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Shimano 105 Groupset review

Shimano 105 Cassette
30 Jan 2018
Verdict:

You could save weight over 105, but for the price, it’s hard to see how Shimano could produce anything better than this.

Cyclist Rating: 
Price: 
£496
For 
It changes gear, transfers power and slows you down brilliantly.
Against 
There are lighter options available.

Are you are planning an upgrade to 11-speed or building a bike from scratch? We put the entry-point 11-speed groupsets from Shimano, SRAM & Campagnolo to the test to see how they faired. First up the Shimano 105 groupset.

If you want a job done properly, do it yourself. It might sound churlish, but when it comes to choosing a bike, very often the compromises involved with buying off the peg are just too great, so going it alone – speccing each part around a frame of your choosing – makes a lot of sense. It also opens up a whole world of frame choices, such as the Kinesis Aithein we tested back in issue six, or the Niner RLT we reviewed in issue two – great frames that require your input.

This groupset is the entry-level 11-speed option from Shimano. By shopping around, you should be able to build a bike from scratch with any of these for under £2,000, using a really nice frame and fork; if you already own a nice bike with a cheaper groupset, this is the best way to upgrade. Either do it yourself (you’ll need bottom bracket and chain tools, cable cutters and potentially some new allen keys) or work with your local bike shop to get the parts installed professionally. 

Brakes

Shimano 105 Brake

Shimano’s new style brakes employ a dual-pivot mechanism with both pivots placed either side of the tyre, rather than one being placed centrally. The benefit of this to the rider is both a reduced size calliper but – more importantly – a more linear response for increased power. It also means Shimano can offer this brake as a direct mount option for aero frames, where the rear brake is positioned under the seatstays. While you can use these callipers with any shifters, they work best with Shimano’s 105, Ultegra or Dura-Ace STI levers, which pull the correct amount of cable to ensure good power and modulation. 

Shifters

Shimano 105 Brake levers

The 105 11-speed shifters are far more slender in the hand than the previous 10-speed generation and they feel both supremely comfortable and surprisingly secure – you never worry about sliding off them. Replacing cables is easier too, thanks to the gear cable entering from the side. The cables themselves are surely responsible for the incredibly light shifting feel – all the friction of previous incarnations has disappeared to be replaced by a super-light feel reminiscent of old external cable systems. Replacement cables aren’t cheap, though, at £30 for a set of low-friction outers and polymer-wrapped inners.

Drivetrain

Shimano 105 Chainset

The new 105 chainset is a real work of art. From the outside, it looks much like the Ultegra or Dura-Ace versions; flip it over and you’ll see it also sports much of the same detailing, with heavily machined chainrings designed to boost stiffness, improve shifting and save weight. We’ve spent most time on the 52/36 version, which is a brilliantly versatile combination. It’s also available in standard compact 50/34 or 53/39 variants (all have the same bolt circle so rings can be swapped easily), and in either light or dark grey (pictured). Triple chainsets aren’t included in this incarnation of 105 (good riddance – 11-speed and a 34-tooth small chainring offer plenty of get-out-of-jail options) and it’s only available with a standard 24mm axle – if you want to use a BB30 bottom bracket, you’ll need adaptors. If, however, you’re using a frame with a standard threaded BB, you’re in luck: the Shimano external bottom bracket design is the most reliable out there.

The cassette is available as 12-25, 11-28 or 11-32 – quite a small selection but you can always spec an Ultegra cassette if you want something different. If you have an old pair of 10-speed wheels you’d like to use on a new build, we’re sorry but you can’t – the additional sprocket means a wider freehub body, so you’ll need to ensure your wheels are 11-speed compatible. The rear mech is the only component of the groupset that looks more in keeping with 105’s budget price tag. It’s functional rather than desirable, but it works well and is available in either medium or short cage options – the short version allows up to a 28-tooth largest cog at the back; the medium cage version is needed beyond that. The 105 front mech is the real revelation of the group: it’s an engineering marvel that shifts quicker than any previous iteration – or any of its competitors – once set up properly. Absolutely faultless.

Overall

You could save weight over 105, but for the price, it’s hard to see how Shimano could produce anything better than this. It changes gear, transfers power and slows you down brilliantly, and while ongoing maintenance costs are more than previous versions (mostly cables – chain longevity seems about the same) it’s still a bargain. Frankly, we’d struggle to justify paying more for a mechanical groupset.

Rating - 5/5

Brakes Weight: 388g  Price: £70

Brake levers Weight: 489g  Price: £180

Crankset Weight: 756g  Price: £120

Cassette Weight: 272g  Price: from £40

Front derailleur Weight: 89g  Price: £27

Rear derailleur Weight: 228g  Price: £37

Chain Weight: 265g  Price: £22

TOTAL Weight: 2,487g  Price: £496

Contact: madison.co.uk

To see the other groupset reviews: 

Campagnolo Athena Review

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