We put the Shimano 105 groupset through its paces over more than 1,000 winter miles to see if it was up to scratch, and were very impressed

Product Overview

Overall rating:

Score 10

Shimano 105

Pros:

  • Impressive shifting
  • Easy trimming of the front mech
  • Reliable braking
  • Great value

Cons:

  • Hard to find fault at this price

Product:

Shimano 105 groupset (video)

Manufacturer:

Price as reviewed:

£517.91

Latest Deal

Loading

Shimano 105 is the Japanese companies third tier offering, below Dura-Ace and Ultegra, but is now so good that few of us really need to look any further for our next groupset.

When 11-speed groupsets first made an appearance, the reaction to them was reminiscent of the arrival of 10-speed: plenty of frowning and sucking through teeth followed by barbed comments on chain angles and the subsequent negative effect on component life.

Do we really need so many ratios? Is it just another manufacturer ploy to keep us addicts upgrading and the wheel-builders in business? The doubters and cynics had a field day, again.

>>> Road bike groupsets: A complete buyer’s guide

Since journalists first clicked their way through a 9000 series 11-speed Dura-Ace block more than two years ago, we’ve come to accept that 11-speed drivetrains are the norm, while snapped chains are not. The lesson being, the smaller jump between sprocket sizes is actually a worthwhile advantage.

4Z8A3523

Shimano’s gateway groupset has got even better for 2015

The trickle-down effect has already proved successful through the excellent Ultegra 6800 groupset and, as time rolls on, we’ve discovered that both its functionality and its reliability can be taken for granted.

Now it’s the turn of the Shimano 105 groupset, which is widely considered the entry point to the Japanese firm’s ‘proper’ groupsets. The most obvious visual connection to the 2012 Dura-Ace update is without doubt the sculpted heart of the groupset, the four-arm chainset. This not only looks the business, but also gives owners the option of replacing rings without the need to change the whole chainset.


Find the right groupset for you 


If you prefer to run 53/39 but are planning a hilly ride, switching to 50/34 needn’t cost the earth. The latest ‘mid-compact’ size is also available for those looking for the flexibility of 52/36 and there’s even a triple chainset in the line-up to give an entry point for less experienced cyclists working on their fitness.

Other inherited Dura-Ace similarities include a longer pull-arm on the front mech, which provides more leverage to give a lighter shift action. The angular body and knuckle of the rear mech are likewise Dura-Ace hand-me-downs.

4Z8A3397

The front mech has been redesigned, with light and accurate shifting and trimming

However, there’s more to the 5800 series Shimano 105 groupset than a smattering of Dura-Ace-aping components. Shimano’s proprietary Sil-Tec polymer treatment also finds its way into the body of the shifters, the cables and on to the inner plates of the drive chain. This friction-reducing coating has been specially developed to reduce overall effort and speed up shifting.

>>> Campagnolo Veloce groupset review

Bringing all this newfound efficiency to a halt has been made easier too, thanks to a revised brake caliper that Shimano claims is 10 per cent more efficient than the outgoing 5700 version. If you’re lucky enough to own a compatible frame, then the latest two-bolt, direct-mount caliper is also an option.

Putting it to the test

4Z8A3481

Shifting is greatly improved over the previous 105 incarnation

We’ve had the groupset on test for a few months now. Fitted to an aluminium Dolan Preffisio frame running Swiss Side Gotthard wheels, the build is relatively low-tech. We’ve kept it simple, as we didn’t want to impinge on functionality with complications such as tricky internal cabling, which might have compromised the components through no fault of their own. The plan was to run the groupset right through the winter with as little maintenance as we could get away with to see how it stood up. However, after 1,000 trouble-free miles, we felt the need to share our early impressions with you.

Having been less than impressed by the performance of the outgoing Shimano 105 5700 shifters, we’re pleased that the designers have addressed the irritating problems; namely, vague or heavy shifts and, at worst, total failure with the main pivot nut tightening to the point that shifting becomes impossible. The latest shifters feature the same technology as the Ultegra 6800 groupset, which we’ve been consistently impressed with. With the Sil-Tec polymer coating, shifts are light and accurate.

4Z8A3426

105 steps up to 11-speed for 2015

The similarities between 105 and Ultegra don’t end there. While we’ve already touched on the slick shifting, even more impressive is how the whole set-up copes with the more-extreme chain angles.

