Shimano Dura-Ace 9000: A First Look

On Friday, I attended an event at Shimano for the introduction of the new Dura-Ace 9000 group. My colleagues and I received an overview of the newest mechanical group from the Osaka behemoth, as well as a look at Shimano’s revised wheels, plus an overview of their new saddles and eyewear. Honestly, I can’t recall the last time I went to a media event held by a single company in which so many new products debuted. It was a bit overwhelming.

Shimano’s Dura-Ace group has been pretty thoroughly overhauled. While the addition of an 11th cog is the most obvious change, the story goes much deeper and the lasting impact of this group won’t be a single cassette cog. Here’s a brief inventory of some of the changes we were walked through: new pivot geometry for the derailleurs to decrease shift force, wider rims for better handling and aerodynamics, new brakes for improved brake force and modulation, a new cleat to offer better engagement while still offering limited float, a 110mm bolt-circle diameter for the crank so that riders can choose from many chainring combinations, vastly improved ergonomics for the control levers, and, yes, that aforementioned 11th cog.

I’m going to need some time to ride this new group before I do a full review, but thinking back on my introductions to the 7700 (9-speed) and 7800 groups, I have to say that 9000 is the group we all expected when 7900 was introduced. Not only is it the sort of quantum improvement over 7900 that 7800 was over 7700, it is also a pretty firm rebuke of 7900, in that so many features of that group lost ground to its predecessor. It’s such an improvement over its predecessors and such a competitive step back into the game that it prevents me from being anything other than agnostic about component groups. Let me clarify that last comment a bit: With 7900, it was easy to reject it as a sub-par group, opening the door for anyone to pick either Campagnolo or SRAM as their preferred components. This new group is so good, the only reasonable response to its introduction is to give it a test ride.

If I were forced to pick a single feature of the new group as emblematic of the whole, I’d have to point to the front derailleur and how the change in parallelogram geometry (plus the use of new cables) has changed the force required to execute the shift from small ring to big. The touch is so light I shift far more frequently that I have been with either 7900 or Campagnolo.

One detail we learned from one of the Shimano tech was that achieving 9000’s improved front shift action depends on cable actuation, that is, the point from which the cable pulls makes a difference in shift performance. As a result, the front derailleur is designed with two possible anchor points for the cable depending on the angle of the cable. The handy-dandy guide shown above helps techs determine just which anchor point to use. We are told that on many bikes either anchor point will work fine, but on those bikes with internal cable routing, on some occasions the cable exits the frame at an odd angle and under those circumstances which anchor point is used will determine how effective the shifting is.

In response to requests from fitters, The 9000-series pedal will offer an optional 4mm-wider pedal spindle to help riders whose feet feature exaggerated pronation. And the new blue cleat allows for +/- 1-degree of heel swing while moving the pivot point to the front of the cleat for a more positive, less sloppy sense of engagement and float.

We took a break in our presentation to attend a groundbreaking ceremony. Shimano is in the process of building three new facilities. There’s a new distribution facility being built in South Carolina, another facility being built in Colorado for Pearl Izumi (which Shimano also owns) and then the new building in Irvine, which will help with distribution and more.

In an unusual and forward-thinking move, Shimano had editors from a few different media outlets submit a frame set ahead of the introduction for Shimano’s techs to build with a new group. I reached out to my friends at Seven Cycles to see if they might be able to help. We’ve been discussing a review of the 622 frame for most of this year; I’ve been slow to get them my measurements for a custom frame. Fortunately for me, they had this particular 622 built for stock for Ride Studio Café, the studio/café operation Seven owns in Lexington, Mass.

It’s conceivable that a custom frame will fit me better than this, but I’m so accustomed to making stock stuff work, I have no complaints with this so far.

The new Dura-Ace crank is unlikely to stop looking freaky any time soon. It reminds me of the early Oakley M-series Heater lens. When I first saw it in the early 1990s, it looked distinctly insect-like. But then it grew on me. I suspect there will come a point when I love this look, but I still don’t see how I’m going to make the transition. The front derailleur looks strange with the arm for the cable anchor sticking up like a mechanical antenna, but that’s part of how the easy shift actuation occurs. A word to the wise, though: Trim that cable short!

