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Shimano Ultegra Di2 R8050 groupset review

2 Sep 2020

Shimano Ultegra Di2 works superbly and is highly configurable, but pretty pricey

Cyclist Rating: 
Superb shifting and braking • Highly configurable
Rather complex parameterisation • Expensive if you break something

Shimano’s Ultegra groupset sits in the middle of its performance-orientated road bike hierarchy. Below the top-end Dura-Ace, but above the more entry-level 105, its Di2 version is currently the cheapest electronic road groupset Shimano offers.

Gravel fans may want to check out our review of the off-road specific GRX Di2 groupset

Now on the market for a couple of years, this Ultegra R8050 series features a slew of features found on Shimano’s range-topping groupsets, along with a few clever traits unique to Ultegra.

Despite remaining the most affordable entry point into electronic shifting, Shimano Ultegra Di2 isn’t exactly cheap: a complete disc brake groupset will set you back around £2,150 at full retail price (£1,800 for rim brakes).

Although you can often find it somewhat discounted, at full price, it’s still £900 more than mechanical Ultegra, a fact that is reflected in a significant price jump between bikes specced with the two options.

That price gap applies to the individual parts too. Wreck your rear mech and a replacement is £245 full price while a new Di2 shifter for hydraulic brakes will cost you over £300.

So Ultegra Di2 is a pricey proposition, but in return, you get quality components and super-precise shifting. It’s also highly configurable, letting you set things up differently from a standard mechanical groupset.

That shifting is powered by the Di2 battery, which sits concealed in the down tube. It’s good for thousands of miles of riding. If you forget to charge it, it downgrades your shifting progressively, keeping the rear mech running longer than the front mech to help you get home.

I’ve been in that situation and although it’s slightly awkward to be stuck in the big ring, it was enough to get me around my planned route and good for the thighs to get a low cadence workout on the hills.

Colleagues have had a different experience whereby the front mech changes you down to the little ring before shutting off, concentrating what little power is left on the rear mech to give you a limited number of shifts before running out of charge completely.

Shimano has done away with the externally mounted controller (which it calls Junction A) on the latest iteration of Di2, so you don’t have the ugly unit zip tied under your stem. Instead, everything is usually neatly integrated into the bar end. That works well with modern bikes, where there’s increased front end integration and cables are often routed through the bars and stem.

The Junction A controller also lets you charge the battery via a built-in proprietary socket and the Shimano battery charger which connects to a standard USB cable. It’s pretty quick to charge up.

There’s one button and a couple of LEDs on the unit too. A rather cryptic set of presses and flashes tells you what’s happening and lets you alter what the groupset does. It’s worth learning the code though, as that unlocks a whole lot of other functionality.

And that’s one of the benefits of Di2 over a cable operated setup, as it’s highly configurable using Shimano’s e-Tube Project app. Plug the battery charger into a Windows computer (but not a Mac as the software isn’t available for the platform) and you can start to change what the system does.

You can also keep the system’s firmware up to date, which is useful as updates include things like changes to extend battery life.

Parameterisation starts with simple things like changing how fast the mechs shift. But you can change pretty much everything about how Di2 operates, including changing from standard manual shifting (mimicking a cable-operated groupset) to semi-synchronised or synchronised shifting.

The change between manual, semi-synchro and synchro can also be done using the button on Junction A.

In synchronised shift mode, you can opt to use one shift lever to shift up and one to shift down. Get to a set point on the cassette and the system will automatically swap chainrings as well as rear sprockets to give you the next gear up or down. Where the shift happens can be changed in the app too.

I like the freedom from distraction of synchronised shifting – with a mechanical groupset it’s quite easy to find I’ve shifted down to the largest sprocket/large ring combination, but sequential shifting avoids that.

Plus, when the system does make a front shift, you’re not left spinning too low a gear or grinding one that’s too high. Again, that’s something that’s quite easy to end up doing with manual shifting.

Another advantage is that you’re less likely to mis-shift. The up and down buttons on the Di2 levers are close together and it’s quite easy to hit the wrong one, particularly if you’re wearing thick winter gloves.

In semi-synchronised mode, once you change between the chainrings the system will shift the rear mech too to avoid the spinning/grinding problem. Again, it’s a nice adjunct you don’t get when shifting chainrings manually.

And with Di2, you’re not stuck choosing just one shift mode, as you can cycle between them via the Junction A controller.

The e-Tube functionality is available wirelessly via Bluetooth to a phone app (Android and iOS) too. But you need a separate wireless unit – another £70-plus component that’s not normally part of the set-up when you buy a Di2 equipped bike.

Wireless configuration of your shifting is less slick than Sram Force eTap AXS, where wireless connectivity is built into the system. But the wireless unit also lets you hook up Di2 to a bike computer using ANT+ or Bluetooth and use your shifters to scroll through screens on your GPS or display info on your current gearing.

Not just the shifting

Ultegra is generally regarded as the sweet spot in Shimano’s groupset range, and with good reason. It’s a bit more polished and a couple of hundred grams lighter than the next step down 105 and nearly the match of top-of-the-line Dura-Ace without the extravagant price tag.

That doesn’t just apply to the derailleurs; the quality of finish of the other Ultegra groupset components is great too.

There are options that should suit almost all users. That starts with four chainring combinations and four crank lengths. You also get the choice of disc brakes, direct mount rim brakes or single mounting point rim brakes, bar-end shifters, satellite shifters, long or short cage rear mechs and a wide range of different cassette options, up to 11-34t.

Disc brakes come with Shimano’s Icetech cooling fins on the rotors, although without the black coating found on Dura-Ace, while rim brakes have a chunky build that’s very rigid for effective braking.

So to sum up, Shimano Ultegra Di2 gives you a wide variety of quality components and a lightweight. It’s a bit more durable than Dura-Ace and a lot less expensive. But to get the most out of electronic shifting, be prepared to put time into learning what it can do and how to configure it.

Expect to spend extra cash to add features and keep it running sweetly too.

All reviews are fully independent and no payments have been made by companies featured in reviews


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