By Eric McKeegan
Fast bikes are fun, no doubt about it. Fast bikes are made more fun with a good drivetrain. Being sick of slow bikes, I wanted fast, and at precisely the right time, the new Shimano 105 group showed up at Bicycle Times HQ, followed soon after that by a test bike equipped with it, too. Egads, two fast bikes—what was I to do?
Ride them, lots. To work, on long road rides, on trails, in the woods. What did I find? Well, 105 works, and works well, is the terse answer. To be more verbose…
The major visual change is the full aero/under-the-bar tape routing for both shift and brake cables. Not only does this clean things up visually, it makes the use of a big handlebar bag much easier; tourists the world over will rejoice. The hood shape is about as close to perfect for my L/XL hands as I’ve ever found: flattish across the top, smooth transition to the bar, and skinny enough to get a grip on, with a nice lip in the front to wrap my index fingers around. The brake levers are ergonomically pretty sweet, but I can’t help but be visually bothered by the slight dogleg bends in the levers. Picky, picky, picky.
Fortunately I can’t see them while riding. The shift levers are well placed, although I felt like the inner lever had a lot of throw where nothing happened. The guts of shift mechanisms seem pretty exposed; I never had any trouble with them, but as an all-weather rider it would be nice to see some shielding from the salt, sand and dirt. None of these things prevented me from making thousands of perfect shifts. Click, click, click… One note: don’t use the word “brifters” around me, unless you want punched. Thanks.
I’m going to bet these cranks are lighter and stiffer than the previous generation; Shimano doesn’t usually go for heavier and less stiff. The thing more people will notice is the slight increase in space between chainrings, which means less chain rub when running the smaller cogs with the inner rings.
As expected from Shimano, the front shifting was stellar. I rode both the triple and compact double, and both were quickly forgotten as they shifted with no issues, even under load. The triple in particular stood out; I’ve seen plenty of issues with road triples, but Shimano seems to always get it right. The chain never hung up during shifts and never tossed itself over the smallest chainring on the triple, a problem I remember from my not-so-long-ago days as a mechanic. The part-shiny/part-matte finish has some fans, but I can’t count myself among them. I am glad to see the black or silver options, since putting silver parts on most new carbon fiber bikes is like wearing brown shoes with a black belt.
Shimano tweaked the pivot location for more power while riding on the hoods and I’m impressed with the improvement, which is a high compliment from someone spoiled with high-end hydraulic discs on most of my personal bikes. The brakes return a nice solid feel with enough modulation to deal with unpredictable traction. New pads are said to improve power and wet weather performance as well. When paired with Shimano R450 long-reach calipers on one of my test bikes, I was less impressed with the braking power and modulation. I’m not sure if it was due to less expensive pads, or perhaps the long-reach caliper was a bit less stiff. I didn’t think the brakes were bad; they seemed on par with most road brakes I’ve used, but the full 105 combo was noticeably better.
Cassette and Chain
With the addition of a tenth cog, the cassettes now start with a 25-tooth large cog (up form 23 teeth previously) and stop at 28. (See "Update" note below, ed.) I was about to complain about the lack of bigger-cog compatibility, but a recent press release revealed a tweaked derailleur for 2012, capable of handling up to 30 teeth. Those needing more range can opt for a mountain bike derailleur and cassette. The chain has a new profile this year to go with its narrower width. There is now a front and back to the chain with inner and outer plates designed to either shift up on the cassette (inner) or up to a larger chainring (outer). All this newness and engineering results in some fine shifting, fine enough to pretty much ignore it and concentrate on riding.
Not much to say about the rest of the group. The derailleurs played well with the shifters, chain, chainrings and cogs. The bottom bracket isn’t grindy or noisy. I didn’t test wheels or hubs. I did get a set of the new road pedals to test, but I am still looking for my old Sidi shoes to get them set up, as I’m pretty stuck on the two-bolt SPD mountain bike system; it seems like most of my rides include some walking, or hiking, or climbing. Worth mentioning are the 5 and 10mm shim options to adjust the reach of the levers, a boon to those with small hands and thick gloves.
Slotted right in the middle of Shimano’s road component line-up, depending on your perspective the 105 collection is either a budget racing group or a high-end recreational set-up. I found very little to complain about during my time riding the parts, and probably thought about it less than I should have. It worked well enough for me to ignore it and think about more important things like “When is this Brooks saddle going to break in?” and “Why aren’t anatomic bars anatomic?”.
I’m not sure if there are many road racers out there in the Bicycle Times audience, but if you have a 105-level bike and you are losing races, you can’t blame your drivetrain—it works much too well. It is also 30g lighter than last year’s group, so your massive wattage will surely propel you to the top step on the podium, where you can be smug knowing you bested the boys or girls with the fancy electronic shifting. And to top it off, it looks like all parts are compatible with the previous generation of 105 parts.
Those of you with less racy bikes will also be well served. With the impending release of Shimano cyclocross-specific cranks, front derailleurs and brakes, I can see 105 gaining more spec on pricepoint cyclocross race bikes, fat-tire road bikes, and general 700c-wheeled knockaround bikes, and with good reason. Besides reduced weight and the bling factor, there is little reason to spend more money on drivetrain parts. This stuff just plain works.
- Shift/brake levers: $340
- Cranks: $250
- Rear derailleur: $85
- Front derailleur: $50
- Brake caliper: $65
- Cassette: $75
- Chain: $45
- Pedals: $110
In the 105 review in issue #11, I said: “With the addition of a tenth cog, the cassettes now start with a 25-tooth large cog (up from 23 teeth previously) and stop at 28. I was about to complain about the lack of bigger-cog compatibility, but a recent press release revealed a tweaked derailleur for 2012, capable of up to 30 teeth. Those needing more range can opt for a mountain bike derailleur and cassette.” While this statement is somewhat correct, the recent redesign of the mountain bike derailluers to 10-speed rendered them incompatible with the cable pull of road shifters. While not an officially sanctioned pairing, 9-speed mountain derailleurs will shift acceptability using 10-speed road shifters on a 10-speed mountain cassette. Still confused? Get ye to ye olde bike shoppe, and they will sort you out.
– Eric McKeegan
This review originally appeared in Issue #11. You can order a copy of this issue in our online store, or order a subscription and you’ll get all our reviews delivered right to your door long before they appear online.