Hands-on with the new Shimano Ultegra R8100 groupset – real weights and first impressions
We've finally got our hands on the new Ultegra groupset
We’ve finally got our hands on Shimano’s new Ultegra R8100 groupset.
Announced back in August 2021 alongside the flagship Dura-Ace R9200, the new Ultegra brings 12-speed, semi-wireless and electronic-only shifting to Shimano’s second-tier road groupset.
More than six months have passed since the two groupsets were announced in tandem but even BikeRadar isn’t immune from the component delays and shortages we’ve seen across the industry, as this is the first time we’ve received a complete groupset.
But now that we have it, we’re going to get every part on the scales and cast a forensic eye over the groupset, to bring you all of the key details.
You can also watch the video at the top to see more of the groupset – and hear more of our first impressions. Otherwise, let’s get stuck into the details.
Shimano Ultegra R8100 highlights
First, a re-cap on the new Ultegra groupset.
Ultegra is Shimano’s second-tier groupset, sitting below Dura-Ace, which is the lightest, shiniest, money-no-object groupset, seen on the latest WorldTour bikes.
For many riders, Ultegra is the logical choice as it has essentially identical functionality to the pro-level Dura-Ace at a lower price, with only a small weight penalty and a little less bling.
On the subject of weight, Shimano claims that the R8100-series groupset weighs 2,716g, which is just 278g heavier than an equivalent Dura-Ace R9200 groupset.
The headline feature of Ultegra R8100 is that it offers 12-speed, electronic-only gearing, with semi-wireless shifting, which is claimed to be even faster and smoother than before.
That means, like SRAM, Shimano has also departed from mechanical shifting for its top-tier road groupsets.
The release of the new Ultegra and Dura-Ace groupsets also means Shimano has joined both Campagnolo and SRAM in offering 12 speeds for its high-end road groupsets.
While SRAM has long offered fully wireless shifting for its eTap AXS electronic groupsets across road cycling, gravel riding and mountain biking, Shimano has previously stuck to a wired configuration with its Di2 groupsets.
That’s changed with Dura-Ace R9200 and Ultegra R8100. But what’s semi-wireless, you ask?
Well, there are no wires between the shifters and the derailleurs, which results in a cleaner setup and should make working on the latest integrated cockpits much less of a headache.
Instead, the front and rear derailleurs are wired to a new battery, housed inside the frame. The shifters, which are powered by individual coin-cell batteries, then communicate wirelessly with the derailleurs to change gear.
In terms of battery life, Shimano says the central battery powering the derailleurs should have enough juice for at least one thousand kilometres of riding for most riders.
The new rear derailleur also contains the brains of the system, which has eliminated the need for a separate junction box housed elsewhere on the bike.
If you’re a bikepacker, long-distance rider or simply prefer not to have to charge your groupset as regularly, Shimano says that you can actually double the battery life if you run the system fully wired.
Now, let’s get into handling and weighing these parts individually.
Shimano Ultegra R8170 shifters
Starting at the shifters, they’re arguably the most visually striking component of the new groupset.
The outgoing R8070 shifters were impressively small, considering they had to house both the hydraulic reservoir for disc brakes and the Di2 internals.
Shimano says they received feedback that they were actually too small, hence the noticeable increase in size here, and the fact they’re slightly more angled in design.
I think this is going to be a good change, as I was one of those people who felt the R8070 and R9170 shifters were a little too small, even though I have relatively dainty hands.
The new levers have shrouds on them, hiding the lever blade above the pivot point, and they are powered by CR1632 coin-cell batteries, which Shimano claims should last around one-and-a-half to two years, depending on how much you shift.
The shifters cost £349.99 and Shimano claims the new shifters weigh 391g for the pair. On our scales of truth, they weigh 385g.
- Claimed weight: 391g (pair)
- Actual weight: 385g (pair)
Shimano Ulegra R8150 rear derailleur
Moving on to the rear derailleur, it’s also seen heavy refinement and is now the brains of the system, as mentioned earlier. The rear derailleur also contains the new charging port (previous Di2 systems have been charged via a separate junction box).
The derailleur features a new chipset and upgraded motors to increase the speed of shifts.
Though the materials used to construct the derailleurs differ, Shimano says Ultegra and Dura-Ace now share the same internals, meaning performance should be – for all intents and purposes – identical.
And, speaking of performance, Shimano claims rear shifting on Ultegra R8100 is 58 per cent faster than the previous generation of Dura-Ace.
We’re looking forward to seeing how that claim stacks up in real-world use but, based on our experience with the new Dura-Ace, both front and rear shift speeds should be very impressive here.
