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Verdict: 
Good hydraulic braking performance now available at a lower price
Weight: 
1,120g
Shimano 105 (RS505) Hydraulic STI Road Disc Brake Set
7 10

With its RS505 Hydraulic STI Road Disc Brake Set, Shimano has brought hydraulic braking down to 105 level, making it accessible to people buying sub-£1000 bikes like the excellent Pinnacle Dolomite 5. And generally it gives a good performance. The highlight is the braking, with the shifting – and the ergonomics – lagging behind a bit. But it's still a solid performer and good value to boot.

Shimano is moving over wholesale to flat mount disc brakes, from the mountain bike standard of post mount. It means smaller, less obtrusive callipers and neater lines on your road bike. The 105-level callipers are the first to be generally available, and I've now used them on three bikes: the Pinnacle mentioned above, a Kinesis 4S Disc and a Boardman Road Pro Disc (review to come on road.cc soon). On two of those bikes the callipers were paired with Shimano's own rotors, and on the Kinesis I used TRP centrelock rotors. And in all cases, the braking was easy to modulate and predictable.

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The disc brake debate will continue, but for me they're better brakes. They have their downsides: they're more fiddly to set up for a start, and the tolerances on the mount are tighter. Many bikes, especially cheaper models, benefit from a visit from the Park DT5.2 facing tool to make sure the mount is perfectly aligned. The gap between the pads and the rotor is small, so dirt ingress can make them noisy on muddy rides through the lanes, and rotors need to be very true so they don't rub.

Shimano 105 hydraulic - callipers 2.jpg

Shimano 105 hydraulic - callipers 2.jpg

Once they're set up, though, the positives far outweigh the negatives. They give stronger braking for a given lever force, so your hands don't have to work as hard. They're far more predictable when the weather's foul. The pads on a hydraulic system self-centre, so you don't need to adjust them as they wear. And, of course, you're not wearing through your rims. Overall, for most types of riding, they're better. I guess at some point a pro rider could lose the top of their finger in a pile-up or something, but that's a fairly long way down the list of my braking concerns.

These 105 flat-mount callipers are great. Paired with the levers they offer really good, predictable braking in all conditions. Shimano had some issues with the first generation of hydraulic levers where the bite point was too far into the lever stroke, but that's not the case any more: once they're well bled they bite quickly and the braking force is easy to control.

Shimano 105 hydraulic - levers.jpg

Shimano 105 hydraulic - levers.jpg

The whole I-can-lock-up-my-wheels-with-rim-brakes-so-why-would-I-need-discs argument is a big red herring, really; what you get here is better, more controllable braking for a given effort at the lever, most notably when it's tipping down and your rims are soaked. It's just easier to brake, and that means you're more likely to do it well when you're tired at the end of a ride, or it's freezing out and you can't feel your fingers.

I've tried to cook the brakes on all the various road-disc systems I've tried, and with very little success. The most you can manage is a bit of brake fade when you deliberately drag a brake down a long descent. There's no situation where I'd worry about being able to stop on these, and I'm a big lad who likes to go fast down hills.

Bleeding the 105 brakes is easy enough. The internals have been shoved around in this lever; in the Ultegra and Di2 levers the bleed port is under the top cap of the lever, whereas here it's under the rubber hood cover at the bottom, so you can just flip up the rubber to expose it. You'll need a Shimano bleed kit, but if you have one it's a five-minute job: undo the cap on the lever, fit a funnel, stick a syringe full of mineral oil on the bleed port on the calliper, loosen that, push the oil up through the system to flush out any air and tighten everything back up again. It's something you'll have to learn to do if you're new to disc brakes, but it's not exactly hard.

Shimano 105 hydraulic - lever underside.jpg

Shimano 105 hydraulic - lever underside.jpg

The new layout of the levers has some repercussions with the shape of the hood, which has quite a prominent bulge on the inside bottom surface where the hydraulic hose exits. I'm tall with a long reach, and I tend to put my hands high on the hoods, so it wasn't an issue for me. But if you like to hold the shoulder of the bar, that's where your thumb is, and other people have mentioned to me that it's not as comfortable as other Shimano levers. I found the top section of the hood pretty comfy, and the bulbous top section is easy to grab for a semi-aero position. Let's be honest though, they're not going to win any lever beauty contests, these.

