The name remains the same but in Ultegra 6700 Shimano have carried out the biggest and most dramatic overhaul of the groupset since the introduction of 10-speed in 2005.
As Shimano tradition seemingly dictates, the second tier road groupset from the Japanese component manufacturers has adopted many of the changes made to the top-end Dura-Ace group during last year’s revamp.
The most immediate and obvious change to Ultegra is its appearance. Carbon brake levers, hidden cables and the bolt-free face of the hollow outer chainring are the biggest changes. Each refinement contributes to an altogether cleaner appearance.
It feels different too. The new levers provide a more comfortable ‘cruising’ position than their predecessors. With the mechanism pushed back into the body, the flat top section of the STI levers provides plenty of room for hands to spread out across the top of the hood – a boon for longer rides.
Despite these changes, Shimano have managed to retain a firm pistol-grip. A cutout in the front of the lever provides an anchor for the index finger when climbing.
The brakes remains as firm and reliable as ever. There is, however, a significant improvement in your ability to brake while riding with hands on top of the levers.
This is due to a change in the position of the brake lever pivot which provides increased leverage. It’s a subtle mechanical change but a big advantage for the rider. It’ll be particularly appreciated by those who suffered with the heavier braking action of years gone by.
The lever redesign again provides an advantage when it comes to shifting performance. The flat outer profile of the carbon lever provides extra surface area that makes shifting from the top of the levers easier. The outboard angle of the lever blades provides a similar advantage when riding in the drops.
Compared to their competitors, Shimano have maintained their slightly longer shift action. This isn’t a bad thing – with the load spread through a slightly longer arc, the result is an easier shift.
Shimano have also refined shifting performance through other means. Appearance alone indicates that a lot has changed in the drivetrain. The literature backs this up: a new outer chainring, directional chain and a stiffened front derailleur have been added. On the road the changes are particularly noticeable when shifting into the outer chainring, with the new design delivering a firm action.
Shimano suggest that the new drivetrain configuration will reduce rubbing on the front derailleur when the chain is exposed to extreme chain angles. In practice, the trim settings in the lever were still required, but given the chain angle required to produce the distinctive rattle, it’s not a big issue.
Aesthetic elements aside, it’s the usability of the new Ultegra that is the true beneficiary of the changes since 6600. Beauty is in the eye of the beholder, but the modifications add up to an impressive result. It’s a result that looks likely to make Ultegra 6700 a winner.