EM – We tested Shimano’s new 12-speed Dura-Ace Road Group and it was worth the wait

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With semi-wireless drives and better braking performance, Shimano’s latest high-end road groupsets offer more functions than ever before.

Takeaway: After a year of delay, Shimano’s new Dura-Ace group impresses with 12 gears and semi- wireless switching. There is also a new Ultegra.

For the past several decades, Shimano has generally stuck to a tight and predictable release schedule for its road component groups. A new Dura-Ace group popped up every four years, then a year later Ultegra popped up and made us wonder why we thought it was a good idea to spend so much money on Dura-Ace.

It’s been five years since Dura-Ace R9100 & R9150 groups were released. We knew Shimano’s newest groupset was imminent. On the Baloise Belgium Tour in June we took a look on some Team DSM bikes. We knew it would be 12 gears. What we didn’t know was that we would be getting Ultegra at the same time.

Visually, the new groups are very similar to the outgoing versions. I’ve been driving the new Dura-Ace parts for several weeks now and very few people have seen them. A friend told me they wouldn’t have noticed if I hadn’t pointed it out.

When it comes to shifting performance, Shimano claims the new R9200 semi-wireless groupset shifts 58 percent faster in the rear and 45 percent faster in the front can perform. Both numbers are compared to the wired R9150 group. I’m not sure I could feel this difference in practice, especially considering how fast Dura-Ace has already shifted. But just like previous Di2 drivetrains, the new groupset transforms the driver’s input into error-free and precise gear changes (with the exception of setup problems, a crash, etc.). Shifting backwards is smooth, with individual shifts being completed before my finger manages to exit the button. The front drivetrain is still the best drivetrain you can buy.

The entire package is also remarkably quiet. The difference between the R9150 and R9200 becomes clear when you compare the groups back to back with bicycles mounted in a work stand. From the chain noise to the engine squeal, everything has been reduced. Part of this is thanks to the new 12-speed chain adopted from Shimano’s XTR mountain bike group. The Hyperglide technology that Shimano introduced to its 12-speed mountain bike drivetrain is hitting the road, and you can literally hear the difference by dampening drive noise and smoothing shifts, especially when pedaling hard.

The big news with the shift levers is that they don’t need to be plugged into anything to communicate with the front derailleurs. I say “don’t have to” on purpose because you can still operate the new controls fully wired if, for example, you don’t feel like replacing the button cell batteries that operate the gear levers. By the way, Shimano claims a term of 12 to 18 months. But for the battery paranoid, you can check the battery level on the gear shifters by pressing both paddle shifters at the same time. A cleverly integrated LED light shows the battery life of each gear lever by lighting up green, yellow or red.

Physically, the new gear levers are larger compared to the R9150 versions. The entire body is 4.6 mm longer, which creates more space between the brake lever and the handlebar. The hoods themselves are a little higher with a slight inward curvature.

For me, these ergonomic changes led to a pronounced sense of security, especially when you drive low over the handlebars to ride in a “flat” position. With the R9150, I often had the feeling that my hands would slide forward and over the hood when I pedaled hard. I also appreciate that there is more space between the lever and handlebar for extra grip and safety on rougher surfaces. While I prefer the texture of the R9150 hood compared to the less textured R9200 version, I think the shape will be a huge hit even with riders looking for improved handlebar grip.

The switch buttons are now a little higher and wider overall, so that they are easier to reach from both the hoods and the drops. Shimano has also increased the offset between the two switches, making them easier to distinguish when driving with full finger gloves. The third button on the hood of the R9150 has been carried over from the R9150, and just like this group, drivers can set up these buttons to control the sides of the head-unit screen, control Bluetooth lights, or just add an additional rear derailleur control points all over the Shimano E-Tube app.

Another potential benefit of the semi-wireless system – your mechanic will love you a little more. As everyone who has built the SRAM eTAP lever already knows, only the brake cables have to be relocated. With this system, there is no need to run E-Tube wires through bars, under handlebar tape, or hide superfluous wires without it looking like a rat’s nest. This small change simplifies the bike setup a bit and tidies up cockpits a lot.

The addition of wireless transmitters and individual batteries brings the weight of the shift lever set to 350g (a 30g gain over the R9100).

Time trial controls remain completely unchanged compared to the R9100 and must be operated fully wired with an adapter, since the R9200 uses a different cable. Satellite shift levers must be inserted into the main shift body. There are two connections on the switch bodies to suit riders who use both “sprint” and “climb” shift levers, or who want to operate the system fully wired with just one satellite shift lever.

