Shimano Dura-Ace 9000: A Closer Look

It’s amazing that within 24 hours of announcing the new 9000-series Dura-Ace just how many opinions have been lodged. I mean, nobody who isn’t on the Shimano payroll is riding this stuff. All we have so far are pictures and a few paragraphs noting changes to the group. So how is it the jury has sufficiently deliberated to render a verdict? Well, as it happens, you don’t have to ride a group to tell if it’s expensive. So let’s start with price. The new 9000 mechanical group will carry a suggested retail of $2699 while the 9070 Di2 group will go for a whopping $4139. You can get a pretty good bike for less than the mechanical group costs.

Does it strike you that judging a group on price alone is maybe unfair? There can be little doubt that it is. But I think Shimano didn’t really do itself any favors by releasing pricing before we got to know the group a little better.

But that’s not the only criticism Shimano has come in for already. Many people took one look at the new crank and uttered a collective “ew.” You can see noses wrinkling all over the world. I really loved the 7800 crank. The 7900, notsomuch. The 9000 crank, with its four-armed spider might not offend sensibilities so much if the design were symmetric, but that’s the hitch: it’s not, and symmetry has been a big part of crank design since … the discovery of aluminum.


There are two metrics riders always start with—price and weight. So how does 9000 stack up?

Shimano Dura-Ace 7900: 2070 grams, $2328
Campagnolo Super Record: 1950g, $2905
SRAM Red: 1850g, $2555

Dura-Ace 9000: 1978g, $2699

Dura-Ace 9000 represents a loss of almost 100g while adding a cog. That’s no small feat. However, it is still heavier than Red or Super Record. And at $2699, 9000 sits between Red and Super Record on price. The only clear winner in this sort of comparison is Red.

And what of the electronic options? Here’s how they stack up:

Shimano Dura-Ace 7970: 2350g, $3940
Campagnolo Record EPS:  2230g, $4600

Dura-Ace 9070: 2047g, $4139

The new 9070 is the clear weight leader in electronic shifting and given that Record is nearly $600 less than Super Record, it is also the least expensive option. I expect that Di2 bikes will be far more coveted than bikes built with mechanical; were availability equal, I would be willing to bet that Di2 would outsell mechanical four or five to one.

Let’s look at the features Shimano is using to sell the new group:

Better shifting: Shift action is said to be lighter and the shifter throw is said to be shorter. Shimano claims shift effort is cut by half.

Improved hood ergonomics: 7900 lever hoods were often criticized for being blocky and difficult to grip with sweaty hands because of their smooth finish. The lever bodies are smaller now and lever reach can be adjusted by a full centimeter without creating the ugly, slack-jawed look found with the 7900 levers.

Better braking: Shimano’s braking is a bit like Madonna’s style. You never know what it’s going to be from one group to the next. They say modulation will be improved while also offering more power. The new design is supposed to accommodate wider rims, but no word on what the widest tire is it can accommodate.

“Rider Tuned gearing”: Shimano loves a good turn of phrase. There’s not much news here; they will offer five different cassettes. More important, you’ll be able to build any chainring combination you’re looking for without having to worry about if the chainrings use the same bolt-circle diameter as your crank.

New cables: Part of how Shimano has cut shift effort is by using new cables that are coated with a polymer that cuts sliding resistance.

New chain: The new chain received PTFE plating that is supposed to increase chain life by 20 percent.

The real winner in these new groups appears to be the Di2 9070 group. It shaves 300g from the existing Di2 group while adding a cog, giving riders larger buttons that are said to be less prone to phantom shifts and even more options for the wiring harness, not to mention an internal, seatpost-mounted battery.

In my preview piece on 9000 we received a number of comments from readers who noted that they were still riding 7800 and were happy with it. (An aside—this is why joining the conversation is so meaningful.) Looking back at the differences between 7700, 7800 and 7900 might offer a clue to why 9000 isn’t being heralded as the arrival of the greatest group ever in the history of bikedom.

