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Shimano: 105 vs Ultegra vs Dura-ace

Shimano: 105 vs Ultegra vs Dura-ace

Shimano: 105 vs Ultegra vs Dura-ace

Shimano is the most important groupset manufacturer. It dominates the market and has been able to gain many enthusiasts’ hearts. Which model is the most suitable for your needs, though?

Shimano’s biggest competitors are SRAM and Campagnolo, which fight side-to-side with the Japanese firm on the market and have many passionate followers. However, if you’re about to purchase a new road bike, it will most likely be Shimano-equipped. This brand is definitely the most extended on the market nowadays.

Some competitors, like SRAM, offer a few good alternatives, such as the electronic groupset Axs, which might conquer an important portion of the market in the future. At the moment, however, most clients still choose this brand’s groupsets for their bikes. 

Below you will find all their models, listed from entry- to top-of-the-class-level:

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

Many beginners with a limited budget opt for bikes equipped with Claris, Sora or Tiagra. These groupsets are definitely enough for occasional riders who use their bike for Sunday getaways. For more demanding cyclists in search of their best performance or of a more sophisticated bike, the most appropriate groupsets are 105, Ultegra or Dura-Ace.

How to determine which one is the most suitable for you? The best groupsets are very similar to one another and offer more or less the same qualities. In this article, we will analyze their differences in weight, price and performance to help you pick one for your next bike.


A groupset is composed of gear, front derailleur and derailleur hanger, crankset, cassette, chain, and brakes. Shimano classifies their several groupset series with a numeric code. The current generations of 105, Ultegra  and Dura-Ace are respectively called 105 R7000, Ultegra R8000 Dura-ace R9100.

If you are looking at older bikes, the last 105 series were called 105 5800 and 105 5700; the previous Ultegra models were called Ultegra 6800 and Ultegra 6700 and the Dura-ace were R9000 7900.

Shimano launches a new generation every two to five years. Since Dura-ace is the top-of-the-line, it is updated more frequently than the other models. Ultegra and 105, instead, are usually updated in the following two years. The last Dura-ace R9100 was released in 2016, followed by Ultegra R800 in 2017 and 105 R7000 in 2018. The new Dura-ace version, probably Dura-ace R9200, is likely to be already under construction.

All three current generations have 11 speeds just like the previous ones (105 5800Ultegra 6800, and Dura-ace R9000). The series before only had 10v (5700, 6700 and 7900).

All three groups are available for rim brakes or for hydraulic disk brakes. Furthermore, Ultegra and Dura-ace can also be ordered in their electronic version, Di2, and can be combined with both brake types.

Trickle-down technology

The term “trickle-down” indicates that Shimano offers a wide range of products: from entry-level technology for beginners to high-end items, which adopt the latest technology in order to satisfy all professional cyclists’ needs as well.

That’s one of the reasons why it is hard to determine whether the previous Dura-ace generation is better than the current Ultegra series. The main differences among the groupsets are due to weight, materials, and assembly method. Even if the latest 105 is more recent than an old Dura-ace, many riders consider Dura-ace to be more sophisticated due to its lighter materials, its mechanics and finishing touches.


When comparing road bikes equipped with 105, Ultegra and Dura-ace, cyclists especially look at each groupset’s price. In fact, a Dura-ace-equipped frameset is significantly more expensive than one with 105, whereas Ultegra is positioned in the middle. When observing Shimano price lists, it seems that the price doubles every time you take a step towards the following groupset in terms of price. In fact, Dura-ace is twice as expensive as Ultegra, which costs twice as much as 105.

Dura-ace usually equips top-of-the-range frame, whereas the other two are normally to be found on other models as well, even though nothing keeps riders from customizing their bikes with other groupsets. Often it is not worth it for enthusiasts to do the upgrade, as the single component’s price does not affect the end price as much when you are purchasing a whole bike. 

Technology, weight and materials

As we already mentioned above, weight, materials and configuration are the caracteristics that influence the groupset. Dura-ace  is the lighter one and involves sophisticated construction materials such as titanium and carbon fibre.

Some components (e.g. the derailleur hanger), are subject to longer and more accurate elaboration processes. The Dura-ace derailleur hanger is made of less material than the 105’s. 

Shimano has been working for years in order to reduce the usage of material and has been able to bring Dura-ace down to 60/70gr. Although the difference might not seem significant, you can clearly notice it in the slimmest lines and most rounded-off corners. This clearly implies a big difference in the product’s final price.

Furthermore, the production of the Dura-ace derailleur hanger involves higher-quality and more costly materials, which allow the chain to run smoothly and reduce friction. That can help you save 1-2 watts, even if it is not likely for the rider to feel it while pedaling. Last, but not least, Dura-ace is much better finished. Its components, such as the crankset and derailleur hanger, are finished off with a black, slightly glossy tone of black called “Black Mirror”. 105, instead, is covered in a satin black – very pretty, but not as fancy. 

