Shimano Dura-Ace 9000

casette

When I was in fifth grade, I got the flu the week of my birthday. I missed the party my class would have held for me and only strayed—woozily—from the couch to head to the kitchen for more orange juice. On my birthday, my mom headed out in the morning to do some shopping; little did I know she was shopping for me. She returned home and began presenting me with gifts to open. Perhaps she took the time to wrap them; that part of my memory washed away with the fever.

In addition to the very cool Solido Jagdpanzer toy tank she bought, she presented me a 45 (yeah, remember those?) of Paul McCartney’s song “Jet.”

That song single-handedly delivered me from my malaise. In its opening chords the song’s mood promised much, a triumphal chest-beating celebration. I had no idea who Susan B. Anthony was or the meaning of the term suffragette, but the energy of the song did not escape me. Within a day I was asking myself how I had survived 11 whole years without that song.

The very best things in life have the same quality to make you wonder just how you would manage in their absence. Refrigerators, toilet paper, the quick release, the best inventions have done more than just make life easier, they make us wonder how we’d get by without them.

Ladies and gentlemen, I submit Shimano’s Dura-Ace 9000, a group I do not wish to live without.

IMG_6118It’s important to view the front derailleur with the crank to get the proper perspective on just how freakishly big that parallelogram is.

Many of your are pausing in the middle of this sentence to go back and re-read my last statement for obvious reasons. I might as well have just switched not just political parties, but from bleeding-heart liberal to sovereign citizen. I am truly a hardened-in-die fan of Campagnolo. I still save my Campy boxes, much to my wife’s chagrin. And I’ve welcomed the incredible work that SRAM has done in re-thinking how road components can function, not to mention starting from scratch in design and manufacturing.

Backpedaling complete, 9000 is the group we have all wanted ever since we started riding. Srsly. It’s got more cogs than your Schwinn Varsity had gears. It’s as easy to shift as it is to flick the turn indicator on your car. Chain movement is as smooth and flawless as the action of a doorknob. There are as many cassette choices as there are flavors of bagel at a Jewish deli. Brake action is light as a page of a book and easier to modulate than the temper of a toddler.

I submit: What’s not to like?

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To be sure, this group isn’t new in the sense of heretofore nonexistent features; it’s a refinement of existing ideas, but sometimes that’s the space from which the best products emerge.

Unfortunately, the best way to frame the excellence of this group is by comparing it to its predecessor and competitors. If you rode the previous iteration of Dura-Ace (7900), think of all that you didn’t like about that group. Front derailleur shifts required a concerted effort accompanied by audible grunt. Rear shifts were easier, but still required a bit of forethought if you were going au bloc. Then there was the blocky shape to the levers. They weren’t difficult to grab, but their contours weren’t something you’d want to hold all day. Brake action might have been invented by Bill Gates in its binary, 0 or 1, on or off action. Modulation? What modulation?

The heart of any component group is its shifting. Get the shifting right and many people will overlook other flaws like flexing crank arms or chain rings, weak brakes or short-lived cassettes and chains. 9000 features the lightest shift action of any group I’ve used, including the new Red group and the precision of each shift exceeds that of Campagnolo’s Super Record group. There’s still some play in the lever before you begin up- or down-shifts, but because lever throw has been cut by 30 percent and the action is so light, it no longer bothers me. The 9000 group also sets a new standard for out-of-the-saddle shifts from small chainring to big. Honestly, the only other group that has performed nearly this well on that particular shift is the old 7800 group.

Also worth noting on the front shifting is the return of shifter trim and how it’s executed. The 7900 front shifter lacked trim and I never, ever got it set up perfectly for even one day; I really welcome trim. When downshifting from big ring to small, the shifter returns the front derailleur only part way; this offers two benefits. First is that the gears it makes immediately available without rub are the middle and high cogs of the cassette. It also prevents the chain from being dropped off the small ring without the aid of a chain catcher. I can attest to never having dropped the chain even once while riding this group.

IMG_6460

For those of you who, like me, adjusted the lever throw for non-NBA-player-like hands, you’ll welcome the new design to the lever face which eliminates that slack-jawed look caused by the adjuster screw. It also eliminates the dirt-intake the lever opening created. You’ll notice that the hoods are two different colors; the light gray is a softer durometer material giving you a better grip, especially if you ride with no gloves. Best of all, the ergonomics of the new hood and lever body top anything Shimano previously offered. I’ve often struggled to decide just which previous design was my favorite. The 9-speed Ultegra featured one of my favorite lever bodies, but the 9000 has a smaller hood circumference, making it easier to grip with gloves or without, even if your hands are July-in-New Orleans sweaty.

Shimano claims that with their new polymer-coated cables front shift action is now 43-percent easier and rear shifting action is 47-percent easier, practically half the force required to shift as the previous group. Is that absolutely accurate? I wonder, but only because I suspect that the last 7900 group I rode probably didn’t work even as well as they claim it should have. I possess this generous suspicion that the improvement in shift action is more like 100 percent. Whatever the numbers are, the upshot is how I find myself shifting far more often than I used to.