Shimano 105 hydraulic - lever hood.jpg

Shimano 105 hydraulic - lever hood.jpg

If braking is more or less faultless, shifting is more of a mixed bag. All levers benefit from a careful setup to achieve really good shifting, but you do seem to have to be extra careful with these 105 units. Of the three bikes I've tried them on, two have had issues with the shifts being a bit sticky – not to the point where it's a big issue, but just enough to introduce a bit of doubt as to whether you've shifted or not.

This isn't helped by the lever: Shimano uses its vivid indexing on these 105 levers, which gives a nice light action, but on other STI levers the shift feedback is more obvious. Here it's a little vague; the click is there if you're watching out for it, but it's easier to miss if you're not concentrating. There's the perennial problem of all Shimano STI levers too: if you catch the brake lever when you're shifting to a smaller sprocket, the mechanism doesn't engage and the lever just swings. I wish they'd sort that out.

Shimano 105 hydraulic - lever paddles.jpg

Shimano 105 hydraulic - lever paddles.jpg

The bottom line here is that shifting performance is fine, but I wouldn't say it was 105 level, certainly not when compared with the rim-brake lever. It's not as good as that. I'd say it's more like Sora, but now that Sora's been given the treatment, maybe even that's not fair.

> Find out everything you need to know about disc brakes here

It doesn't mean the 105 hydraulic levers should be discounted, far from it. The performance is good, with the braking the highlight. These levers bring hydraulic braking down another notch in price, meaning you can have the benefits of hydraulic disc braking on bikes for cycle-to-work money, and that's great. The shifting is good but it's not the highlight.

It'll be interesting to see how SRAM's new Apex hydraulic groupset compares when it lands; that's only available as a 1x system so it won't suit everyone, but it looks like it'll be a great value option.

The RRP for these levers and callipers is £399.99, but as always you can get Shimano stuff much cheaper out in the real world, with a full 105 hydraulic groupset changing hands for only about £50 more than the RRP of the levers.

Verdict

Good hydraulic braking performance now available at a lower price

road.cc test report

Make and model: Shimano 105 (RS505) Hydraulic STI Road Disc Brake Set

Size tested: n/a

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?

Great value STI levers for hydraulic disc brakes offer powerful braking and effortless 11-speed shifting

Vivid indexing provides a constant amount of shift lever force across all 11 sprockets

Ergonomic short shift arc follows natural hand movement

Hydraulic brake lever provides powerful, controllable and consistent stopping power with less effort especially from the hood position

Hydraulic reservoir tank provides pad to rotor clearance auto-adjust maintaining braking performance during pad wear

Kit includes ST-RS505 STI, BR-RS505 flat mount brake callipers with pads, hoses, and mineral oil (without rotors or adapters)

Reach and free stroke adjustment enable custom feel and fitment for all hands

Easy bleed and clean hydraulic system, for use with Shimano mineral oil only

Rate the product for quality of construction:
 
8/10

Very well made, although some of the covers are a bit fiddly to remove and replace.

Rate the product for performance:
 
8/10

Braking excellent, shifting good but not best in class.

Rate the product for durability:
 
8/10

No issues during testing.

Rate the product for weight (if applicable)
 
7/10

Not the lightest levers out there but you're three rungs down the ladder here.

Rate the product for comfort (if applicable)
 
7/10

Generally good, with the caveat that the lower lever shape doesn't suit some people.

Rate the product for value:
 
7/10

Decent value.

Tell us how the product performed overall when used for its designed purpose

Pretty well. Braking is excellent, shifting good, but seems more susceptible to cable drag than other Shimano levers and the lever feedback isn't as good.

Tell us what you particularly liked about the product

The braking.

Tell us what you particularly disliked about the product

Shifting feedback.

Did you enjoy using the product? Mostly, yes.