SRAM has given its 11-speed groupsets a USP in the form of a front mech that ‘yaws’ — swivelling on a pivot to match the chain angle — to give smooth running on all gears, allowing even ‘big-big, small-small’ positions, which were hitherto strictly forbidden. The American firm has underlined this with the ‘22’ suffix for its Red, Force and Rival groupsets — to denote that all sprocket combinations can be used.

Shimano doesn’t claim to offer this feature but because of how quietly the chain runs, with no slap or drag against the cage of the front mech, we’ve found ourselves on ‘big-big’ a number of times — only occasionally realising our somewhat novice error after a fruitless search for a 12th cog (it’s only a matter of time, surely?). Trimming is another highlight of this new generation of 11-speed Shimano tackle, and the light action to move the front mech to suit the chain’s position on the cassette is met with precision every time.

>>> Are direct-mount brakes the future?

Braking performance is as you’d expect from Shimano — reliable, consistent and assured. Even in wet conditions the extra power generated by the caliper’s new pivot design is tangible and, with the added bonus of less flex through the lever, feel is improved too. The new resin-bodied pedals take a chunk of weight off and offer all the functionality of the outgoing metal items.

Ultegra vs 105

Choosing between Ultegra and 105 is harder than ever before. If you’re buying a complete bike, then it will likely come down to the level of spec on offer — wheels, finishing kit, saddle, etc.

But for anybody about to embark on a build or upgrading an old bike to 11-speed, the huge difference in price (£999.99 v £559.99 — with many online firms offering up to 50 per cent off) versus the tiny weight saving (just under 200g), makes Shimano 105 almost irresistible.

It also frees up spare cash for a better set of wheels — which, based on our experience of these two excellent groupsets, would reap the biggest rewards for the vast majority of road cyclists.

Verdict

The new Shimano 105 5800 groupset offers improved shifting, faultless braking, and all-round great performance and efficiency as it makes the jump up ot 11-speed for 2015. The performance gap to Ultegra is smaller than ever, and with an RRP of £559.99, it’s a hard choice to make.

Details

Contact:www.madison.co.uk

  • prestonjb

    “and there’s even a triple chainset in the line-up to give an entry point for less experienced cyclists working on their fitness.”

    Huh? Why is triple for the feable? What about touring options? The triple is nice for huffing a 70 pound bike up a mountain!!

  • ron draycott

    Still looks hideous

  • Steffi Liao

    Hugely disappointed with off with my Shimano Ultegra Chainset – bought it just after reading this article – so that’s less than a year old – and now the crank has lifted away the strut arms…

    It appears the Ultegra has no visible bolts – the whole design is a different concept; it has a kind of ‘outer exe-skeleton’ which is married to an inner assembly which delivers the drive to the crank. On the other hand, the exe-skeleton is entirely responsible for delivering the drive from the crank, and I think its welded or heat sealed to the inner ‘crank-spider’ thingy. Funny thing is – you’d never know it was two separate pieces until it actually falls apart…as it has done!

  • Simon

    I can’t find a triple on Madison which pretty much means there isn’t one 🙁

  • John Russell

    And of course, in this instance, patronising and factually wrong as there is no triple.

  • John Russell

    agree entirely- and simply because in my view it makes more sense to have a ring of about 40t which one uses most of the time. With the compact I think it is a case of one ring too big, one too small, and no goldilocks solution. But nothing like putting fashion ahead of function!

    I read a very good post on a blog by a guy who said he was mocked for having a triple- but as soon as he got to the hills his mates complained he was cheating by using it!

  • Tim Decker

    A triple for less experienced cyclist. Very patronising statement. There are plenty of other reasons for wanting a triple. Age, hills, long rides etc.

  • John Russell

    “there’s even a triple chainset in the line-up to give an entry point for less experienced cyclists working on their fitness.”

    Is this right- have not seen a 5800 triple anywhere and comments other reviews bemoan the lack of a triple. Can anyone clarify and/or identify a part number or retailer?

  • Jake Brown

    The fact of the matter is, though, that 105 can be had for a minuscule £269.99 right now so it’s even better of a deal than the review makes it out to be!

  • Blah Blah

    Fortunately for you Dave, Shimano’s 5800 is widely available in a high-polish silver finish.

  • David Chadderton

    What is it with stealth black nowadays? Must be because of the ubiquitous carbon fibre ‘plastic’ bikes everywhere that cannot be polished. Sorry, but I am a polished alloy fan from way back. Looks terrible to me. Shiny is it for me thanks.