With the road groupsets of Sram and Campagnolo already at 12-speed - and with Shimano having already added an extra sprocket right down to its fourth tier MTB groupset, Deore - back in the summer of 2021 it was almost painfully obvious what was coming next from Shimano.
Sure enough, the much anticipated top-end Dura-Ace and second-tier Ultegra groupsets officially landed in August of last year – and both were 12-speed and electronic only. Now that's out the way, the question is... what could possibly be coming to Shimano’s drop-bar range next?
That’s maybe a little harder to work out. Here are our best predictions, starting with the most likely...
With Campagnolo already up to 13-speed for gravel with its Ekar groupset, Shimano is very much behind with 10-speed and 11-speed GRX, and could really do with at least a 12th sprocket to enter the same ballpark as the superb gearing range offered by Campagnolo for the rough, off-the-beaten-track stuff.
But here we’re only predicting a partial move to 12-speed for Shimano GRX. You see, in the current series, GRX Di2 has always been a bit of a black sheep, a little bit of an outlier from the rest of the range.
The Servo Wave braking technology – where initial pad travel is fast, so little lever movement is needed to bring the pads into contact with the rotor – that has only just now worked its way into the very latest Ultegra and Dura-Ace groupsets was already there in the Di2 version of GRX from its first launch, but the rest of the GRX range wasn’t graced with the greater control and braking power the technology offers.
So with this prediction for 12-speed GRX, we’re not anticipating that additional sprocket coming to anything other than the very top tier – 12-speed for drop bars could well be something Shimano is going to keep reserved just for its electronic groupsets.
It’s going to mark a very strong distinction between the haves and the have nots with 12 sprockets opening up a bigger range of gearing options.
Although we fully expect Shimano domination in the nascent UCI Gravel World Championships this year, when it comes to the groupsets that we see on the roads and trails, market share may well be taking a hit. Shimano’s 12-speed prices have remained high while Sram's electronic eTap AXS technology has already trickled down to its third tier with the Rival version introduced last year.
So what kind of gearing are we expecting? Well, we would very much like to see a 46/32T or a 44/30T crankset. The current jump from 46 to 30 is massive, and requires some big compensation shifts every time. It would be much nicer if they were a little closer.
To put things in perspective, the gearing difference for a semi compact 52/36T crankset is about 44%. In other words, if you stay in the same rear sprocket and move the chain from small chainring to the big chainring, the gear you're pushing gets 44% larger.
Going from 30 to 46 is 53%, a big difference. Using to a 44T big ring and a 30T inner would put the number at 47%; still big, but much more manageable. But anyway, changes to the chainrings isn’t something we’re really expecting as Shimano didn’t do anything so radical on the road – the larger 54-40T chainset option on Dura-Ace was the only new addition there.
Could we see a 12-speed cassette that goes from 11-36T? One that’s essentially identical to the current 11-speed 11-32T cassette, with its three single-tooth jumps, just with an extra 36T sprocket tacked on the end?
The breakdown of this we hope would be: 11-12-13-14-16-18-20-22-25-28-32-36T.
We think this would be a very welcome addition. Particularly as the current 11-34T 11-speed cassette doesn’t have any single-tooth jumps at all; although in fairness, the jumps between the middle of the block are quite tight.
That combination of extra single-tooth jumps and slightly wider range would be great for gravel and long-distance riding. Although 30x36 might sound mightily small, you try cycling up a 20% off-road grade with so many extra kilos after three days of riding... you’d be thankful for it then!
We expect the freehub to take the design cues of new Dura-Ace and Ultegra, rather than the Micro Spline design on the MTB groupsets. This means that the smallest sprocket will be limited to 11T, so there’s not even the chance of borrowing the progression of those MTB cassettes, as they start at just 10T.
An 11-50T cassette, following the same progression as the 11-42T cassette but with an extra sprocket tacked on the end, would be an obvious way to increase the range (a new rear derailleur with a larger capacity would be required). That 8T jump has been a feature of Sram’s Eagle MTB cassettes for years, so wouldn’t be a radical departure from what we’ve seen before.
Still, it would be quite nice to smooth out the progression and add a single-tooth jump. Maybe just slotting in a 12T sprocket after the 11T and splitting the difference with an 11-46T overall range would be the way Shimano does it.
Other things we would expect are some trickling down of the tech that Shimano introduced in the recent Dura-Ace and Ultegra release: wider clearances between the brake pads and rotors for a quieter system, a separate bleed port and valve screw for easier brake maintenance, using (what were previously) MTB disc rotors, faster shifting and using a coin cell battery in the shifters rather than having to cable them up. Essentially, we expect it to be exactly the same as the new Ultegra, but just with different gear ratios that are better suited to the tougher, rougher terrain and heavier bikepacking loads.
