As I have already done many times, I like to do a feature-by-feature comparison of various components of different grades. This makes it easy for us to make an informed comparison to decide which grade of component to use.
Today, I will compare the Dura-Ace ST-9000 road shifter with the Ultegra ST-6800 road shifter. They are both 2x11 speed road shifters that are cross compatible. So, how are they similar and different?
As a Dura-Ace shifter, the utmost importance is to ensure the smoothest and lightest shifting performance possible, while also keeping weight down to the minimum. The next grade down, Ultegra would aim to replicate most of the performance of the Dura-Ace shifters, while ensuring that the weight is kept low and at a more affordable price.
Dura-Ace ST-9000 on the left, Ultegra ST-6800 on the right. Note the black axle on the Dura-Ace brake lever for the slightly more integrated look.
The rubber hood on the Dura-Ace shifter has a two-tone colour that supposedly has a softer compound at the grey area, but I cannot really feel a difference. The grip size and feeling is the same across the two shifters.
To save weight, the Dura-Ace shifter on the right side has a titanium clamp band, as opposed to the plated steel clamp band used on the Ultegra and below grades of road shifters.
The carbon brake lever on the Ultegra shifter on top is chunkier on the inside and has a rather thick steel insert within the carbon fiber lever for strength, while the Dura-Ace brake lever at the bottom is slimmer on the inside, and has a very thin piece of reinforcement. Most of the Dura-Ace brake lever is carbon fibre, which is where most of the weight difference comes from.
The clear coat finishing on the brake levers look very different up close. The Dura-Ace finishing is super smooth and glossy, while the Ultegra finishing is not as smooth. Not obvious from this picture, but visible when viewing the actual part.
Dura-Ace right side shifter weighs 186 grams...
...while the Ultegra right side shifter weighs 212 grams, just 26 grams more.
These are the 5 main physical and visual differences for the road shifters:
1) Hood colour and material
2) Titanium vs steel clamp band
3) Brake Lever reinforcement
4) Quality of clear coat finishing
As for performance, the Dura-Ace shifters have a very refined, smooth and light clicking feeling, as it uses sealed bearings for some of the shifting mechanism inside. The Ultegra shifters work very well too, although it just lacks that extra bit of smoothness as compared to Dura-Ace. That is totally excusable, given that the Ultegra shifters cost half of the Dura-Ace shifters, and yet works 90% as well.
If you like to have the best, the Dura-Ace shifters are the best that you can buy. However, Ultegra and 105 shifters are much more commonly seen on bikes, as they are much more affordable and work almost as well.