Shimano Ultegra SL shift/brake lever set review

Crisp and clean shifting and stopping from the no-nonsense Japanese engineers.

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Shimano has tweaked and enhanced its Shimano Total Integration (STI) Dual Control shift/brake lever set repeatedly since its introduction on 7-Eleven team bikes in 1990, and the 2008 Ultegra SL shifters, short of the top-end Dura-Ace, may be the best yet.

Weighing 447g for the pair, just 27g more than Dura-Ace, Ultegra SL shifters cost £120  less. This is a 70g savings over the standard Ultegra.

Road bike shifters play an important role in the overall performance of both rider and machine. With double duty as brake and shifter, the component also needs to provide ergonomical comfort for various hand sizes that will spend hours moving levers in different planes, maintaining a steady cadence and modulating speed around corners and down steep roads throughout the world.

Installation is simple: using a 5mm Allen, peel back the rubber covering on the outside of the main body and loosen the clamp band enough to slide the lever onto the handlebar. Depending on which handlebar you choose, I recommend clamping the lever so the slope of the bar's bend transitions just enough to be comfortable without compromising reach to the brake lever.

Technology

I've used Shimano's Dura-Ace, Ultegra, 105 and RX-100 STI Dual Controls the past 17 years, and while performance has always been spot on, I still find the stiff shifter cables that jut out toward the stem a little unnerving. It does, however, make wrapping the handlebar tape a little easier because there's not as much cable to wrap, compared to Campagnolo and SRAM. Shimano's smooth actuation and response is always spot-on, and it's important to keep the cables lubed and adjusted properly for reliable drivetrain performance. Ditto the chain.

Ride

The taller grip portion of the Ultegra SL shift levers works well for my big oven-mitt hands. Although I haven't experienced much cold or wet-weather riding during my test, there's enough real estate to handle long-fingered gloves, something I couldn't always rely on with my `03 Campy Record levers.

The actuation of the SLs are spot-on, almost boring: the barely audible clicks affirm where the chain has been and where it's going, and the change in cadence tells me I'm where I need to be. Sounds silly, I know, but even other testers felt quite natural shifting through the 10 gears.

Verdict

As with most Shimano componentry, once you've installed these shifters, you'll probably never need to make any tweaks. Save for the occasional cable replacement or unfortunate crash, the Ultegra SLs will give you many years of shifting performance on your favourite roads. An ideal upgrade for cyclosportive riding.

Here's a video explaining the Dual Control shifting platform.

© BikeRadar 2007

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