By eliminating the D-FLY module and the junction box, both functions are now integrated into the R9250 rear derailleur. Essentially, it’s the command unit of the new powertrain. It communicates wirelessly with the gear levers on the front of the bike, has built-in Bluetooth for using the E-Tube app and is also the charging point for the entire system. The central battery that drives both rear derailleurs is still stowed in the seat post. The built-in function key and LED display on the back of the switch body replicate the functionality of the junction box. Unfortunately, this is a completely new battery system and therefore not backwards compatible with previous versions of Shimano Di2.

To actually move the chain over the gears, the rear derailleur still uses Shimano’s shadow geometry with a single pulley cage length, which now offers space for up to a 34T large gear. This will also help drivers with compatibility and maintenance across the board. You no longer have to wonder whether the cassette you have bought or replaced is compatible with your derailleur for off-road riding. As long as it has 12 gears and 34 or fewer teeth, you should be good.

With its black outer plate and the apparently largest and boldest Dura-Ace logo for such a small piece of hardware, the R9250 derailleur is probably the most visually striking redesign the group. It’s quite a bit smaller than its predecessor, with Shimano taking up a full third less frontal area than the R9150 unit. There are no limit screws on the new front derailleur; the entire setup process is now done electronically. The smaller proportions should also help with tire clearance as riders want to add wider rubber to all types of drop bar bikes.

The new rear derailleur now weighs 215g, exactly 18g more than the R9150 version it replaces. However, if you add the weight of a D-Fly unit (7g) and a junction box (11g), the net gain is zero grams The new smaller front derailleur slimmed to 96g (8g lighter than R9150).

While SRAM decided to go small with its X-Range transmission, Shimano is doubling its 11T cannons by replacing the long-running 53-39T chainring combination with a 54-40T chainring combination. With the increased focus on the efficiency of the drivetrain and the higher speeds in the professional Peoton, the switch makes sense for those who race or drive as they wish. In combination with the new 11-34T rear cassette, the 54-40T chainring combination offers more range in both directions for professionals. The only downside is that this chainring pairing is only offered in the Dura-Ace groupset.

For the rest of us, there are 52-36 and 50-34T chainring options. With the double-sided power meter option, a 52-36T crankset weighs a claimed 754 g.

In a step that will surely make bikefitters and some riders very happy, Shimano has added a 160 mm length option to the Dura-Ace and Ultegra groupsets. Both Dura-Ace and Ultegra will offer cranks in 160, 165, 170, 172.5 and 175mm. (Dura-Ace is also available in a length of 167.5 mm.) The 160 mm option is required by many women, juniors and triathletes to achieve an optimal bike fit or to reduce the overlap of the toes with the front wheel. This is the first time any of the three major component brands have offered this length on their premium road groups.

Visually, the new crank is more symmetrical than the FC-R9100, but the overall design is very similar. I’m not a huge fan of the changes, but I’ve said this in the past about every new Shimano crankset that dates back to the R7800 and each time the new design grows on me until I fall in love with its eerie geometric darkness. Both Dura-Ace and Ultegra will have 11-30T and 11-34T options for the cartridge. Dura-Ace will also get an 11-28T, but it won’t be available at launch. So if you want any of these, you have to wait an unknown amount of time. For the counters among you, Shimano has added a 16T gear to its 11-28 and 11-30 11-speed cassette options to make the new 12-speed cassettes. The 11-34 is the same old 11-30 but with a 34T gear on the end instead of the 16T in the middle. In terms of weight, the 16T adds 12g to the new 11-30T (223g total).

Most importantly, the new cassettes are compatible with both the new 12-speed micro-spline road freewheel (which is currently only available on Dura-Ace wheels) and existing 11-speed freewheel bodies ( which makes them an 11/12 speed freewheel body in my opinion). The thickness of the gears and the distance between them also remain the same. Shimano told me that there is always more space for the 12th gear in the existing freewheel design, especially since the larger cassette gears can protrude further in the direction of the spokes.

As already mentioned, the R9200 groupset will be the existing 12-speed Use XTR M9100 chain. I was happy to see Shimano avoid two 12-speed drives with incompatible chains, just like SRAM has Flattop and Eagle chains.

When I ride the new Dura-Ace groupset every day, the brakes have me the most impressed. Shimano brakes have always had great stopping power and lever feel, but lagged behind Campagnolo and SRAM in terms of modulation. To address this issue, Shimano applied its Servo Wave technology to the new levers.

Servo Wave essentially controls brake modulation, which is a fancy way of saying how gently the brakes apply force. When you pull the brake lever, the first part of the lever stroke moves more hydraulic fluid to avoid free stroke and to bite the pads a little faster. Deeper in the lever travel, as soon as the pads have touched the brake discs, the cam begins to move less fluidly, which allows you to modulate the brakes more precisely. The result is a disc brake with sensitive, finely tuned control AND excellent braking power.

