It's taken a while for the people at Shimano to hop on the compact wagon, with the FC-R700 representing a long-awaited addition to their Hollowtech 2 stablemates. While this shares similar styling to the Hollowtechs, it's not as elegant as the 105, with a smaller mass of metal around the crank arms and a darker anodised finish on the chainrings. The crankset itself is simply branded with 'Shimano' (which scuffs quite easily) but is 'Ultegra' in quality - a shame then, that it's £10 more expensive than the standard Ultegra double.
We're big fans of compacts because they make considerable sense to many road enthusiasts. In this case, 50T still offers a decent top whack, while a 34T inner ring favours a knee-saving cadence that's ideal if you're heading off for the Etape or a Cyclosportif. This is the only option available, though, when a 48T outer would have suited some, while others might have favoured a 36T inner.
Out of the saddle, there's a commendable and efficient stiffness that's the trademark of the Hollowtech 2 system. In addition, upgrading is easy and the FC-R700 is designed to run with a standard Shimano double front mech. Shifting with my old Dura-Ace model worked flawlessly, even under the pressures of a race.
The set is officially only recommended for a 10-speed cluster because chainring spacing is a fraction narrower than a 9-speed double. In use, however, I had no problems. Another bonus is how easy it is to fit the integrated hollow aluminium axle to any bottom bracket - you just need the correct tool (TL-FC32) and must remember to face steel bottom bracket shells first for longevity.
Outboard cartridge bearings are larger and further apart than conventional cranksets to reduce stress on the axle, and we'll report back on how well they fare this winter. Of particular note if you're a crosser is how the larger surface area of the chainrings clog more than conventional, narrower types. Crank lengths are 165/170/172.5/175mm and both English and Italian thread-on bottom bracket cups are available.