Shoes have a new fastening system taking over. Dials, be they from Boa or imitators, are now gracing the pro-level shoe offerings from just about everybody. Specialized and Lake and Scott have been on this for years, but now they’ve been joined by Diadora, DMT, Gaerne, Louis Garneau, Northwave, Sidi, Vittoria and Pearl Izumi. Izumi was, amazingly, one of the first to bring the Boa dial system to market, dropped it, and is now back.
Shimano, owner of Pearl Izumi, is sticking to the two straps and buckle system. The ranks of holdouts include Fizik, Giro, and Mavic. Strikingly, all claim high technology to be their calling card. Giro, for one, is still standing firm with their retro-cool lace-up Empire shoes.
Orange is the New Black
Last year, fluo green was the hot color. This year, it’s orange. Mostly fluo orange, but not entirely. Poc totally rocked the orange; the color is tied to their brand identity. But there was plenty of orange to go around, particularly for shoes and helmets. Shoes, preferably in shiny, perforated microfiber, are going orange at Giro, Northwave, Lake, and others. In helmets, Giro is joining the orange crew that Lazer and Rudy Project already started.
Wide Rims are the New Black
At first, it was a trickle. Now it’s a flood. Starting with Hed’s C2 and moving to Zipp and far beyond. Wide rims are just about everywhere. Easton has the Fantom rim, on their EC90 Aero 55 clincher and tubular. The new EC90 is really wide, 28mm, and, a more blunt nose, and the clincher is tubeless compatible. Easton has also redesigned their EA90 SLX into a wider, tubeless-compatible aluminum rim. And the new Easton wheels sport new hubs, the Echo, which relies on standard straight-pull spokes. Ritchey is debuting a wide, shallow-section aluminum clincher, the Zeta II and is tubeless-compatible. The roll on Phantom hubs, which look flangeless but have internal flanges so that the wheels are built with J-bend spokes.
For the people who long for wide rims to build into their favorite hubs, American Classic is now selling a wide, shallow, tubeless compatible rim. The AC RD 2218. Being American Classic, the rim is light, 375g, and currently available in 24 and 28 drilling.
Classic Bars are the New Black
Classic-bend drop handlebars are coming back. The long loopy drops of old are being updated with short reach and shallow bends. Zipp and Ritchey have newly-designed classic bends, taking a similar route to Shimano’s classic bend bars. On the other hand, FSA’s, and 3T’s, and Deda’s longstanding classic drops are plying the older, longer and lower bends. Also of note is that cable grooves seem to be disappearing from aluminum bars. A Ritchey rep told us it was what the pro’s requested because it adds more to grip on the tops. A Zipp rep told us it allowed them to make the bars lighter and stiffer.
Massive Data Integration is the New Black
SRM came to the show with their new PowerControl 8 head unit, set to be released in 2014. A slick touch screen that has sensors rather than relying on warm fingertips is just the beginning. The unit is also working with GPS where you can tune the accuracy by selecting the number of satellites, or turn it off to increase battery life. And they’re adding the metrics popularized by Allen/Coggan—normalized power, IF and TSS. And more. It will work with all ANT+ power meters and connect to both Bluetooth and WiFi. It will be waterproof, and even have a small speaker.
Wahoo Fitness is also expanding its offerings. Their smartphone-based software company is going in a zillion directions—using your smartphone to record and push data to social media, to training programs, and integrating it with a trainer. At the Wahoo booth, they had a Wahoo-based trainer, the Kickr, hooked up to a software partner, Kinomap, where you can watch a geolocated video (quick, get a Virb) that has the elevation data interpreted to resistance and sent to a trainer so you can ride what you’re watching—and even try to keep up or exceed the pace that the person filming it did. You can also use the trainer to ride or race Strava segments.
Topeak is also working the Bluetooth/smartphone angle with their PanoBike App and system, which also includes handlebar- and stem-mounted cases, Bluetooth transmitters, and an app that not only serves as the computer, but a diary and can work with a bike computer.
Bluetooth-transmitting heart rate, speed, cadence sensors, is also a path PowerTap is starting to follow. They’ll have the same, including a PowerTap hub that transmits a Bluetooth signal. This way your smartphone and other Bluetooth-enabled devices, like laptops and tablets, can pick up the signals. CycleOps (part of the same company as PowerTap, but spun into its own division) is also debuting Virtual Training software. Theirs combines both indoors and outdoors, with a heavy social media component and even video. For the indoor, you need one of their PowerBeam or Indoor Cycle units or Wahoo’s Kickr hooked up to a smartphone, tablet, or computer, and logged into their Virtual Training site.
