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by Dave Rome
March 22, 2018
Photography by David Rome
As the definition of road riding forever broadens, so has the demand for product outside of what racers typically use. Whether it’s to conquer an obscenely long ride, tackle an alpine weekend away, or take your drop-bar bike where a mountain bike would be better suited, the thirst for lower and wider-range gearing is only increasing.
With the release of its newest Ultegra R8000 groupset, Shimano announced a new wide-range 11-34T cassette that offers a 1:1 climbing ratio when combined with a compact crank – or even lower if paired with the new crop of sub-compact options. Clever packaging means that older road (or even mountain bike) wheelsets that previously only worked with 10-speed drivetrains may now find new purpose, too.
The HG-800 cassette may technically be part of the Ultegra range, but there’s a good reason for why it lacks the Ultegra R8000 branding of the other, smaller, cassette options. Most notably, this 11-speed cassette fits on a standard 11-speed Shimano/SRAM-compatible freehub body as usual, but it can fit a 10-speed freehub body.
In fact, all Shimano mountain bike 11-speed components work in this way, using the older and narrower 10-speed freehub body, and then cantilevering the largest cog over the hub shell, not unlike how the spokes on a wheel are angled toward the rim. It’s also the same way Edco do its cassettes. As a result, this cassette will happily fit mountain bike wheels, older road wheels with 10-speed freehub bodies, and is Shimano’s most widely compatible road cassette offered.
However, that compatibility comes with a clear caveat. Standard short-cage road bike derailleurs (or “SS” in Shimano parlance) aren’t designed to handle such a gear range, and so the use of this cassette requires a medium-cage rear derailleur to handle such a big change in chain wrap. This is the longer “GS” version of the two derailleur options available, and currently, such a derailleur is not offered at a Dura-Ace level. If you’re using Dura-Ace R9100 or R9150, you’ll need to use an Ultegra rear derailleur.
The Shimano HG-800 cassette is part of a bigger Ultegra R8000 review.
The 11-34T is the biggest cassette that Shimano recommends for use with its road groupsets. However, a derailleur like the Ultegra GS will easily stretch to an aftermarket 11-36T cassette (such as from SunRace or SRAM), and then there are multiple reports of the derailleur being capable of handling an 11-40T cassette, too. While the latter will fit, it’s no doubt well beyond the suggested capacity of the rear derailleur, and as a result, you’re likely to experience lower shift quality.
Each of the HG-800 sprockets are made of nickel-plated steel for durability and corrosion resistance, and the construction is similar to the R8000 cassettes. The three largest sprockets are riveted to one carrier, and the next two riveted to another one, which reduces weight relative to an all-steel design. But whereas the R8000 cassette uses an aluminum spider for the largest trio, and a fibre-reinforced composite for the second set, both carriers on the HG-800 cassette are aluminium. From there, the remaining six sprockets are separate and squeezed together with an aluminium lockring.
Shimano R8000 11-32T cassette (top) versus the Shimano HG-800 11-34T cassette (bottom).
On the scales, the 11-34T cassette is rather hefty at 339g – just 4g heavier than claimed, but 57g heavier than an R8000 11-32T cassette. By comparison, a Dura-Ace R9100 11-30T cassette is claimed to weigh just 211g, and other brands have lighter options again.
Retail price for the HG-800 11-34T cassette is AU$149 / US$80 / £84.
Shimano cassettes are renowned for their shift performance, and this HG-800 model is no different: gear changes occur exactly as expected, and long-term durability on the larger sprockets should be even better than a smaller Ultegra cassette since the load is spread out over more teeth. And although there have been multiple reports of creaking on Shimano’s higher-end road cassettes, this one has stayed silent.
While all true, the bigger jumps between gears does mean shifting is slightly slower than on a cassette with smaller tooth differences between each pair of sprockets. As compared to an 11-28T cassette, for example, there’s a bit more of a delay in the jump from the 30-34T jump on the HG-800. That said, it hasn’t failed a shift yet.
It’s a big cassette, but it’s more like a salad plate than a dinner plate.
Shimano builds the 11-34T HG-800 cassette with the following tooth sizes: 11-13-15-17-19-21-23-25-27-30-34 – certainly some big jumps if you’re used to tighter-ratio cassettes. Those bigger jumps are not a worry if coming from a mountain bike or 1x road setup, or when riding alone, but they’re more noticeable when riding in a group, where you’ll find yourself having to change your cadence more in order to maintain the desired speed. It’s all a trade-off in order to get such a wide range, and at least for gravel use, it didn’t bother me at all.
In the early days of testing, I experienced a bit of unexplained roughness and noise in certain gears with both this and a new R8000 cassette. Frankly I can’t explain it, and even where everything was set up perfectly, one or two gears (typically around the 17T sprocket) made more noise than they should. Thankfully the cassette eventually wore in, and the noise soon disappeared.
One question I’ve gotten a bit in recent months is which cassette range makes the most sense: 11-28T, 11-30T, 11-32T, or 11-34T. Obviously, the answer depends on the terrain, what your hills (or mountains) look like, and how fit you are. I’m of the opinion that having lower gears is something you’re unlikely to ever complain about, and so choosing the most versatile spread will make the most sense for the majority of everyday riders.
If you must have the lowest gear your Shimano groupset can afford, then I wouldn’t hesitate to suggest the 11–34T cassette. It does everything it needs to, albeit at a higher-than-expected weight. Likewise, if you’re dealing with an older 10-speed road wheel, or a mountain bike wheelset, then this 11-34T cassette offers a simple and affordable way to get rolling.
But in my opinion, those keen on this product should also look at the 11-32T option. It’s 57g lighter than the 11-34T and can be found for slightly cheaper, too. Its road-specific design will only fit 11-speed freehub bodies, though, and while short-cage derailleurs can be made to work with the slightly-smaller 32T sprocket, longer-cage derailleurs are still recommended.
And while it’s not reviewed here, I’m still a big fan of the 11-30T range. It fits in a regular short cage derailleur, offers a little love on the climbs and in my opinion, is likely to take over the 11-28T as the new standard.
The Shimano HG-800 11-34T cassette (left) versus a more common R8000 11-28T (right).
Such a big cassette calls for a longer-cage derailleur. In this case, it’s Shimano’s R8000 medium-cage (GS) rear derailleur.
A closer view of the HG-800 11-34T cassette.
It’s no lightweight.
The carrier on the R8000 cassette is flat, so the largest sprocket sits in-plane with the edge of the freehub body.
The HG-800 cassette carrier, on the other hand, is slightly dished, allowing 11 sprockets to fit on a 10-speed freehub body.
Both the Shimano R8000 (left) and HG-800 cassettes use aluminium for the larger sprocket carrier.
But whereas the R8000 cassette (left) uses a composite carrier for the next two sprockets, the HG-800 cassette carrier (right) is made of aluminium.
The HG-800 cassette uses the same aluminium lockring as its R8000 sibling, albeit with different branding.
Shimano provides a 1.85mm spacer to be used behind the cassette with 11-speed freehub bodies.