First ride + video: Ultegra 6700 groupset
We've got some, and we like it. Quite a lot.
We've seen Ultegra 6700 before, but last time it was pre-production prototypes made of plastic and we had to take Shimano's word for how good it was going to be. This time, however, it was the real deal: a real production groupset fitted to a real bike. 6700 won't hit the shops (or be specced on bikes) until probably the end of August, but on first impressions it's going to be one to look out for... and save your pennies for.
So what's new? Well there's not a great deal that's actually new but there's plenty that's new to Ultegra – most of the technology worth talking about is the same stuff we were excited about when we first saw it on Dura Ace 7900, but 6700 is bringing it to the masses. Well, more of us.
Let's look at the levers first. They share the same refined pivot point and slightly buck-toothed profile as 7900 when you look at them from the front, and there's no denying that ergonomically they're Shimano's best levers yet. There's reach adjustment for smaller hands and the lever is Carbon, an upgrade from last year. Also new to Ultegra is the hidden cable routing that makes everything look a lot tidier. The action isn't maybe as light as you'd expect – it feels a touch heavier than previous units – but it's much more positive than before: dare we say a bit closer to a Campag shift?
While we're on the subject, it's worth noting that all three of the major players seem to be converging on a lever shape that's somewhere in the middle ground between Campag and Shimano units of a few years back. That's no bad thing unless you're trying to spot what a pro is using on his or her bike – it seems to get harder every year, and now that all cable routing is internal it's harder still.
You won't mistake the chainset for Campag though: Shimano have brought their Hollowglide technology to Ultegra this year. The outer chainring is formed from two bonded sheets – Aluminium and a composite inner layer in this case – which makes for a lighter, stronger ring that also looks very tasty. The finish of the groupset is darker than previous years, a sort of matt gunmetal. The chainset runs on outboard bearings on a Hollowtech II axle.
There's a standard double, a compact and a triple; for the first time this year you'll need to buy a shifter that's dedicated to either two or three rings. They're not fully compatible with one another because the gap between the rings on the double chainset has been increased (by about 1mm) to give more usable ratios without chain rub, and the leverage in the STI unit has been adjusted to compensate. It's not trim free like Dura-Ace, you still get a trim position for the inner ring.
Both derailleurs have been redesigned. The most noticeable difference is to the front shifter which has a much wider linkage to make the structure much stiffer and give more positive shifting. The rear mech gets the widening treatment too, though it's a bit less obvious. There's two rear mechs: a short cage which will run any double chainset with any cassette up to 11-28, and a medium cage it you're running a triple.
The brake callipers are redesigned in line with Dura Ace too. The pivot points have been refined and there's a spring tension adjuster and muti-position quick release. The brake blocks are a new compound which Shimano claim is better in the dry and much better (100% better, even) in the wet.
Chains aren't normally worthy of more than a footnote but Shimano have been trying really hard with this one, so it's only fair we should let you know what they've been doing. It's a directional chain: you have to fit it the right way round (logos to the outside) because the two sets of outer plates have been specifically designed to shift better with the cassette (inside plates) and chainset (outside plates). There's natty holes in the inner plates too to shave a few grams: eight, to be precise.
Enough techno babble and marketing hype, what's it like to ride? Well, we've only had a few hours round the test track but first impressions are excellent. The slightly heavier, positive-feeling action we mentioned earlier but it's worth noting that it's down to a combination of all the components, not just the STI levers. Everything feels super-stiff and well put together. Shimano have moved away a bit from the good-looking-from-all-angles Ultegra and Dura Ace levers of a few years back, viewed from behind this year's shifters look a bit more industrial but there's no doubt that functionally they're a big improvement. Despite doing all the bad things I could (multiple shifts down the block while stamping on the pedals uphill, changing chainrings on full power, running the worst chainlines possible) I never made it miss a single shift on the test day: not a single one. There's a reassuring clunk and a different ratio, no fuss and no easing off to change gear. It's certainly confidence inspiring.
The chainset and bottom bracket feels as stiff as any I've tried: I'm a big lad but no amount of jumping on the pedals could induce any chain rub. The brakes are positive and easy to feather and modulate, and the multi-position quick release means easy wheel swaps without having to faff with allen keys. It wasn't wet, and I can't say I noticed a 20% increase in stopping power, but I didn't have any complaints either.
All in all it's a great first outing for the new bits and bobs. In terms of performance and feel it's really not far away from Dura Ace 7900: it's a bit heavier but we're talking about a full groupset (excluding hubs/wheels) for just over £900: that's almost a 50% saving over the top-end gear. For everything other than Pro racing (and even some of the pro teams use Ultegra) It's hard to see how you'd need to spend the extra.
We'll be putting 6700 through its paces in the next month or so and we'll post a full review when we've had time to wear it in (or out) a bit. Stay tuned!