As Shimano’s 9000 groupset starts to filter though to your local shop on off-the-peg bikes, full production samples have finally arrived at CW, so we’ve screwed them on to a test frame and headed out to get a few hundred miles under our belts.
Shimano had made a multitude of minor changes to its top-of-the-range groupset, so rather than a blow-by-blow account of how well 9000 performs, we’ll look at the key changes to the brand’s top-flight groupset. After all, the devil is in the detail.
With the advent of electronic gears, mechanical shift performance has become even more crucial, so it’s not surprising that Shimano has invested in perfecting the ergonomics of the cables and the routing.
At the front end, the shifter mechanism offers the best opportunities for making significant improvements to the performance of the gears through a reduction in lever throw, as well as minimal friction for the cables. Get these two elements right and you’re on track for accurate and reliable shifting. With this in mind Shimano has worked on the cable routing for both the brake and gear inners within the hoods.
The gear cable is now threaded in from the outside of the lever. This small change makes it easier to replace, but more importantly changes the internal routing. This is responsible in a major way for the reduction of internal drag – Shimano claims a 43 per cent reduction and we see no reason to argue against the figure – it’s significantly lighter than the previous generation 7900. On the inside there’s a small plastic cover. This needs to be removed to allow the inner to be threaded, and the design is user-friendly.
One of the major visual ?changes to the groupset is the front mech. With a longer arm ?sitting on top, its appearance and specifically the pull ratio has been altered. Straight out of the box, the front mech has a plastic plate attached to the rear. This plate has a dividing line marked on it; if your inner cable falls one side then you should use one route and vice versa. Which one you use will affect performance, but it’s another example of Shimano focusing on better performance – even if it means extra expense and fitting time.
New cable route
Alongside the improvements to the gears are tweaks to the brake cable routing, but before you get to that you have to undo two crosshead screws and remove the silver plate that tops the brake lever. This is slightly awkward, but the routing through the hood itself is straight, again making it easier to thread than before. Saying that, if your brake outer comes in at an oblique angle, say because of an aero bar, it can still be tough to thread.
When you come to pull the brake lever you’ll feel it’s not only super light but also slightly granular. This feeling is odd and if it wasn’t so light would be off-putting. It’s caused by the ribs that have been added to the mating surface between the inner cable and the outer that it runs in.
Brake like the wind
The shift mechanism is housed in a revised hood shape with a dual compound cover designed to offer better comfort and grip. Frankly, I couldn’t tell the difference between the compounds when riding and had no issues with the old design, but it’s no worse so that’s fine.
When it comes to the brakes, the dual-stud mount that so far Trek is the only brand to capitalise on is another part of the drive for better efficiency and performance. We’ve not yet used the Trek version and instead stuck with the standard, centrally drilled mount. Shimano is claiming a 10 per cent improvement in the brake performance but I can’t say I agree.
When you work out the maths there may very well be 10 per cent improvement but in use I’d have placed it closer to 30 per cent. In fact, they’re so good that if you can offer this sort of performance day in, day out, we don’t need disc brakes. They are staggeringly good.
If there is one stand-out improvement to the groupset it’s the dry-weather brake performance – you have to re-educate your fingers not to pull too hard or you end up coming to a stuttering stop, find it’s too much, then have to let it off again and repeat.
Of course Shimano has added that 11th sprocket on the back and that’s what plenty of people will be getting excited about. The detail of that 11th gear really comes in making the room for it. The major manufacturers have realised that there is a little extra space in between the dropouts which will allow a slightly wider hub, so the new 11-speed hub measures 1mm wider – 131mm across – and everything slides across a tad to make room. So the chain is no thinner, and therefore no less robust, yet another sprocket has been added.
Attention to detail
In fact, the chain is a top performer, with some of the lowest friction on the market. You’ll notice that you no longer get a chain that’s coated with ‘grease’; with 9000 it’s most definitely an oil, as it spends the first few rides flinging off and covering your frame and rim, ?but it’s a worthwhile reduction in drag so you’ll just have to get over the extra cleaning.
Most striking of all are the changes that have been made to the cranks. Who can have failed to notice the four-arm spider connecting the chainrings to the crank arm? This is classic Japanese design. With the spider viewed as a clock face, maximum forces are exerted on it between two and four o’clock and between eight and 10 o’clock, so that’s where the arms are positioned.
Overall, for the 9000 version of Shimano's Dura-Ace gruppo, the details have been scrutinised like never before. It's quite something that it feels better made than the old 7900, which was already the class leader.