Back on the chain gang…
For those of us not in a position to afford entry to the exclusive and rarefied echelons of the Rohloff hub geared bicycle owners club, the gearing of bicycles is a complex and fiddly affair, requiring patience and much cleaning and fettling in these trying winter months.
The derailleur is our weapon of choice, a system born out of necessity once single speed bicycles became restrictive many moons ago. And from its early 20th century beginnings as a crude method of forcing a rotating chain from one cog to another cog, each geared to a slightly different ratio, it has in reality not evolved that much. We still have the same mechanical solution, and whilst today’s kit might be engineered to finer tolerances and using more exactly machined moving parts, the basic bits are still the same. Revolution, in the metaphorical rather than strictly physical sense, has not really occurred again when it comes to gear changing on road bikes.
Partly due to the budget I am on, my road steed employs Shimano mechanisms. I am not one of those obsessives who waves an Italian flag and demands Campagnolo kit as a basic right. It has often been said, when comparing the two giants of the groupset world, that one makes components that work beautifully, while the other makes beautiful components that work. And the one I chose also makes fishing reels. Go figure.
So, where are we going with all of this? Well, my cycle sports the Shimano 105 groupset. This is the workhorse of the ‘serious’ Shimano range – the kit fitted to most real world bikes. It is solid, reliable, lasts for ages, and is, well, a bit boring. Whereas the super-desirable Dura-Ace has recently had a makeover with the 7900 version, and the space-age Di2 electronic version, and the slightly less desirable Ultegra now wears new carbon and titanium clothes as well, poor 105 has, Cinderella-like, been shut out in the cold.
Until now, that is. For it seems that, like its older sisters, 105 has now been given a new outfit for 2010. For the 5700 version has been announced today, and apparently it has inherited some of the genes that splash around in the high-end Shimano pool. It seems that compatibility, to an extent determined no doubt by marketing people as opposed to engineers, has been built in such that the levers are in effect the same as the two more expensive ranges, albeit made from aluminum as opposed to carbon.
The chainset features hollow cranks, but lacks the hollow chainset found on the higher end versions. It also lacks the gorgeous Dura-Ace (and now Ultegra) visual style, where the chainset-side crank looks as if it is part of the chainring. But hey, let’s cut it some slack here!
My 105 brakes calipers are superb – the new version has improved pads (I replaced mine with Koolstops anyway), and in the front and rear mech department, Shimano claims to have significantly improved the up-and-down shifting abilities in terms of both speed and smoothness.
The UK distributor says that the new groupset will be on the market May/June time and will be priced lower against the two higher end versions. So we can look forward to the ‘cooking’ road bike for the second half of 2010 having a whole new level of refinement available to it. But it’s interesting to see how many bikes, such as the Orbea Aqua 2010, are coming with full Ultegra grouppos at a £1400-ish price point, and with this kind of competition and the ‘democratisation of luxury’ as Volkswagen once put it, one wonders how desirable it is possible to make the 105 kit.