CycleOps’ system combines a training dairy with your trainer and social media. Ride routes you’ve done, ride routes others have done and shared, race people on created routes, compete with others on time, mileage, whatever metric you want. And if the one site isn’t enough, your data can easily be shared with social media sites and other training software.
Taking integration in another diretion is BikeSpike. It’s a GPS transmitter that currently is housed in a water bottle cage. The transmitter turns on and sends out signals telling its location. Mate it with your smartphone and it’s a bike computer, it sends the ride BikeSpike’s social media platform, an anti-theft device, and a crash-alert system. If you like keeping tabs on loved one’s riding, you can set a perimeter, and get alerts when the device goes beyond. The device can also tell how the bike is oriented to the ground, and that can work into their platform to a visual that shows how the bike is leaning.
Road Tubeless Tires are not the New Black
Despite the rapidly-increasing number of road tubeless rims on offer, the same cannot be written of road tubeless tires. The choices for tires are not expanding, nor did it seem that the companies selling road tubeless tires are dramatically expanding their offerings.
Road Rotor Disc Brakes are not the New Black
Here, too, there is lots of talk, but little action. Shimano was touting theirs, but it was hard to find a road racing bike equipped with them, other than a Colnago that Shimano was carting around. SRAM seemed a bit more measured, coming with a fleet of Specializeds, but focusing on their Hydro-R, hydraulic rim brakes, rather than their Hydro-D, hydraulic disc brakes. Most of the road bikes that were equipped with discs were of the “gravel grinder” variety, save the BMC GF01, which is kind of a racing version of a gravel grinder, carbon-fiber but with a beefy fork and massive chain stays.
I can say with some certainty that my favorite product introduced at this year’s Interbike show that I actually got to ride, as opposed to just staring at, was the new Shimano road hydraulic disc brakes. It’s become popular for people attending the show to say, “You know, I didn’t see anything that wowed me.” That’s been the cool kid thing to say ever since Americans decided that Eurobike was the cool show. I think it’s damned cynical.
This brake system wowed me. I don’t see any point in lying. Two years ago I was arguing against disc brakes on road bikes as causing more problems than they solve. The thing is, I’m not an engineer, especially not a motivated one, but I understand the thrill of problem solving, and that’s mostly what engineering is.
For those of you who have been pulling on jerseys since they were wool, you’ll recall that Colnago was once the place to look for all the most forward-thinking ideas, even if some of them were crazier than Hunter Thompson at Burning Man. It was nice to see the storied Italian brand embrace disc brake tabs and internal routing for the hydraulic brake lines, though I could hear people crying foul to see Shimano parts on the Italian legend. That didn’t bother me, but what did make me chuckle was seeing such forward-looking technology on a bike that was glued together.
The brake set is non-series, which is to say that they are neither Dura-Ace nor Ultegra. That gives product managers the opportunity to use this brake with either group without it looking wholly out of place.
The brakes can be used with either a 140mm or 160mm rotor. The Colnago I rode was equipped with 140mm rotors. There’s been a concern within the industry about using 140mm rotors and heat buildup. You’ll notice that the rotors above feature two different colors. The outer ring of material, the portion of the rotor the pads actually grab is, of course, steel, but that inner ring is aluminum which, by virtue of the fact that aluminum isn’t very dense, allows for speedy heat dissipation.
The brakes themselves also feature fins to help them function as heat sinks. Shimano went to a number of far-flung locations for product testing, including the Stelvio Pass (at this point it seems like you can’t claim to have tested a brake system until you’ve been to the Stelvio), so when they say that heat buildup won’t be a problem with a 140mm rotor, we’ve got some reason to take them at their word.
This detail of the rotor shows the pairing of steel and aluminum to increase heat dissipation.
The lever has a couple of advantages over SRAM’s lever. First, of course, are the improved ergonomics. Shimano went with the Di2 electronic shifting so they could gain valuable space in the lever for the hydraulic master cylinder, which is why the lever looks big but not tumescent. The lever also allows for reach adjustment as well as throw or free-stroke, which is how far the lever travels before the pads engage. These are two important adjustments that help keep the system feeling as much like a traditional rim brake system as possible. Because Shimano has made hydraulic systems for a variety of applications, from cross country to downhill, they were able to select components to increase modulation without compromising power.
