With Shimano's top-of-the-line Dura-Ace component group getting a major overhaul for 2004, it's no surprise to see its slightly more economical but still high-end Ultegra bits getting similar treatment for 2005. Lots of features previously only found on Dura-Ace make their way to Ultegra, including a ten-speed cassette, Hollowtech II cranks and a new wheelset. Shimano claim that the new components are stiffer, more ergonomic and (despite the extra cog) lighter than the existing ones. Here's a run-down of what you can expect...

Shimano's Hollowtech II integrated crank/bottom bracket system was first seen on the 2003 XTR high-end MTB group, moved across to the road with Dura-Ace in 2004 and makes it on to Ultegra for 2005.

The oversized (it only just fits through a BB shell) aluminium axle is permanently attached to the drive-side crank, lending it a super-sleek appearance. We actually prefer the looks of the Ultegra crank to the Dura-Ace item - it's a little bit less bulky-looking.

The bottom bracket bearings live in carriers that thread into each side of the shell, positioning the bearings in a wide stance outboard of the shell itself. The left-hand crank slides on to splines on the other end of the axle and is secured with twin opposing pinch bolts.

Both double (52/39 or 53/39) and triple (52/39/30) models will be available.

The 10-speed cassettes are available in a wide range of ratio selections. The standard options are 11-23, 12-23, 12-25 and 12-27, plus "Junior" cassettes in 13-25, 14-25, 15-25 and 16-27.

If you're already running a high-end 9-speed set-up with posh wheels, fear not - the 10-speed cassettes are compatible with existing 9-speed freehubs.

Ultegra's Dual Control levers have been completely redesigned, with a more ergonomic shape. Some fiddling with the pivots makes for faster and more intuitive shifting, according to Shimano.

Taking another lead from the MTB groups, the derailleurs that the levers drive have oversized linkages and wide-set pivots to improve durability and rigidity - the front mech is said to be 20% stiffer than the old model.

Brakes are the normal dual-pivot design, but feature a toe-in adjustment system for easier setup and no squealing.

The Ultegra hubs get highly-polished races for smooth spinning and improved seals to keep them that way for longer.

Flight deck
Rear mech

The revised SPD-SL pedals feature a wider pedal body than the previous model for better foot support, and of course they're the right colour to go with the rest of the bits.

Shimano's slightly idiosyncratic habit of including a seatpost with its groups continues with Ultegra's lightweight aluminium single-bolt unit.

Finally, the Ultegra WH-R600 wheels are essentially a less-expensive version of the existing Dura-Ace wheels. Stainless steel bladed spokes are used at both ends, with 16 up front and 20 in the back.

The rear hub has a wide-flange design and an aluminium freehub body, while the rear rim is an asymmetrical design to improve the stability of the dished wheel.

The all-silver finish is very classy, and the wheels come in at a claimed 744g for the front and 912g for the rear.

Pricing details will have to wait until the Ultegra parts become available - official availability is from December, but we've heard from various bike manufacturers that delivery of Ultegra-equipped bikes may well slip to next Spring. Either way, don't hold your breath...