Bicycle Components, Upgrading from Shimano 105 to Ultegra; Minimal Weight Savings, Maximum Performance Gains… but is it Worth It?
I have a buddy who upgraded his 2013 Shimano Ultegra 10sp. groupset to 2018 Ultegra 11sp.. I thought he was nuts when he did it, but his upgrade benefited me considerably. He sold me his used 10sp. Ultegra and I was able to upgrade both of my road bikes. The Ultegra went on the good bike and the 105 components went on my rain bike. A win-win if ever there was such a thing.
So let’s get right to the big question; is it worth the money to upgrade from 105 to Ultegra components?
Let me start with this before the blunt answer: the performance gain, the ease in shifting, the crispness of the shift, the quickness of the response, between the two is surprising. And to be clear, I’m upgrading same year 105 to Ultegra, both 2013. Shimano switched to 11sp. in 2014 (105, Ultegra, & Dura Ace). The Ultegra components are really nice next to 105. I was looking forward to taking my Trek up north for an upcoming tour but now that I’ve upgraded the Venge, I’m taking it instead. The Trek is a fantastic climbing bike, especially with the gearing set up as it is, but the Venge is butter compared to what it was with 105 components. It takes a lot to surprise me, and I’m happily surprised at how nice the new components changed the way my bike shifts.
Is it worth the money though? Okay, here’s my experience. I’m well-to-do. Nowhere near rich or even wealthy, but I haven’t worried much about money in years.
A brand new Shimano Ultegra groupset, assuming what I’ve changed – both derailleurs, shifters, cassette and chain – will run you between $500 and $600. The full groupset retails double that (brakes, crank, bottom bracket, etc.). If I wasn’t buying the upgrade used, and saving a considerable chunk of money in the process, I doubt that I’d have done it. On the other hand, buying used shifters is questionable to begin with – and it wasn’t without problems for me.
I’d never changed any of the cable housings on the Venge. Everything was pretty much as it came on the bike, but working around a couple of upgrades (handlebar mostly), and when I installed the new shifters I developed a huge shifting problem. I could dial the derailleur in going up the cassette but then it wouldn’t shift down. If I dialed the barrel adjuster to go down the cassette, it wouldn’t go back up.
I spent hours trying to figure this out with new cables and lubing the existing housing. I thought the problem was in the shifters because I actually went so far as to switch the rear derailleurs, putting the 105 derailleur back on the Venge and the Ultegra on the Trek and I still had the same problem. In the end, I couldn’t take it anymore so I took the Venge to the shop and had them re-run new housings front to back. That finally did the trick, and after some online sleuthing, I discovered that this is a pretty common problem. It’s also common to think it’s the shifters. It’s not. Check the derailleur hanger to make sure it’s square first, then that the cables are in good shape, if everything else fails, new cable housings, front to back. I also ended up with a new chain and a SRAM PG-1070 cassette because there was a chance the cassette was worn a bit, also, which is top of the line before the prices get stupid – a Red cassette (PG-1090) goes for $285-$300.
In the end, the upgrade exposed a problem that I’d had for a while in the Venge. The housings desperately needed to be replaced. That done, and the new cassette installed, difference in shifting is incredible. I put it through the paces last night, hammering out a decent 20 mph pace for about 17 miles before dialing it back and taking it easy the rest of the way home. It was nice. On the other hand, figure $200 for the derailleurs and shifters, $70 for the cassette, $53 for a chain, $20 for cable housing, $10 for new cables, plus labor… What started out as a fairly simple and inexpensive swapping of parts turned into quite the expensive endeavor.
I dropped a little bit of weight on the bike, and it’s shifting better than when the bike was brand new, so in that sense, yes, it was worth it. On the other hand, if I didn’t have the money (and by “have the money” I mean, no loans, no credit card, no financing of any kind, I mean I had the cash), then there’s no way it would have been worth it.
The 105 line of components is plenty good enough. The Ultegra line is a little better and a little lighter. Hardly worth the upgrade without the disposable cash. With the disposable cash, though… Oh, it’s the cat’s pajamas. Considering I upgraded and dropped a half-pound on the Trek, too, well that knocks the deal out of the park.
We rolled out yesterday morning at 7:30am. I walked out to a raindrop here and there, but nothing that would keep me from riding a second day in a row. Mrs. Bgddy followed a couple of minutes later and we mounted up.
