105 is dead

105 has always been my preferred groupset, but Shimano has effectively killed it off with R7100. I have some 5 Shimano 105 groupsets, including the first gen SIS 105 groupset (1050).

To understand why 105 is dead and how Shimano has killed it, we need to go back to 1971 when Shimano released the Crane, Shimano’s first high end performance derailer, featuring alloy construction and a new design to fit Campagnolo hangers. Shimano also released two other tiers of more affordable derailers, the Titlist and the Tourney. These were effectively the same design as the Crane.

With the introduction of a high end derailer came the introduction of concurrent lower tiers that were fully featured but with a lower price and less exotic materials. This was not gradual trickle down like Tiagra and lower, you could buy the Tourney at the same time as the Crane. The Crane helped sell the Toruney and the Tourney helped sell the crane. Tourney buyers knew they would be buying a derailer with the “same design and function” as a top end racing derailer and also served as a low cost entry point to convince buyers of Shimano’s superior design (relative to Euripean designs, not Suntour) and promote brand loyalty. Essentially, since the inception of multiple tiers of Shimano components, there has always been the concept of being able to buy something functionally equivalent to professional racing components at a fraction of the price.

To be fair, the first generation of rear derailer to be branded Dura-Ace (although not the first parts to be called Dura-Ace which were some crude Shimano centerpulls and levers, with optional, but nice, suicide levers, nor the first group to be called Dura-Ace which included the Crane) had no lower tier equivalent, but this isn’t a story about Dura-Ace. Arguably 105 comes from Shimano 500 parts, which slotted in between 600 (Titlist/Ultegra) and 400 (Tourney/Altus), but this doesn’t really matter because with respect to 105, this is all prehistory. After Shimano’s abortive foray into aerodynamics and their experimental and radically unsuccessful AX parts, they returned to form. The first 105 was Shimano Golden Arrow.

Somewhat humorously, its advertised as being the ideal groupset of wannabe racers and weekend warriors (for me, perfection). The real point here is with the establishment of 105 as an official tier, Shimano returned to their prior business model. We see parallels here to the Tourney advertisement with 105 being advertised as coming “with all the features and feel of their true racing counterparts.” The design was very similar to the Shimano 600EX, which was a technically newer design than the Dura-Ace EX, Shimano’s non-aero non-AX Dura-Ace variant at the time.

This is because the modern era of SIS indexing was coming starting with 1984 Dura Ace. Shimano had a rapid roll out of SIS, which led to marketplace dominance, and for a short time in 1986, both Dura Ace 7401 (for racers) and 105 1050 (“for the casual sport cyclist”) both had 6 speed SIS. 105 also had new features like Biopace (gross) and SLR (a favorite brake of the late Sheldon Brown).

This staggered release would continue to the modern day, with Dura-Ace launching with the newest features, then the same generation 105 being released some time later, but before the launch of the new Dura-Ace, fully featured, but with less exotic materials, and no Di2 option.

However, with the launch of the new Shadow+ groupsets, with simplified derailer construction and new part numbering systems, 105 saw a downgrade for the first time (Ultegra too). While 105 parts have always had alloy knuckles and outer links as to not look cheap, the inner link had always been steel to save costs. However, the cage was eventually upgraded from steel to aluminum, and things had always gotten better for 105.

This changed with R7000. The inner link and lower knuckle were downgraded to plastic (fancier plastic than in Sora’s plastic, but still plastic). The inner link of the front derailer was also downgraded from aluminum to steel, even though aluminum inner links had trickled down to Sora level. This was clearly just cost cutting. According to the Shimano tech docs, the 105 FD inner link was downgraded to steel, even when Ultegra retained an aluminum inner link. So did Tiagra for that matter. On the rear end of things, both Ultegra and 105 had the inner links and lower knuckles downgraded to plastic. Some might argue that the plastic is a sidegrade from steel, and that may be true, or may not be. However, the plastic is clearly a downgrade from aluminum, and you need look not further than Dura-Ace that uses aluminum instead of plastic, even when Ultegra got downgraded from aluminum to plastic. Under the guise of a massive marketing push and new technology being pushed, Shimano, for the first time, snuck in real downgrades into 105 and Ultegra to improve their bottom line. There’s nothing wrong with plastic per se, in the way there’s nothing wrong with Sora.

Now with the introduction of 105 Di2 and mechanical nowhere in sight, Shimano has effectively killed off 105 and created a new product that they call 105. A 105 groupset now costs more than what a nice 105 bike used to cost, and costs about as much an Ultegra Di2 groupset used to cost. It is simply no longer affordable. It’s not really even affordable “for Di2” unless comparing to current Di2. Things are more expensive now, but we know that the costs for increasing speeds from 11 to 12 don’t justify the cost increases from 6870 era Di2, especially when 12 speed has trickled down to Deore (Tiagra equivalent) on the MTB side. Disc brakes only account for a part of this massive price increase. Shimano also has stripped away functional features for increased product differentiation. SRAM seems to be defining this generation of components while Shimano is reacting, and seems points to make major inroads into road bike market share.

105 doesn’t mean what it used to mean. You can’t count on 105 being built for its legendary reliability, or even being a straight upgrade when compared to prior years, and you can’t count on getting Dura-Ace functionality at a fraction of the price. I liked Shimano much more than SRAM in the past, despite the weight difference, but going forward with electronic shifting, I’m skeptical if there’s a good reason to stay loyal.