Shimano is a Japanese company that first entered the American bike market in the 1970’s. Shimano has about 50% of the component market; they seem to be the brand that the others are compared to. They make components for the Dura Ace, the 105, and the Ultegra, and their reputation is well deserved.
You see comments on bike threads throughout the internet that tell you not to mix and match parts from various manufacturers, then you read most of them are going to work together well. The lesson here is to ask, ask, ask, and make sure you have compatible parts. If you are a purist, then the problem is solved for you.
They say that each gruppo (Italian word for groupset) is designed such that each component works as part of a system. That makes sense, but there are plenty of bikers out there who say they have mixed them with great success.
In terms of functionality obviously they all do the same thing. 105 is a perfectly good gruppo but Ultegra (rated in between the 105 and the Dura Ace) has a smoother and lighter touch and is generally nicer to use and Dura Ace is even better. The prices reflect this hierarchy, and you’ll have to discover what works best for you and your bike.
What are the differences?
The main thing is weight. Where 105 will use more steel, Dura Ace will sub in more aluminum, titanium, carbon and/or other wonder-materials to cut weight. If that matters to you, then you have your answer, but apprising the blogs and forums reveal that this doesn’t seem to make that much of a difference – not enough to shell out the extra bucks, anyway.
There are very slight tactile differences in how they feel reported, but even that’s minor, and the reviewers/commenters all say it’s negligible.
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Bottom line, 105 won’t hold you back. Dura Ace will be much lighter both with the components and a lighter wallet. Most non-racing folks who ride Dura Ace either just a.) like to have “the best” whether they need it or not, or b.) just buy it for the “bling” factor.
But here’s the main difference: they all differ in weight with 105 being heaviest and Dura Ace being lightest. Most professional cycling teams use Dura Ace (or Campagnolo or Sram components).
If money is no object, buy Dura Ace.
Otherwise buy according to what you will be using the bike for, according to various bloggers:
- Keeping fit, club rides – 105
- Beginner to intermediate competition – Ultegra
- Intermediate to elite level competion – Dura Ace
So, if you’re a purist, keep to the brand that the bike was built for. If you don’t mind combining components, then go with what works for you and your budget. Check out the various forums and blogs and see what other people have experienced.