How much marginal difference is there between Tiagra and 105?
March 1, 2018 7:50 AM   Subscribe

I'm getting a new bike as a self-present for finishing grad school, replacing the old road bike that I've ridden into the ground since 2002. And it turns out that the road bike world has changed a bunch in 16 years.

I've got a good relationship with a bike shop in St. Paul, so the most important step's already taken care of. And I think I've narrowed my actual choice down to a pair of Felt endurance bikes. My choice: given the same frame, how much difference would I notice between Tiagra and 105 components? There's about a $250 difference. My instincts have always been that the diminishing returns of higher-end bike components don't justify the expense, but I also recognize that this type of thinking may have left me with shitty bikes in the past. So: for someone who rides maybe 2,000 miles a year, with a mix of 5-mile commute rides and 30ish-mile fun/sightseeing rides (and no real concern about speed), are higher-end components worth it?

I've of course done some reading on the wider, unfettered bike internet, but in the end all that tells you is that FreedomBikr69 thinks CampyDude21 is dumb for riding aluminum.
posted by the phlegmatic king to Sports, Hobbies, & Recreation (21 answers total) 4 users marked this as a favorite
I was going to be all like "it's a waste of money, you won't notice the difference, spend the $250 where it actually makes a real difference e.g. better wheels".

But... dude, you've waited 16 years, and you deserve this. Go for 105. Don't cheap out. Probably makes little noticeable difference in reality, but seriously, do you ever look at anyone else's Tiagra-equipped bike and think "yeah, nice groupset?"
posted by rd45 at 8:14 AM on March 1, 2018

Tiagra works perfectly fine.

The biggest mechanical difference is that Tiagra is designed around 10-speed, with a triple chainset (front ring) and can have a lower (easier) gear to spin, with a 34-tooth ring available in the cassette (note, there are 3 different cassette ranges, so ymmv) and a max higher gear up front being 52-tooth. This might be to your advantage on a long day, going uphill, or when you're tired.

105's lowest gear is 32, and like Ultegra and Dura ace, is designed with 11-speed and only a double chainset with a 53-tooth and higher max front gear.

That's pretty much the major difference. 105 has slightly better braking performance, which you may or may not notice.

I'm more of a SRAM guy (Force ftw), but I'd go with Tiagra in your case and maybe spend extra money on better/lighter handbuilt wheels.
posted by Giggilituffin at 8:19 AM on March 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

I haven't ridden Tiagra but my newer bike with 105 (11 speed) shifts significantly better than my older bike with Ultegra (10 speed) did even when it was new, so I can say that the current 105 groupset is pretty damn nice. Thus I suggest "treat yourself, don't cheat yourself" and get the 105. And if you ever leave it locked outside, please do so armed with this knowledge.
posted by exogenous at 8:21 AM on March 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've been riding a Kestrel Talon for a few years now, averaging maybe 5k miles/year, no real mountain climbing but plenty of hills in my standard routes. I just upgraded brakes from Tiagra to 105, and holy shit, the difference is astounding. I'm a big guy and I come screaming downhill, and the Tiagras always felt wimpy and on the edge of giving up. The 105s are a lot stronger, and I'm a lot more confident with bike responsiveness. I'm also trying to save up to upgrade my drivetrain; it's been good enough to get me through a 5:40 bike split at IMMD, but everything's worn and it's time to replace, so I figure I'll go to 105s there as well.

Tiagras today are probably more advanced than 105s of 16 years ago, so I'm sure you'd have a perfectly fine ride experience on either. But I think of 105s as just a little better made, slightly better tolerances, slightly better performance, etc. which translates to better ride experience overall. I think this is a good spend of $250.

Now, wheels have a huge impact on your ride, and you should talk with your LBS about trying different wheelsets. But wait until you've had your bike for ~6 months and you know how it handles, what kinds of time you're getting on local Strava segments, etc.
posted by disconnect at 8:23 AM on March 1, 2018 [3 favorites]

Is this the most recent alloy Felt Endurance line, so choosing between VR30 (w/ 105) and VR40 (w/ Tiagra)? If so, both have disc brakes, and you're also upgrading from mechanical to hydraulic. Little harder to upkeep by oneself, but yeah, def worth the upgrade, even aside from the shifting.

Or is it the carbon fiber endurance VR5 and VR6? Both of those are hydro, but if you're already going for CF, yeah, worth it for 105.
posted by supercres at 8:35 AM on March 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

It's pretty significant, not in the least that Tiagra is still 10-speed while 105 and above are 11.

When I was buying my first serious bike, the advice I got over and over was that 105 was the floor, really. Shifting is crisper, the parts are nicer, and you're on 11 speed and not 10 or 9.

Ultegra is worth it if you can afford it -- shifting is really a lot crisper and easier -- but 105 is FINE, plenty durable, and offers the same range of gearing you can get in its pricier brothers.

Dura Ace is just showing off.

Recently, I rode a Tiagra bike with a pal who is shopping. I thought it was night and day from my Ultegra, and still significantly less nice than 105. I say go for the 105 bike. It's a very decent $250 bump -- you can't do wheels for that, for example.
posted by uberchet at 9:27 AM on March 1, 2018 [4 favorites]

Oh, and, per the Shimano site, you can get Tiagra with either a conventional dual-ring crank or a triple -- but most people don't need a triple anymore.