You won’t need Shimano’s separate, in-line Bluetooth transmitter to connect to Shimano’s E-Tube app anymore, as Bluetooth functionality is now built into the rear mech.
Also gone are the short and medium-length cage options – there’s now just one medium-cage option with capacity for up to a thirty-four tooth cassette sprocket.
The claimed weight for the new rear derailleur is 262g and it costs £379.99. On our scales, you’ll save yourself a couple of grams as it comes in at 260g. (Yes, we know the image above reads 261g but it was 26og when originally filming our video so that’s what we’re going with, okay?)
- Claimed weight: 262g
- Actual weight: 260g
Shimano Ultegra R8150 front derailleur
The front derailleur has also had an update and is now smaller and sleeker than its predecessor.
Shimano says it can shift 45 per cent faster compared to the outgoing Dura-Ace.
Now, Di2 shifts have always been impressive so that percentage is relative but, as alluded to above in relation to the rear derailleur, we’ve been extremely impressed with front shifts on the latest Dura-Ace R9200 groupset.
If Ultegra R8100 can match that, we can expect similarly impressively performance here.
The claimed weight for the new front derailleur is 116g, and it costs £249.99. On our scales, it’s 111g.
- Claimed weight: 116g
- Actual weight: 111g
Shimano Ultegra R8100 crankset
The R8100 crankset isn’t dramatically different to the outgoing Ultegra R8000 version, using the same Hollowtech II technology as before.
However, it does have revised aesthetics with a more symmetrical appearance, in-line with the new Dura-Ace groupset.
Otherwise, it continues to use the same four-arm construction, is still aluminium, and still uses a 24mm steel axle, which fits the same bottom bracket as before.
What is different, though – and this is very exciting for data nerds like me – is that Shimano now offers a dedicated dual-sided power meter option at Ultegra level; something previously reserved only for Dura-Ace.
Shimano offers the new Ultegra crankset with 52/36t semi-compact or 50/34t compact chainrings.
If you’re the kind of rider who likes to use big gears, you’ll have to pony up for a Dura-Ace R9200 crankset, as there’s no 54/40t or 53/39t option for Ultegra anymore.
The new crankset costs £299.99, or £999.99 if you want the power meter version. We have the non-power meter option here with 52/36t chainrings and its claimed weight is 711g.
On the BikeRadar scales of truth, it weighs 749g.
- Claimed weight: 711g (52/36t)
- Actual weight: 749g (52/36t)
Shimano Ultegra R8100 cassette
The new cassette has a similar appearance to the old version but, crucially, now features 12 sprockets.
This helps make the jumps between each gear a little smaller, so you can fine-tune your selected gear if you’re a rider with a penchant for a particular cadence. There are two cassette ratios on offer: 11-30t and 11-34t.
If you want a tighter 11-28t cassette, then you’ll have to find the extra cash for a Dura-Ace cassette, as it’s only an option at that level. However, one of the benefits of 12-speed is that you can have an easier climbing gear without impacting too much on the rest of the cassette.
On that note, and in a very welcome change, the move to 12-speed gearing has allowed Shimano to revise the jumps between sprockets. There are now single-tooth jumps for the first seven sprockets on the 11-30t cassette and the first five on the 11-34t cassette.
Before the new groupsets were announced, we had speculated Shimano might carry over the Micro-Spline freehub standard from its 12-speed mountain bike wheels, but that isn’t the case.
Instead, Shimano’s new 12-speed road groupsets use a new standard with more splines.
However, fear not, as the new Ultegra cassettes are still backward-compatible with older 11-speed HG freehubs, so you won’t need to replace your current wheels if you want to upgrade to this new groupset.
Compared to Dura-Ace cassettes, the five largest sprockets on Ultegra cassettes are made of steel rather than titanium, which increases weight and helps cut costs.
Shimano claims a weight of 291g for the 11-30t cassette and 345g for the 11-34t option, both of which cost £119.99.
Our 11-34t sample weighs 342g.
- Claimed weight: 345g (11-34t)
- Actual weight: 342g (11-34t, with a zip-tie…)
Shimano Ultegra R8100 chain
The new chain is shared with the Shimano XT mountain bike groupset and is, of course, designed for use with a 12-speed drivetrain.
The only other notable change versus the old 11-speed chain is that the edges of the outer plates have been chamfered to reduce drivetrain noise, according to Shimano.
Shimano claims a weight of 252g and it costs £44.99. Our chain weighs 240g.
