We go for a first spin on the new Shimano Dura-Ace groupset
After months of rumours, Shimano has finally lifted the lid on its new Dura-Ace groupset, which will come with an integrated power meter, hydraulic disc brakes, and the option of synchronised front and rear derailleur shifting.
The new groupset, which to give it its full name is Shimano Dura-Ace R9100 also features a redesigned crankset and front and rear derailleurs, and has been launched at the same time as Shimano releases new Dura-Ace wheels, some of which will be disc brake-compatible. Availability for all the new kit is set for early 2017, but pricing is yet to be confirmed.
New power meter
Probably the most revolutionary aspect of the new Shimano Dura-Ace groupset is its integrated power meter, something that has been ten years in development and has also recently been testing on old Dura-Ace groupsets with French professional team FDJ.
The power meter sits inside the crank spider, with two strain gauges (one inside each of the crank arms) which will be able to measure total power output, left/right leg balance, and cadence. And Shimano says that because the power meter is integrated within the spider at the heart of the crankset, chainrings can be easily swapped without affecting the power meter’s accuracy.
The battery for the power meter is integrated within the system, and is recharged using “a small magnetic adaptor without needing to remove covers or casings.” The power meter is both Bluetooth and ANT+ enabled.
Dura-Ace level disc brakes
Shimano has been adding hydraulic disc brakes to sit alongside each of its groupsets over the last few years, with even the lowly Shimano Sora groupset now coming with its own mechanical disc brakes. This process is continued with the new Dura-Ace hydraulic disc brakes.
The brake calipers have been designed as flat mount (i.e. they are bolted directly into the frame), while the disc brake rotors have been redesigned, with Shimano claiming that “heat transfer through the rotor is decreased and more heat can dissipate through the air.” This apparently means a 30ºC reduction in rotor temperature over Shimano’s previous top-end rotors.
The rotors are available in either 140mm or 160mm diameters, and are centre lock rather than six-bolt.
Watch: What do the pros really think of disc brakes?
The company is also claiming an increase in the performance of its rim brake calipers, which as with the previous generation of Dura-Ace are available as either dual pivot or direct mount. These will come with clearance for tyres of up to 28mm width and a claimed “43 per cent reduction in flex over previous Dura-Ace brakes”.
Synchronized Shift system
Another new feature of the new Shimano Dura-Ace (or at least the electronic Di2 version) is the Synchronized Shift mode, something which will be familiar to those mountain bikers who have ridden either Shimano XTR Di2 or Shimano Deore XT Di2 electronic off-road groupsets.
What this basically means is that there is the option to have the groupset automatically choose the next available gear ratio when you change gear, something which it can do by moving the front and/or rear derailleurs.
There are two different Synchronized Shift modes on the new Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 groupset. First off you have the full Shimano Synchronized Shift mode which effectively means you can control both derailleurs using a single shifter; whenever you press the button to shift it will control the front and rear derailleurs to move you into the next available gear ratio. Shimano is particularly aiming this feature at time triallists and triathletes.
More relevant to road riders is perhaps the Semi Synchronized Shift mode. This is similar to the Shift Assist mode found on Campagnolo’s electronic groupsets, and repositions the rear derailleur whenever you shift the front derailleur, moving it to the next appropriate gear.
The front and rear derailleurs have received redesigns on both the mechanical and electronic versions of the new Shimano Dura-Ace groupset.
The biggest changes are probably to the rear derailleur, which will be mounted directly to the frame, features “Shadow” technology which positions the derailleur closer in to the frame (meaning that it is directly underneath the cassette), apparently giving “better than ever” shifting. However, the rear derailleur still won’t be able to cope with the 32t sprockets that many people are now fitting to their bikes, having a maximum capacity of 30t.
The Di2 versions of the derailleurs are connected through ANT+, meaning that you can connect them to third party devices such as your Garmin cycle computer, enabling you to see what gear you’re in and the current battery charge level. There is also Bluetooth connectivity so the groupset can be connected to Shimano’s E-Tube software (available as an iOS or Android app) which can be used to program shifting functions, rather than having to plug the bike into a computer as was the case on the old Di2 system.
Apart from the mechanical front derailleur, all of the derailleurs are lighter than the components that they are replacing (see below for a full breakdown of component weights).
The biggest aesthetic difference to the new Shimano Dura-Ace groupset comes with the crankset, which is considerably bulkier than its predecessor. According to Shimano the new design, which includes a bulkier but lighter Hollowtech II crank arm and Hollowglide outer chainring, is meant to improve rigidity and power transfer.
