Shimano Dura-Ace Vs Ultegra: Is The Upgrade Worth It?

Ex-Shimano ambassador rider and ultra-endurance racer Robbie Ferri delivers an honest breakdown of the differences between the firm's top-tier groupsets

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reviewed by Rory McAllister

In many ways, the gap between Shimano’s Dura-Ace vs Ultegra groupsets is narrower than it’s ever been.

Dura-Ace is Shimano’s flagship road bike component range, with Ultegra one spot lower in the Shimano groupset hierarchy.

The most recent versions of both Dura-Ace and Ultegra offer electronic (Di2) 12-speed shifting, hydraulic disc brakes or rim brakes, Hyperglide+ shifting technology (originally from Shimano’s mountain bike groupsets), and a host of other similarities.

But with a price gap of over $1000, that leaves many riders looking at high-end groupsets wondering: What’s the real difference between Dura-Ace vs Ultegra – and is the upgrade worth it?

As an ex-Shimano ambassador and ultra-endurance racer with hundreds of hours of hands-on experience with both Dura-Ace and Ultegra across a range of groupset generations, I’m well-placed to give you the real lowdown on the differences between them.

Let’s dive in!

Graphic showing Dura-Ace vs Ultegra cranksets side-by-side.
Credit: Shimano

Introduction to Shimano Dura-Ace and Ultegra

Shimano Dura-Ace

Dura-Ace is Shimano’s flagship, top-of-the-line road bike component set.

Dura-Ace is the most widely used groupset in the professional peloton. It’s designed to cater to professional racers, being ultra-lightweight and featuring aggressive gearing options.

The latest version is the 12-speed Dura-Ace R9200 series.

Released in October 2021, Dura-Ace R9200 is available with either rim or hydraulic disc brakes, and Di2 electronic shifting only (no mechanical shifting option).

Shimano Ultegra

My Ultegra-equipped road bike.
My Ultegra-equipped road bike. © Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

Shimano Ultegra is the next step down the road bike groupset hierarchy.

Ultegra still offers professional-standard performance, at a (slightly) more affordable price than the Dura-Ace groupset.

The latest version is the 12-speed Ultegra R8100 series.

Ultegra R8100 was released alongside Dura-Ace R9200 in October 2021. Just like its Dura-Ace big brother, Ultegra R8100 is available with either rim or hydraulic disc brakes, and Di2 electronic shifting only (no mechanical shifting option).

The Similarities Between Shimano Dura-Ace and Ultegra

Di2 Electronic Shifting Performance

Graphic showing Shimano's Di2 electronic shifting system.
Credit: Shimano

“Di2” is Shimano’s proprietary electronic shifting system, competing with Campganolo’s “EPS” and SRAM’s “eTap AXS” systems.

It’s a semi-wireless system, with the shifters and derailleurs connected wirelessly, while one battery powers both the front and rear derailleurs for around 1000 km on a single charge (as claimed by Shimano).

The latest versions of Dura-Ace and Ultegra both use the exact same Di2 technology (as does the latest model of Shimano’s 105 groupset, the next rung below Ultegra).

The shifting is incredibly fast, smooth, and precise, and because both Dura-Ace and Ultegra use the same technology, it is the same speed between the models. With the Shimano phone app, you can configure the shifters to your personal preference.

On the subject of electronics, both Dura-Ace R9200 and Ultegra R8100 include the option to upgrade to a power meter-equipped crank arm, with the same 2% margin of error claimed for both.

Both Dura-Ace R9200 and Ultegra R8100 have 12-speed drivetrains, which is standard for modern high-end road bike groupsets.

Braking Options and Performance

Ultegra disc brakes on my road bike.
Ultegra disc brakes on my road bike. © Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

Both the Dura-Ace and Ultegra brakes are excellent. I have ridden the newest version of each groupset in hydraulic versions and found their power is epic, and I always feel confident about slowing down quickly.

The new editions feature Shimano’s new Servo Wave technology, providing more progressive braking and retracting the pads an extra 10% to reduce brake rub.

As a result, the calipers sit slightly further away from the disc and have much better modulation than older versions of both groupsets. Apart from caliper weight, they both perform the same, and I couldn’t tell the difference between them while riding.

Both Dura-Ace and Ulterga have gone across to the MTB disc rotors from Shimano XTR, and although they have a slightly different design, there’s barely a change in their weight.

What Are The Differences Between Dura-Ace Vs Ultegra?

Shimano Dura-Ace crankset on a blue background.
Credit: Shimano

With all those headline similarities, it’s easy to wonder where the Dura-Ace vs Ultegra differences really lie.

In this next section, we will specifically compare the latest Dura-Ace R9200 Series Di2 Disc (R9270) and the Ultegra R8100 Series Di2 Disc (R8170).

Key StatsDura-Ace Di2 R9270 DiscUltegra Di2 R8170 Disc
Cost$4000 (RRP)$2800 (RRP)
Weight2440 g2720 g
AppearanceGloss BlackMatte Gray

Dura-Ace Vs Ultegra Cost

The first talking point is the price.

For Dura-Ace, you are looking at $4000 RRP, but realistically, you can find it for around $3000 in the shops. Ultegra has a $2800 RRP, but can typically be found for around $1800. 

These groupsets are incredible and are not designed to last just a season but year after year. You are looking at a $1200 cost difference for a product that essentially does the same job.

That’s a lot of extra money!