With 7800 cyclists were treated to a group that was unquestionably superior to 7700 in every manner possible. It was lighter. It was stiffer. The levers were more comfortable. It had an extra gear. Braking power and modulation was markedly improved. It also featured one of the first precursors to the new generation of bottom brackets with a large diameter, integrated spindle and external bearings. So stiff were the BB and crank that it changed how I evaluated frame stiffness. I remember getting on a bike at the press launch for the group and thinking, “Whoa, this is a whole new world. I wonder how Campy will respond.”

Shimano had been on a path of introducing a new Dura-Ace group about every six years; 7800 came out in 2003, and 2009 saw the introduction of 7900. Yet here we are, a mere three years later and Shimano is introducing 9000. I can’t help but wonder if this is what they were working toward all along and 7900 was just a place holder because 9000 just wasn’t ready. What’s my point? The difference between going from 7800 directly to 9000 and going from the somewhat lackluster 7900 to 9000 may be the reason why so many riders haven’t been that excited. Had Shimano introduced 9000 as the follow-up to 7800 people might be more excited.

For my part, I am excited. If 9000 really delivers on its promises, people will find plenty to like.

 

 

, , , , , ,

24 comments

  1. grolby

    That new crank sure is weird, but give it time. It’s already starting to grow on me a bit. The sheer ballsyness of the design is kind of awesome. Call it refuge in audacity. And finally abandoning the 130mm road standard bolt circle for the more versatile 110mm across the line is smart design and smart business. Even if that versatility only applies to Shimano’s proprietary chainrings.

    And as far as weight goes, I think Shimano is smart not to focus their resources on winning the lightness war. They have the resources to win it if they really wanted to, but that’s just not where their strength lies. They push boundaries in much more interesting directions, such as with Di2. I suppose that some of the freedom to not follow every trend in top-level group design (no carbon levers until 7900, and 9000 still comes with an aluminum crank) comes from being the OEM giant of the industry, but I can live with that. 9000 definitely looks interesting, I think tech is boring and yet I’m unreasonably excited about it.

  2. WV Cycling

    “…9000 still comes with an aluminum crank)”

    Shimano as a whole produces fantastic (cold forged) metal products, and polish them with great pride (literally and figuratively).

    http://cozybeehive.blogspot.com/2009/10/cold-forging-technology-at-shimano.html

    I remember spy shots of the carbon 7900 crank several years ago, and I still feel like their carbon pedals seem to be against the nature of the company, but are made due to outside cultural pressure.

  3. Souleur

    thanks for the review there Padraig, I think you have given one of the most candid, truthful and honest one in the blogosphere so far.

    I agree with grolby on the crank, give it time and its gonna catch on, i sort of like it personally, and the little ‘x’ thing stands out to me and it seems a crossover like crank from their mtn bike goodies

    The PTFE coating seems great, and welcomed, and ‘we will see’

    The brakes, chain, and derailleurs are good, and fine

    So, what about the downside? Is it price, not necessarily IMHO, it is more and thats about all we know
    Is it weight, for me, I would rather have precision and performance over 10grams wt loss
    So, i am not sure of the downside to it all, because we simply DO NOT know, like you lead out.

    Agreed on the 9070, that indeed is fairly revolutionary, and lets be straight up about it, if your looking for Di2, you don’t really care what it cost, your looking simply for the best, and this may be the best electronic grouppo yet

  4. 10 Speed Grouch

    Padraig – good write up. My 6 minute one is going to be considerably less well-written.

    Ok, let’s be honest, what we all care about are two things: (1) shifters/derailleurs, and (2) crank (cables? yawn. Gore?). I don’t even see hubs mentioned, probably because no one since 1995 has actually used a whole groupo, but I digress

    So every OEM maker is going to dump the crank to save money and replace it with some FSA or in-house carbon cranks. Then, cables? Replaced in 6 months, so whatever. Ergonomic hoods? Hudz? Those can be swapped out, though I’m always a fan of improved ergonomics. Chain/Cassette are entirely replaceable, and I bet the same OEMs will down-spec or go SRAM 11-speed (I give SRAM 11-speed a year tops to hit the market, though hopefully they’ll just stick with 10).