The forecast was mostly clear anyway. Mostly, being the operative word.
I was on the Trek again, because the Venge has been in the shop for the better part of a week getting the shifting sorted (that’s for another post). Still, the Trek’s been solid with the Velocity wheels and the new components on it. Enjoyable to ride that I almost didn’t miss the Venge.
My wife started up front and set a nice first couple of miles pace. We had a newcomer to our weekend crew, as well. A solid B Grouper, he’s ridden with us a couple of times on Tuesday night. I won’t lie… first, I’m stoked he’s a B Guy (and I hope he stays that way) and second, he’s a conscientious guy in a group. It’s rare you get a new person to a group who doesn’t require work.
I took the second pull, after my wife took close to two miles(!) and took the pace from a steady 19 up to 21. We were, according to the weather apps, on a timetable and I wanted to pack as many miles as we could get into the three hours we had. I was up front for two and a half miles. Then Chuck, Diane, John and back to my wife. Matt was with us, but after a spring and early summer with hardly any miles, we were hiding him in the back until he gets his legs about him.
We kept in great rotation for almost an hour and a half, north of 20 mph the whole way, before turning for home. A mile east, a mile south, another east and we were headed home with a tailwind. We were working like a well-oiled machine, churning out consistent mile after consistent mile, each doing their part and keeping the pace lively, but not too lively.
The heavens spit on us intermittently, but just enough to counter the mugginess in the air but only enough to occasionally wet the asphalt beneath us. The sky would lighten, then darken, then spit, then stop… it was one of those weird days where it wanted to rain but the clouds just couldn’t muster enough energy to get on with it.
We pulled into the driveway after 2h:52m and some change, with a little more than 55 miles in – and we beat the 10:30 forecast for rain by just a couple of minutes (we had a five minute restroom break at a park on the way home).
There were only five who showed up for the ride, plus me. We never got wet, but it was one of those “you never know” days, and while showering off, the heavens opened up for real. Sadly, anyone who waited either spent the rest of the day on the couch, or got drenched. I was infinitely glad to be one of the few to show up. It was a nice ride with friends.
It’s Saturday, 4:30am in the morning. Thank you, Lady Redundant Woman
There was a 4% chance of rain at 7am. It went up to 12% at 8 and 9. Just 14% at 10 and add another percent for 11.
This is the text I sent out at 6am:
Ridin’, baby! We have a window. 7:30 wheels roll.
Radar showed we were good. Weather Channel, sketchy but okay. Dark Sky? Rockin’, baby.
This is the text I sent out at 7am:
So much for that window. Going back to sleep.
It was raining cats and dogs, and sleep I did. It was wonderful. Still, being a cyclist from the enthusiast tribe, a Saturday off didn’t sit well. On the other hand, it had been 23 days since I last graced the couch leather with my heinie for a full day off the bike…
We (my wife and I) volunteered in the afternoon at my daughters’ inter-club swim meet – on again, off again rain.
We went out to eat lunch, ugly skies, sputtering rain.
We went home and I took a nap. My wife woke me up to go meet with a few others concerning logistics for the upcoming Assenmacher 100. The sun was trying to punch through the clouds.
The bikes had been readied to go for the morning so I proposed we ride the five and a half miles over.
Eleven miles. Not much but the streak continues. Barely. On the plus-side, the ride was a rare true commute, where we chose to ride rather than drive, and we only rode the miles necessary to get where we were going, take care of our business, then headed straight back home. Normally we go for dozens of extra miles.
As for the “Around the World” part, I just happened to notice that I’d crossed a couple of milestones in the last few weeks. First, that I just passed 50,000 miles since just before I started Fit Recovery in 2011. The first year wasn’t all that impressive with a whopping 1,820 miles, but that total grew in the years following:
2014: 6,000 (Low Estimate, I decided to unplug entirely for one year)
2018: 5,590 and counting (Guessing, I’ll end up around 9,000 miles again for the year)
Add those up, it’s 50,000 miles and some change (actually, that’s not, my summary page shows 50,046 miles and the rounded numbers above add up to just shy of 50,000 miles – I don’t know where Endomondo lost 50-ish miles, nor do I really care all that much) and the circumference of the earth at the equator is 24,901 miles. Twice is 49,802.
