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In trade, once introduced, the latest iteration is the definition of refined. That template runs again with the most recent update of Shimano’s Ultegra Di2 Hydraulic system — the R8050 and R8070 Series.
This version tested came with a 50/34 chainring and 11/28 cassette, with 172.5mm arms, and weighing 2,640g — we’ve outlined the major updates to Ultegra in other articles so be sure to check them out if you want details on weight, materials, and other on-paper subtleties.
From 10 months of riding the group, four clear points of differentiation from the previous version became obvious: the introduction of Synchro and semi-Synchro Shift; increased cassette capacity of the rear derailleur; improved ergonomics; and Shimano’s E-TUBE app for adjusting shifting patterns.
Taking a quick look at each of these outlines the most significant improvements and changes over the previous generation.
Shimano Synchro Shift
In nearly 20 years of shifting SIS-style (Shimano Indexed Shifting), it had never occurred to me that assistance from derailleurs was required, or even beneficial. But after a few months of riding this group, exploring the full capabilities of full- and semi-synchronised shifting was intriguing.
Full-synchronised shifting was introduced with the previous generation XTR Di2 group. The system programs both derailleurs to work together for the most optimal chainline for the required gear ratio. With the latest Ultegra group, and smart battery, this program is completely customisable in the app.
I found full Synchro-Shift excelled during challenging days in the saddle where brain capacity became limited. At a certain point, it’s nice to not have to think. As an analogy, riding full Synchro is similar to an automatic transmission; convenient, smooth, and not a thought goes in to the process.
In between traditional shifting and full Synchro is semi-Synchro Shifting, where the rear derailleur will manage overlap gears during front derailleur shifts. Again, the specifics of how much overlap there is (based on your gearing), is fully customisable in the E-TUBE app.
The function is beneficial in general, but especially great in terrain where there’s lots of shifting up front. Cyclocross racing seemed to be a scenario where the tech shines in particular.
Gear combinations aplenty
Included in the aesthetic and design updates to the group, the rear derailleur overhaul also includes a slight change in pulley spacing, and subsequent cassette capacity. The biggest opportunity for most riders is the ability to hit a 30t cog without the need for a medium or long-cage derailleur — an eyesore for some, an attack on the ego for others.
For riders looking for even more than 30t, the latest update of the long-cage derailleur means it can manage up to a 34t cog. Combined with a 34t compact front ring, you could likely climb a wall.
Ultegra R8070 group ergonomics
Form and function should be addressed simultaneously to achieve ‘elegant’ status. As such, the new Ultegra R8070 group is certainly elegant — whether the aesthetics speak to you or not is another debate.
The shifter is now a proper Ultegra-labeled component (unlike previous R785 versions) and engineers did a brilliant job of creating a compact profile, thanks to no internal shifting demands, of course.
Like previous R785 shifters, reach adjust and caliper free-throw are both still adjustable and both are more friendly, mechanically speaking. Additionally, the shifting paddles are slightly bigger and more tactile, which is especially convenient for gravel and ‘cross.
Shimano E-TUBE app
Since its introduction, Shimano’s E-TUBE app has been something mostly confined to bike shops and only accessible on PC platforms. The most recent revision introduces a new ‘smart’ battery, wireless Bluetooth communication and iOS compatibility, making the program much more convenient for users.
The abilities of the system are practically unlimited, or at least exceed the needs of most reading this article. But one particularly interesting setup is for those who want to run a single-ring up front because the shifters can be set to run the rear derailleur similar to SRAM eTap, such that each lever controls the upshift or downshift.
Again, the system is overwhelmingly capable, and if going with the R8000-series is too much, the smart battery and wireless adapters can be added to previous generation 6870 groupset (but not quite as simple as the new setup, so do your homework on backward compatibility specific to your setup).
Ultegra R8000-series complete package
In all, the new Ultegra R8000-series is a set of marginal gains, but it’s far more than an exercise in fresh industrial design.
I found genuine user benefits that I still haven’t seen the full extent of, and of course the shifting and braking are noticeably improved.
With perfect drivetrain setup and a freshly waxed chain, it’s quite difficult to rationalise the additional upgrade to Dura-Ace, but to each their own.
The Ultegra group is roughly 250 grams heavier than the equivalent Dura-Ace Di2 set up, so while there’s a difference, it’s a touch under 10 percent.
At £1,400 it’s not cheap, but looks fair when compared to the £2,000 that is asked for a comparable Dura-Ace groupset.
Bravo to Shimano for once again not coming to market until the product is refined and predictable — impatience be damned.