Everything you ever thought you knew about precise, quick and quiet rear shifting is incomplete if you aren’t including this derailleur in your calculations. That it shifts as smoothly in the big cogs as it does in the small ones is just another instance of how good Shimano’s engineering can be.

I was not a fan of the 7900 brakes. In my experience, while they offered terrific power, they featured terrible modulation. They were just too grabby. I was a much bigger fan of the 7800 stoppers. The new 9000 units show incredible stopping power while still offering a broad modulation range.

Following lunch and a quick change into Lycra, we dialed in our bikes and then met for a shortish ride.

My Seven Cycles 622 was the subject of a great many ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’, but I need to be honest and say that I experienced some serious lust for the Alchemy that Peloton Tech Editor Ben Edwards was riding.

Our loop took us into Laguna Beach and up some rather steep pitches; one bump measured a whopping 31.5 percent in grade. My bike was equipped with a 34×28 low gear and it was nice to have gears low enough for everything I encountered, especially as I’m still not going super-hard since my crash.

I’ve got about 200 miles on this bike over four days. While I think most media outlets went pretty easy on Dura-Ace 7900, I can assure you that as you encounter reviews of this group and they all positively glow with the sort of effusive praise we reserve for Robert DeNiro thrillers, you won’t need to second-guess. This stuff is that good.

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  1. paul

    love the look of that crankset. glad to hear reports of improved shifting and ergonomics over the last generation, but …

    do we really need 11 speeds? going to 11 is really just a marketing gimmick. it breaks compatibility with 8/9/10 speed hubs (one of shimano’s great ideas), and requires narrower hub flanges which weakens wheels (as long as 130mm spacing remains the standard).

    and why can’t shimano adopt a modern BB standard? bb30 in particular has proven itself to make bikes lighter and stiffer. there are more and more bikes with press fit BB’s that will require an adapter to run shimano cranks. bummer.

    those two pitfalls will keep me riding sram.

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  3. grolby

    To each their own – personally, I have no technical objections to 11-speed (the difference in wheel dish is pretty negligible and with modern components shouldn’t have any significance for durability), but I hold BB30 in some distaste. So I like Shimano’s priorities. Incidentally, I’ve heard that SRAM will be going to 11-speed with Red, probably around the 2014 product year. This is from someone who knows, but it doesn’t take a wizard to know SRAM has to go there soon.

    Anyway, Padraig, I look forward to your full review. One issue I await more information on is the free play in the small lever before it initiates a shift. The massive amount of “dead” lever travel is one of my strongest complaints about the old DA (actually about Ultegra 6700, but this is an issue across both groups), especially since, as I actually race on this stuff, it actually is a performance concern. It may sound silly, but whether or not Shimano has reduced that travel to something reasonable could be a major factor in whether I replace my Ultegra group with Shimano (9000 or the presumptive 6800 to follow) or SRAM in the next year or two.

  4. Tom FitzGibbon

    Patrick – sounds great, but with C-24s and C-35s that are a year old (plus countless other wheels), how can I justify a new group if I have to throw away all my old wheels? That seems like too steep a price at the moment. Unless someone wants to give me the electric DA….

    1. Author

      Tom: I don’t yet know what it will take to try to retrofit wheels with the new freehub body. I know that will be possible with some manufacturers, and while I’m going to assume it will be possible with Shimano, I can’t say that for sure. It’s a piece of information I don’t yet have.

      Any time a new component group is introduced there are always some riders who can’t justify the investment in the new tech due to their sizable investment in their older stuff. I think Shimano deserves credit for having held on to a single freehub design for roughly 15 years. We knew it was going to have to change at some point.

  5. LesB

    I was talking to a salesman at Bike Effect, asking when electronic shifters might become available for triple rings. He told me that this may not happen, as the industry in general is leaning toward compact sets over triples.

    For me that is bad news, since with a compact I lose 2 1/2 of the lowest gears that I get with a triple. There are times I need those gears, doing dd grades after many miles of climbing. It seems to me that the triple, with its compromised shifting ability, would be a prime candidate for electronic shifting. And with the boomer generation coming along right behind me, the demand for triples might be increasing in the future.