I can remember when I was approaching my first lap around the earth, how good that made me feel… pretty awesome actually. The second trip around was a lot quicker, but what’s important is the richness cycling has brought to the lives of my wife and me. We’ve managed to have quite a lot of fun in all of those miles, and that’s what this was always all about: Fun. In the end, nobody is getting out alive so we may as well enjoy the time we’ve got.
I recently purchased a couple of Kask Mojito helmets from Competitive Cyclist for a hundred bucks each, about half the retail price. Some deals I just can’t pass up.
Having worn Specialized or Bontrager helmets exclusively since I started riding, I had no idea what I was in for from the Italian manufacturer, but the helmets matched our respective bikes and they’re the same helmet so my wife and I match by default – I just thought that’d be cool.
I was expecting about the equivalent of the dome protectors I’m used to. I was mistaken, what we got vastly exceeded my expectations. Vastly.
The adjustable leather (possibly pleather, but incredibly comfortable) chin strap, the full head padding inside the helmet, the operation of the ratchet adjustment strap in the back that’s fully adjustable up or down so you can fit it where it’s comfortable on the back of your melon… and did I mention a leather chin strap?! The construction of the helmet and the thought that went into it, is exceptional. The helmet is beautiful, fits great and looks fantastic.
Finally, we get to the venting of the Mojito. It’s the first helmet I’ve been able to wear without some kind of backup head cover to deal with sweat. Here’s how the vents are described on Competitive Cyclist’s description:
The liner features a non-slip gel to ensure your helmet doesn’t slide as you move your head around. Twenty six air vents allow air to move freely and help pull perspiration away from your head to keep you cool.
The crazy thing is, the venting doesn’t only “pull perspiration away from your head to keep you cool”, the design of the venting and the padding helps keep the sweat from dripping down onto my sunglass lenses. I’ve ridden that helmet in temps above 92 degrees (I think that’s 33 C) and experience nowhere near the mess on my glasses that I’m used to.
The point is, the helmet is a bargain at retail, let alone what I paid for them. I recommend the brand highly as after a few hundred miles on mine, I’m looking forward to not having to replace that helmet for a good few years. In a word; exceptional.
Be sure to go by the European sizing and the sizing chart. The fit is snug and true to the chart, and at claimed weight of just 226 grams, it’s a fairly light melon protector.
The Fourth of July is one of our best rides of the year. I’m on my sixth or seventh and we’ve always had a hot one. This year’s Fourth ride wasn’t the hottest, but it sure was up there. Then there’s One Helluva Ride in Hell, Michigan (yep, seriously). The ride is aptly named – it’s hot as hell on that one, every year… Not literally hot as hell, as in “my heart was literally beating out of my chest”, but you get the idea. It’s freakin’ hot.
For some nutty reason that escapes me, I’m suited to cycling in the heat… if I’m careful about it. Where my friends suffer, I, for the most part, am able to enjoy myself*.
I learned something about hydration about six years ago that had a huge impact on what I drink on those nasty, hot, sticky days. If I had to guess, I darn-near ran myself out of electrolytes over the course of a few weeks, and it wasn’t pretty.
I was on a weight-loss kick so I decided I shouldn’t drink Gatorade anymore. After all, I didn’t need the sugar so I switched to water with a lemon and a lime wedge. On the bike I carried water. Two weeks at 150 miles a week and temps in the upper 80’s to mid 90’s (27-34 C) and I went from strong and 20+ mph for an average to struggling at 17-mph. That went on for a few days before I realized my sweat wasn’t salty anymore. We’ve had it pounded into us for so long that “salt is bad” and “we get enough salt in our normal diet without adding it” that I lived by it. I never added salt to my food (chicken noodle soup excepted). It was at that point I knew what I’d done.
I started reading up on electrolytes and how they worked in the body. To make a long story short, what I’d read suggested that if we run ourselves down on electrolytes, then drink a bunch of water, thinking we’re suffering a hydration problem, we dilute what little electrolytes we have in the body and bad things happen. That’s right where I was.
I bought a bunch of Gatorade (I am fully aware of the others and the sugarless products – I know, I know, but I’m okay with the good old fashioned Gatorade – it’s simple, cheap and it works) and within two days I was back to normal again, crushing out the mileage.