Apart from the differences in weight, aesthetics, and fluidity of movement, the derailleur hangers are pretty much the same. The current Dura-ace, Ultegra and 105 all use the so-called “Shimano Shadow Technology”, directly imported from the MTB world. The hanger is built-in deeper into the bike (around 12 mm closer to it) when the chain is in its lower point of the cassette. Should the bike ever fall on that side, this change would significantly reduce the risk of damaging the derailleur hanger.

All those riders who use gravel bikes to do off-roads might be interested in the Ultegra RX, which is integrated with a mechanism that improves the group stability in spite of the irregular ground. Neither Dura-ace nor 105 offer this option.

The same applies when comparing the crankset manufacture and finish. The 105 crankset is a unique piece formed by the internal and the external part. Ultegra and Dura-ace are formed by two separated parts. This helps reduce the quantity of exceeding material and therefore lowers significantly the total weight of the two better groupsets. The weight of 105 and the Dura-ace varies of 120 gr, a pretty significant discrepancy although not a visible one – unless you disassemble the crankset. Furthermore, 105 retains more dirt and is, therefore, harder to clean.

In regards to the aesthetics, “Black Mirror” is once again the most pleasing to the eye. Ultegra is available in two versions: a matte and a glossy one.

Riders will also notice a difference in the adopted materials of gear shifters and the cassette. The internal components of the shifters are all the same, meaning they all work in identical ways. However, Dura-ace and Ultegra shifters are made of carbon-fiber-reinforced plastic and carbon brake shifters, while the gear shifters of the 105 are made of glass-fiber-reinforced plastic and aluminum brake shifters. The gear levers of Dura-ace are, therefore, 100 g lighter, whereas Ultegra is 30 g heavier due to some slight internal differences.

The cassette consists of ratchets of nickel-plated steel. The wider sprockets of the 105 cassettes are held together by an aluminum and nickel-plated steel locking system. Those on the Ultegra, on the other hand, are held together by carbon and aluminum parts, thus reducing their weight (25/35 gr lighter depending on the number of teeth). Dura-ace goes further by using titanium for the five largest sprockets (150 gr lighter than the 105). Be warned, though, that titanium sprockets are significantly less economical to replace when they wear out.

Components like the bottom bracket are exactly the same for all three groups, while the chains vary in weight. The calipers on traditional or disc brakes are more or less the same. The rotating discs of disc brakes are, however, very different. The braking track is the same, but the Dura-ace design helps cool down the brakes.

Total Weight

There is a big difference in weight among the three groupsets. Shimano, which is very accurate in their calculations, indicates the following:

  • 105 R7000: 2,286 Kg
  • Ultegra R80002,156 Kg
  • Dura-ace R91001,807 Kg

Someone might wonder if the 200 g variance between Ultegra and 105, or the 480 g between Dura-ace and 105 do make the difference. As many enthusiasts often repeat, “what matters are one’s legs”. Should a professional biker ever run against me, he’d surely win also with a 3 kg heavier bike. However, half a kilo more on a bike that weighs 7 to 8 kg can be a relevant difference. I would honestly opt for the in-between solution of Ultegra, although this kind of decision is totally personal and someone might decide to purchase 105, even if it is significantly heavier, because of its much more reasonable price.


Sensations belong to the personal sphere. Many riders jump switch from 105 to Ultegra or Dura-ace and immediately notice a big improvement. This especially happened in the past, whereas it seems like nowadays the contrasts are not as marked. When I bought my road bike some years ago, I immediately had better feelings due to Dura-ace. Changing between the gears was more fluid and precise. As soon as I went back home after my first ride I couldn’t but say the typical cyclist’s jargon expression “this gear works like a clockwork”. This sentence is enough to represent the superiority of Dura-ace over the other Shimano groupsets.

I was also able to feel the difference between the handlebar grips of the older generations of groupsets and the new ones. I felt a lot more comfortable riding with a Dura-ace than with an Ultegra. The latter handlebar grips were a little too long for my taste, whereas the, slightly shorter, Dura-ace better met my needs. However, it seems that Shimano has invested in the development of all three groupsets and these differences are not as marked anymore.

As previously mentioned, these sensations are merely personal and the average rider probably won’t notice all these differences. In my riding days, I used to spend about three to four hours a day on my saddle and can confirm that one can really feel all these fine differences and spot every little change. It is very similar to when you start pedaling for the first time in the season and everything seems “uncomfortable” and you notice every little detail. The more time you spend on the bike, the more you get used to the mechanisms that much, that you immediately notice and little change.

Di2 electronic shift

When talking about feelings, one can especially notice the difference between electronic and mechanical shifts. Both Ultegra and Dura-ace are offered in their electronic version Di2. The electronic version definitely represents the future of cycling and Shimano’s Dura-ace was the first to appear on the market. Its technology has also been applied to Ultegra Di2 in the last ten years. In order to activate the derailleurs and change gear, Di2 uses some electronic motors instead of the regular cables.

Nick Lega, Shimano North America’s road bike brand manager, illustrates its benefits. “Di2 truly gives you an advantage when changing gear. Many riders who are used to using both mechanical shifts and Di2 prefer the latter because it is more precise, more accurate”.