- Claimed weight: 252g
- Actual weight: 240g
Shimano Ultegra R8170 hydraulic brake calipers
The new Ultegra’s hydraulic disc brakes have undergone heavy refinement.
When Shimano launched the old R8000 system, it was the first time the brand’s road disc brakes were tiered – i.e. they had the Ultegra moniker on them and were specifically part of the groupset.
Cast your mind back two generations of Ultegra and, on the 6800-series groupset, the hydraulic disc brakes were untiered, with the mechanical levers named RS685 and the electronic R785. The braking on those systems was rather binary, with a kind of ‘on-off’ feel.
Here, with the new R8100 brakes, Shimano says it has concentrated on increasing pad clearance, which is up by ten per cent.
This is aimed at alleviating the irritating disc brake pad rub sometimes suffered by the previous-generations groupsets, especially in wet or muddy conditions.
They also inherit the ServoWave feature from Shimano’s GRX gravel and mountain bike brakes. This creates a non-linear relationship between lever and pad travel, which is claimed to give you improved braking power and modulation.
So, quieter, more powerful braking with greater control – it all sounds pretty good on paper, but we’ll see how that translates to real-world performance.
Anyway, the bleed port has also been revised. There’s now a separate port for the syringe hose and a separate valve operated by a hex bolt, offering, we hope, easier in-situ bleeding.
The flat-mount hydraulic disc brake calipers cost £74.99 each and weigh a claimed 282g for the pair. Put them on the BikeRadar scales and they weigh 240g.
- Claimed weight: 252g
- Actual weight: 240g
Shimano Deore XT disc brake rotors
The MT800 rotors are shared with the brand’s second-tier mountain bike groupset, XT, and feature ‘Freeza’ technology, which is said to help cool the rotors down and help prevent any parts in the system from overheating.
Shimano claims a weight of 108g for a 160mm rotor and 88g for a 140mm rotor, and they cost £49.99 each. Our sample rotors match Shimano’s claimed weights on the nose.
- Claimed weight: 88g (140mm) / 108g (160mm)
- Actual weight: 88g (140mm) / 108g (160mm)
Shimano Ultegra R8100 rim brakes
If you’re a die-hard rim brake fanatic and you want to upgrade to this groupset, then no need to worry as Shimano still has you covered.
The rim brakes themselves look virtually identical to the outgoing R8000 ones, though. As do the shifters, which lack the new shrouded design.
It’s also important to note that the system cannot be run semi-wirelessly in its rim brake form, but that does at least mean you’ll get the improved battery life mentioned earlier.
The rim brakes cost £79.99 per brake.
Shimano Ultegra R8170 C36 tubeless wheelset
Shimano has upped its game significantly when it comes to wheels, for this generation of Ultegra.
While previous designs were fairly conserative in terms of spec, the new Ultegra wheels are more modern, with all-new rim profiles. That said, it’s still not the most progressive road wheelset out there.
The rim shape is the same as on the new Dura-Ace wheels and combines a 21mm internal width with a 28mm external width.
As for rim depths, you have the option of 36mm, 50mm and 60mm – all with the same inner and outer widths.
All wheelsets are ready to accept tubeless tyres and feature hooked rims, meaning you can use pretty much whichever rubber you like.
One key difference between the new Ultegra and Dura-Ace wheelsets, is that the freehub on the Ultegra wheelsets is compatible with both 11-speed and 12-speed cassettes.
On the other hand, the new Dura-Ace wheels are only compatible with 12-speed cassettes.
Keep that in mind if you’re considering upgrading your wheels but still want to use an 11-speed groupset for the time being.
The total cost for this Ultegra C36-TL wheelset is £1,259.98 – and that’s the same for each variation in the range.
The claimed weight is 1,488g, although on our scales they weigh 1,527g (with rim tape, which Shimano may not be accounting for).
- Claimed weight: 1,488g
- Actual weight: 1,527g (with rim tape)
Well, there you have it – the new Shimano Ultegra Di2 R8100 groupset. We’ll be sure to bring you a full review of the groupset once we have thoroughly tested it, so look out for that further down the line.
In terms of cost, if you bought the components for a disc brake groupset separately at the recommended retail price, it would cost a grand total of £1,694.90, including the standard, non-power meter crankset but excluding the new wheelset.
If you want to include both the power meter and latest Ultegra wheels, the total price rises to a cool £3,654.88.
Let us know your early thoughts of the new Ultegra groupset in the comments below.
Is Shimano making a mistake by abandoning mechanical road groupsets at Dura-Ace and Ultegra level? Would a true wireless groupset have been even better, even if it meant lower battery life? We’d love to know what you think.