If you’re deciding between Shimano 105 and Shimano Ultegra groupsets, either on a complete bike or as an upgrade, here’s everything you need to know to make the right choice.
Starting at the basics, a groupset is a component manufacturer’s collection of mechanical parts, usually covering the derailleurs, shifters, brakes, chainset, bottom bracket, cassette and chain. Brands group these parts into various different levels.
Shimano offers six road groupsets. Going from the top, these are:
Additionally, Dura-Ace and Ultegra are available with Di2 electronic shifting. We’ll leave Di2 to one side here because there’s no 105 version to consider. If you want it, your decision is between Ultegra Di2 and Dura-Ace Di2, and that’s outside the scope of this article.
We've left out hydraulic disc brakes too because those components aren't included within the groupsets.
Check out our Complete Guide to Shimano Road Groupsets.
A Shimano 105 groupset retails at £660.91 (without pedals) while a Shimano Ultegra groupset is £882.92 (without pedals) – that’s £222.01 more, but what do you actually get for the extra money?
All prices quoted here are official RRPs, of course. You might well find lower prices out there. The weights listed below are Shimano’s official figures too.
Both 105 and Ultegra are 11-speed systems and there are many more similarities between them than differences. Although Ultegra is more expensive, all of the same technology features in 105, and you operate them in exactly the same way.
The differences are mainly down to materials used, and because of this 105 components are a little heavier.
We've put all the prices and weights into a little table at the bottom along with the scores we awarded when we reviewed each groupset independently, just to make life easier for you.
Shimano recently announced a new Ultegra groupset, trickling down the style and features introduced for the Dura-Ace R9000 groupset. It's slated for July availability, and we'll update this comparison when we see market prices for the new parts.
For the moment, let's look at how the different components compare across the current groupsets.
Dual control levers
The dual control levers are high points of both the Ultegra and 105 (above) groupsets and they each work in exactly the same way. They’re slim and comfortable to use with a short stroke and a light action (much lighter than previous incarnations).
When he reviewed the Ultegra levers (above) Dave said, “Shifting is precise and sensitive. Although it's light you still get reassuring feedback from the lever.”
There is a difference in the materials used. Ultegra dual control levers have carbon-fibre reinforced plastic brackets and main levers while 105 has glass-fibre reinforced plastic brackets and aluminium main levers.
The 105 levers are a little heavier but you won’t notice any difference in performance.
The 105 chainset (below) now has a spider with four unevenly spaced arms, the idea being to provide stiffness where it’s needed while saving weight. This is technology that started off in the top-level Dura-Ace groupset and has trickled down via Ultegra.
Both 105 and Ultegra (below) are available with 53-39-tooth, 52-36-tooth and 50-34-tooth chainrings, and Ultegra is also available in a 46-36-tooth cyclocross option. All of them use the same bolt circle diameter (110mm) so you can easily swap a 53-tooth outer chainring for a 50-tooth, for example.
The 105 and Ultegra chainsets are very similar, using the same technology and the same materials in key areas – anodised aluminium crank arms and chainrings, and steel axles. As usual, there’s a slight weight penalty if you go for 105.
|105 braze on||£32.99||89g||£17.99|
|105 band on||£34.99||104g||£25.98|
|Ultegra braze on||£37.99||89g||£30.95|
|Ultegra band on||£44.99||104g||£31.49|
The 105 (above) and Ultegra (below) front derailleurs are virtually indistinguishable, each coming with aluminium links, a chrome-plated steel chain guide, and light shifting. A trim position allows you to avoid chain rub as you move across the cassette.
The largest chainring recommended for use with each of them is 53-tooth. That’s fine for most people although some time trialists might struggle.
|105 short cage||£47.99||234g||£28.49|
|105 long cage||£52.99||250g||£32.99|
|Ultegra short cage||£74.99||195g||£49.99|
|Ultegra long cage||£79.99||207g||£49.99|
Both Ultegra and 105 (below) rear derailleurs are available in short cage and long cage versions to suit the chainset and cassette that you are using. Go for the long cage version of either and the maximum sprocket size you can use is 32T.
In terms of materials, the Ultegra rear derailleur (below) has a carbon-fibre reinforced plastic plate body whereas it’s aluminium on the 105 version, and the inner link is aluminium rather than steel. The Ultegra model has better pulley bearings too.
That said, Stu found 105 shifting to be ‘spot on’ when he reviewed it, feeling light and fast.