Now, when I’m doing hard, hot miles, I always take care of the electrolytes and I’m not afraid to add a little salt to whatever it is I’m eating… We have to remember that those average guidelines the talking heads put out are for average people. As weekend warrior athletes, average we are not.
*One Helluva Ride was a different story this year. I did everything right and still wanted to quit. I willed through it with the help of a friend, but I was hollerin’ uncle.
In all seriousness, there’s nothing worse than a creaking, clicking, rattling bike, unless it’s old and the rider doesn’t care. A cyclist does care, and therefore is mortified riding a bike that develops a creak or a click. They happen, of course, especially when riding in the rain, and there’s nothing to be done (usually) until we get back. Now, there’s a
shotgun bazooka approach to this that I’ll cover later, but for now, I want to cover some of the things I’ve come up against.
Clicking crank: In certain cranks, I’m looking at you FSA with your wavy washers, they tend to collect a little grime and road gunk in between the crank arm and the cups or at the spindles. This will produce a clicking sound that has no rhythm to it, and you’ll be able to tell the clicking is coming from the bottom bracket. Let it go long enough and you’ll feel the click in your pedals. It’ll most likely start quiet and will be barely perceptible at first, but it’ll get worse over time. Remove your crank, clean it and the bottom bracket bearings, lube everything properly and reassemble the crank.
Not all cranks are created equal:
The Specialized S-Works Crank – one of the simplest, best cranks available today. Simple, and not noisy.
The Shimano RS500 (See also, darn-near the full line of Shimano cranks); Simple, and it works… quietly, though it must be installed correctly, and hopefully without the wavy washer. If you need the wavy washer, throw all of that stuff about quiet in the garbage. The flaw is the wavy washer as they allow dirt into places you don’t want dirt.
Creaking crank: In my case, the cause of this was a loose crank bolt that I accidentally didn’t tighten down enough after cleaning out the clicking crank above. Once I tightened it down to the specified torque, problem solved.
The Shimano Flaw – RS500 (and Up) Crank Line: There is a flaw in the Shimano crank line that you have to watch for. First, make sure you’ve got the shim properly located on the left crank arm. Then, make sure you torque the left crank arm bolts properly (12-14 Nm if memory serves). Finally, the center cap bolt, that doesn’t get cranked down. Too tight and the system will creak. Too loose, it’ll creak. It’s treated a lot like the stem cap when tightening down a headset. Finally, the bolts used to pinch the left crank arm to the spindle are notoriously soft – they are soft because it’s better to strip a bolt than the crank arm. Be careful with those bolts.
Thudding Threadless Headset: If you go for the loosest possible pressure on the headset when tightening down the stem cap, you can leave it loose enough that you won’t feel it with the rocking test, but you’ll feel it and hear it when you hit a decent bump on the road, say those annoying stress cracks in asphalt roads. More important, you won’t feel it when you hit the brakes, a thump that’s the obvious sign of a loose headset… This one is a bit pernicious. To fix this, loosen the stem and the stem cap. Try to keep the wheel and the stem lined up, and tighten the stem cap like you normally would, then keep going. Give it a good quarter-turn and check the operation of the steering. Is it slower and more labored than normal? Back it off that quarter-turn and tighten the stem bolts. If the steering isn’t grabbing a little bit, tighten the stem cap another quarter-turn until the steering is obviously too tight – then back the stem cap bolt off a quarter-turn until the steering moves freely. Then tighten the stem bolts, and Bob’s your uncle.
Creaking Quill Stem Headset (Threaded): My 5200 has a threaded headset has an old quill stem. While its simplicity is quite awesome, dear GOD is it creaky when it’s not clean and properly lubed. With the quill stem lube job, this will be the only instance in which I recommend anyone be liberal with anything. When cleaning a quill stem headset because it’s creaking, clean it very well and liberally apply lube to the metal on metal parts and put everything back together. You should be good, at that point.