Would you consider buying the product? I'd probably stump up the extra for the Ultegra-level shifters or look at SRAM Rival/Apex.

Would you recommend the product to a friend? Yes, for the right build.

Use this box to explain your score

These are still good levers and the braking performance is great. However, they don't quite give the performance I've come to expect from a 105-level lever.

Overall rating: 7/10

About the tester

Age: 43  Height: 189cm  Weight: 92kg

I usually ride: whatever I'm testing...  My best bike is: Kinesis Tripster ATR, Kinesis Aithein

I've been riding for: Over 20 years  I ride: Every day  I would class myself as: Experienced

I regularly do the following types of riding: road racing, time trialling, cyclo-cross, commuting, club rides, sportives, general fitness riding, fixed/singlespeed, mountain biking, Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling, track

Dave is a founding father of road.cc and responsible for kicking the server when it breaks. In a previous life he was a graphic designer but he's also a three-time Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling world champion, and remains unbeaten through the bog. Dave rides all sorts of bikes but tends to prefer metal ones. He's getting old is why.

15 comments

Avatar
bendertherobot [1481 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

£299 at Merlin. £349 for the "Ultegra" ones. 

The 105's looks do mean that they should be killed with fire. So I'd have no hesitation in getting the "Ultegra" ones. 

Avatar
jimc101 [77 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

Massively over priced (although the street price is slightly better) and they look even worse in the flesh, SRAM is the way to go for road discs at the moment.

Shimano seem to have dropped the ball with hydraulic  road discs at the lower to mid level.  I went to the public day of ICE Bike, and you would have though that Shimano didn't even make any from the display (or lack of) on their stand.

Avatar
fustuarium [233 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

I reall don't understand why the prices of components differ from whole bikes so much. If Evans sell the Dolomite for £1000 why is Merlin £454 the best price for a 105 hydro groupset? I'd like to change from TIagra\BB7 to 105\Hydro but the cost makes no sense. I'd almost be beter off just getting the Dolomite on CycleToWork to strip it for compontents. Certainly would be against RRP.

Avatar
adam900710 [67 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

Since I own a pair of RS685, the so called "ultegra" ones, and after 6 months use, I must say,

the RS505 design is much better for bleeding and reach/free stroke adjustment.

 

I doesn't care about the look, but the bleeding port at the top of hoods is definitly a bad idea.

Not to mention the free stroke adjustment port can only be accessed from the back part of the STI.

RS505 design is much better, everything except shift cable can be accessed backward.

Avatar
bendertherobot [1481 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes
jimc101 wrote:

Massively over priced (although the street price is slightly better) and they look even worse in the flesh, SRAM is the way to go for road discs at the moment.

Shimano seem to have dropped the ball with hydraulic  road discs at the lower to mid level.  I went to the public day of ICE Bike, and you would have though that Shimano didn't even make any from the display (or lack of) on their stand.

 

The Apex stuff looks excellent. It actually looks nice and is very competitvely priced, especially if you fancy going X1. If Wiggle stock it I can count on 12% discount but I reckon we might be looking at 20% off RRP. Meaning easily sub £250 for a pair of shifters and perhaps a lot less.

Avatar
therevokid [1015 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

my god but they are fugly !

Avatar
BBB [461 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

Are the levers serviceable or typically for Shimano they are just expensive consumables?

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Leodis [427 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

I've been using the Ultegra version for over a year and they are a good set of brakes, I had a faulty shifter which jammed and was replaced eventually by Rose.  I am still not convinced I would need a summer bike with them since I tend to use my "best" bike in good dry condictions  and the difference is maginal 

Avatar
tsarouxaz [87 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

hey shimano, we don't like your shifters!! they are ugly and cumbersome!! they look like cucambers with brake levers sticking out of them, let alone  other things they look like!!

Avatar
bikebot [2119 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

Could anyone who knows advise how interchangeable hydraulic levers and calipers are? Is it similar to cable brakes, where we just have two main standards (road and MTB with different cable pulls), or is it more complicated? Different manufacturers each having their own standards etc.

Wondering if these can be used with IS mount calipers, rather than using flat mount with adaptors.