    Have you heard anything about the industry and triples recently?

    1. Author

      LesB: Next time I talk to the folks at Campy, I’ll ask if there’s any chance they’ll do an EPS triple, but I have my doubts. I’ve been told by folks at Shimano there is zero interest in a Di3 (triple). That they are offering a 34×28 low gear is pretty good. That’ll take me anywhere I want to go. While Shimano’s STI for triples never shifted that great, it wasn’t terrible. I always preferred Campy’s front shifting due to the infinite trim. Trying to offer electronic shifting for a triple though, given all the trim positions needed would be no small task. It seems exceedingly unlikely given the combination of development cost and market size.

      A Stray Velo: I’m not sure I’ll ever get the full poop on why 7900 happened. It is the only Dura-Ace group that was ever released that wasn’t a quantum leap forward. Shimano has always come in for some knocks here and there, but I think it’s pretty premature to be knocking this group—especially by those who haven’t actually ridden it. My experience so far is that it is stellar and an improvement over both 7800 and 7900 in nearly every respect. You may have wanted a shifter that is prettier than it is, but that’s not entirely fair. Look at the shifter for what it is: It’s prettier than the last two and better ergonomically.

      Sophrosune: That means a lot coming from such a sharp-eyed reader. Thanks.

      Thrash: There will be a seatpost battery for Di2 users. Oh, and because the Di2 levers will be hollow, that group will be lighter than mechanical.

      The Other Adam: It’s worth noting that in years past (I haven’t asked this question lately) Campagnolo sold more Record than Chorus. There was a time when they sold all the Record they could lay their hands on while Italy wanted them to move more Chorus.

  6. A Stray Velo

    It is nice to see that Shimano has made a lot of improvements to their top tier group but I still feel like these are all things that should have been done in the 7900 group.

    The FR and RD are nice. The brakes look like a lot of work to clean and appear to be more complicated than they need to be. The finish on the shifters is once again disappointing. Why doesn’t Shimano ever consider how the rubber hood meets the bartape an important aspect of their design? Plus there are still metal bits hanging out the bottom of the shifter. I was hoping for more refinement in the finish of the shifters.

    I don’t think it’s worth what they are asking for it to be honest. I bet most will be waiting for 8000 series ultegra or 7000 series 105 in a few years. Shimano used to say that their top end groups were out sold by their second tier groups 6:1, I wonder if in recent years that ratio has changed.

  7. Sophrosune

    Padraig, You provide the most worthwhile reviews of cycling equipment out there…period. Just sayin’. Hope you keep this up forever. Thanks.

  8. thrash

    Any better looking, more functional bracket for the Di grupo? I have have had to charge twice and it seems cheesy(looking too) and not well planned to have to remove the bottle cage, fuss with spacers and alignment every time you need to charge up. Yeah P, I am whining a bit.

  9. the other Adam

    A Stray Velo: I can assure you that your 6:1 ratio for Shimano that you state applies to SRAM and Campagnolo as well. Same with high end frames and the same manufacturers entry level frames. And just about every product in any other industry – so it’s a bit of a moot point here. We should instead evaluate DA 9000 for what it is, an expensive but high end tecnology which generates trickle down technology we all benefit from.

    I’ve really appreciated this review and am eager to learn more. Thanks Padraig.

  10. Robert Borchert

    Wow, how fast time has gone by! I remember when they broke ground for the Shimano facility at the Irvine Spectrum. El Toro MCAS was in full operations, with F-18s flying over the site all day.

    There are quite a few nice roads down there, glad you had some time to ride with the new gear.

    In the quest for things and even finer gear ratios, I think that the real quantum leap took place years ago, when 6/7 speeds climbed to (8)/9/10. The more I think of it, changing the rear width (hey, remember 126mm?) as used in the 6/7 era was the “leap”. My only reservation with this new 11 speed incarnation is that irksome arrangement with the wider cluster.

