Shimano 105 Hydro – Confessions of a bike snob
I haven’t ridden Shimano 105 since I was about 15 years old, or as I like to think about it, before the internet and mobile phones. Sure, I have ridden it while testing bikes or riding a loaner somewhere on holidays, but never considered it a groupset I would own.
To be perfectly frank, because I’m a bike snob.
I’m one of those people who have strong ideas about form and function and often recite the mantra “life is too short to ride S*%t bikes. Over the last 15 or so years I have mostly ridden Dura Ace and more recently SRAM Red so when my new gravel bike turned up with a full Shimano 105 group I wondered how I would go with it.
Would I hate it? Or would it work well, but still hate it because of the label?
The Shimano 105 group represents amazing value for money. You can buy this groupset for under $500 for calliper brakes from just about anywhere. The Hydro Disc brake group will set you back around $800 which is the version I now have on my Gravel/ CX bike from Trek. There is no doubting the attractiveness of the price tag, but given my high-end persuasion, I was interested to see whether I would be impressed. Furthermore, as my very first disc brake roadie would I love it, or rack it up as another fad born out of the need for constant evolution from the big bike manufactures? I must admit I have been fence sitting on the disc brake debate.
So let’s start with the brakes.
The hydraulic road disc brakes are mounted using the latest flat mount standard. Not wanting to head down a technical rabbit hole on the new flat mount system as this has been covered 100 times over by technical gurus, the beauty of the new standard is that the calliper is mounted very neatly against the frame and fork and designed for 140 & 160mm rotors. Makes for a very simple and elegant look that is perfectly suited for road and gravel bikes.
To date, I have largely used the bike for commuting as well as some longer bunch ride on weekends. While I haven’t hit any mixed terrain, I have encountered my fair share of wet weather and unpredictable road users, meaning I have given the brakes a good workout.
What can I say other than I am sold…So sold am I that I believe my cycling future will now be broken up into two periods.
Before Disc Brakes & After Disc Brakes.
So yes, I’m in. 100%
I never want to struggle again to stop my roadie when heading down a steep wet decent towards a set of traffic lights.
You know the feeling… Am I going to stop? I’m not sure, I think so… ??
One aspect of the brakes I believe Shimano have achieved incredibly well is the feedback through the lever. I have been pleasantly surprised and how much feel and control the brakes provide and am totally confident that I won’t lock up either wheel… unless intentional. This was my main worry about having so much braking power on skinny tyres. But despite my concerns that I might constantly skid and lose control owing to the super brakes, I am glad to say that I was wrong. The brakes provide a fantastic amount of control and feedback making braking extremely confidence inspiring no matter what the conditions.
The shifting is everything I have come to expect from Shimano. Quiet and effortless.
From new, it has required two adjustments on the rear to keep it running smoothly but you expect that from a new bike. But if I was to be critical I would suggest that the drivetrain is sensitive to cable adjustment, but when it is right, and it is very easy to get it right, it works like a dream.
So when you get your new 105 drivetrain, don’t expect to ride away and never have to touch it again. It will require a little tuning while your shifting cables stretch over the first few weeks to a month. But a couple of clicks on the barrel adjuster and Bingo, it’s back to being silky smooth.
Not having the ability to jump straight from 105 to Dura Ace makes it very hard to discern the difference… And I think that’s a good thing. Having the ridden the groupset now for a couple of months I don’t have a single gripe to speak of. One small aspect to the physical design I do think could be improved is the size of the down-shift lever.
Maybe I am more accustomed to SRAM, but I feel like for virtually no weight penalty the inside downshift lever could be just a bit deeper. For me, a a larger trigger for my index finger to hit when I want to downshift in a hurry would be appreciated.
So the million dollar question is would I recommend it? Would I build a bike with it?
No Way, I’m a bike snob!
The measured answer is; Yes, if I wanted to build a quality bike on a budget. Absolutely. Once you get over the label and out on your ride you will completely forget you are riding 105 as it just won’t let you down.