    So what we really have, are improved shifters, and an improved crank for the less budget-minded. Quite frankly I agree with Padraig that it was a total mistake to put out (shockingly high) price numbers with mediocre (relative to Campy and SRAM anyway) weight numbers without product-in-hand for reviews. All I gotta say is the shifting better be stellar or there’s going to be mass defection to Red.

  5. Cheap Grouch

    Anyone remember the Cannondale R5000 circa 2001-2004? Full Dura Ace, super-lightweight aluminum frame. Needed real race wheels, but that’s a given. $2,200 or so. What has happened to component prices? Everything tripled in 10 years. I though the introduction of more competition (SRAM) was supposed to bring prices down, not up.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Grolby: You have a point regarding the look of the crank. I’ve been wondering if that crank will grow on me. The 7900 crank never did, but the Oakley M-frames with heater lenses looked hideous to me the first time I saw Tomac wearing them. I year later and it was all I would wear. It can’t be said, though, that Shimano has gone to a 110 BCD. No matter what the diameter is, you won’t be able to use any chainrings currently on the market due to the asymmetric spider.

      As to the weight war, Shimano led for many years and to be bringing up the rear now doesn’t reflect well on the brand from a PR perspective.

      Souleur: Thanks for the kind words. I do think there’s a lot to like here, but the only way to know for sure is to ride it.

      Seth, 10 Speed Grouch: I really didn’t go into the wheels and hubs (they are offering hubs) because I just didn’t receive enough information on them to offer any insight; all I know so far is the freehub is 1.85mm wider. Don’t know if that freehub can be retrofit to other hubs, though if it can, presumably there will be a need to re-dish the wheel.

      I do care about the cables as they can have a marked effect on shifting performance, and I don’t tend to replace cables that are still shifting well; the last time I replaced cables less than a year old was on a mountain bike ridden almost exclusively in the mud.

      It’s true the crank will get dumped with some frequency, but they’ll have to use the Shimano cassette and chain in 2013 because almost no one will have time to tool up production in time to meet OEM ship dates. And I do care about the changes to the brakes; braking performance and Dura-Ace has been all over the place. With 7600 the brakes were great, but heavy as depleted uranium. The 7700 brakes were much lighter, but had all the power of a broken down Yugo. The 7800 brakes were nearly perfect. So why did they design the 7900 brake to modulate so poorly? It had lots of power, but had a strictly binary function: on or off.

      Cheap Grouch: Pricing on new groups has always been an occasion for shock. What we would do well to consider is that prices didn’t rise much through the ’70s and ’80s because there was so little innovation, but when a new group was introduced, it was frequently accompanied by an uncomfortable price increase. Smelling salts were distributed with the price sheet for C-Record when it came out. Okay, maybe not, but the experience was the same.

  6. Seb

    Well…
    Since they were at it…
    … and the cassettes are not going to be compatible with old wheels…
    Why didn’t they go to 12?
    ;)

  7. Cheap Grouch

    @Padraig, you may be right about the lack of innovation in the 70’s and 80’s (I’ll admit that the only thing I was riding back in the 70’s was a stroller). I guess my real point is that I look at Di2 and I think, “hey, that’s something I’d pay through the nose for.” Admittedly, I won’t, but that’s because I value my marriage. I’m excited about Ultegra Di2 though. Anyway, with 9000 I just don’t have the same reaction, but I definitely have the “OMG that’s expensive; I guess I’m going with Rival” reaction. But hey, I started racing pre-Armstrong when the fields were 1/3 the size and no one gave a crap about cycling, so I guess that’s what you pay for popularity.

