We've just been up at the Shimano new product presentation for this year, and there was some very interesting things to be seen. As well as the new Alfine 11 speed hub (more on that later) the groupset giant was also rolling out the red carpet for the new 105 running gear. And very interesting it looks too.
We're used to Shimano – and everyone else – trickling down their technology from one groupset to another over time, but the pace always seems to get faster; maybe it's just that we're getting older. Anyway, if you've read anything about Dura Ace 7900 or Ultegra 6700 then plenty of this will be familiar.
First off, the STI levers have the new shape and under-the-tape cable routing. This being two down from the top you're not treated to a Carbon brake lever, but internally and ergonomically they're more the same than different. Shimano have always had a penchant for offering 105 in two finishes and this trend continues: you can have the new kit in 'sterling silver' or 'lodestar black', depending on your preference. We'd like the silver option with the black levers. But we're fussy.
The rear mech has the new form that we've seen in Ultegra and Dura Ace. With the silver finish more or less the same as Ultegra, you'd be hard pressed to tell the difference with the stickers off. The same goes for the front mech which gets the newer, stiffer, wide link.
The most obvious difference between 105 and its costlier siblings is the chainset, which doesn't get a hollowglide outer chainring but stays with standard rings. There's compact, double and tripe options and like the gruppos further up the range the spacing has been widened on the double, so there's a specific STI unit for the triple cog. Shimano tell us that all 105 kit is compatible with new Dura Ace and Ultegra. Like the new versions of Ultegra and Dura Ace the chain is asymetric and directional with differently shaped plates for front and rear shifts, it's pointing the right way when the log is on the outside, and there's a new cassette too, for the sake of completeness.
The good news is that all this new technology not only shaves a few grams (and it really is a few) off the overall weight, but the new 105 will undercut the old in terms of price - given that it is largely Dura Ace and Ultegra in slightly cheaper materials it should be cheaper to make than the old 105. We wouldn't be surprised to see it drop further in price too going by some of the off the record stuff we were told. Shimano are being aggressive in their pricing of original equipment (OE) to bike manufacturers – they obviously know they are in war with SRAM and the unofficial word was that 105 could well move substantially towards Tiagra in terms of pricing (our guess is that it already has for OE customers) so we'd expect to see 2011 bikes with prices and specs in the mid to upper ranges £1000 to £2,500 that are more like those of a couple of 2008 with 105 appearing on bikes at around the £800 mark.
We went out for the obligatory car park test – in fact we didn't even make it to the car park, just the patio – at the launch and we have to say that the shifting action is very reminiscent of the dearer kit, with the comfy hood shape and light but positive action very similar to Ultegra. The brakes, which get the new improved compound and tweaked pivot points, are very good too. Obviously a full test will follow when we can get hold of a groupset to abuse.
Dave is a founding father of road.cc, having previously worked on Cycling Plus and What Mountain Bike magazines back in the day. He also writes about e-bikes for our sister publication ebiketips. He's won three mountain bike bog snorkelling World Championships, and races at the back of the third cats.