Although you need to charge its batteries, Di2 requires fewer registrations and services. What’s more, it responds better in stiff situations, with humidity and mud. Finally, electronic Dura-ace and Ultegra are about 100 g lighter than their mechanical counterparts.

For all of the above reasons, it is safe to say that electronic shifts are on a higher level and, if you’re looking for the highest technology, these two groupsets are definitely for you.

Reduction ratio

The last point that has to be considered when comparing Shimano groupsets is their reduction ratio. Each group can be installed in its classic cassette (53/39), in semi-compact (52/36), or compact version (50/34). 105 and Ultegra basically offer the same cassette configuration. Dura-ace, instead, offers fewer options for those riders who wish to use lighter gears. It has become famous for being the favorite group of those professional cyclists who do not need particularly agile gear. Nowadays, however, the way of pedaling has changed: even the pros prefer pushing on lighter gears with higher pedaling frequency. 

Dura-ace offers an only a derailleur hanger which allows one to install the pinion gears between 11 and 30; with Ultegra and 105, on the other hand, one has the chance to choose between the “short-cage derailleur”, which allows using the pinion gears between 11 and 30, and the “mid-cage derailleur”, which is compatible with the wheels with 11 to 34 teeth.

Shimano, however, tends to be more conservative with its recommendations. When searching the Internet, you can find riders who successfully installed pinions wheels of up to 36 teeth on Dura-ace and up to 40 on Ultegra. Doing so is clearly not recommended and at the rider’s own risk.

What’s the right Shimano group for you?

As always, after seeing the differences, one has to decide which groupset to pick. One’s budget clearly represents the first factor to reduce the possibilities. Is this limited, then you will most likely opt for 105. If money is not a problem, there are several other elements that need to be considered. marginal advantages, prestige, and fun.

Marginal advantages

Because all three series are very similar (for what concerns the mechanics, given that the electronics is another story), weight is a major differentiation criterion. If you’re after the maximum performance with the lightest bike, then your preferred group will probably be Dura-ace. This is, in fact, the one chosen by professionals who rely on Shimano. 

This is clearly a pricey operation, but, like Shimano’s road bike product manager Dave Lawrence says, “Dura-ace does not accept compromises. Maximum performance, maximum lightness”. 

This is where the marginal advantage logic strikes in. You need to make a big effort (in this case, spending more) to gain back just a little more. If your goal is to be competitive, though, that little profit is necessary.

Ultegra, on the other hand, represents the perfect balance between quality and money”, continues Lawrence. Ultegra accepts those compromises that Dura-ace refuses. Less processing and more use of steel and aluminum, instead of carbon and titanium, make this group less performing, but surely less expensive, too. Shimano has definitely done a lot to try and satisfy those enthusiasts who seek the balance between performance and price.


Dura-ace is one of the most prestigious groupsets in the world and it has long been the benchmark for high-quality ones.

“It’s where technology was born”, says Lawrence. A proper revolution started on the bike market when, in 2009, Shiman launched their very first electronic groupset Dura-ace Di2. SRAM and Campagnolo immediately had to adapt to the new circumstances and design their own electric series.

Those riders who are obsessed with technology love Dura-ace for what it stands for: the highest peak of performance. It is more appealing than 105 also on an esthetical level which really matters for many enthusiasts.


The bikers’ contentment is generally hard to measure. However, some riders are happier with the best possible equipment even if they do not really need it.

“The allure of cycling, for some of us, does not derive from the ride itself, but it involves the bike as well. We are also interested in the technology behind it” says Nick Legan. And it is definitely true. I myself am totally fascinated by cycling. I literally feel like a young boy on Christmas day whenever I see the pros passing by. I would love to ride their bikes, but my budget does not always allow me to do so. Being able to use the best technologies, for those who have the chance to, is a major source of joy.

Final considerations

I started getting closer to the world of road cycling when I was still taking part in MTB races. I needed a road bike to cover bigger distances with less effort. I too inherited my first road bike, just like many others. It was old, one of those bikes with the gear levers on the frame. It was very heavy and had incredibly long gears, as it was in the ’90s. However, we did my very first Alpine pass together (the Colle del Piccolo San Bernardo) and I fell in love with road cycling. You simply can’t resist the charm of those snow walls on the roadside on top of the hill after suffering for several kilometers. You cannot describe with words the satisfaction of that moment, and you feel a little closer to your idols who run the Giro d’Italia (I was just 14 at the time). 

After that, I got the chance to change and ride many bikes, which were given to me by my team on a gratuitous loan. That way I was able to try several great groupsets and I must admit that I always felt at ease with Ultegra. Once my career was over, I purchased a Dura-ace-installed road bike. My budget would not allow me to buy a brand new bike but, thanks to this second-hand one, I was able to pedal on high-end components anyways.

I believe that, if I wanted to purchase a new bike today, I probably couldn’t afford a Dura-ace but Ultegra is surely the right compromise between performance and price.

Although Dura-ace is unique, for the above-mentioned reasons, Ultegra is definitely a good alternative.

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