My experience in limited riding on the system was impressive. With a 140mm rotor, power was on a par with rim brake systems. Modulation was terrific and felt more easily controlled than with some brakes I’ve used.
I’ve been vocal in my opposition to disc brakes. I haven’t seen the need. The maintenance is more complicated, the system is heavier, the aerodynamics compromised and the increased demand in frame strength changes the flex in the frame. I still think all those issues are, well, still issues. However, one criticism that can’t be leveled at the brakes is that they don’t work. They absolutely do and it may be that with some experience riders using them will find greater control thanks to them.
Cyclops showed a new trainer interface that allows you to ride over videoed courses. You’ll have to put together the big-ass monitor set-up yourself. but it dials up wattage on the hills and changes the speed of the video relative to your speed. Tacx has a similar unit, but this one appears easier to operate. Maybe we’ll get a chance to find out.
Saris was showing off a new hitch-mount rack that comes in two and four-bike configurations.
It, like the Thule, comes with locks integrated into the rack. I wouldn’t leave bikes on the rack overnight in Fresno, but it should do an adequate job of keeping honest people honest.
Shimano showed off the new 11-speed Ultegra group. My sense from my limited chance to play with the group is that this is the closes that Ultegra has ever been in performance to Dura-Ace. The difference in the two levers is fairly negligible.
The crank uses the same asymmetric bolt pattern found in Dura-Ace. It’s a look I still haven’t fallen in love with.
The longer parallelogram of the front derailleur and the lines of the rear derailleur only reinforce the the impression that this is a heavier version of Dura-Ace.
For anyone who had a difficult time justifying the extra expense of Dura-Ace previously will find it much harder to do now.
Shimano also introduced a new apparel line. It’s not meant to go after the upper end of the market and compete with Assos and Rapha. Rather, it’s meant to be another affordable alternative for shops.
In addition to a line of clothes for the road, they also showed apparel for mountain biking as well.
Shimano showed some new hydration packs. This one intrigued me because of its relatively small size. It’s ideal for rides in the two to three-hour range.
Most hard-shell helmets, such as the ones worn in skateboarding, are known for being long on durability, but short on protection. Bell has undertaken a novel approach to using EPS foam in a hard-ish shell helmet.
The shell is flexible and populated with multiple sections of EPS , making it able to take a variety of abuses.
I imagine the helmets made with this new approach will give parents at least two or three different kinds of peace of mind.
The Belkin team wore this aero road helmet at the Tour de France (the hot new term for them is “sprint helmet”). Bell was showing it but indicated that this helmet won’t be put into production. They were showing it off as an indication of things to come.
Blackburn undertook a pretty radical reexamination of the brand’s identity and priorities this past year. The upshot is a reinvigorated focus on bags and racks. Among the new products was a locking rack so that when you lock up your bike, you can rest assured that the bags will stay put.
This new rack is stronger than a skunk’s odor and more adaptable than a character actor. I confess that I failed to take any pictures of the bags. My excuse if Friday afternoon lameness. The Blackburn line impressed me enough to make me fantasize about everything from grocery shopping to loaded touring.
In addition to showing off the new 810 computer, Garmin was showing off this new GPS-enabled video camera. It would be an ideal way to record video for the Cyclops trainer interface above.
Do you remember that Coyote and Road Runner cartoon where Wile E. Coyote purchases the Acme rocket sled only to shoot up into the stars upon ignition and explode, thus turning into a constellation of an archer? Well that’s what it feels like to climb out of the car in the dusty gravel parking lot at Bootleg Canyon. No matter how well you have planned, there is always a sense (for me at least) of, “Ohmigod, where do I start?”
This year after grabbing my credentials and saying a few hellos, I headed to Shimano’s air conditioned tent (bless their blue souls) for the introduction of their new line of mountain bike shoes. The new shoe brings Shimano’s Custom-Fit technology to the off-road world. While I haven’t molded them yet, I installed a set of cleats and decided to walk around in them a bit and ride in them to see how stable they felt when walking on gravel and if they felt good while on the bike. They were surprisingly comfortable both on the bike and off. Expect a review of these.
