Another addition in a flurry of new innovations coming from Japanese manufacturer Shimano is the new Ultegra R8100. While the new Dura-Ace is marketed to the most serious of riders who are searching for every competitive edge, Ultegra R8100 offers a more affordable option that is perhaps more suitable for real-world application.
Although not at the very top of Shimano’s current range, the new Ultegra R8100 can certainly still be described as a high-performance option. It shares much of the same technology as the new Dura-Ace, including the move to wireless gear shifting. Shimano boast that the new Ultegra will have its fastest ever shifting at this level and absolute reliability. Perhaps one of the most exciting new features of Ultegra R8100 is the introduction of a Shimano Ultegra power meter, as well as the release of Ultegra wheels in tubeless carbon for the first time ever.
The most notable difference between the new Dura-Ace and Ultegra systems comes down to weight, with the Ultegra groupset weighing roughly 300g more than Dura-Ace. In reality, both systems are relatively similar with Ultegra likely to prove the more affordable and far more popular option for both aftermarket purchase and bike brands' choice of spec. So let’s take a closer look at the new Ultegra R8100.
Ultegra users will benefit from the same semi-wireless system that has drawn so much attention to the new Dura-Ace. This involves the use of wireless shifters that send signals to the rear derailleur, which in turn is wired to a central battery and the front derailleur. This means that the system is not fully wireless, with Shimano arguing that a fully wireless setup would lead to both a shorter battery life and slow down its fastest ever shifting speed.
In fact, the new Ultegra boasts considerable increases in speed – the 'operating time' of the rear derailleur is 58% than the previous Dura-Ace mech, while the front derailleur sees a 45% decrease compared to the Dura-Ace front derailleur. That's an impressive improvement that will surely be noticeable when in a race scenario or demanding undulating terrain.
The hood ergonomics have also improved — the new Ultegra shifters offer a sleeker look with a raised head portion and slight inward curve to improve both grip and comfort over long rides. Adjusting the shifter reach has also been made easier, a useful development for those with smaller hands who often require changes to reach the shifters when in either the drops or on the hoods.
A new charging port is also an interesting characteristic of the Ultegra R8100. The rear derailleur is now the point at which the system is charged, replacing the previous need for a handlebar or in-frame junction box. Overall, this integrated design contributes to a much cleaner look, however it does mean that it won’t be possible to check battery life or micro-adjust gears while riding.
The updated Shimano App makes customisation easier, preferences such as shifting speed can be set up on the go, and cycle computers such as Wahoo or Garmin can all be set up to display Di2 information. That includes which gear you are in or the amount of gear changes that have been made.
Overall, the wireless shifting and new shifter design that the Ultegra R1800 offers a much neater looking cockpit, with increased options for customisation making it more comfortable than any Ultegra system that has come before. The greatly improved shifting speed also optimises the groupset for high-performance riding. A rim brake system will be available but this will rely on classic Di2 wiring from shifters to bottom bracket.
Similarly to the new Dura-Ace, Ultegra R1800 has made the change to 12-speed with two gearing options (11-30 and 11-34 ratios). Shimano also has optimised the ‘sweet spot’ gears meaning that gear steps are both smoother and more consistent.
The ramped profiles on cassettes result in less need to worry about gears jumping when you make a change during an acceleration. Shimano claims that there is no need to soft pedal when changing gears as the new Ultegra will shift smoothly even under heavy load — those who remember the advent of Di2 will remember how the initial improvements in shifting under load were the most palpable.
Keeping consumers in mind, the new 12-speed can be used on old wheels with the new spline fitting pattern being backwards compatible to Shimano 11-speed freehub bodies. In addition, the new Ultegra keeps the same 12-speed chain used on Shimano’s XT M8100 series, simplifying inventory requirements.
For the first time ever, Shimano has released the option of an Ultegra power meter alongside the new groupset, coming in at only 20 grams heavier than the Dura-Ace power meter.
The power meter will offer dual-sided data and has a rechargeable battery that offers up to 300+ hours of ride time. Using Bluetooth and ANT+ technology to transmit data, the option of a power meter to the Ultegra R1800 is a welcome addition as it saves the step of sourcing a power meter from elsewhere.
Optimised for race situations, new Ultegra brake components offer better control, assisting riders in faster and more aggressive cornering. Servo Wave technology allows riders to feather the brakes more thanks to a more immediate connection between the brake pads and rotors. Confidence in brakes is imperative in technical situations so this will be a useful change, especially during inclement weather.
The wider brake pads and increased rotor clearance means there is less likely to be interference between pads and rotor which, to the relief of many, will mean a quieter braking system and less rubbing. As with the new Dura-Ace brakes, it will now be possible to bleed the brakes without removing the caliper, leading to much easier maintenance.
The final change in Shimano’s new Ultegra offering is the addition of fully carbon tubeless wheels. Arguably one of the most important parts of any set up, Shimano has focussed on drag reduction, rigidity and weight in its new carbon options.
The wheels come in three different rim height profiles, the lightest being the C36 option which are best suited for climbing, coming in at 1488g per pair. The C50 is likely the best choice for a pair of wheels that can suit virtually any terrain with well-balanced weight, drag and controllability. The final option is the C60, the deepest and most aerodynamic pair suited to sprints and high-speed pursuits. With only a 40g difference between the Dura-Ace 60mm rim wheels, it would take a keen eye to split the difference between the Ultegra R8100 wheels and Shimano’s highest end offering. In addition, a 21mm internal rim width offers better compatibility with wider tyres.