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Shimano is offering five cassette choices: 11-23, 11-25, 11-28, 12-25 and 12-28. That they have resisted the urge to offer nothing but cassettes that begin with an 11t cog had me doing a little happy dance in my garage (cue the Vince Guaraldi). The reality of the strength of the average cyclist is that an 50 x 11 gear is too big to effectively use. A 53 x 11? Yeah, and I play Peter Sagan in my dreams. There’s a comically contradictory effect to giving mortals like us a 50t chainring to create more usable gears while in the big ring, but then sticking an 11 on the end of the cassette. What the maker giveth, he taketh away.

Now, if they’d just offer a 12-23 for all that time spent on the flat lands.

When Oakley introduced the M-Frame and Heater lens in the early ’90s, I recoiled from them the way I do from slugs and flesh-eating bacteria. At some point I realized I couldn’t live without my own pair of slugs, I mean Heaters. I’m not sure what happened. I have this suspicion there will come a day when I have the same affinity for this crank set, but I delight in reporting that day has yet to arrive. I detest the look of those cranks, particularly the asymmetrical spider, which carries all the grace of a boxy pedal stroke.

Toothless hooker looks aside, Shimano deserves credit for offering the cranks in seven (7!) lengths—from 165 to 180mm in 2.5mm increments—and six ring configurations—50/34t, 52/36t, 52/38t, 53/39t, 54/42t and 55-42t. Whew.

It’s worth mentioning that the ginormous parallelogram of the front derailleur demands that the cable be trimmed manscape short, unless of course you want that cable end brushing your calf every time you shift into the big ring. So good is this group that all that’s left to complain about is the look of the crank and how much you trim the cables.

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At 1978 grams, this group is heavier than Super Record and Red. That ought to be the sort of third-place finish to make me rethink my interest in the group, but it’s not. The weights are so close that the group’s ease of use is not only enough for me to want this on every bike I own, it’s enough to make wonder why Shimano even bothers with a Di2 version. Yeah, the shifting is that good.

Years from now there will probably come a day of reckoning, a point at which I’ll realize just how much Shimano got wrong in this group. I eventually came to recognize how nearly every song on Band on the Run was just hacked up reggae, but I enjoyed 30 years of adoration for that album until I wised up.

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25 comments

  1. randomactsofcycling

    Wow. I have been riding a Cervelo R5 for 18 months and have been battling with Campy Cranks and bottom bracket (with the correct adapters) that will not stop creaking or coming loose. I am up for a new groupset and as I love this frame so much have been considering Shimano.
    Thanks for the vote of confidence.

  2. randomactsofcycling

    PS: I LOVE the cranks! I am a 10+ year Campy rider and wonder why can’t we all move into the 21st century when it comes to crank design?

  3. Grego

    None of us are “the average cyclist”. Some are one or two standard deviations larger than the norm, and some of those have power output to match. Part of that group also lives in places that are the opposite of flat. It is for those of us who match all that, that manufacturers make 53t rings and 11-28t cogs. We still have to get up the slope, for which the small ring and 28t are basically necessities; but then when it’s time to go down, watch the F out because it’s 53-11 time, so as to fly down that mountain! At that point, some of us could use 60-11 combos! :)

  4. Randall

    Ultegra 6700 rear derailleur was rated for 31 teeth, and since 50-34=16 and 28-12=16, that was actually out-of-spec. Do you know if they have increased the RD capacity to “officially” support this extra tooth, and therefore support any chainring/cassette combo?

    If not, then your lowest “official” ratio choices would be 38/28=1.357 or 34/25=1.36 (no difference). Getting to 34/28=1.21 without risking damage on the big-big would be… big!

    1. gaby

      In order to deal with sprocket ratios, I use 36/46 chainrings with a 12-25 cassette. This config is the best I think of.

  5. Peter lin

    Thanks for the in-depth review. All I need now is for god to gift one to me, since I’m too cheap to buy one. Hopefully in a few years the technology will trickle down to ultegra.

  6. Clem

    I’ve been lusting over this grouppo for months now. I can’t wait to have it myself. I wonder though, with the shift to 11spd, how will this fair for those of us racing? Will DA-9000 handle a 10 speed cassette, when the wheel truck pulls up behind you in a race and tosses you whatever they have?


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Grego: True enough. There’s no doubt that there are riders who live in hilly/mountainous places who can put the wide ratios of 53/39 with an 11-28 to use. My point isn’t that those gears shouldn’t be available, but that for the bell curve, they really can’t put those high gears to use.

      Randall: I can’t speak to Ultragra spec; I’m really not up on it currently.

      Clem: Well SRAM has just gone to 11-speed so that will help the transition. You can put a 10-speed cassette on the new freehub body with Shimano or SRAM. Neutral support will be iffy for the next year or so, until most everyone makes the switch. My experience of putting 8-speed wheels in 9-speed drivetrains (and 9 in 10) suggests you’ll be missing a few gears because the derailleur won’t line up. What absolutely won’t work is sticking an 11-speed wheel in the 10-speed drivetrain due to the wider chain used in the 11-speed group.