Despite the bulky design, the crankset is apparently 7g lighter than the old model. It is available in a number of chainring combinations (50-34t, 52/36t, 53-39t, 54/42t, and 55/42t without the power meter, and 52/39t, 52/36t, and 50/34t with the power meter) with seven crank arm lengths ranging from 165-180mm.
The crankset has also been adapted to work better on disc brake-equipped bikes, which generally come with longer 410mm chainstays.
Neater junction box
Another new feature is the redesigned junction box, which is much smaller than the previous model. This means that it can be built into the frame or even pushed into the end of your handlebars, and from there connected to one of the shifters using a cable. Only one face of the junction box needs to be accessible, which shows the function button and status lights.
Shimano Dura-Ace R9100 – First Ride
Timing the launch of the new Dura-Ace just before the Tour de France, I’m sure that Shimano’s intention was to have all of its teams rolling out from Mont St Michel with their bikes fully kitted out with the new electronic version groupset. Unfortunately, for one reason or another this didn’t materialise (expect to see the new groupset in action for the first time at the Eneco Tour in September).
With units of the new Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 groupset clearly thin on the ground, it was no surprise that there was only the new mechanical Shimano Dura-Ace available to put through its paces at the launch event. And even then there was only a limited amount of time allowed to give it a test run around the streets of Caen, hardly pushing the new groupset to its limits so I won’t draw any big conclusions.
First let’s get one thing straight: the old Shimano Dura-Ace mechanical groupset was very, very good. So good that I was not expecting the new version to be a quantum leap forward in terms of shifting performance.
And so it proved, with improvements over the old model being more evolutionary than revolutionary.
One of the best things about the old Dura-Ace was the excellent front shifting helped by the long derailleur arm. On the new model the long lever has been removed to improve compatibility with a wider tyres, a move that I expected to bring about a step backwards in front derailleur shifting. However, thankfully this is not the case, and the front shifting is just as sharp as before, while maintenance and adjustment should be easier with the new cable tension adjuster bolt that removes the need for a barrel adjuster.
Watch: buyer’s guide to road bike groupsets
At the back, things are just as good, but again it’s a case of taking small steps forward rather than giant leaps. Cruising around and things are pretty much indistinguishable from the old Dura-Ace groupset; clean shifts with minimal effort pushing at the lever needed to change gears. Put down the power and the difference is a little more noticeable, with the marginally smaller lever throw and repositioned rear derailleur giving slightly sharper shifts under load.
As for the brakes I’m not going to draw any conclusions as I was riding them on wet roads using unfamiliar rims, so a longer term test on familiar wheels and roads is certainly needed.
Moving to the front and I was impressed by the ergonomics of the redesigned Shimano Dura-Ace levers and hoods. The textured surface on the top of the hoods gave decent grip riding with no gloves in miserable northern French drizzle, while the indent at the top of the levers was the perfect place to rest a couple of fingers when riding with my hands high on the hoods.
Potentially the most divisive thing about the new Shimano Dura-Ace groupset is its aesthetics. Traditionally bikes and groupsets are designed with elegant smooth curves, designed to look just as light as they are.
In contrast, Dura-Ace R9100 is almost entirely devoid of curves, especially at the rear derailleur, while the crankset is not going to look great if you decide to attach it to a skinny steel frame.
And then there’s the fact that it is only available in black. Don’t get me wrong, it looks great on an all black stealth bike such as the Pinarello Dogma F8 that it was hung on at the launch, but on more colourful bikes a lighter sliver would be much more preferable.
Shimano Dura-Ace R9100 weights
Here are the claimed weights of each of the Shimano Dura-Ace R9100 components, with the weights of the old Shimano Dura-Ace components which they are replacing in brackets.
Shifter (mechanical): 365g (363g)
Shifter (Di2): 230g (237g)
Disc brake shifter (mechanical): 505g
Disc brake shifter (Di2): 360g
Rear derailleur (mechanical): 158g (160g)
Rear derailleur (Di2): 204g (217g)
Front derailleur (mechanical): 69g (67g)
Front derailleur (Di2): 104g (114g)
Crankset: 609-621g (636g)
We do not currently have weights for the bottom bracket, cassette, chain, rim or disc brake calipers, rotors, battery, or junction box.
Shimano Dura-Ace R9100 prices
UK pricing for the new groupset is yet to be confirmed.