I’ve long liked Easton wheels for the quality of their builds. Every set of wheels from them I’ve ever ridden stayed remarkably true. However, a couple of them did have issues with bearings, and while the more recent wheels I’ve ridden have been trouble-free, I know that others have not been as fortunate. For 2014, Easton has completely redesigned their hubs to eliminate bearing preload problems and solve the problem with bearings wearing out prematurely.
The entire freehub body has been redesigned and among the new features is a headset bearing that allows the pawls to engage after only seven degrees of rotation. The old carbon wheels have been eliminated in favor of one new wheel which they are reporting is the fastest wheel on the market. You can see the wheels on the Calfee below. They say their wind tunnel testing shows they are faster than the Zipp Firecrest 404s, and the Enve 6.7s.
Easton is running a promotion, about which you can get details on our Facebook page, that will give you a chance to win a dream bike. Among the bikes are this Calfee Manta Pro, plus bikes from Rock Lobster, Black Cat and others.
The Calfee features rear suspension. I’m told it has 12mm of travel, which may not be the 120mm of some mountain bikes, was still enough to soften the bumps in the road. This seems to be a very new design and while it certain did what it purported, there was some twisting in the wishbone when I was out of the saddle that caused the rear brake to rub.
It’s been a while since I’ve gotten to look at a Calfee up close and they continue to be beautiful bikes that are exceedingly well crafted. The touch of the internally routed brake cable was something I’ve not seen before.
When I see Craig Calfee at the show later this week, I’ll be asking him just how this suspension works. It’s unusual looking, but it was effective.
In my many years on this planet I never enjoyed the opportunity to ride a Rock Lobster until today. I’ve got a host of friends who are big fans of Paul Sadoff’s work; some of them own multiple Rock Lobsters. This was one of the other dream bikes that’s a part of the Easton contest.
This road bike was built from Easton Scandium tubing. It’s been perhaps as many as 10 years since I last rode a Scandium frame and I’d forgotten just how good they feel. For a moment out on the road, I though the bike was steel. At least, I did until I looked again at the weld bead. This was a surprisingly light bike and felt smooth in a way I just don’t associate with aluminum.
Says it all.
I got pretty excited about the BMC TMR01 at last year’s show when it was unveiled. I finally had the chance to ride one today. It was a very fast ride. No one confuses Mavic carbon Cosmics with the fastest wheels around, but they are definitely faster than a box rim. I’d put it in the same class of aero bikes with the Cervelo S5 and Litespeed C1R and ahead of the Specialized Venge.
With the front brake shrouded and the rear brake tucked up under the bottom bracket, this bike has a distinct advantage over some bikes aerodynamically.
My initial impression was that this bike isn’t so stiff to rattle your brain and offers better sensitivity to the road surface than most aero road bikes. I’ve requested one of these for an in-depth review. Honestly, I think it’s the most interesting bike BMC makes, and they make many interesting bikes.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
Okay, now that the collective gasp everyone made in reading that title has passed, I’ll confirm for you that this is a review of eyewear that you may not even have known existed. Members of the Argos-Shimano and Française des Jeux teams have been wearing pieces of Shimano eyewear for a couples of seasons (though most of the bigger names at FDJ, like Jeremy Roy, wear Oakley) as have Niels Albert and Radomir Simunek Jr., but of the many things that Shimano makes, their eyewear has gotten less promotion than a woman in Congress.
Okay, so I’m going to be honest here. There are a great many accessories produced by big companies that aren’t necessarily up to par. Trek’s water bottles can’t compare to those made by Specialized, for instance. Cycling is full of similar examples. Last month I went to the media intro for Dura-Ace 9000, and while there I tried out a pair of the Equinox just to be polite. I really didn’t think they’d be anything that I’d wear more than a week, just to make sure they were unremarkable.
Sometimes, my hunches are just plain wrong and this is one of those times. I’ve never been wrongerer about an item that wasn’t core to a company’s product line.
Look, these are just glasses. They won’t make you faster, they won’t bring peace to the Middle East and they are unlikely to make the opposite sex bat their eyes at you, but what they will do is provide you with eye protection suited to anything from midnight to noon. That’s why I’m writing.
