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Shimano trickles 11-speed down to Ultegra 6800

Shimano introduced its new mid-range 11-speed group, Ultegra 6800, this week. The launch comes two weeks after SRAM pulled the sheet off its new Red and Force 22 11-speed groups and represents another move forward in 11-speed gearing for the masses.

With a combined weight of 2,274 grams and a price tag of $1,250, Ultegra 6800 will continue to go toe-to-toe with Force, which has a combined weight for a GXP group of 2,150 grams and costs $1,360.

Wide range of gearing

Beyond offering Shimano riders a more budget-friendly group, Ultegra 6800 also offers a wider range of gearing options, in the form of a 6800 11-32 cassette, which will be compatible with the new 6800 mid-cage rear derailleur. Dura-Ace 9000 riders will be able to change up gear ratios by purchasing a $100 6800-GS rear derailleur and a $110 cassette.

This added cassette range does come a bit late, as SRAM’s WiFli system has been allowing riders on both its flagship Red and Force groups to use the 11-32 cassette range for over a year now.

Some celebrated trickle-down

The 6800 crankset mimics the four-arm design that we praised in the new Dura-Ace 9000 last year. The design allows riders to swap from compact gearing to a 53-tooth chainring without swapping crank arms. This allows riders to run chainring setups from 46-36 up to 53-39, all on the same crankset. Cyclocross racers who train with standard road gear ratios during the summer now only need one crankset.

With Shimano’s 11-speed gear range, riders also get back the 15t cog they lost when they gave up the Ultegra 6600 cassette.

Up front, Shimano redesigned the Ultegra front derailleur with a larger lever arm like that of Dura-Ace, which is the best mechanical front shifting we’ve tested. Shimano claims the larger lever requires 35 percent less force input into the shifter, which we cannot corroborate, but the new design does offer a noticeable improvement with the 9000 groupset.

Why 11-speed?

Just as 10-speed replaced all nine-speed options on the road and then on mountain bikes, 11-speed is making the same progress. Manufacturers are making stronger, narrower chains and wheels are nearly all being spec’d with 11-speed freehub bodies, including the new 6800 tubeless wheelset, which will retail for $750. With the technology trickling down to mid-range groups from Shimano, SRAM, and Campagnolo, the transition to 11-speed has big momentum in the industry.

SRAM Force and Shimano Ultegra are in a dead heat when comparing the spec sheets; the two groups are only separated by about $100 and 100g. Ultegra is slightly less expensive and Force is slightly lighter. We’ll soon spend some time on each group to determine which provides more bang for the buck.