Shimano Ultegra R8100 launched: 12 speed and wireless shifting

My favourite groupset has just taken the next jump in technology and performance
«  ULTEGRA R8100 series moves to 12-speed with wireless Di2 shifter function and faster derailleurs
«  For the first-time ever ULTEGRA includes a power meter option and full-carbon tubeless disc wheels

Released the same day as the Japanese company’s flagship Dura-Ace R9200 groupset, Ultegra R8100 is for riders who are looking for every competitive advantage possible but at a lower price point. The two groupsets share DNA and where Dura-Ace is for those who simply must have the best, Ultegra is for pragmatists who want the performance and technology of the high end in a more affordable and probably more reliable price point.

Both new groupsets have been broken down into five development areas by Shimano to help explain the changes and developments in the step up to this next generation: shifting platform, control interface, brake system, drivetrain system and wheel system. Let’s take a look at the new developments:
Shifting platform

New Ultegra R8100 shares the same revised Di2 platform as Dura-Ace R9200 to improve shifting speed whilst making the shifter-derailleur connection wireless, whilst still ensuring reliability. Shimano had until now shied away from wireless shifting as they had expressed concerns about the reliability of shifting. SRAM’s successful eTap series has effectively forced them to move to wireless shifting too and this is good news for Shimano fans as it will make building Di2 bikes up simpler too.

Thanks to the new Dura-Ace and Ultegra sharing the same platform, Ultegra buyers will also benefit from:

– Improved motor design in the derailleurs, with faster processing speed (i.e. the moving time between motor and gear mechanisms) to deliver Shimano’s fastest-ever shifting. This results in a 58% decrease in ULTEGRA rear derailleur operating time and a 45% decrease in ULTEGRA front derailleur operating time over the previous DURA-ACE RD-R9150 rear derailleur. As a long time user of Shimano Ultegra 6850 Di2, I never found shifting time to be an issue but faster is better!

– The new derailleurs retain a wired battery connection. One internal battery makes for a simple charging solution and ensures a stable and high voltage connection to the derailleurs, contributing to Shimano’s fastest-ever shifting. Tests show that the BT-DN300 battery lasts for 1000 km between charges. The STI shifter buttons are powered by coin-style CR1632 batteries which last for approximately 1.5-2 years of usage.

A high security, fast processing and low power consumption proprietary chip circuit, which significantly decreases the chance of interference from external devices.

Charging and wireless connectivity get simpler and easier: The new ULTEGRA rear derailleur is now the point at which the system is charged (replacing Shimano’s SM-BCR2 charger) and it provides the wireless connection to STI shifters and other 3rd party devices (replacing the EW-WU111 wireless unit). Plus its integrated design provides the control point for changing Di2 operations and Synchronized Shifting modes, replacing the previous handlebar or in-frame Junction-A (SM-RS910) button.

As you would expect, the new Ultegra derailleurs have a different construction than Dura-Ace, which results in Ultegra weighing slighlty more. The Dura-Ace R9200 front and rear derailleurs weigh 96 g and 215 g respectively, versus Ultegra R8100 weights of 116 g and 262 g, resulting in a combined 67 g difference.

The new Ultegra wireless hydraulic disc brake shifters (ST-R8170) come with a raised head portion with a slight inward curve and increased area between the shifter and the handlebar to bring improved comfort and control. According to Shimano, this provides riders with better index finger and thumb grip on the hoods and better 3-finger grip behind the brake lever, whilst still giving easy access to the shift lever in the drops. Offset between Di2 buttons on the lever has also been improved, allowing for better differentiation between the up-shift and down-shift button, especially with gloves or wet fingers.

The new shifters operate wirelessly, powered by CR1632 coin batteries, which allows for a simple installation procedure and no shift cable ports in the frame or handlebar. Together with internal hose routing, it allows for a clean cockpit, something many riders will value.

The new shifters are also compatible with new minimized remote shifter buttons. Shimano’s sprint (SW-R801-S) or climbing shifter (SW-R801-T) can be used with a clamp band or can sit integrally in the handlebars with a specific port, such as the new PRO Vibe Evo bar. These new more compact satellite shifter options can attach either to the drops or tops.

There is also an updated E-Tube app which is compatible with Ultegra R8100. As before, E-Tube Project version 4.0.0 allows for preferences such as Synchronized or Semi-Synchro shifting, Multi-Shift, shifting speed and STI shift button mapping to be set up on the go. Also connections with 3rd party cycle computers can all be set up to display Di2 information.

Again, small differences in the construction account for a weight difference of 41 g between Dura-Ace ST-R9270 shifters (350 g) and Ultegra ST-R8170 shifters (391 g).
There are two new 12-speed Ultegra Hyperglide+ cassettes in 11-30 and 11-34 ratios. The 11-30 cassette has been revised in the ‘sweet spot’ gears between the 6th, 7th and 8th sprockets to improve smoothness and consistent gear steps. Combined with revised tooth profiles on the cassettes gives smoother gear changes, even under heavy load according to Shimano.

