part the chain and chainring play, but things are noticeably better at the front. The spring tension is lower too, so shifts are easier at the lever and more positive at the business end.
There's lots of incremental changes this year but when you hear Shimano say they've upped the stopping power of the brakes in the wet by 100% then that's a grand claim. I'm not going to pretend that I've had the rolling road and the strain gauges out but I have been seriously impressed by the Ultegra 6700 callipers. There's a depth of stopping power there that's definitely a step above most dual pivots I've tried. Shimano say that the performance improvements are down to a repositioned pivot and a new brake compound. This incarnation of the brake also allows you to adjust the spring tension so you can tailor the feel. There's a multi-position quick release so you can adjust the pad clearance easily on the go, and the barrel adjuster is nice and chunky for gloved hands.
Shimano's big change on the chain front is to make their chains direction specific. Chain plates mainly interact with the block or the chainrings when shifting from a smaller to a bigger cog; on the front this means the outside plates, and on the rear the inside. The 6700 chain features different plate designs on the two sides of the chain which means you need to get it the right way round: the hollow plates go on the inside. Again, it's hard to know how much of a difference this makes by itself but it shows that Shimano have had their thinking caps on at least, and in terms of shifting performance the whole groupset is pretty hard to fault. It's a pity it doesn't come with a quicklink connector or similar; okay the shifting might suffer on that one link but i'd take that hit for the ability to remove the chain easily.
There's not a great deal to say about the cassette, except that Shimano have fiddled a bit with the tooth profiles. It's not noticeably different to last year's profile though. There's a good range of cassettes on offer (11-23, 12-23, 12-25, 11-25, 11-28) and there's an alloy sprocket carrier to save weight. The bigger sprockets are drilled too, so shave a few extra grams off tot total.
Ultegra is the new amateur rider's benchmark for performance and price. Almost indistinguishable from Dura Ace in terms of performance, it only loses out on weight – but more than makes up for that in value for money.
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Make and model: Shimano Ultegra 6700 groupset
Size tested: 50/34
Tell us what the product is for, and who it's aimed at. What do the manufacturers say about it? How does that compare to your own feelings about it?
Ultegra is the second-in-line mechanical groupset, aimed at keen leisure riders and amateur racers.
Tell us some more about the technical aspects of the product?
See review body
Really well put together, with lots of minor changes and plenty of attention to detail
Almost faultless performance providing you keep it well dialled and adjusted
No problems during testing, the finish – although not everyone liked it – seems pretty tough
300g weight penalty over Dura Ace but lighter than both Ultegra groupsets it replaces
Only the levers really come into the equation here and they're very good
Compared to the top-end kit it's a steal given that the performance is comparable
Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose
Nearly perfect performance most of the time: a well designed set of components that work together brilliantly. The whole is greater than the sum of the parts...
Tell us what you particularly liked about the product
Pretty much everything. The new chainset and STI levers are the highlights but improvements elsewhere are also important. It's really stepped up from last year.
Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product
Okay, I'm not much take on the finish. But I'll live with it for the performance...
Did you enjoy using the product? Yes
Would you consider buying the product? Yes
Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes
Age: 36 Height: 190cm Weight: 98kg
I usually ride: whatever I\'m testing... My best bike is: Trek 1.5 with Ultegra 6700
I've been riding for: 10-20 years I ride: Every day I would class myself as: Experienced
I regularly do the following types of riding: time trialling, commuting, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mtb, Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling, track
Dave is a founding father of road.cc, having previously worked on Cycling Plus and What Mountain Bike magazines back in the day. He also writes about e-bikes for our sister publication ebiketips. He's won three mountain bike bog snorkelling World Championships, and races at the back of the third cats.