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.