105 is dual only, but you can get it in compact (50/34) or more aggressive configurations (53/39 and 52/36).
posted by uberchet at 9:30 AM on March 1, 2018

I have bikes with various 105, Ultegra and Dura Ace components. I'd say 105 is the floor, and uberchet's take is right. In fact on my tricked out Dura Aced road bike I've been replacing components with Ultegra as things have failed (eg: I folded my front small chainring into a weird shape pulling away from a stop light), and both the Ultegra and 105 components have been rock solid even on the heavier load of a tandem.
posted by straw at 9:50 AM on March 1, 2018 [1 favorite]

I've been riding an aluminum CAAD 10 for like a decade now with 105. I'd say go for the 105 as it's definitely going to shift better. Today's 105 is probably the Ultegra of when I bought my bike a decade ago and you'll get a lot of wear out of it. Upgrading drivetrain components is unreasonably expensive, it's much more cost-effective to get the best bike you can when you buy it. 105 is indeed the base for what's considered a "good" bike.
posted by GuyZero at 9:51 AM on March 1, 2018

Get the 105. This is one case where the marginal difference is worth the next step up.
posted by Dashy at 9:58 AM on March 1, 2018

Your rider description is pretty much like mine* and I love 105. I have a few Ultegra bikes and don't feel the difference, but Tiagra to 105 is a big deal. 105 is the sweet spot. The super tiny gear that holds the shifter in gear in 105 is far more durable than Tiagra and makes for a very satisfying shift. Also the front shifting of 105 11 speed is as good as front shifting has ever been.

* except I'm in Minneapolis.
posted by advicepig at 10:27 AM on March 1, 2018

Response by poster: Thanks, all!
posted by the phlegmatic king at 11:00 AM on March 1, 2018

A couple un-asked for thoughts on buying a new road bike, and upcoming technology.

The expectation for 2018 is that more than half the road bikes sold will be equipped with disc brakes. Disc brake bikes also typically come with thru-axles instead of quick release. They are better than calipers all the time, and infinitely better as soon as the weather turns. Caliper brakes will still be around for years, but the inflection point is basically now.

Also, tire sizes are getting wider, you should be running a 25mm, and you will likely want to make sure you have clearance for 28mm.

If you are in or at all near Toronto, the spring bike show is this weekend, and excellent deals can be found on last years bikes, if you know what you are looking for.

Lastly, agreed with everyone else on the 105s.
posted by Sleddog_Afterburn at 11:24 AM on March 1, 2018

Go for the 105. The differences are not trivial. Here's one telling example: You're supposed to replace your chain when elongation reaches 1% (0.5% on 11-speed drivetrains). Tiagra chains are at 0.5% when they're new out of the box.
posted by adamrice at 11:51 AM on March 1, 2018

I had an aluminum commuter with *8* speed tiagra and still have a high end steel road bike with 10 speed ultegra. There wasn't that much difference. It really doesn't make $250 worth of difference. I've commuted and gone on long rides on both, where deciding which bike to take mainly boiled down to whether or not I needed a rack that day and/or if I was going to lock up somewhere sketchy.

All that said - I completely agree with both of rd45's points:1) This is a present for yourself, so do what you want. 2) Given the choice between Tiagra and nicer wheels or 105 with less nice wheels, I'd choose the former every time.
posted by NoRelationToLea at 12:10 PM on March 1, 2018

Also, tire sizes are getting wider, you should be running a 25mm, and you will likely want to make sure you have clearance for 28mm.

This isn't actually a thing. It's true that road bikes used to default to really skinny tires -- ie, much more narrow than 25mm -- but it was in the pursuit of reduced rolling resistance and higher efficiency. Then experimental data showed that , below 25mm, you don't actually get any gains there -- but you do lose ride quality.

I don't expect road bikes to default to anything bigger than 25mm, though, because you DO lose some efficiency going higher.

For the record here, though, looks like the Felt endurance bikes ship with 28mm anyway.
posted by uberchet at 12:24 PM on March 1, 2018 [2 favorites]

Just a note that the way a bike is set up and tuned can seriously distort your perception of the quality of the components. I have bikes with Tiagra and Ultegra (of various vintages) and because of the cable routing, the road bike with the "best" Ultegra shifts the worst. The filthy winter hybrid with Tiagra shifts the best.

Also, dirty housing will make your derailleur lazy to upshift on the rear. When you replace it you'll naturally install new housing and the difference will be night and day, and will have nothing to do with the hardware itself.

And realistically, Shimano (and SRAM) hardware is so good that you won't notice a difference under ideal circumstances. Chris Froome would still win the Tour on a down-market derailleur.

Still, though, I'd go for the good stuff ;)
posted by klanawa at 2:16 PM on March 1, 2018

I have a bike with new Tiagra and a bike with 2 generations-old 105. The Tiagra is quite nice for what it is but the 105 still feels nicer. The current 105 is supposed to be very nice, plus 11 speed, I would definitely go for that or above if purchasing a "Treat yourself" bike.
posted by ghharr at 2:40 PM on March 1, 2018

When I bought my road bike two years ago, 105 was the lowest I would go.
posted by LoveHam at 6:38 PM on March 1, 2018

There was a substantial quality upgrade to the Tiagra about a year ago and a bike mechanic I trust says it's mostly a weight difference (and some shifting niceness, but not too much) now. The Tiagra cables are wrapped inside the bar now too..

I'm really happy with my Tiagra equipped bike (from the new line) - if I were you I'd look at the base price and consider whether it's worth it from there... So treat yourself - but you don't have to - or feel like you miss out on a lot if you choose to go with the Tiagra.
posted by mathiu at 3:04 AM on March 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

There was a substantial quality upgrade to the Tiagra about a year ago and a bike mechanic I trust says it's mostly a weight difference
To be clear, though, Tiagra is still 10 speed. 105 & above are 11.
posted by uberchet at 8:45 AM on March 2, 2018

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