  11. A Stray Velo

    @the other Adam: Maybe I’m being nostalgic but it just seems like there was a time when the top tier groups where attainable. If I had to ask myself if I thought the “advancements” in the new group were worth the upgrade, I’d have a hard time convincing myself that they are.

    Then again my tastes in what I want in a groupset could be changing as well. I’d hoped for a bit more asthetics-wise, especially in the shifters.

  12. Bily

    I’ve found myself wondering why Shimano didn’t start selling a PRO-branded Di2 battery seatpost years ago. They’d have sold thousands of them by now and could have put the seatpost back into the gruppo for both electric and mechanical groups. Then it would follow that those with a PRO seatpost would look to get matching bars and stems. How much money got left on the table there?

  13. Anthony F

    Lots of people using lower gearing with their 10 speed 7970 and 6770 groups. Wayne at Shimano might have a 32 on his tandem. K Edge, Fairwheel, and some other shops have been playing with DI2 on mountain bikes.

    When Shimano trickles 11 speed down to lower groups, they’ll make bigger cassettes available. Turn the B tension screw in and use a cassette with a couple teeth bigger low gear. Shimano is conservative when they list the max rear sprocket for their derailleurs. You can go lower = no need for a triple.

  14. Scott G.

    DA9 is the swan song for mechanical groups, in a couple years the best mechanical group will be Sora. DA9 is a instant museum piece, the highest
    development of mechanical shifting, a ti/carbon buggy whip for the ages.

  15. Hautacam

    Lovely and thoughtful writeup.

    Interesting-looking grouppo. No doubt it works really, really well — for the money, it should.

    Wish I cared. No, really, I wish I do. Not sure when my tech lust died, but it sure did. I used to love this stuff but now, well, I just don’t. Maybe it’s because all the money in the world won’t buy me more time to ride or a quantum increase in enjoyment when I do. Maybe it’s because all the cutting-edge tech stuff costs more to maintain when it comes time for replacement bits or to fix mishaps. Maybe it’s because I’m pretty sure tech isn’t going to make me fast, cool, or PRO (assuming that PRO involves more than fast and cool, which I believe it does). Maybe it’s because I haven’t had an industry discount for almost 20 years.

    At this point my tech upgrade is limited to installing gently used 10 spd Campy ergo brifters (RIP Sheldon!) to replace my worn-out 7-speed downtube shifters on my 90’s-era steel frame and fork. They’ll play nicely with the 8-speed cassette out back. And even with a new set of Campy cables and housing I am pretty sure they cost a lot less than that DA rear mech alone. For $135 with tax I expect to get many, many happy miles and hours of riding of out my old steed. And I won’t bat an eye when someone goes by with a $10K full carbon custom frame rigged with the new DA. I’ll just smile and give them the same chin-lift as everyone else, happy to see another fellow rider out on the road.

  16. tinytim

    Nice piece Hautacam. But to clarify, PRO is shiny legs and shoe covers,having HPV and being casually deliberate while ripping the cranks off the bike. Really though, maybe RKP could do a PRO write-up now that RadioFreddy has abandoned his post and left us forever lost.

  17. xlimestonecowboyx

    I was lucky enough to ride the new 9000 group on a 4-hour ride in October. It’s nothing short of amazing. The front shifting is the best I’ve ever experienced, and blows anything else out of the water. My supersix EVO is kitted with old Red; I’ve ridden the new Red, and checked out Di2. This group blows away any of that. I am happy with the brakes, given that I didn’t notice them… While the standout of 9000 is the front shifting (definitely not as much dead space as 7900), the rear shifting is quiet and near telepathic. The hoods feel good, and they have just enough robotic, all-business, Shimano aesthetic that we either don’t notice or dislike(A Stray Velo). I can’t say there’s passion for riding inherent in this group – if you want passion, it’s Campag…

    I do believe that the functionality of this group relegates the new Red group to the spot in cycling reserved for German weight weenie components – marginally functional (front shifting, while still precise, still feels plasticky)with questionable quality (still lacking in durability). A new rear shifter fell apart hours into its first rides… I know you’re a fan, Padraig, but the only thing that SRAM has going in my book is a “reasonable” price and lightweight.

