My 1999 Trek is outfitted with Ultegra 9 speed components with a triple crankset. The shifters were recently changed to MicroSHIFT because the Ultegra shift levers finally died – 18 years is a lot in shift lever years. Replacement levers in Shimano Ultegra don’t exist – I could have gone with Shimano Sora 9sp. triple but the pricing at the time was prohibitively expensive ($270 for the Sora shifters at the time, $75 for the Chinese knockoffs). The MicroSHIFT aren’t as pretty but they work fantastically well – as good as the Ultegra shifters ever worked.
My 2013 Specialized Venge has Shimano 105 10 speed components, pro compact double 52/36 crankset, with some impressive upgrades (bar, stem, crank, brakes):
Then there’s my gravel bike:
2017 Specialized Diverge A-1 Sport with Shimano Sora 9sp. components, mechanical disc brakes, 48/32 crankset…
Folks, those Sora shifters work as well as my Ultegra shifters ever did while I’ve owned the Trek – they’re as nice as the 105 shifters on my five year-old Venge. The weight came down and the quality went up, even on the lower lines of Shimano’s components. In short, technology, weight and quality trickled down to the lower component lines over time. There have been reports of this happening but those of us who have bikes built over decades can confirm this.
The Sora 9sp. is so good I actually thought about putting that drivetrain on my Trek. The only thing that kept me from doing it is I actually like the triple crank on the Trek. I know having a triple nowadays is sacrilege but the triple on the Trek, when things go up, is money.
Now that brings me to one thing that I’ve noticed hasn’t improved: cranksets. My Ultegra crank on the Trek is fantastic. The S-Works crank on the Venge is worth more than what I paid for it ($500 installed)… The FSA crank that the S-Works crank replaced was junk. The Praxis crank on the gravel bike is even worse. Way worse. The Praxis crank on my wife’s 2016 Specialized Diverge A1 is so bad, words bold enough to describe it would come of sounding over-the-top.
To wrap this post up, as time went, the upper component lines get a lot better as well, but I never said life was fair. One thing remains a constant: As Shimano goes, you still can’t lose with 105 or better.