Ever since the launch of the new Shimano Dura-Ace last year, we've been waiting with great anticipation to see if and when Ultegra would follow suit. The great news for many is that a new Ultegra groupset, along with new pedals and two new lightweight wheelsets will soon be available with many of the same features as the top-tier groupset.
The new Ultegra R8000 features both rim brake and hydraulic versions; a different aesthetic; improved levers with better ergonomics and shift customisation; greater electronic shifting capacity; and wider gear ranges.
We've broken down the top ten things you need to know about the new groupset.
1. Trickle down everything
In June 2016, Shimano released details of the new Dura-Ace with plenty of upgrades including changes to the shapes and dimensions of the groupset, a beefed up crank arm, the inclusion of the angular 'shadow' rear derailleur, wider gear options and the introduction of Synchro Shifting to the road market. As we had expected and hoped for, the new Ultegra groupset features much of this trickle down technology, mirroring the advancements we saw to the Dura-Ace groupset 12 months ago.
The new Ultegra gets a chunkier crankset, increased gear ratios, the shadow rear derailleur, full and semi-synchronized shifting function, improved hydraulic braking options and upgraded levers that provide better ergonomics and increased functionality.
2. R8000, R8020, R8050 and R8070
Much like the new Dura-Ace, the new Ultegra groupset has four options to choose from.
Two mechanical shift versions providing either rim-brake and hydraulic disc brake options, these are R8000 and R8020 respectively. And two electronic Di2 versions also providing either rim-brake and hydraulic disc brake options, respectively known as R8050 and R8070.
3. New crankset appearance takes its cue from Dura-Ace 9100
The new crankset heavily resembles the Dura-Ace 9100 in appearance with a redesigned asymmetric crank arm, with a beefier-looking Hollowtech II 4-arm design for stiffer power transfer. The new design sheds a fraction of weight compared to the previous design, (674g, 50-34T compared to 676g previously) and is only a tick over 60g heavier than the Dura-Ace R9100 (609g). The crankset’s outer chainring features Shimano’s Hollowglide technology for a rigid yet hollow structure to cut down on weight and maintain strength for the precise front shifting Shimano is known for.
There are four chainring options to choose from: a standard 53-39T ratio, mid-compact 52-36T, compact 50-34T, and cyclocross-specific 46-36T.
One thing yet to be mentioned is if the new Ultegra groupset will feature an option of Shimano’s new unobtrusive, dual-leg power meter. Given the previously announced Dura-Ace version is still yet to hit the shelves, we won't risk holding our breath for the Ultegra unit.
4. Supersized cassette ranges
The recent prevalence of large cassette ranges continues with Shimano expanding its 'standard' 11-speed Ultegra options from five to seven options with a greater focus on offering even larger gear ratios. Previously, Ultegra 6800 cassettes were available as 11-23, 11-25, 12-25, 11-28 and 11-32, but the new R8000 cassettes are available as 11-25T, 11-28T, 11-30T, 11-32T, 12-25T, 14-28T and a wider 11-34T cassette designed to fit both road bikes (with spacer) and mountain bikes. This 11-34T cassette is a first for Shimano road groupsets, but is a design borrowed from Shimano's mountain bike division.
5. Access to Synchro Shift
For those unfamiliar with the system, Synchro Shift is an automated shift response of either the front or rear derailleur based on the gear you select.
There are two modes; full Synchro Shift is a synchronised control over the front shifting based on the selected rear gear and 'semi' Synchro Shift is a synchronised control over the rear shifting based on the selected front gear. This automated system has been used with great success for some time in the mountain bike world via Shimano's XTR and XT Di2 groupsets and last year entered the road market. And while riders have been able to upgrade previous 11-speed Di2 Shimano groupsets to access synchro shift, the new Di2 groupset is ready to go (with the BT-BN110 battery).
Via Shimano's E-Tube Project app, riders will be able to fully customise shift settings, shift button purpose, shift speed, and perform wireless firmware updates. The app can also run a diagnostic check of the system, meaning quick and easy problem diagnosis if necessary.
