Shimano 105
By James Sharp

Shimano’s 105 group is the newest group in their line up to become 10-speed and receive other upgrades – like the Hollowtech II crankset, improved ergonomics in the STI shift/brake levers, etc. – but that doesn’t mean that Shimano neglected their 3rd tier group in any way. There is plenty here to make jumping from the 9-speed version worth the cost – and now more than ever, that cost is more reasonable.

Here’s what we’ve been riding:
ST-5600 Dual Control Levers
RD-5600 SS Rear Derailleur
FD-5600 F Front Derailleur
CS-5600 Cassette
CN-5600 Chain
FC-5600 Crankset
SM-FC5600 Bottom Bracket
BR-5600 Brake Set

ST-5600 Dual Control Levers
ST-5600 Dual Control LeversThese are styled like the more expensive Dura-Ace and Ultegra models. The body is slimmer with a larger protrusion at the pivot than previous versions. The brake lever – the big one – is longer than the 9-speed 105, again more akin to its more expensive brothers. The small lever – located behind the main lever – has gained some ridges making your finger less likely to slip off. The lever mechanism is a little louder than before, but its engagement is much more positive. As before, the levers are compatible with Shimano’s Flight Deck computer. According to Shimano, the lever internals are derived from their off road shifters. If they stand up to the abuse found off of the pavement, they should stand up to anything the road can dish out. Other changes: Shift effort has been reduced as has the inward shift stroke, resulting in faster shifts.

I like the new ergonomics. I like them a lot. I’ve ridden the 10-speed Dura-Ace and Ultegra levers, and the 105 feels the same to me. Since I spend the vast majority of my time on the hoods, a nicely shaped lever is a must to me. No matter how good the stuff works, if it isn’t comfortable to use, forget it. This new lever body is comfortable to use. In fact, it has given me a new hand position – I grab onto the larger pivot location like a bar-end on my mountain bike. Very nice.

The new, more positive engagement is a welcome addition too. It’s a little louder, but that didn’t bother me at all. I never missed a shift – more on that later – and I never wondered if I pushed the lever far enough. The front shifter is compatible with both double and triple chain ring set-ups, though I would have liked a little finer adjustment to trim the front derailleur. I never had any issues with the shift quality throughout the test. In fact, due to the reduced cost – versus Ultegra or Dura-Ace – and the increased robustness, I’d recommend these levers for Cyclocross use as well. The ST-5600 levers retail for $299.99 – Ultegra level shifters are almost $100 more.

My only complaint is that I wish there was a little more trim for the front derailleur. The narrower cage increases the likelihood of the chain rubbing at the extreme ends of the cassette. Niggling, I know, but hey, that’s my job.

RD-5600 SS Rear Derailleur
RD-5600 SS Rear DerailleurThe new 105 rear derailleur comes in two flavors: SS (standard cage, reviewed here) and GS (long cage). The SS has a maximum tooth capacity of 29T and the GS can handle up to 37T. The new derailleur has a wider outer link plate to increase the rigidity for crisper shifting and is compatible with both 9 and 10 speed drivetrains.

Paired with the ST-5600 shifters, and the CS-5600 cassette, I never missed a shift. The derailleur did its job without any complaint and the clear-coated aluminum body looks great without showing any wear. Installation was dirt simple, as it should be, requiring just a turn of the barrel adjuster once the limit screws were set. Again, the 105 rear derailleur is a cheaper alternative to Ultegra. The RD-5600 SS rear derailleur retails for $67.99.

FD-5600 F Front Derailleur
FD-5600 F Front DerailleurFront derailleurs largely go unnoticed. If you purchase a new bike, chances are the front derailleur is down spec’d in order to save money. Nevertheless, Shimano didn’t overlook the front derailleur as an area of improvement. The linkage is wider than previous 105 front derailleurs, increasing the stiffness. In order to match the narrower chain, Shimano has narrowed the derailleur cage to improve shifting. The FD-5600 is available as either a braze-on (tested) or clamp-on version. There is an available clamp that enables the braze-on derailleur to work on a clamp-on only bike, as well.

As primitive as the modern front derailleurs seem compared to rear derailleurs and the rest of the drivetrain – lets face it, all it really does is push the chain off of the rings and vise-versa – the FD-5600 does a nice job. In fact, I tried it with both the FC-5600 105 crankset and a compact crankset with the same 50T outer ring. Other than a minor adjustment with the high and low stops, the derailleur shifted almost as well on both. The larger jump in teeth on the compact double hindered the crisp shifting only slightly.