Shimano say that that the result is that there is no longer any need to back off an acceleration or time an easy pedal stroke with your shifts. Apparently riders can now put the hammer down and shift even faster, with smoother cadence and better speed transition with the new cassettes.

Interestingly Ultegra cassettes come with a new spline fitting pattern, which is also backwards compatible to Shimano 11-speed freehub bodies.

For the first-time, Ultegra chainsets come with the option of a power meter. The FC-R8100-P offers up to 300+ hours of ride time thanks to an integrated, waterproof and rechargeable Li-ion battery. Dual-sided data is provided by Shimano’s proprietary strain gauges on both crank arms. ULTEGRA powermeters uses Bluetooth and ANT+ technology to transmit data. This is increasingly important for Shimano as they compete with SRAM and their Quarq offerings.

Power meter and non-power meter cranksets come in either 50-34T or 52-36T gear combinations with crank arm lengths of 160, 165, 170, 172.5 and 175 mm. The Ultegra power meter crankset weighs 769 g, which is only 21 g heavier than the Dura-Ace power meter at 748 g.

The Ultegra R8100 chainset is complete with the same 12-speed chain used on Shimano’s XT M8100 series, meaning it’s another tough and proven chain.
Shimano say the new Ultegra brakes offer more fine-tuned control through the tighter, faster and more aggressive cornering lines found in road racing situations. With the addition of the company’s servo wave technology to brake levers, taken from Shimano’s MTB and Gravel braking systems, riders have a shorter free stroke and are able to get a more immediate connection between brake pads and rotors, allowing for more feathering or modulation of the brakes, resulting in more speed carry-through and more confidence in technical situations. I’ve used this on my GRX groupset and it’s terrific to ride with, so will be a welcome addition to Ultegra.

In addition, brake noise reduction has been improved through 10% wider brake pad and rotor clearance and a switch towards Shimano’s RT-MT800 rotors. The result is a quieter system, achieved through less heat deformation of the rotor and less temporary interference between the pad and the rotor.

Furthermore, brake maintenance has also been improved. Now it is possible to bleed the brake without removing the caliper (BR-R8170) from the frame thanks to a separate bleed port and valve screw. A new funnel and bleed spacer also help improve the bleeding process. In fairness, I’ve yet to need to do this with Shimano hydraulic disc brakes but the option is welcome.

New Ultegra brake calipers weigh 282 g per pair versus the Dura-Ace weight of 229 g. Another small difference to save your wallet!

Ultegra wheel system

In a market that has felt a bit like Shimano has given up on, now they’re back with new wheels into a tougher marketplace than ever before. For the first-time ever Shimano has introduced a full carbon tubeless disc brake wheel line-up at ULTEGRA level.

As with the new Dura-Ace wheels, Shimano say performance comes from the balance of three factors –  drag reduction without sacrificing control, driving force rigidity, and light weight construction – across three full carbon tubeless options. 

Three rim height profiles offer different performance benefits for riders. Shimano outline the options as:

The C36 (WH-R8170-C36-TL wheel is focused on climbing and is the lightest wheel offering with a target weight of 1488 g per pair (for comparison, Dura-Ace WH-R9270-C36-TL weight: 1350 g).

The C50 (WH-R8170-C50-TL) is an all-round wheel with a great balance of drag, lateral and driving rigidity, periphery and overall weight and controllability. The Ultegra C50 comes with a target weight of 1570 g per pair (Dura-Ace WH-R9270-C50-TL weight: 1461 g).

The C60 (WH-R8170-C60-TL) is the most aerodynamic wheel for sprints and high-speed pursuits, focused on drag, lateral rigidity and driving rigidity. The ULTEGRA C60 comes with a target weight of 1649 g per pair (DURA-ACE WH-R9270-C60-TL weight: 1609 g).

Driving rigidity was amplified to increase the direct pedaling feeling when accelerating, giving the new ULTEGRA C36 wheel a 9% increase in stiffness versus the current Dura-Ace C40-TL wheel.
While much of the news coverage you see will focus on the new Dura-Ace, it’s Ultegra that will have the bigger impact. For years it’s been the best bang for buck groupset on the market in my opinion and it should continue to be the same with this new version.

What’s missing? Yes, it’s not fully wireless, but apart from that, it’s got everything and having the mechs linked to a central battery will allow a bigger battery – so less charging. Splitting the shifters off wirelessly makes for simpler bike builds and cleaner looking bikes. In fairness, here they’re just “catching up” to SRAM, as they are on power meters and increasingly OEMs like Giant. Also, you might not have spotted it but Ultegra R8100 is Di2 only at launch – no mechanical shifting (same for Dura-Ace). Perhaps mechanical will follow? Time will tell.

I’ve yet to see pricing, but that’s typically another Ultegra strength (relatively speaking) and I hear that availability in the UK by Madison is likely before the end of 2021.

I can’t wait to see it. Bring it on!

Photos copyright Irmo Keizer / Andreas Dobslaff – Shimano

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