Shimano Ultegra Di2 R8070 first ride review

Details and first impressions of this redesigned electronic drivetrain

Ultegra is aimed at competitive athletes and dedicated enthusiasts, so that means it encompass everything from pro-level 11-25t cassettes down to more real world friendly 11-34t models.

At its lightest set up (Di2 w/ mechanical rim brakes) Ultegra R8000 weighs 4,071g, which is an 84.5g saving over Ultegra 6800. By comparison, new Ultegra gives away just over 500g to the same set up at the no-compromise Dura-Ace R9100 groupset (3566g).

Shimano Ultegra Di2 R8070 highlights

  • Only 500g heavier than Dura-Ace R9100 in lightest configuration
  • Massive range of chainring and cassette combinations
  • Improved braking
  • Synchro-Shift compatible
  • All pricing TBC

Impressive versatility 

Ultegra offers a much wider spread of cassette, right up to a super-wide 11-34t
Ultegra offers a much wider spread of cassette, right up to a super-wide 11-34t

It looks like Shimano aims to make Ultegra the most adaptable group in the range with a massive variety of chainsets, cassettes, and two cage sizes for the rear derailleur. 

That means you can choose from 53/39, 52/36, 50/34 and 46/36t chainring combinations and 11-25,11-28,11-30,12-25,14-28,11-32 cassettes, as well as the new 11-34t cassette.

The later two wide-range cassettes need to be used in conjunction with the longer cage GS rear derailleur. You could combine a 50/34 with an 11-34 cassette for a 1:1 ratio, which should prove popular for gravel riders who don’t want to opt for a gravel-specific compact.

Compared to the pros

The new Ultegra Di2 rear mech looks pretty much identical to Dura-Ace, save for the alloy cage in place of carbon
The new Ultegra Di2 rear mech looks pretty much identical to Dura-Ace, save for the alloy cage in place of carbon

The first thing most of us do when Shimano brings a new Ultegra group to the market is to compare to the current top-end Dura-Ace kit. As previously mentioned,  yes, it's heavier, but weight aside, there’s very little to separate the two.

For starters, Dura-Ace and Ultegra levers and hoods have exactly the same shape, the only difference is the Ultegra’s core body, which is made from nylon-reinforced glass fiber, while on Dura-Ace these are carbon — hence the increase in price and the reduction in weight for the premium group. 

On the electronic parts, the Ultegra front derailleur is a little larger (but not much). The motor and electronics are exactly the same as Dura-Ace, but the hardware and front derailleur cage on Ultegra are steel, while Dura-Ace uses a combination of lighter alloys.

The same goes for the new rear derailleur. They look pretty much identical (both share the slick shadow shape). On Ultegra, the jockey wheel cage is alloy where Dura-Ace uses carbon.

The crankset is the same design as Dura-Ace but it's a few grams heavier because of its more cost-effective construction
The crankset is the same design as Dura-Ace but it's a few grams heavier because of its more cost-effective construction

We’ve covered most of the shared components previously, and the new radically styled crankset loses 2g over the 6800 version. Although it looks pretty much identical to Dura-Ace, it’s heavier because, unlike Dura-Ace, the Ultegra’s crankset uses standard Hollowtech rather than the hi-tech bonded build of Dura-Ace, which shaves 64g off the total weight.

The carbon body looks much more Dura-Ace level than before, too
The carbon body looks much more Dura-Ace level than before, too

The new Ultegra pedals look like a real highlight, with a much slimmer shape (much more Dura-Ace looking) than the previous 6800 versions. The new pedals also have a lower (by 0.7mm) stack height and finally have dropped in weight down to just 248g a pair.

Synchro Shifting

The new shift triggers have a more positive action (and move more) than previous generation Di2
The new shift triggers have a more positive action (and move more) than previous generation Di2

My test routes in the heart of Austria riding out from the aptly-named town of Au (pronounced OW!) are a mix of stiff, double-digit gradient climbs and fast, technical descents. It was the perfect ground to get to grips with Ultegra Di2’s mettle. 

My test bike was this rather nice Specialized Venge ViAS Sagan Edition
My test bike was this rather nice Specialized Venge ViAS Sagan Edition

The Di2 operation follows the exact same operation as new Dura-Ace Di2. It incorporates the Synchro Shift abilities that originated on the off-road XTR group. Over the course of a few rides, I’ve been able to play with the Synchro settings (easily switched between using the button on the bar end control box).

On full Syncro, the system shifts the front mech automatically, so if your ratcheting through the cassette as the climb gets stiffer (which I did a lot), the system will switch the front derailleur to drop down into the smaller ring, or vice versa, when it comes to the descents.

On semi-auto Synch, which I did grow to appreciate, this system automatically shifts the rear derailleur in either direction when you shift the front — thus giving you a smoother transition between gears and a more even pedal progression. 

The junction box hidden in the bar end is a tidy solution, and the button can also be used to switch between Synchro modes
The junction box hidden in the bar end is a tidy solution, and the button can also be used to switch between Synchro modes

If you fancy trying Synchro for yourself but don’t want the expense of a completely new group, you'll be glad to learn it's backward compatible. All you need is to have the latest Di2 battery BT-DN110 and the new inline wireless antenna (BW-WU111) and you can activate the firmware update via the app and update your older Di2 system.