Loose Chainring Bolts: Chain ring bolts are an interesting little piece of the clicking/ticking puzzle. You’ll wonder how they could possibly loosen, but they do, so if you hear a clicking from the bottom bracket area that isn’t dirt in the crank, the chainring bolts is where to start. If they’re loose, take them out, one by one, clean them, lube them and reinstall them. Lubing the threads will give you a better “tight” on the bolt when it’s tightened. Tight on dry bolts often give a false tight and will creak after a couple of hours of quiet. Always lube bolt threads unless a manufacturer recommends against that, for some crazy, unforeseen, unknowable reason.
Loose Seat Post Collar: The seat post collar bolt should be tightened (to the proper torque recommended by the manufacturer) every week. These bolts will come loose over time and the creak will drive you up a wall looking for it.
Seat Post Phantom Creak: This is almost like the loose seat post collar but much harder to find… especially if you regularly tighten the collar bolt – had this happen to me once, I was ready to throw my Venge in the ditch and walk away down in Kentucky. I threw the kitchen sink at this problem and still couldn’t find it. Just as a fluke, I loosened the seat post collar and worked the seat post up and down a bit before tightening the bolts back up (this should go without saying, make sure the saddle height is right before tightening everything back down). The next ride, and every ride since, has been silent. Sometimes you just have to work the carbon paste around a bit.
Grime/Sweat/Gnarliness in the Shifter Cable Guide (under the bottom bracket for exterior routed cables): This one can cause all kinds of trouble because that bottom bracket area is exposed to a lot of road garbage, drips of sports drink from water bottles, sweat that runs down the bike… all kinds of nasty stuff. Keep the guide clean or it’ll affect your shifting if it gets bad enough.
Rattling Cables: They make cable keepers that’ll hold your cables apart so they won’t rattle. Use ’em, it’s better than a rattling bike.
Clicking Loose Derailleur Hanger: This is a rare one, but it does happen. You’ll hear a click in the rear of the bike and it probably won’t have much rhyme or reason to it. Always good to check the bolts a couple of times a year when cleaning the bike.
Clicking Wheel/Cassette/Cassette Hub Body: Clean out the wheel – and hope you have sealed cartridge bearings in your wheels. The loose bearing wheels aren’t all that bad, but sealed cartridge bearings are the cat’s pajamas. Simply take the hub apart, clean everything, lube the important connection points and put everything back together. Your wheel should be quiet again.
Clicking Spoke Junctions: Over time where spokes cross, usually only on the rear wheels nowadays as most front wheels have gone to radial, they can develop a notch because the spokes load and unload. It’ll be a pernicious little click and it’ll be hard to pinpoint. Now, what we do to find out if we even have a problem in the first place, is we pinch the intersecting spokes to see if they’ve developed a groove. Then, the easiest way to really know if this is your problem is to take a piece of paper and put it in between the spokes where they cross. Ride the bike, if the noise is gone, you’ve found your problem. Take a flat file (or better, use sandpaper) and, ever so slightly, file or sand the groove out of the spoke. Then take a little dollop of lube and get in between the spokes. That’ll fix the problem. Obviously, don’t take too much off of the spoke. You don’t want to find out the hard way, at 40 mph, that you did.
Now, with those out of the way, I promised you a bazooka method to fixing creaks and clicks in your bike. Well, here you go:
The Bazooka Method to curing a bike’s creaks, clicks and rattles:
Rebuild the whole flippin’ bike from the ground up. The only original parts on that bike are the frame, fork, brake calipers and chain ring bolts. Seriously, that’s it. Everything else is new. That 1999 Trek is as quiet as my immaculate 2013 Specialized Venge.
I don’t know why, but I’ve saved a half-dozen of those useless nuts they include with new inner tubes. I keep them, no ironic pun intended, in a glass jar with my bike lock keys.
The other day one of the bottle cages on the Trek pulled free over a couple of years worth of hard use. I was set to pitch it, until I remembered those useless nuts. They make excellent washers, and it just so happens that they fit perfectly inside the bottle cage indents:
Bottle cage securely fastened.
A while back, the bolt that holds my derailleur cable guide to my frame felt like it was stripped after I’d taken the assembly apart for cleaning. I was relegated to the fear that I’d have to replace the boss in the frame – not a minor project in a carbon fiber frame.
I took the bike to the shop to have the owner give it a once-over. He reached for a longer bolt and one of those useless nuts used as a washer again:
…And Bob’s your uncle. Those nuts aren’t useless, I definitely recommend hanging on to a few of them. They do come in handy every now and again.