As I mentioned above, the narrower cage does facilitate a little more rubbing at either end of the cogset, something that could be remedied by additional intermediate stops on the shifter. Other than that small complaint, the shifting was excellent, and was helped, no doubt by the heavily ramped and pinned chain rings of modern cranksets.

FC-5600 Crankset and SM-FC5600 Bottom Bracket
FC-5600 Crankset and SM-FC5600 Bottom BracketThere is no mistaking the pedigree of the new 105 10-speed crankset. It looks very much like it’s more expensive siblings. It has a similar integrated bottom bracket spindle, similar outboard bearings, and a similar look as the Dura-Ace and Ultegra cranksets. The crank arms are hollow to keep the weight down without sacrificing rigidity. The rings feature pickup spikes and ramps for faster, easier shifting – what Shimano calls SG-X. The Q-factor – the horizontal distance between the crank arms at the pedals – remains the same as the 9-speed model. The cranks are available in 165mm, 170mm, 172.5mm (tested) and 175mm lengths. In the double ring setup, the FC-5600 comes in the following ring sizes: 52/39T, 50/39T and 53/39T. The triple crankset comes with 50/39/30T rings.

The bottom bracket spindle is part of the crankset, but the bearing cups are separate and cost $35.99 -- and – as mentioned above – features the same outboard bearing design used on the Dura-Ace and Ultegra models. Installation of the crankset is about as easy as it comes. Once the bottom bracket is installed, slide the drive-side arm on by inserting the spindle through the bottom bracket. Next, slide the non-drive crank arm onto the splines – it only fits one way, and make sure that the pinch bolts are backed out. Next, thread on the plastic preload screw until the plastic stopper plate – located at the pinch bolts – can be lowered flush with the crank arm. All that is left is to tighten pinch bolts, equally and evenly, to 106-132 in-lbs.

I am a big fan of Shimano’s outboard bearing design. The pinch bolt method of fastening the non-drive crank arm to the spindle is simple and secure. Installation is a breeze and takes just a few minutes.

Shifting the chain from the small ring to the big ring is about as painless as any I’ve ridden, thanks to the heavily massaged big ring. Dropping the chain from the big ring to the small ring is equally uneventful, just as it should be.

I found the crank arms to be plenty stiff and combining them with the outboard bearings make for a stiff pedaling platform. Out of the saddle hammering was a joy. Sure you give up weight when you run the 105 instead of Ultegra, but that’s about it. And you save $32 in the process -- $196.99 for the 105 versus $228.99 for Ultregra. In fact, the only quirk the crankset has is the 50/39T combination. I would have rather had a 52/39T or a 50/36T. As it was, I found that I didn’t have the top end gear I would have liked, nor did I have the low gear my weak legs craved. A wider range cogset would have helped, but I really liked the small jumps between gears that the 12-25T provided. Since Shimano offers the crankset in a 52/39T configuration, I’d recommend going that route.

BR-5600 Brake Set
BR-5600 Brake SetShimano’s 105-level brakes have the same anodized aluminum finish as the rest of the 105 group. They are a dual-pivot design, both front and rear, as before. The brakes are now made with tighter tolerances for quicker braking response. Convex washers at the pads help pad alignment and should result in longer pad life. I say should because, in my experience, I’ve never had what I’d call premature pad wear from Shimano. So if this makes them last longer, great!

I’ve never really felt Shimano’s brakes to be lacking in either modulation or power, and these were no exception. I was able to control rapid deceleration from even 40+ mph without any hitch. Playing in traffic wasn’t an issue either, since I knew that I could brake well even from the hoods. Combining these brakes with the new ergonomics of the ST-5600 Dual Control levers gave me plenty of leverage from both the hoods and drops.

There really isn’t anything I’d change about these brakes. They worked well, were easy to install and look good. The barrel adjuster was easy to use, as was the quick release. The front brake costs $56.99, while the rear retails for $51.99.

While individually the prices aren’t that much lower than Ultegra, combined the entire 105 group costs a whopping $246 less than a full Ultegra group. That’s a fork, a very nice helmet, a very nice pair of bib shorts, or shoes, or front wheel, or… you get the idea. It’s substantial. As a unit, the 105 group works every bit as well out of the box as Ultegra, all you are really giving up is weight. For the recreational rider, or even a racer on a budget, I’d recommend 105. Racing Cyclocross? Then absolutely I recommend 105, all the mud will wreak havoc with whatever group you run, you might as well save the money for entry fees.

James Sharp is a contributing editor for GearReview.com; more of his ramblings and a look at upcoming reviews can be found at his blog: Lactic Acid Threshold.

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