Dura-Ace Vs Ultegra Weight

ComponentDura-Ace R9270 DiscUltegra R8170 Disc
Front Derailleur96 g110g
Rear Derailleur215 g262g
Cassette253 g345g
Crankset680 g711g
Shifters (both)350 g391g
Calipers (both, disc brake)194 g246g
Total2440 g2720 g

Besides price, the biggest difference between Dura-Ace and Ultegra is weight.

Between the two groupsets, there’s a weight difference of about 280 g. For a casual cyclist this is near-meaningless, but it does make a difference in the professional world.

Note that sizing of components such as crank arms, cassette sprockets, and chainrings will change these weights slightly. Cable runs and other factors can also affect the overall weight.

For reference, this (not especially scientific) experiment performed by a professional cyclist back in 2008 found that on the iconic 14 km climb to Alpe d’Huez – a regular inclusion at the Tour de France – 1.8 kg of extra weight added 1 minute, 54 seconds to his time.

Based on the outcome of that experiment, you could very roughly estimate that the weight gap of 280 g between Dura-Ace and Ultegra would be worth around 18 seconds on the climb to Alpe d’Huez.

For an amateur cyclist, who would be unlikely to complete the climb in under an hour anyway, 18 seconds is almost meaningless. A proper training regime, for example, would make a far greater difference than switching from Ultegra to Dura-Ace.

For a professional, however, 18 seconds is massive, and could easily make the difference between winning and losing a stage of the Tour de France.

For context, the narrowest margin of victory for the whole Tour overall – not just a single stage – came in 1989, when Greg LeMond defeated Laurent Fignon by a mere 8 seconds.

Dura-Ace Vs Ultegra Gear Ratios

An Ultegra crankset on a purple background.
Credit: Shimano

Another key difference comes in the gear ratios available with the two groupsets.

It’s important to understand here that Dura-Ace is a racing groupset, and Ultegra is an all-around one. The gear ratios really reflect this.

Dura-Ace offers 54/40, 52/36, and 50/34 crankset sizes. Ultegra offers 52/36, 50/34, and 46/36. In other words, the most aggressive gearing for the most powerful riders is only available through Dura-Ace.

As for the rear, there are 11/30 and 11/34 options for both the Ultegra and Dura-Ace cassette.

Dura-Ace is the way forward if you are looking for higher ratios for descending and have the legs to power a larger chainset. If you want lower gears via a compact chainset for spinning up climbs, it’s all about Ultegra. 

Dura-Ace Vs Ultegra Aesthetics

No, it’s not the most important point of comparison – but there’s no denying that a lot of us bike geeks take a lot of pride in our bikes’ appearances.

Considering how similar they are performance-wise, the two groupsets look surprisingly different. The newest Dura-Ace is a slick, glossy black, and it looks incredible. It looks like a racing groupset and, in my opinion, will complement any bike well. 

The Ultegra is a matte gray. It doesn’t look bad, but it’s not a scratch on the Dura-Ace. It looks more basic, and not many bikes share colors with it, making it tough to blend in.

In fact, I actually think Shimano 105 looks better than Ultegra appearance-wise.

Ultegra shifters on my road bike.
© Robbie Ferri/BikeTips

My Experiences of Riding With Ultegra Vs Dura-Ace

I have been lucky enough to ride both Dura-Ace and Ultegra for many, many miles. I’ve spent most of my cycling career focussed on competitive long-distance cycling, often compete in bikepacking races, and have done the odd time trial too. 

For me, there’s very little in it between Dura-Ace and Ultegra.

The way they shift feels the same, the braking feels the same, and the technology between them is shared extensively.

Swapping a bike over from Ultegra to Dura-Ace, you can feel the slight weight difference when you first pick it up and ride it, but after that, it feels normal very quickly. 

I can honestly say I do much prefer the look of the Dura-Ace. It makes the bikes I have equipped the groupset to look so much more professional, and there’s something to be said for that if you want your bike to look aesthetically pleasing.

Cyclists have occasionally questioned Dura-Ace reliability and durability concerns compared to Ultegra. Parts can wear out quicker due to them being lighter performance components, but in my opinion, there’s definitely not a noteworthy Dura-Ace durability issue so to speak.

Is Dura-Ace Worth The Upgrade?

Years ago, Dura-Ace was always a step up above Ultegra, had better technology, and would come with lots of extra features. With the most recent versions of Dura-Ace and Ultegra, that doesn’t seem to be the case any longer. 

Fundamentally, Dura-Ace and Ultegra are near-identical performance-wise, with the key upgrade being the weight savings.

So, if you compete at a level at which saving a handful of seconds up a climb could make all the difference – and have deep enough pockets to shell out the extra $1200 – then yes, Dura-Ace would be worth the upgrade for you.

For myself personally, as a cyclist who pays for his own components and races over such long distances that winning margins are often measured in hours rather than seconds, that’s too much money for the extra benefits it comes with.

It’s also important to bear in mind that Shimano sponsors many professional teams (as do key rivals Campagnolo and SRAM), meaning pro riders get to access flagship components free of charge.

A High Price Tag For Future Technology

Dura-Ace does have a high price tag. It’s important to understand that what you’re paying for is not just the small extra benefits, but also for Shimano’s research and development for the next Dura-Ace.

A new edition comes out every couple of years, and the technology gets passed down. For example, in the next release, the Ultegra will be very similar to this Dura-Ace, and the 105 will likely be similar to what we currently have as Ultegra.

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Robbie has traveled the globe as an endurance athlete and bikepacker, breaking world records and competing in international ultra-cycling events such as the BikingMan series and the Transcontinental Race. He's also worked as an ambassador for some of the industry's leading names, including Shimano and Ritchey. If Robbie's not on a bike, he's either fixing them or out walking with his dog!

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