There isn’t currently a Dura-Ace spec of GRX, but with the inaugural calendar of UCI gravel races coming up this season, there’s a chance Shimano will decide light savings are all the range in the gravel-sphere too, and bring out a Dura-Ace tier GRX.
Perhaps the most obvious update for 105 would be for it to go electronic, and with that make the jump up to 12-speed - essentially bringing over the updates Shimano just made to the Dura-Ace and Ultegra groupsets, but a little bit heavier just as the mechanical 105 groupset has been for so long compared to the higher tiers.
The criticism of Sram’s current third-tier electronic groupset is that it’s the heaviest one out there; but it’s also the cheapest by a considerable margin. Will Shimano go lighter and more expensive than Rival AXS, or opt instead for heavier and cheaper?
Nevertheless, we’d expect Shimano to price it similarly to Sram’s Rival eTap AXS groupset which costs £1,470, and would set it as more expensive than mechanical R8000 Ultegra, which is currently at £954.92. With this, 105 wouldn’t really be the every-person, 'privateer' groupset that that is currently, but it would make Shimano’s Di2 a lot more accessible.
The mechanical version of Shimano 105 11-speed is such great value and it really fills the price point very well, so we don’t expect that to go. Similarly, although Shimano launched 12-speed Ultegra as Di2-only, bikes are still being specced with the previous mechanical version of the second-tier groupset in order to fill the price gap void.
An alternative prediction would be that 105 does go 12-speed, but only with mechanical shifting.
Shimano doesn’t have a problem with combining 12-speed and mechanical actuation; it has done that on the MTB side, and those components certainly get ploughed through some horrid conditions.
Although it’s more gears in the same space, there were the same worries when 10-speed gave way to 11. We haven’t got any qualms about speccing 11-speed 105 on a winter bike today, so perhaps we shouldn’t worry about 12-speed tomorrow.
It would be very interesting to see how close this takes mechanical 105 to the weight of Dura-Ace Di2 - it might not be very flattering for the top-tier fans.
We expect everything would remain the same in terms of the gearing offered, along with the inclusion of Servo Wave braking technology.
Still, having to replace gear cables on bikes that are increasingly integrated nowadays would be a bit of a pain. If 105 doesn’t become Di2, maybe we would see more people choosing Rival AXS if there isn’t a third-tier Shimano electronic option; but the price points would likely be very different indeed, so there’d still be an important place for mechanical 12-speed.
As Shimano didn’t bring out an updated version of mechanical Ultegra, it wouldn’t surprise us if riders choose 12-speed mechanical 105 over the latest Di2-only Ultegra if they don’t like having to remember to charge the groupset. If it weighs the same or even ends up being lighter, this could further make the case for going 105 over Ultegra for some of us.
Yet another alternative prediction would be that instead of 105 going 12-speed and staying mechanical, Shimano could belatedly release a mechanical version of 12-speed Ultegra.
Shimano would be plugging the same gap but with Ultegra rather than 105. That said, if that is their solution it would be rather curious that they didn’t release the mechanical version with the recent Ultegra update.
105 as it stands does not currently come with a power meter. With the rise in popularity of the online virtual roads of Zwift and other training platforms including SYSTM and TrainerRoad, using power is certainly no longer just confined to racers; it gives you accurate data for riding on these platforms.
A power meter measures exactly the effort you’re putting out regardless of the terrain, the conditions, your fitness, or any other factor. It’ll also give you figures that you can meaningfully compare over time to gauge progress, which is great for anyone looking to boost their fitness.
Power meter prices have tumbled over the past two or three years, making them accessible to more people than ever before, and are certainly on the tick list these days for someone looking for a third-tier groupset.
Shimano included a power meter option for the first time with the Ultegra Di2 release and Sram delivers on this for even cheaper with the option of the D1 Quarq Dub Power Meter on its Rival eTap AXS groupset.
For riders who have a bike equipped with Shimano 105, retrofitting a 4iiii power meter is often the most economical solution riders opt for, given the dual-sided version is priced at £579 and the single at £299. It’ll be interesting to see if Shimano uses the next update to bring power down to 105 to meet the needs of riders at this level.
But... that’s not to say that power meters are cheap, and so sacrifices have to be made at this price point.
The spec on Sram’s third-tier groupset measures left (non-driveside) power only, and doubles this to give your total watts. Many riders will rarely have an output that’s actually 50:50, so a single-sided system is unlikely to provide you with such accurate numbers.
That said, we’d expect Shimano will also have to stick to a one-sided option for 105 in order to keep the groupset in the same price bracket.
What would you like to see included in the new Shimano GRX or new Shimano 105 groupsets?