The brake calipers themselves have been redesigned to reduce brake pad noise, improve serviceability and save weight. The new brake calipers are forged from one piece and weigh only 233 g, which saves 17 g compared to the previous version. Shimano has also increased the distance between the brake pads and the brake discs by 10 percent to eliminate noise issues with the brake discs rubbing against the brake pads, especially when exerting hard outside the saddle. A redesigned bleed port and valve screw improve serviceability and allow mechanics to bleed the brakes without removing the caliper from the frame. The new calipers will continue to use the same L04C and L03A brake pads.

The Centerlock rotors are another holdover from XTR. Pro teams have been spotted using these rotors for some time because they are 22g lighter and have a 66 percent reduction in heat distortion compared to R9100 rotors, says Shimano. The company took the lead from these teams and brought the rotors to Dura-Ace to shed a few critical grams while eliminating the need to make multiple versions of essentially the same component.

Shimano wheels have always been good, but not great. With them, Shimano has given priority to reliability over light weight. And when it comes to inner widths, they often lag behind. On the flip side, they have been widely recognized for their excellent cup-and-cone bearings, which allow for more finely tuned adjustments than cartridge setups that use simple preload. Shimano has redesigned its new wheels to solve all of these problems. Don’t worry, the cup-and-cone camps weren’t going anywhere!

Both Dura-Ace and Ultegra get three new wheel sets with a rim depth of 36 mm, 50 mm and 60 mm. All have hook rims and are tubeless compatible. Shimano doesn’t have a stance on hookless wheels, but does say that a hook-shaped design allows riders the greatest flexibility in choosing tires. Dura-Ace wheels weigh 1,338 g, 1,465 g and 1,609 g, respectively. The two flatter options are $ 2,100, while the 60mm version is $ 100 extra.

All Ultegra wheels are priced at $ 1,400, but each adds a bit of weight and comes in at 1,481g, 1,562g, and 1,642g. Shimano also confirmed that it will offer tubular versions of Dura-Ace wheels, but not weights or when they will be available. Expect availability to be limited to essentially WorldTour teams for a while.

All rims are now made of full carbon with an inner width of 21 mm (25 mm is the thinnest tire recommended by Shimano) and aerodynamic profiles to reduce air resistance and increase driving stability at the same time. Shimano claims that the new R9270-C50 (which, as the name suggests, is 50mm deep) is 5 watts faster than the shallower R9170-C40 while losing a significant 101g in weight. Shimano also claims improved stiffness front and rear for all wheels, with an additional focus on the stiffness of the front wheel to improve steering input, especially at high speeds like mass sprints.

There is one strange caveat, however. As mentioned earlier, 12-speed cassettes will fit existing 11-speed freewheel bodies, and a standard 11 (and now 12-speed) freewheel can be found on the Ultegra wheels. In an effort to make Dura-Ace wheels lighter, Shimano decided to switch the freehub body from titanium to aluminum; This resulted in an unacceptable level of cassette scarring when using the now ubiquitous Shimano freewheel spline. To address this issue, the company developed a new freewheel-to-cartridge interface that is not backward compatible with 11-speed cartridges. This means that the new Dura-Ace wheels are only compatible with R9200 and 8100 cassettes, while Ultegra wheels can be used with either 11- or 12-speed parts.

I got the chance to ride the C50 wheelset on a Pratt Frameworks test bike and it impressed me. The 50mm wheels weighed 1,465g, which is light, but I appreciated even more how quick and responsive they felt when pedaling hard. There was never a hint of sway or wind up on softer bikes. They were as fast downhill as uphill, with excellent steering feedback from the front wheel, which made me feel safe and secure. I usually ride flatter bikes and didn’t notice the extra depth even on particularly windy days.

My first conclusion after a few weeks of riding is that these are excellent wheels. But with a ton of good options out there that are under 2k, I’m not sure how many people will be tempted to spend the extra cash as the existing 11-speed wheels will work with the new drivetrain. But those who do will be treated to some excellent wheels that are on par with Zipp, ENVE, and others, with some of the best bearings in the business.

Yes, there will be a rim brake variant of the R9200. No, you probably won’t get it. Shimano North America says that a rim brake version has been mostly created for professional team partners (INEOS is one of the last WorldTour teams to use rim brakes on a regular basis) and informed us that there are no plans to assign parts for R9200 rim brakes in North America Selling .

For this drivetrain, Shimano made no changes to the existing R9100 levers and calipers other than modifying the gear lever internals to accommodate the 12th gear. You have updated the cosmetic styling but otherwise remain unchanged. The rim brake levers must also be operated fully wired as Shimano did not expect enough demand to warrant a complete overhaul of the levers to work wirelessly.

For wheels, Shimano has announced that there will be tubular rim brake wheels for Dura-Ace, which confirms that these parts exist more or less exclusively for the INEOS team.