    When it’s time for a new ride, I will most definitely go Dura Ace 9000. In the meantime, maybe a new group will do…

    Can’t wait to hear what you have to say after a prolonged ride, Padraig.

  18. M Hottie

    In your follow up or if you know now, could you detail some cross compatibility for us. Especially interested to know if 7900 shifters will work with 9000 brakes. Based on what you already reported, the brakes would be the one part of the 9000 group I might buy first while shimano figures out how to retrofit 10 spd hubs to 11 spd. (I currently own 3 wheelsets all with shimano hubs). I do know that most DT Swiss hubs can be upgraded to Shimano 11.

    Also, any word if Shimano will do an upgrade group like they did when the rolled out 7900 and DI2? I mean I imagine 7900 brakes, Cranks and BB should work with the new group.

  19. Rick Van Winkle

    Yaaaawwwwn… What? Last thing I heard, Dura Ace AX was the future of bike parts, with the ultra efficient Dyna Drive pedals, ultra aero Parapull brakes and ultra cool aero seatpost? I remember it also had those star-shaped slip-proof headset nuts and SIX (yes, as in 6) speeds! Oh, and the zig zag movement when the rear derailleur moved backwards as it changed gears… also, the diagonal movement of the front derailleur… like a miracle!

    The only thing I am not too sure about is the Velcro toestraps… I don’t see a future for those.

    But now you say that Shimano has released a new groundbreaking group? Ha! So, what is in it? One centimeter chain links, or something? Ha!

  20. Mark S

    When is the new Di2 version going to be released for purchase, will it be in 2013? I can’t wait for your review of that groupo.


  21. The_D

    There is frankly so much great bike gear out now that it makes my lack of fitness embarrassing. It’s just too hard to roll out the traditional excuses of weather, mechanical trouble, or lack of gearing for terrain.

    Thanks a lot for exposing my sloth, cycling industry. I’ll remember this at Christmastime. No, really. I will.

  22. Johnny Hall

    I’m interested in why Shimano is having trouble delivering 9000 and 9070 in quantity. I see 9000 trickling into a few shops, but no 9070. And Trek (Shimano’s biggest customer) is waiting on a large delivery of 9000 – my Project One Madone with 9000, originally ordered in August, due for delivery in October has been delayed until February because Shimano haven’t delivered. Apparently, it’s a specific item which is causing problems, though I don’t know what it is, and that info is second hand.

    It seems odd that a company of the size of Shimano is having delivery issues.

    1. Author

      Johnny Hall: Early production for groups—and I don’t care which manufacturer we’re talking about—is always modest. It’s not uncommon for there to be something that holds up early delivery on groups. From what I’ve learned, most component manufacturers go slow at first to make sure that everything is right and there are no QC issues, then they ramp up output. That said, I never heard any reports that suggested Shimano would have the group in sufficient quantities that it would be on assembled bikes in October.

  23. Johnny Hall

    No doubt. And yet Trek thought they could sell bikes with DA9000 (and 9070) and promise delivery for October. And Trek are blaming Shimano (at least they are to me).

    I’m interested in why Shimano choose to send limited quantities to shops to sell when they can’t meet (or haven’t met) their OEM commitments.

    It’s frustrating to have a bike frame sitting in a warehouse waiting for a groupset, when it could be sent to me without it and I could buy the groupset online and assemble it myself.

    Still, I understand the situation. And the bike wouldn’t be getting much time on the road anyway over the winter.

  24. LesB

    Johnny Hall: “It seems odd that a company of the size of Shimano is having delivery issues.”

    “delivery issues” may be code for >production issuesengineering issues<. Since this a spanking new hi-tech product line, these kind of issues would not be surprising.

    1. Author

      LesB: With 9000 actually in production, I dare say that they are beyond production or engineering issues. It’s a simple matter of making enough to meet demand.

      The larger reality is Shimano has a great many customers to please. They have trickled some out to a variety entities, and it’s possible that Trek got some but oversold what they knew they could get in the near-term. Pairing demand with supply on a brand-new, coveted product is less than an inexact science—it’s alchemy.

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