Although it's great to look at new and shiny Dura Ace (and Di2) kit, it's always the announcement of the new Ultegra groupsets that generates the most excitement here at road.cc towers. Ultegra has always been the smart choice in the Shimano range: affordable enough to be a serious consideration with first dibs on all that innovation trickling down from the top.
Dura Ace 7900 was a fairly big leap in a market that mostly makes incremental changes, and Ultegra 6700 has stepped up a notch too, taking on plenty of the new technology at a price point that's much more within the reach of the keen amateur cyclist.Ultegra now has the hollowglide chainring of Dura Ace. It also shares the internal lever cable routing, the Carbon lever blade, redesigned hood shape and repositioned pivots on lever and brake. In fact there's not much that it doesn't have, really only the no-trim shifting of the front mech. So what's the performance difference between the two groupsets?
Hand on heart I'd have to say that blindfolded I'd be very hard pressed to tell the difference between the two. There's no real performance advantage to be had by buying Dura Ace kit over the new Ultegra, not one you'll notice out on the road at least. The new Ultegra kit is excellent: shifts are crisp, braking is noticeably better, power transmission is near faultless.
In the end it all comes down to weight: Dura Ace 7900 is about 300g lighter than Ultegra 6700. If you can honestly say you'd notice half a pound more kit hanging from your frame then you need to consider the top-of-the-line groupset. For everyone else, myself very much included, the smart money's with Ultegra. Forget the RRPs for a minute: In the real world 7900 is going to cost you a grand, and 6700 can be had for less than £600. For me it's a no-brainer: if you're a Shimano fan then Ultegra 6700 is definitely the groupset that gives you the most bangs per buck. Here's how we rate the components...
The most obvious difference between 6700 and the previous incarnations of Ultegra is that the new groupset shares the Hollowglide chainring technology introduced with last year's Dura Ace. Essentially this means the big ring is made from two sheets sandwiched together, with a void in the middle. Shimano tell us it's lighter and stiffer – isn't everything? – and it also improves the look of the chainset which has very smooth lines. It might not make you go faster, but you will feel a bit faster! Where the Dura Ace chainring uses two Aluminium plates the Ultegra chainset utilises a composite inner plate. We tested the compact 50/34 version, which runs on the now ubiquitous outboard bearings.
With Hollowtech II crank arms, a Hollowglide chainset and external bearings you'd expect the 6700 chainset to be stiff, and it is. Really stiff. No amount of jumping on the pedals could persuade the chainset to flex, it's an excellent pedalling platform. In conjunction with the redesigned front mech the shifts between the rings are nice and crisp; shifting up to the big ring particularly is an improvement. Shimano have been fiddling with the spacing between the two rings and they've added an extra millimetre of space between the rings on the doubles. That doesn't sound a lot but it means you get a greater range of gears available in the small ring without having to worry about chain rub. The only possible downside of that extra millimetre is that it means you need to buy a double- or triple-specific STI lever, which makes changing from one to the other a costly job. Best to do some some hard thinking if you're unsure.
The chainset is probably the place to talk about the finish, as it's the most obvious component. It's a sort of dark gunmetal grey, and it'd be fair to say that it's divided opinion a bit. My main issue is that the Hollowglide chainring doesn't quite match the spider, more in terms of lustre than actual colour, but some folks just don't like it. I expect they'll come round though, it's a bit different but you could hardly say that the 6700 kit is ugly, far from it.
Ultegra is the new amateur rider's benchmark for performance and price. Almost indistinguishable from Dura Ace in terms of performance, it only loses out on weight – but more than makes up for that in value for money.