Both 105 and Ultegra are 11-speed systems. 105 cassettes (above) are available in 11-28-tooth, 11-32-tooth and 12-25-tooth options. Ultegra is available in all of those plus 11-23, 11-25 and 14-28. There’s no reason why you can’t use an Ultegra cassette with an otherwise 105 groupset.
With both 105 and Ultegra, the largest sprocket you can use is a 32-tooth so you can’t get the ultra-low gears that you can with a SRAM WiFli system, for example or even with Shimano's own 10-speed Tiagra system which can accommodate an 11-34 cassette.
In both cases, the sprockets are made from nickel plated steel, although an Ultegra cassette has a carbon spider arm that a 105 cassette doesn’t.
Dual pivot brakes
|105 front||£49.99||388g (pair)||£26.49|
|105 rear||£49.99||388g (pair)||£26.49|
|105 direct mount||£49.99||350g (pair)||£52.69 (pair)|
|Ultegra front||£64.99||335g (pair)||£37.98|
|Ultegra rear||£64.99||335g (pair)||£39.98|
|Ultegra direct mount||£139.99||333g (pair)||£99.95 (pair)|
Both Ultegra and 105 SLR-EV dual pivot brakes are made from anodised aluminium and we rate them very highly. They’re essentially the same design: a symmetrical twin pivot system that’s designed to equalise the braking forces through each arm allowing for better control and power.
In reviewing the 105 brakes (above) Stu said, “Slowing rather than stopping can be achieved with just a couple of fingers applying pressure to the lever and it's easy to avoid locking a wheel.”
The maximum tyre size Shimano recommends for its Ultegra SLR-EV Dual Pivot brakes (below) is 25mm. A more pronounced arc allows it to recommend tyres up to 28mm for the 105 equivalent.
Shimano also offers direct mount brakes in both the Ultegra and the 105 groupsets. They’re virtually identical to one another, each taking tyres up to 28mm.
|105||£29.99||257g (114 links)||£15.15|
|Ultegra||£34.99||257g (114 links)||£23.99|
Both the Ultegra and 105 chains undergo a Sil-Tec low friction plating process that’s designed to make them run smoother and require less maintenance, as well as increasing the durability.
The only difference between them is that the 105 chain (above) has this treatment on the roller link plates (the inner ones) only while the Ultegra chain has it on the pin link plates (the outer ones) too.
The Ultegra and 105 (below) pedals both have wide carbon composite bodies, widely spaced bearings, chromoly steel axles and adjustable entry and release tension. The Ultegra pedals’ stainless steel body plate, designed to reduce flex and wear, is a more minimalist design than that of the 105 pedal.
The only other difference is that the Ultegra pedal is available in a version with a 4mm longer axle for more crank arm clearance.
Shimano recommends exactly the same bottom brackets for use with 105 and Ultegra groupsets: that’s the SM-BBR60 threaded BB or a SM-BB72-41B PressFit BB, depending on the bike to which it’s being fitted.
If you’ve read everything above, looked at the pictures, and come to the conclusion that there’s not all that much difference between 105 and Ultegra components, you’re right. They work in the same ways, the shaping is the same, the engineering is virtually identical… There are no major technological features in the Ultegra groupset that aren’t included in 105.
This is borne out by the scores we awarded to each component when we reviewed the groupsets independently. They averaged almost exactly the same.
|Dual control levers||£224.99||486g||9||£319.99||425g||9|
|Front derailleur (braze on)||£32.99||89g||10||£37.99||89g||10|
|Rear derailleur (short cage)||£47.99||234g||9||£74.99||195g||10|
|Dual pivot brakes (pair)||£94.98||388g||10||£129.98||335g||9|
|Bottom bracket (threaded)||£29.99||77g||n/a||£29.99||77g||n/a|
Table comparing the prices, weights and road.cc review scores of Shimano 105 and Shimano Ultegra components
The differences are minor and mostly come down to materials. This results in Ultegra components being a little lighter than their 105 counterparts. No single Ultegra component is massively lighter but the small savings add up to about 250g across a whole groupset, depending on exactly which options you choose. That’s the biggest thing you’re paying for if you step up to Ultegra: a lower weight.
One thing not shown on the table above is the road.cc value mark. We scored the Ultegra groupset 8 for value and the 105 groupset 10, courtesy of offering a very similar level of performance at a significantly lower price. That might or might not be important to you. Whether that weight saving you get with Ultegra is worth the extra cash is something you have to decide for yourself based on your bank balance and your priorities.
Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over 20+ years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for eight years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.