Shimano look to have raised the bar once more, with the long-rumoured Ultegra version of their Di2 electronic road groupset due for release this winter. This second-tier group is expected to be around half the price of the flagship Dura-Ace set – which, although lauded for its performance, has been out of reach of most riders due to its prohibitive pricing.
While Ultegra Di2 will still carry a premium over its non-electronic variant, it could cost less than the non-electronic form of Dura-Ace when it hits shops in September. Shimano say the two electronic groups won't be compatible because they use different wiring – in the case of Ultegra, a modular system with narrower cables and connectors.
Why the narrower cables? Efforts to bring the system down to a cheaper pricepoint have resulted in the use of fewer wires. This makes for a neater-looking system, so we wouldn't be surprised if the narrower cables 'trickle up' to Dura-Ace at some point. One big avantage is that frame holes for Ultegra Di2 cabling don't need to be as big as those for the Dura-Ace group.
Ultegra Di2 will, however, have to live without many of the aesthetic and material bells-and-whistles of Dura-Ace Di2. Aluminium will replace most of the carbon components featured on the flagship groupset. Alloy lever blades will add a touch of weight, but beneath their gloss black finish, they still take design cues from their carbon-bladed cousins.
The rubber hood doesn't doesn't display the same dimpled pattern as Dura-Ace DI2, but the shape is almost identical. Mimicked too are the shape of the battery and mounting options, making the electronic Ultegra fully compatible with current Di2-compatible framesets. Rubber grommets are used to space out the narrower cables, while a bottle cage battery mount option allows the groupset to be retro-fitted to older frames. Claimed weight for the levers is 313g/pair.
Front and rear derailleurs will have the same features debuted on Dura-Ace DI2. The front derailleur (162g) will automatically trim according to the position of the chain on the cassette. The rear derailleur (270g) features Shimano's 'saver function' which will disconnect the motor should it sense an impact from a crash or similar misfortune. Owners will be able to plug the groupset into their home computer in order to carry out basic diagnostic tests.
So far, Campagnolo have been the only manufacturers to follow in Shimano's electronic footsteps. But with Ultegra Di2 pricing set to provide an electronic option within reach of a wider audience, Campagnolo's Chorus and SRAM's Force groupsets will face serious threat.
New colours and a bit more carbon
The standard Ultegra groupset remains largely unchanged, but has been given a facelift. Unlike its electronic equivalent, it includes carbon fibre components. It'll share Ultegra Di2's new Glossy Gray finish.
This colour scheme will also be found on Ultegra-branded wheels and aluminium SPD-SL pedals. Speaking of which, Shimano are introducing a new carbon Ultegra pedal, which is said to be 50g a pair lighter than the alloy version.
... but in the flesh, they display their raw carbon structure: ... but in the flesh, they display their raw carbon structure
Getting serious about cyclo-cross
Shimano have also acknowledged the growth in popularity of cyclo-cross, particularly in the US, with the introduction of a fleet of non-series components for the discipline. New 46/36T and 50/30T double chainring options will be fully compatible with all of the company's standard 10-speed groupsets.
'Cross-specific front derailleurs will come in a range of variations to suit different cable routing setups, and there are two new mud-shedding cantilever brake callipers, which have been designed to accept standard brake pads – particularly helpful for those swapping between alloy rims and their carbon race wheels.
This article first appeared on BikeRadar.com.