Saturday, January 17, 2015

Difference between Ultegra 6800 and Shimano 105 5800 Brake Calipers

Have you ever wondered what are the differences between Shimano Dura-Ace, Shimano Ultegra and Shimano 105 components? How about the MTB components of XTR, Deore XT and SLX? Other than the prices, it is difficult for the layman to spot the differences between these top 3 grades of components.

Best in class, price is no object. Priority is lightweight and extreme performance. Lightweight and expensive materials such as titanium, carbon fiber and aluminium are used extensively throughout the components. Steel (which is heavier) is avoided unless absolutely necessary. Top quality surface treatment and finishing.

May not be the most durable, but none of the parts should rust under normal usage. It will have the most number of features, and will include breakthrough technologies and features. Recommended for competitive riders or for those who want only the best.

Ultegra/Deore XT:
Excellent function and performance, price is usually half of Dura-Ace/XTR. Priority is getting most of the features and performance of Dura-Ace/XTR, but at a lower cost of production. Lightweight is important too but not the main priority here. Titanium is usually not used due to high cost. Carbon fiber may be seen at certain areas, but in small quantities. Aluminium is used extensively due to high strength at a reasonable cost. Excellent surface treatment and finishing, but with lower cost than Dura-Ace/XTR.

Usually the most durable and most parts should be rust resistant. 80-90% of the features and performance of Dura-Ace/XTR, but at half the cost. Recommended for those who want the best but not willing to spend too much. Great for semi-pros or enthusiasts.

Shimano 105/SLX:
Previous generation's top end features can be found in this third tier components. Price is usually one-third of Dura-Ace/XTR. Not so many features as top end models, but a good selection of useful and most popular functions. Weight is not a priority here but remains a consideration. No titanium or carbon fiber can be found, but a good proportion of aluminium is used. Steel material replaces some of the aluminium/carbon parts found on higher end models.

Rust can be expected on some exposed steel parts after some time, although it will not affect performance. Some anodised and spray painted surface treatment and finishing. Usually is the best value for money, with 70-80% of the performance at one-third the cost. Recommended for amateurs or those looking for the most bang for the buck.

Shimano Tiagra/Sora/Deore/Alivio:
These mid range components are differentiated from the higher models mainly by the number of speeds and the price. Usually 1 or 2 speeds lesser than the top 3 tiers of components, and a lot cheaper too. Component construction is from the previous 1 or 2 generations of products, but updated with modern appearance.

Weight is not a consideration here, affordability is the key consideration. Sells in high quantity for mid range products and mass-market bikes. Parts are mostly made of resin composites and steel, with a few selected parts in aluminium. Surface treatment is usually spray painting, with anodising found occasionally. Usually found on bikes costing below $1500, and rarely as a complete groupset.

For me personally, I like to go for the Ultegra/Deore XT grade of components, as I get almost all of the performance of Dura-Ace/XTR without breaking the bank. For certain components such as the chain, I go for Dura-Ace/XTR grade for the superior rust resistance.

In a previous post, I had compared the differences between the Ultegra 6800 cassette and the Shimano 105 5800 cassette. Today, I will compare the Ultegra 6800 brake calipers with the Shimano 105 5800 brake calipers. Are the differences worth the price difference? Read through and decide for yourself!

Ultegra brake caliper on the left, in glossy grey finishing. Shimano 105 brake caliper on the right, with black spray paint. Both of them are the latest version with the cam mechanism for more braking power.

105 brake caliper has a pivot bolt exposed outside, while the Ultegra brake caliper has a recessed, smaller pivot bolt for a more refined look. Both have aluminium casted brake arms, but the Ultegra parts are anodised while the 105 parts are spray painted. 

Ultegra cable adjust bolt is made of resin composite for weight savings, while the 105 cable adjust bolt is the more common design, and is made of aluminium. I personally prefer the aluminium type due to less looseness.

Different pivot bolt design as seen on the left side of the brake calipers. The Ultegra pivot is recessed, while the 105 pivot design is a nut screwed on externally onto the axle.

The Ultegra brake caliper has an extra adjustment bolt to adjust the tension of the return spring, while the 105 brake caliper does not. This bolt (with green threadlock) can be seen just above the spring on the Ultegra brake caliper.

Similar cable fixing points and quick release designs, but they seem to be made of different materials.

Same brake pads are used, but the brake pad holder has a slightly different design. Also, the Ultegra brake pad holder is anodised, while the 105 brake pad holder is spray painted.

Weight of the Shimano 105 brake calipers, at 389 grams.

Weight of the Ultegra brake calipers, at 341 grams. 48 grams lighter than the 105 brake calipers.

Using these brake calipers as a case study, we can see how the Ultegra brake calipers are differentiated from the Shimano 105 brake calipers. By the use of some steel parts instead of aluminium in the 105 brake calipers, the 105 brake calipers weigh more.

Also, the surface treatment is different, as the Ultegra brake calipers uses the better anodising treatment as compared to spray painting for the 105 brake calipers. The spring tension of the Ultegra brake calipers are also adjustable, while the spring tension for the 105 brake calipers are not. Appearance wise, the Ultegra brake calipers look more refined with the use of more recessed bolts and nuts that costs more to produce.

You will find that this concept applies to most of the components in the groupset, such as the shifters, rear derailleur or front derailleur. The performance of Ultegra and 105 are quite similar, with the Ultegra components having the advantage in poor riding conditions.


  1. Nice review. Thanks for taking the time to share this information.

  2. Steve, can u explain the function of adjustable spring tension? Gr8 write up!

    1. What I think is, you can use a lighter spring force for easier braking. The higher spring force would be useful if you ride in muddy conditions, where the higher spring force is required to make sure the brake arms can return properly after being covered in mud.

  3. Can anybody tell me wether there is a differnt in drop (distance between mount and pad)? my 105er are a little bit too short and I want to know, if the 6800er are lonter. thx

    1. The drop is the same for both brake calipers.

  4. The shimano web site talks of bearings in the Ultegra brake, but doesn't specify either way for the 105. Does the Ultegra have different internals? Does this make it last longer?

    1. With bearings, the braking action will be smoother and more efficient. Both should have good durability, just that maybe the Ultegra version works better for longer.