By dispensing with rim brakes from these groups, Shimano is following consumer trends that clearly favor disc brakes on racing bikes. My colleague Matt Phillips wrote an excellent article on the very same subject.

With no wheels or power meter, a full Dura-Ace groupset costs $ 4,280, which is a lot less than Campy’s Super Record EPS at $ 5,039, but significantly more than SRAM’s Red AXS ($ 3,610). Nevertheless, Dura-Ace R9200 is (barely) the lightest of the three options at 2,507 grams. For comparison: Red AXS weighs 2,549 grams and EPS divides the two with 2,526 grams. The difference across all three groups is 42 grams or 1.7 percent. Interestingly, the R9200 even increases 22 grams compared to its predecessor with the additional equipment, two additional batteries and Bluetooth.

A full Ultegra R8100 groupset will cost you a slightly more reasonable $ 2,570. More importantly, it’s 272 grams lighter and $ 160 cheaper than Force AXS.

As with most other bicycle products currently, availability is likely to be patchy. According to Shimano, Dura-Ace parts will be available as early as October, and Ultegra will follow later in the fall. Specialized has confirmed that S-Works Aethos, Roubaix and Tarmac SL7 will be available with R9200 for $ 14,000. Expert frames with R8100 are priced at $ 7,700. With planned availability for all models from late December to early January.

Giant confirmed that a TCR Advanced SL disc will contain the new Dura-Ace parts, with new Ultegra builds coming along with three other TCR Advanced builds and a Defy Advanced Pro 1. These should be available “this fall”. after Giant.

Other brands either didn’t come back before we released for this piece or couldn’t provide their bikes with the new parts.

The new groups are obviously well thought out, and in our tests so far, the Dura-Ace group has been excellent. There are many practical and functional features in the new components. The biggest hurdle I currently see in upgrading riders is simply the availability of parts.

Every time Shimano releases a major update to its premium line of road or mountain bike components, you ask yourself, “Okay , what’s next?” The upgrades to the Dura-Ace and Ultegra are for the most part well thought out and well received by most riders. Many will complain about the lack of rope-operated derailleurs or that rim brakes are in fact pushed aside, but honestly, the writing for the demise of these components has been on the wall for several years.

The new Dura-Ace and Ultegra are pretty much pure street groups , but the addition of the 34T sprocket on the cassette and disc brakes with more pad play and better modulation is sure to grab the attention of riders who love to ride their drop bar bikes on gravel or gravel roads. With Ultegra changing to 12 gears, GRX Di2 remains in the strange limbo of being Shimano’s only 11-speed groupset with an electronic gearshift.

When SRAM launched Rival eTap AXS earlier this year, it was a big deal. Not only because it performs almost exceptionally well, but also because it’s significantly cheaper than SRAM’s Red or Force eTap groupsets, which is a significant barrier to entry for many riders who want to experience electronic shifting on their own bike lowers.

Shimano seems to have an ambitious launch cycle for their street groups. In addition to launching Ultegra side-by-side with Dura-Ace for the first time, industry sources have said they expect 105 to follow quickly, possibly as soon as next year, shortening typical launch cycles by a year or two. One person we spoke to claimed that the new 105, which was supposed to have lots of tech from Ultegra and Dura-Ace, could rival, and maybe even surpass, SRAM’s Rival AXS groupset.

Speaking of 12- Gear mountain bike components: The future of Di2 mountain bike drives has been in the air for several years. Technically, Shimano continues to offer Di2 options for its XTR and XT platforms, but these are fully wired and only available in 11-speed configurations. These groups are now seven years old, as we reported for the first time in May 2014.

But just like with racing bikes, electronic gearshifts have quickly established themselves in the mountain bike segment in recent seasons. Or at least for Shimano’s biggest competitor in mountain bike drives, SRAM. Will we see some of Shimano’s developments in semi-wireless shifting transition to studded tires? This is currently completely unknown.

For those who don’t know, a “flaw” drive is when a rider combines a drop bar lever with a mountain bike rear derailleur – business in front, party in the back. This is a common pairing of aftermarket components sometimes used by gravel riders, cyclocross racers, those with a single drivetrain, or people looking for a super wide range of gears. With 11-speed Dura-Ace and Ultegra Di2 shift levers, riders with an 11-speed Di2 XTR or XT rear derailleur can massively expand their range of gears and add a clutch shift to their bike. With no clutch-derailleur options available on the new 12-speed Dura-Ace or Ultegra offerings, and since the XTR and XT Di2 are not compatible with these new shifters, the only choice for 12-speed mullet setups remains SRAM AXS wireless drives.

In a way, the new parts leave us with more questions than answers. One thing is for sure, however, the new Dura-Ace is really good and it was worth the wait.

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