The e-tube ‘appening

The new e-tube project app is available for Android and iOS, tablet and iPad and PC versions
The new e-tube project app is available for Android and iOS, tablet and iPad and PC versions

The new app offers a whole heap of potential, running on either iOS or Android, and in both tablet and smartphone versions, plus a PC version that can be hardwired to the system (this is more a service center rather than home user option). 

On your phone, you can customise the button operation, do firmware updates, and presets. With the tablet version, Shimano adds diagnostics into the operation. The hard-wired connection is mainly used for system failure recoveries.  

You just need to make sure you're running the latest battery (because the control chip inside has a greater memory capacity)
You just need to make sure you're running the latest battery (because the control chip inside has a greater memory capacity)

The future for the app certainly looks very interesting as the e-tube project app also talks to Shimano’s power meter. I asked Di2 project head honcho Tim Gerrits if that meant the app could potentially go beyond just settings and updates and be used to configure Synchro and auto shift parameters through the data coming from the power meter (auto shifting to keep the rider in the optimum power range), and while he couldn’t confirm that being on the horizon, he wouldn’t deny that there haven’t been talks and investigations into this area.

Shift options galore

The new shift triggers have a more positive action (and move more) than previous generation Di2
The new shift triggers have a more positive action (and move more) than previous generation Di2

But anyway, back to the bike. This generation of Di2 certainly feels functionally a big improvement over the previous generation. Simple things like the button operation, where there is now a definite click and a little more lever movement all add up to a much more tactile and positive feeling shift. 

The new Ultegra Di2 lever has a third switch mounted on the top of the hoods, these can be configured to swipe between screens on your Garmin, operate lights (on an off) or shifting duties
The new Ultegra Di2 lever has a third switch mounted on the top of the hoods, these can be configured to swipe between screens on your Garmin, operate lights (on an off) or shifting duties

It's still one of the best groups for shifts under pressure, with little in the way of chatter, noise, or bounce when forcing the chain from big to small front rings when you're caught unawares from a steep gradient.

Plus, like Dura-Ace, Shimano has integrated additional buttons onto the top of the hoods. I set mine up to operate the rear derailleur (right for up, left for down) for climbing while up on the hoods. 

Using the app, you can now wire up to six different shift modes. I tried combining satellite shifters (x2), TT bar end shifters (x2) and STIs, and with a quick setup via the app had them all working in unison together. Though why you'd need a potential 14 different gear change buttons on one bar setup is beyond me, still nice that you can if you want
Using the app, you can now wire up to six different shift modes. I tried combining satellite shifters (x2), TT bar end shifters (x2) and STIs, and with a quick setup via the app had them all working in unison together. Though why you'd need a potential 14 different gear change buttons on one bar setup is beyond me, still nice that you can if you want

My test bike also had the addition of a satellite shifter mounted on the tops, which gave another shifting position. With the app you can configure up to six different shifter buttons, should you want to. You know, if you're suddenly taken by turning into an octopus. (You’d need the other two tentacles to pedal, obviously).

Better braking

Ultegra has for the first time got hydraulic disc brakes bearing its name
Ultegra has for the first time got hydraulic disc brakes bearing its name

Braking is where I was looking for the biggest improvement, as I’ve always had an issue with Shimano’s rotor noise compared to SRAM’s offerings. 

I’m glad to report that this has improved by a long way, with the rotors resisting screeches or squeals on all but the end of one long 9km descent with an elevation change from 1,132m down to less than 200m. 

Brake performance was impressive, but after heating them up on a fast prolonged technical descent I still managed to get them to start vocalising their braking
Brake performance was impressive, but after heating them up on a fast prolonged technical descent I still managed to get them to start vocalising their braking

There were technical sections where the rear rotor (140mm) did start to wail a little. This, thankfully, only lasted for a few kms and then settled down again.

I had no such trouble with the 160mm front, and I’ll put the noise down to it being a brand new fresh set that had been previously unridden. Though only long-term testing will completely answer that question.

I thankfully didn’t get any brake rub or ticking from the rotors, even after plenty of miles. 

Shimano Ultegra Di2 R8070 early verdict

Shimano's new Ultegra Di2 8070 group is impressive
Shimano's new Ultegra Di2 8070 group is impressive

In all, just like its more expensive cousin, the new Ultegra Di2 R8070 disc features a sweeping raft of subtle improvements. 

The shift feel is better, the customisation is far simpler, and cheaper with the potential for much more. Braking is less prone to unwanted rubs and noises too. On the whole, this generation seems to be much closer to what Shimano always intended Di2 to be. 

The reliance on cables will still irk some, who see wireless solutions from SRAM and the semi-wireless FSA option as more future looking, but there’s no doubt that R8070 is a pure quality.

With Di2’s reputation for reliability never in question, I think that the latest Ultegra Di2 (in either rim or disc brake configurations) is undoubtedly the most cost effective way to switch to electronic shifting. 

Its performance is indistinguishable from Dura-Ace, and with the weight difference between rim brake versions 306g (2,047g vs. 2,353g) and disc just 250.6g (2,627.6g vs. 2,377g), I’d certainly opt for the cost savings of Ultegra and use that saved cash to invest in improvements elsewhere.

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