Review: Shimano Ultegra 6800 11-speed mechanical drivetrain


Shift Lever Shift Lever

Much of the Dura-Ace trickle down is found in the thinner and more ergonomic Ultegra 6800 levers.

Those absorbed with aesthetics will be happy with the new shifters, which combine an attractive polished look with revamped and slimmer ergonomics. It’s impossible to say that all rider’s hands will find the feel of the new Ultegra hoods and levers perfectly contoured and comfortable. But it’s certainly an improvement over the less-shapely 6700 group. In my medium-sized hands it was easy to stay relaxed and cramp free even on long outings that included extended dirt road riding.

The bigger story with the shift levers is what Shimano calls “Vivid Shifting.” I’ll simply call it consistency of feel, as in jumping from the 11 to the 12 feels the same as a shift up to the 28-tooth cog. I wont say there’s no discernable difference. Jumps to bigger cogs never felt exactly the same as the smaller changes. But resistance ramp is greatly decreased with 6800. At the same time there is still enough “click” feedback to assure that intent was met with outcome. I also had little issue shifting under load, easily grabbing an easier gear while grinding up the steep hills around RoadBikeReview’s Boulder, Colorado, testing ground.

The new shifters also have the same trim function as Dura-Ace, where when shifting to the little ring there are two steps, one to get the chain dropped down, the second to move the derailleur slightly inward, eliminating chain rub. Again, it’s worked without fail.

Reach adjustment is also straightforward (and far more user friendly than the rubber shims necessary with Ultegra 6700). The new 6800 group offers 10mm worth of options that can be dialed with the simple twist of a flat head screwdriver. It’s also easy to move the hoods up and down thanks to an easy-to-reach 5mm fixing bolt under the main portion of the rubber hood. The bolt is offset with clear path access.

Easy Access Stopping Power

Hood adjustment is easy thanks to a clear path to the 5mm fixing bolt. Braking is top notch.

The one niggle here was the occasional missed downshift when the lever didn’t engage (something that’s plighted numerous other STI systems). This happened roughly one out of every 100 shifts, so not a huge deal, but certainly worth mentioning.

Braking performance was yet another stand-out area. The Ultegra 6800 stoppers borrow the same two-axle symmetric pivot design used with Dura-Ace, which Shimano claims reduces friction and improves efficiency up to 16 percent. Again, it’s hard to measure all these claims on the road, but suffice to say braking felt both powerful and under control, which was especially important during our spring test period when many of the roads around Boulder were littered with traction-robbing gravel left over from wintertime snow removal operations.

Obviously rim brakes will never provide the kind of modulation found in disc models. But for anyone not yet ready to make the technology jump, these brakes will stand up against any comparable systems on the market. Direct mount versions are also available, but we did not test those.

Shimano also rolled out new derailleur and brake cables with a polymer coating that designed to reduce friction compared to stainless steel cables. Again, hard to quantify effect except to say the entire system is smooth and we’ve yet to see the fraying that’s often the downfall of coated cables.

Testing Testing

Ultegra may not boast the sex appeal looks of Dura-Ace, but its function is hard to beat.

Other highlights of the 6800 group include the new Ultegra 11-speed chain which is thinner and claimed to be more efficient thanks to Shimano’s Sil-Tec treatment, which the component maker says is an advanced surface plating that lowers friction, quiets the chain and increases chain life. Marketing speak aside, our test chain shows no signs of major wear after a couple thousand miles, and when combined with the rest of the group, has delivered a blissfully quiet riding experience.

Bottom line, for a second-tier priced mechanical groupset, Ultegra 6800 delivers tip-to-tail top-tier performance — especially the front derailleur. Sure, we like the more refined look and reduced weight of Dura-Ace 9000 (it’s about 350 grams lighter). But if money is an object, and it usually is, this group offers solid value and exceptional performance.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5
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About the author: Jason Sumner

An avid cyclist, Jason Sumner has been writing about two-wheeled pursuits of all kinds since 1999. He’s covered the Tour de France, the Olympic Games, and dozens of other international cycling events. He also likes to throw himself into the fray, penning first-person accounts of cycling adventures all over the globe. Sumner, who joined the / staff in 2013, has also done extensive gear testing and is the author of the cycling guide book "75 Classic Rides: Colorado." When not writing or riding, the native Coloradoan can be found enjoying time with his wife Lisa and daughter Cora.

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  • twain says:

    Great article. I got a chance to ride 11-speed Dura Ace for a bit and it was remarkably quiet and, hate to say it, shifted much better than 10-speed. So despite my grumbles about 11-speed, looks like there are real reasons to upgrade.

  • Conscience of a Conservative says:

    Enjoy the product with one exception. Rear Derailleur cable snapped at 4,000 miles by the shifters. Reading similar accounts from other riders. Sounds like Shimano has a design issue they need to address. I’ve put ten years on a 6500 set-up and nothing like this has ever occurred.

  • Steven Roberts says:

    I have a 2014 Giant Advance I with all 6800 including wheels and Continental GP 4000sII tires. The 6800 hardware makes for a great ride. Other bikes, new and older, not provide the same level of performance. My wife has an equivalent Trek with same set up and experiences the same type of performance.

  • Fred W. says:

    Recently upgraded from 2007 madone 5.2 to 2014 madone 5.2 with ultegra 6800 group set. Shifting is quite smooth and responsive, It takes less effort to shift and brake. I hope the responsivienss continues as I put miles on. It seems tha the 2007 was resposive at the start, but as miles were added the shifting did get sloppy. I did change chains and serviced the drive train.

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