      Thirdwigg: Thanks. Almost 75 years later, I still think that’s one badass-looking piece of machinery, though it’s hard not to consider what it remains a symbol of.

  7. MCH

    I’ve been riding DA 9000 for about 6 weeks. I upgraded from 7800, having passed on 7900 all together. Based on my limited experience, I’d echo all of Padraig’s accolades. This group is very, very good. The 7800 shifting was excellent, the 9000 is much better – particularly in front.

    When 9000 was originally introduced, I really did not want to like the crank. My initial thoughts were that it was just plain ugly, and that it represented another Shimano effort to force me to buy outrageously expensive replacement chain rings. However, upon reflection, I don’t wear out modern chain rings so who cares about the replacement cost? More importantly, regardless of looks, the crank performs. It’s very, very stiff. The shifting is fantastic. And, unlike past Shimano cranks, this one isn’t a boat anchor – it’s actually very light.

    Do you really need 11 cogs? It may seem silly, but I really like the 18 that was added to the 12-25. I haven’t ridden a 23 or 25 cassette for years and I really missed the 18. It’s nice to have it back.

    So overall, I’m really pleased with 9000.

  8. AlMac

    It’s all (most) true.

    I’ve been on it for two months. Sometimes the front shifts are so smooth I thought it hadn’t shifted.

    And the front crank looks #%*! hot. It’s a great crank.

    Nobody notices an extra cog, but you can appreciate the tighter ratios on the cassette when running through the gears. Thanks also to the option to choose a cassette with tighter ratios (ie starting from 12 rather than 11).

    I also find myself shifting more due to the tighter ratios.

    So many options on crank and cassette. Fantastic investment from Shimano.

  9. TV_VT

    I’m still on DA 9 speed, so take comments for what they’re worth. I’ve got a few bikes, and two of them now have cassettes with skipping cogs. Time to purchase a few more Ultegra 9 speed cassettes for about $60. 11 cogs just mean two more cogs that will start skipping on me sooner or later.

    But this gruppo still is intriguing, no doubt about it.

    In regards to 11 tooth cog, I like it paired with the 28. It’s great in hilly country. The 50×11 definitely gets some use on fast group rides, slight downhills, and other times occasionally.

    Would be nice if they offered a hillclimbing cassette/RD a la the SRAM Wifli 11-32 setup, though.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      TV_VT: I’m a big advocate for replacing chains frequently so that cassettes wear as little as possible. That said, I’m aware that thinner cassette cogs will wear more quickly and so you’ll wear out cassettes with 11 teeth faster than you’ll wear out ones with 10 or nine. Still, I haven’t worn out a cassette in more than 10 years.

      Mustard: I decided to go with mountain bike pedals and shoes at the Outdoor Demo so I didn’t have to change from sneakers to cycling shoes with each bike demo. On paper it made sense, but yes, those pedals look way out of place.

  10. Mike

    Still running 7800 on 3 bikes (Force on a CX bike where I run 1×10 and like the extremely positive rear shifts). I’m actually considering 9000 if it’s as good as everyone claims… kudos to the Japanese giant. Not a huge fan of the cranks, but still nicer looking than the new Red cranks IMHO.

  11. Alan

    Agrees with Grego. In Colorado, we need the wide range. I hate spinning out in my 50-11 downhill while trying to gain time/speed. And I need the 34/28 to get up the 12% grades.

  12. LesB

    Padraig:
    “the wider chain used in the 11-speed group.”
    Really? Seems counter-intuitive to me. I’d think the 11 chain would be thinner. I guess the engineers did what they did to achieve the target results. Sometimes that can lead to unexpected results.

    One parameter you didn’t mention, which is very important to me, if not anyone else: Compared to the 7800, how much fiddling with the adjustments does it take to keep the 9000 shifting optimally. And does it match the Di2 in this regard?

    Speaking strictly for myself, fiddling with gear adjustments in the middle of a ride is a major PitA.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      Les B: That was an adjectival error. I did mean narrower. It is a narrower chain on the 11-speed. The context should help illustrate that.

      I didn’t set up the 9000 group on my review bike. I wish I had, but what I can say is that I made only one subsequent adjustment. If the cables are clean, shift adjustment is negligible for months at a time.


    1. Author
      Padraig

      TTT: You can replace your freehub body on your rear wheel with a new 11-speed-compatible freehub and then have the wheel re-dished (only a millimeter or so).

  13. LesB

    BMC bikes were being demoed at Bike Effect today and I took out an SLR01 (fun bike!) up to the Old Topanga summit and back. This bike was equipped with the DA-9000. My current bike has the 7800.

    I can say that the front shifter on the 9000 works better than the rear shifter on the 7800.

    The 9000 just shifts! Quick and solid. I could forget about the gears and ride.

  14. Hafizz

    hi guys.., hurmm… for me i prepare to use sram red than the shimano or campy..it’s lighter than 2 of them.. although sram red also have the BLACKBOX CERAMIC BEARING IN THE REAR DERAILLEUR…shimao are to heavy than campy but campy are to havy than sram RED..i know we’re all look at the technology..but for me, this THINGS are will provide years to years..
    WE’LL LOOK IN THE FUTURE!!!!!

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