  8. Souleur

    the wheels are not retro-fitted

    if your in on the 11spd…your all in, and the older stuff will be dust in the wind, and you will have to buy a wheelset for your grouppo

    you have to run 11 on the 11 only, you cannot run it on the 10, as you mentioned, it is redished and a different spacing in the freehub/body

  9. Derek

    Are those real weights or published weights. Does everyones weight include cables? These are questions we should all be asking, cables and housings are heavy. If you exclude them from the weight of the group, at no cost but to your conscience, you will have lightened the group on paper considerably. Try riding a piece of paper sometime. I know whose do and don’t, but you shouldn’t trust me either, find out for yourself.
    Furthermore, stop making comparisons of equipment that is so light already as to practically float away by weight, Just sayin’.

  10. Derek

    One overlooked advantage of the electronics and their improvements is the ability to customize. Got one hand? Move all shifting controls to that side and link both brake calipers to a single lever (thank you problem solvers for a clean and easy way to do that) Problem solved, sketchy reaching to the other side of the bar to shift situations avoided, correct gear all the time. Not that everyone can afford it now, but it will trickle down eventually.

  11. MCH

    Padraig – as always, you’re able to cut through the emotion and present a rational review. Thank you.

    Now, back to the emotion! I hate the crank and I hate Shimano’s yo gi go, japanimation, or whatever it’s styling theme is called. Hated it on the 7900 group, hate it now. I admit it, I’m shallow.

    That said, I will seriously consider the 9000 drivetrain (minus the crank) for one reason – an 18 tooth cog. When I switched to a 12-25 (as we all must do at some point), what I missed most was the 18 sitting snugly between the 17 and 19 on my 12-23. Since the switch, changes from the 17 to 19 (or vice versa) just felt odd. A 9000 12-25 would put the universe back into order – at least for me.

  12. Randall

    Padraig – Nice review. One “nit-pick” about your response to grolby, technically the spider is still symmetrical, however the axes of symmetry have been reduced from five to two.

    Also, is the lighter metal satin or polished in “real life?”

  13. Nathan

    I’m a campy guy. Having said that, in my dream world where I can afford anything, 9070 is much more exciting to me than Campy EPS. They both have 11s so that’s a draw. I have read on the fairwheelbike review that Shimano will let you program how many cogs dump when you hold down the button. This is a much better implementation than Campy’s hold down till your done method.

    The only thing Campy excels at is style, heritage, and possibly a slightly more comfortable shifter grip.

    And yes, the new Shimano crank is ugly as all getout, but I bet it performs fantastic in shift precision.

  14. Paul Feng

    “I mean, nobody who isn’t on the Shimano payroll is riding this stuff.” Perhaps not regularly, but some of your cycle-journalist colleagues have ridden 9000 and reported on it. I hope Shimano did not intentionally snub you – although 7900 did not come out on top in your comparative review, one hopes they would see the value of your honest assessments.

    I concur with the notion that the user comments on RKP are one of its real strengths. While saying this is somewhat self-serving, this is also a testament to the quality of content you provide that attracts a thoughtful, and generally rather civil, readership/commentariat.

    And for a purely techy note: I have only seen it reported at Road Bike Action that the current Ultegra Di2 will be reprogrammable to operate with 11-speed – so that one will need just a cassette and chain (and compatible wheel – hopefully the list of current Mavic wheels that will accept a Shimano 11-speed cassette includes some or most of their most popular models…)

  15. grolby

    Fair point on the crank not really being 110 BCD, Padraig, in the sense that there’s nothing remotely standard about it. What I meant, though, was that it seems smart at this point to start moving toward a single bolt circle, proprietary or not, for all road applications. Given Shimano’s obsession with stiff cranks, I’m sure they’ve resolved that particular issue to their satisfaction. And obviously, there are no favors done to users who don’t want to plunk down the cash for Shimano’s replacement rings.

