Friday, November 20, 2009
Dura-Ace features and feel but with a tad more weight – and a lot less money.

Shimano's Ultegra road group has long been the workhorse of the lineup, offering near-Dura-Ace functionality and weight but with prices that average consumers could afford. We've already gone over the tech specifics so we'll skip over all of that and go straight into how well it works and feels after several months on the road. As expected, the all-new Ultegra 6700 loses some weight – over 150g! – and has gained trickle-down changes from its recently revamped Dura-Ace 7900 stablemate but along with the good comes a few letdowns as well.

Ergonomics – flatter perch, easier reach
The all-new Ultegra 6700 STI Dual Control levers are a virtual dead ringer for Dura-Ace: they're now more rectangular in profile with less of a taper than before, the body has more girth and is similarly squared off, the straighter top surface makes for a flatter transition to the bar, and the outwardly canted carbon fiber main lever blades are shapelier and easier to reach from the hoods, plus they're easier on bare skin when it's cold. Now that the shift cables are neatly concealed beneath the bar tape, the once-prominent bulb atop the lever has been downsized (for better or worse depending on your grip preferences) and the overall look is more businesslike than before.
With all being said, not everyone will be happy with the new shape. The bigger body (measuring 1cm bigger in circumference than 6600 at the narrowest point and a whopping 3cm at the base) will clearly appeal to those with larger hands but those with smaller mitts might find it hard to get their fingers wrapped around. Though it offers a more positive feel overall, the squared-off shape feels a bit less organic, too.
Reach adjustment is now built in, however – well, sort of. Unlike Dura-Ace's hidden screw-type adjustment, Ultegra's reach is tuned by inserting one of two included rubber shims. True, the adjustment increments aren't as fine as a result but the rubber shims handily fill in the space for a more finished look than Dura-Ace's unsightly gap.

Shift performance – hidden cables but more friction
There's simply no way around it: the new hidden cables look better but the more convoluted routing also yields noticeably more friction than before – and unfortunately, Shimano's 1:2 cable pull ratio makes it more sensitive to that friction than its main competition. Whereas the Ultegra 6600 levers feel silky smooth, light and positively connected to the derailleurs, 6700's feel is more vague and heavier and the connection is slightly muddied. High-zoot cable sets such as from Gore help, though, so you may want to factor that into the budget.
In addition, the repackaged internals also yields lever throws that are at least as long as before with a similar amount of 'dead space' before anything actually happens. Long-time Shimano users likely won't notice much but shifts require more movement than Campagnolo's Ergopower and feel like a veritable mile versus SRAM's ultra-short mechanism.
Overall rear shift performance is still excellent, though, with reliably consistent chain movement across the cassette – it's just not as direct feeling anymore. Just as with Dura-Ace, downshifts are now limited to just two gears per full sweep instead of three – bummer.
On the other hand, front shift performance is absolutely awesome thanks largely to the stiffer front derailleur pivots and fantastic new outer chainring (more on that later). Full-power upshifts and downshifts are impeccably smooth and well controlled and a notable step or two ahead of the pack. As with Dura-Ace, there's no longer an outer trim position but we can attest that you won't miss it as long as the front derailleur is properly adjusted – chain rub is nonexistent in any cassette cog while in the big ring.
We tested the standard drive configuration (130mm BCD, 53/39T) but from experience with other Shimano groups have no reason to expect the compact version to be any different performance-wise. In case you need it, there's a triple option, too.

Ultegra 6700 – best version yet or more of a lateral move?
Shimano has finally silenced its external shift cable routing critics by concealing the lines but has unfortunately hurt its trademark Light Action shifting feel in the process. Though appreciably lighter than before and with best-ever front shift performance and braking, the new Ultegra is still a notable letdown in the all-too-important metric of rear shift performance. It's vague feeling, the throws are much too long, and the fact that you can now only downshift two rear gears per sweep instead of three like before is a definite step backwards.
Overall, Ultegra 6700 is still a pretty good package with Shimano's usual high levels of fit and finish and riders coming off of much older equipment are sure to be impressed. But just as we found with Dura-Ace 7900, riders on the previous generation of Ultegra (especially the superb SL variant) probably won't be quite as compelled to upgrade.

To learn more about the Ultegra 6700 Group come into Pathfinder of West Virginia and check it out on the
Cannondale Cyclocross 3. And make sure to read the full article at