Ultegra cassettes vs. 105 – are they worth it?


UPDATE: I first wrote this article about the difference between Ultegra 680 cassettes and Shimano 105 5800 cassette a while ago, and I was of the opinion there was very little between them. Then just recently I finally got around to making this video, and found there is more difference than I had realized before!!

When it comes time to start replacing worn out parts on your bike it is often hard to decide whether to “upgrade” to higher priced parts or stay with the same level and save some money. One area where it is not easy to really see any extra value for money in the difference between the entry level road racing 105 11spd cassettes which are interchangeable with its more expensive cousins Ultegra and Dura Ace.

Dura Ace is Shimano’s top of the line professional racing component line. They use much higher grade materials to extract weight and improve performance. The price increase over Ultegra is quite dramatic.

As I found in the video above there are noticeable differences between 105 and Ultegra cassettes.

However just how much difference it means in terms of shifting and durability would require scientific testing.

Online Price (AUD)    Quoted weight (gms)           Materials

Dura Ace 9000 12-25               $220                          ~175g          Steel, Titanium, Carbon Fiber

Ultegra 6800 12-25                   $ 68                       212g claimed           Steel and Aluminum

242g weighed

105 5800     12-25                      $ 42                       232g  claimed          Steel and Aluminum

266g weighed

So for >50% more than a 105 cassette you get a 24gram saving?? Is an Ultegra cassette going to last 50% longer? i doubt they will last 50% longer, but given there does appear to be a higher grade (guess) plating on ultegra there is going to be some improvement or they wouldn’t have changed. There is no point making the surface finish change for cosmetic reasons as cassette get covered in junk and rarely look shiny anyway (unless your a pro with a team of mechanics, or put the effort into keeping your bike super clean rather than just riding..)

From this study I’m certainly sold on using 105 11 speed cassettes instead of spending the extra cash on Ultegra.

As a Clydesdale saving 20grams on my bike certainly is not worth 50% more! Visually it is hard to believe that the coatings or materials are significantly superior either so durability is certainly not likely going to be 50% better. However that said if your cassette does wear a little faster it will have a negative effect on chain life as well. But I still cannot see the $20 over the life of the cassette being worthwhile. You can buy a 105 cassette, and put the $20 towards a new chain.

In comparison to cassettes I have tended to spend a fraction more for Dura Ace chains.

Looking around 105 and Ultegra chains seem to be identical (in both price and weight). Dura Ace costs more, but only claimed to be 11grams lighter. I’ve tended to pay the extra $ (depending on the discounting being offered) because of the HG-900 chain’s reputation for better shifting, quietness, and importantly durability. Dura Ace cassette get better profiling for shifting, and now a teflon coating as well.

More recently I have developed a fondness for KMC and the less well known Yaban (YBN) chains. They have great technology, but what I love is the quick link which can be used to break the chain so you can take it off the bike without having to push pins in and out like Shimano and Campagnolo chains. This means you can take the chain off over night and soak it in degreaser to clean it, then “easily” refit it and apply some chain lube. The latest Dura Ace chain now also come with quick links and a pin so you can choose.

KMC chain quick link

Online prices for chains and cassettes can be significantly cheaper than in local bike shops. But if you are going to buy on line you need to also buy the tools required to do the fitting. There is nothing more disrespectful to your local bike shop than to buy something online then asking your local mechanic to fit it for you. Expect to be charged a steep labor rate – which you would have got for free had you purchased from them in the first place!

Prices between online stores vary considerably as well. Shimano chains in particular get heavily discounted so it is worth while shopping around. If at the same time you pick up some tires and other parts you can often get free shipping of your order exceeds a certain value. So it is worthwhile asking cycling friends if they need anything and doing a combined purchase!