    As for weight, sure they led for a while, but not for the last couple of generations at least. And I still think it’s smart to begin focusing their efforts on other aspects of development. I can see a reasonable argument where, sure it’s all well and good for Shimano not to lead on weight, but that over 200 grams off the market leader is too much. And I think that’s fair. A half pound is a heck of a lot to trail by in this segment.

    On price: am I wrong in thinking that the price for 9000 isn’t going up by very much? I thought the 7900 price was around $2600, but maybe I’m misremembering.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      MCH: Thanks much. I’m with you about those middle cogs. I love having an 18, but usually, due to my desire to run bigger cogs for long/steep climbs, the cog I end up missing most is the 16. My Campy 12-27 gives me the 16, while the 11-23 adds the 18. If my form comes around, I think an 11-speed 12-25 might be magic for the mountains.

      Randall: I suppose in absolute terms the crank design is symmetric, but my meaning about the crank being asymmetric was that you can’t mount the chainrings any way you might wish—correct or not. And from what I see in the photos, the shiny bits are polished, not satin.

      I need to insert here that I can’t help but think this crank design is a deliberate effort to prevent the rising usage of oval chainrings. After all, Shimano’s Biopace chainrings were laughed out of the industry. Who could blame them for some hurt feelings over it? (And yes, Virginia, even engineers have feelings.)

      Paul Feng: There’s been a single ride (to my knowledge) that happened in Europe. It is by no means anything extended. And I’ve got a good relationship with Shimano’s PR guy, so I’m not feeling snubbed; I’ll get my shot, and soon, I bet. Thanks for what you said about our comments section; what you just shared is worth far more in keeping the conversation constructive than our admonitions to those who step out of line. It means a lot to know that it matters to you. Regarding the reprogramming of Ui2, bear in mind that you’ll need to purchase a set of Shimano wheels, or wait until Mavic has 11-speed-compatible freehub bodies for their wheels, something I’m sure they are working on.

      Grolby: My point exactly. Winning the weight war is maybe not the best way to go, but being OTB is where Campy was in the late ’80s, and that helped Shimano eat their lunch. They’ve never recovered. To be that much heavier than the leader suggests they may have gotten a bit arrogant about their position in the market. And I can say that the new Red, which I’m riding, doesn’t cause me to miss Dura-Ace. At least, not yet. Finally, yes, it’s really not a crazy jump in price and if it is as much better than 7900 as it seems, it will be money well-spent.

  16. Peter Lin

    Being a techie person, the new groupo looks nice, but I’m also cheap. I hope in 2-4 years the prices come down significantly so a cheap person like me can afford it.

  17. jorgensen

    Visually I like this new group over the prior offerings. I am planning to buy a new mount this year and I am pleased that I have 3 new offerings to consider. Prior to the 9000, Shimano was off the radar.
    On the crank, there might be a good logical reason to shift the ring attachment points, consider the largest open arc is at the 12-6 arm orientation, the zone of the least torque.

  18. Darwin

    Great insights, better than anything else I have read. I’m done with Dura -Ace though. Ultegra from here on out as DA and the other top groups just cost too much for minimal gain.
    I have 7800 on my Moots and Ultegra on my brand new Giant. Di2 is nice but not nice enough for the premium.
    The new crank doesn’t bother me. Either the look or that it’s not carbon. But I still really dislike the blacked out look although 7900 was worse in this regard.
    Overall even though I have used Shimano for 30 years I would be taking a hard look at Red if I was in the market for a top of the line group.

  19. Mike Cash

    Nice but count me among those still riding 7800 and happy with it. Also count me among those who if I were getting/building a new bike would likely go Ultegra as its a better value (note that I use Ultegra cassettes and chains with my 7800).

  20. Jim Halpin

    Ok, So September (and October for that matter) have come and gone with out the group actually arriving in stores. Any idea when I might see a bike with the new DA 9000 in my local shop?


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Jim: I find out just when this stuff will hit the market in about two weeks at the media intro down in Irvine. I’ll begin riding it that day as well. I’m looking forward to it.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <strike> <strong>