6. New levers for improved ergonomics and hydraulics
Any rider that used early editions of hydraulic shift levers can attest to them feeling bulky, but thankfully, the new Ultegra R8000 hydraulic and rim brake levers feel and look almost identical to each other. The new hydraulic levers (R8070) step up from the previous non-series R785 levers with less bulk, greater reach and free stroke adjustments.
Confirming that the hydraulic and rim brake levers are in fact very similar, is the weight, the new hydraulic levers (R8070 and R8020) weigh in at 360g and 550g respectively, just 65g and 112g heavier than their rim brake counterparts (R8050, 295g, and R8000, 438g).
The mechanical shifting levers feature polymer-coated cables for light shifting operation and the new design does away with the in-line barrel cable tension adjuster of the front derailleur and instead offers an Allen key adjustment for easy, precise and accurate cable tension setting. It's a small thing, but mechanics the world over are already loving this new feature in the new Dura-Ace R9100.
Not to be outdone, the electronic levers get a few upgrades too. One such improvement many Di2 users will appreciate is the more defined feelig click to offer quick and precise shifting with gloves. The levers also include the 'secret' top-of-the-hoods buttons for remote shifting, which can be programmed to shift gear or to control additional devices such as compatible computers or lights.
7. The shadow emerges
The new 'Shadow' rear derailleur we saw on the new Dura-Ace, and previously seen in Shimano mountain bike ranges, features on the R8000 groupset with a low profile that sits further inboard for improved aerodynamics and less chance of getting damaged in the event of a crash or bike drop. The rear derailleur comes in a short cage (SS) design to cover 11-25T to 11-30T cassette ranges and a longer cage (GS) design to cover 11-28T to 11-34T.
8. Specific controls for time trials and triathlons
Fully embracing Synchro Shifting for time trials and triathlons is a pair of dual control Ultegra 8060 levers that plug into the ends of the bar extensions to offer braking and simplified shifting. The design offers a new dimension for TT/Tri riders by simplifying the shifting operation. One shift button and the switch box of the unit have been removed, making the design smaller, shorter and more aerodynamic.
The effect of eliminating a button on each shifter means that TT/Triathlon riders will use full synchronized shifting mode in this position. That means there is one button on one shifter (ie on the left of the extension bars) to move to a harder gear and one button on the other shifter (ie on the right) to move to an easier gear.
Alternative options are still available but we think it's only a matter of time before both TT extensions and bar extension feature this one shift button operation and rely entirely on Synchro Shift.
9. New disc brakes and rim brake direct-mount design
The progression of road specific disc brakes continues with new Ultegra hydraulic braking options, providing advanced stopping power in a slim road bike profile. The rotors feature distinctive enclosed disc fins which allow a greater surface area for heat dissipation. A pair of R8070 disc calipers is claimed to weigh 280g plus 212g for a pair of RT800 rotors. As a rough comparison (not accounting for wheel weight differences) compare this to 360g for a pair of Ultegra R8000 dual pivot rim brake calipers.
As well as the dual-pivot design, Ultegra’s new rim brake calipers also come in a direct-mount design. Both designs are compatible with up to 28c tyres and feature sleek designs with narrower gaps between the arms. The dual-pivot design features a stabiliser between the arms to reduce flex and improve braking efficiency. Meanwhile, the direct mount design connects directly to compatible frames to reduce weight and increase overall performance.
10. New pedals and wheels too
Not content with an entirely new groupset, Shimano has also released two new wheelsets and a new pedal to compliment the new Ultegra line-up.
The new Ultegra carbon SPD-SL pedals reduce the stack height by 0.7mm and shave 12g off the previous PD-6800 design (now 248g). Like Dura-Ace, pedal options are also available with 4mm longer axle.
The two new lightweight wheelsets include the tubeless carbon-laminate WH-RS700 rim brake wheels (which replace the Ultegra WH-6800) and the tubeless WH-RS770 disc brake wheels with road e-thru axles. New hubs (HB/FH-RS700/770) at the center provide a weight saving of almost 60g compared to a pair of Ultegra 6800 hubs. While the rims use a new carbon lay-up procedure to create a rim brake wheelset that comes in 80g lighter than its predecessor.
According to Shimano, Ultegra R8000 components (and equipped bikes) will start to arrive from August 2017 with prices yet to be confirmed.