Avatar
Bob Wheeler CX [104 posts] 1 year ago
1 like

yep, just got a pair off ebay for 200 quid, goodbye avids!

coming from mountain biking into drop bars... you guys are gonna love being able to stop fast with just a light touch, like i've been doing for years with much cheaper tektro mineral oil hydros

Avatar
dave atkinson [6330 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes

bikebot wrote:

Could anyone who knows advise how interchangeable hydraulic levers and calipers are? Is it similar to cable brakes, where we just have two main standards (road and MTB with different cable pulls), or is it more complicated? Different manufacturers each having their own standards etc.

Wondering if these can be used with IS mount calipers, rather than using flat mount with adaptors.

all of shimano's units are basically interchangeable. you can't mix avid and shimano as shimano use mineral oil and avid use DOT5.1 brake fluid

there's plenty of bikes out there using these newer levers with the older callipers

Avatar
Jonomc [30 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes
fustuarium wrote:

I reall don't understand why the prices of components differ from whole bikes so much. If Evans sell the Dolomite for £1000 why is Merlin £454 the best price for a 105 hydro groupset? I'd like to change from TIagra\BB7 to 105\Hydro but the cost makes no sense. I'd almost be beter off just getting the Dolomite on CycleToWork to strip it for compontents. Certainly would be against RRP.

 

Just get some TRP HY/RD, they'll work with the levers you have already and perform as well as these for ~ £180.

Avatar
TypeVertigo [421 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes
dave atkinson wrote:
bikebot wrote:

Could anyone who knows advise how interchangeable hydraulic levers and calipers are? Is it similar to cable brakes, where we just have two main standards (road and MTB with different cable pulls), or is it more complicated? Different manufacturers each having their own standards etc.

Wondering if these can be used with IS mount calipers, rather than using flat mount with adaptors.

all of shimano's units are basically interchangeable. you can't mix avid and shimano as shimano use mineral oil and avid use DOT5.1 brake fluid

there's plenty of bikes out there using these newer levers with the older callipers

If you were at the Bespoked handmade bike show recently, Rusby Cycles paired ST-RS685 levers with Deore XT BR-M785 brake calipers on one of their road bikes. Looks like it was a straightforward job.

Seeing as the BR-R/RS785 road hydraulic disc brake calipers are effectively just modified M785s, this cross-compatibility seemed obvious to me in theory, but it's nice to know someone actually went out and did it.

In this age where Shimano is aggressively pushing Flat Mount calipers, and pretty much forgetting about those road and cross bike owners whose frames still have Post-Mount disc brake fittings, this is GREAT NEWS. The Deore XT brake hardware might even come out cheaper!

Avatar
tincaman [8 posts] 1 year ago
0 likes
TypeVertigo wrote:
dave atkinson wrote:
bikebot wrote:

Could anyone who knows advise how interchangeable hydraulic levers and calipers are? Is it similar to cable brakes, where we just have two main standards (road and MTB with different cable pulls), or is it more complicated? Different manufacturers each having their own standards etc.

Wondering if these can be used with IS mount calipers, rather than using flat mount with adaptors.

all of shimano's units are basically interchangeable. you can't mix avid and shimano as shimano use mineral oil and avid use DOT5.1 brake fluid

there's plenty of bikes out there using these newer levers with the older callipers

If you were at the Bespoked handmade bike show recently, Rusby Cycles paired ST-RS685 levers with Deore XT BR-M785 brake calipers on one of their road bikes. Looks like it was a straightforward job.

Seeing as the BR-R/RS785 road hydraulic disc brake calipers are effectively just modified M785s, this cross-compatibility seemed obvious to me in theory, but it's nice to know someone actually went out and did it.

In this age where Shimano is aggressively pushing Flat Mount calipers, and pretty much forgetting about those road and cross bike owners whose frames still have Post-Mount disc brake fittings, this is GREAT NEWS. The Deore XT brake hardware might even come out cheaper!

I also have sucessfully used a Shimano Deore LX T675 Disc Brake Caliper to a RS685 shifter.