The Shimano Equinox Eyewear kit comes with three sets of lenses. There’s a pair of clear lenses included, plus a pair of mirrored lenses with a gradient, gray tint; their materials list a fourth, yellow, set of lenses, but mine didn’t include those. The lenses included in the glasses have a slight brown tint that is very color-accurate, but what makes them remarkable is that they are photochromic, covering the broadest range of any photochromic eyewear I’ve ever worn, from Cat. 1 to Cat. 3. I timed the transition from lightest tint to darkest at under 20 seconds, though the reverse seemed to take a few seconds longer.
I never used the clear or mirror lenses. Not once. I had no need. I wore these glasses during sunny, cloudless days and in pre-dawn darkness that required lights on my bike. Never in my life has one pair of glasses been so versatile.
Naturally, styling will be a big question on peoples’ minds. I think these look sufficiently PRO not to be an embarrassment, and I’m sorry, but I don’t care how effective a piece of eyewear is—if it looks like something I’d buy off a rack at the Flying J truck stop, I’m not wearing them for all the diesel in Bakersfield.
I could go on about all the technology Shimano uses in their polycarbonite lenses, how remarkably clear they are, the scratch-resistant coating, the prescription lens clip that’s available, the nice travel box and larger-than-Oakley’s cotton protection bag, or how I was able to fit them into helmets from both Specialized (the Prevail) and Giro (the Aeon)—though not Bell—but the only other detail that really impressed me was this: They retail for $119.99.
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.
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.
I got off a plane yesterday afternoon and was greeted in my first minutes back at home by a press release from Shimano announcing their new 9000-series Dura-Ace groups. Groups—plural—because the release detailed both the new mechanical and electronic versions of the group. We’re not in the habit of reprinting press releases here, but this is an exciting development if for no other reason than I really haven’t much liked 7900. In my cursory reading of the press materials I noted some changes that suggest I couldn’t have been the only rider out there who didn’t see the group as a step up from its predecessors.
That said, I will need another day or so to put together a full post on the changes that seem to address the previous group’s weaknesses. In the meantime, here are some images from Shimano for you to pore over.
Earlier this week I received an invitation to attend the North American launch of the new Campagnolo EPS system. I doubt Campagnolo has introduced anything that has ever been as eagerly awaited as this group. And with good reason; we’ve known that the heralded component maker has been working on this for ages. The’ve had more than adequate time to build interest.
Now let me say that I first heard about Campagnolo working on electronic shifting back in 2002. By that time, apparently, the prototyping on this group was old news. What I found out during the presentation was that they’ve been working on electronic shifting since the days of the first 8-speed Ergo levers. How was that not more widely known? I’m sure some Campyfiles must have known, but I hadn’t heard a word about it in the ’90s.
So why did it take so incredibly long to bring the group to market? Campagnolo was limited by the electronics technology available at the time. They literally (and I do mean literally) had to wait for the technology to be developed that would allow them to implement a design that was small enough, light enough, robust enough and smart enough to get the job done.
Before I dive too deep, a note on the nomenclature: EPS stands for Electronic Power Shift. Nice and straightforward.
I had the chance to look at it up close and to ride a bike with it on a trainer. My overwhelming reaction to it is one of sophistication. Shimano’s Di2 has not been without its criticisms. The group is heavier than mechanical Dura-Ace and reports circulated the riders using the group at the cobbled classics experienced bump-induced shifting. EPS feels like shifting; there’s actual lever movement and in that I believe Campagnolo got the single most important element of electronic shifting right. You feel like you’re using bike components. Further, the Super Record and Record EPS groups are lighter than Di2. Record weighs in at 2098 grams Super Record tips the scale a bit less at only 1875g.
The touch is light and the speed of the shifts is noticeable, but it’s not blink-your-eye quick. And if you’re anything like me and completely in love with the shape of the current Ergo lever, you’ll appreciate that this is exactly the same as the mechanical levers, though the texture of the hoods is a bit different.
Battery life is impressive. Last year the Movistar team used the groups and we were told they charged the group’s power units only three times through the whole of the season. The case itself is pretty impressive. It’s ultrasonically welded shut to keep the elements out and the electronics are cushioned from road vibration to increase their life span and reduce the chance that impacts will damage a component.
One interesting detail we learned about the group is that while you can downshift three cogs at a time and upshift five cogs at a time with mechanical groups, you can cycle all 11 cogs in either direction with EPS. Cooler still, we were told it takes only 1.5 seconds to shift through all 11 cogs.
When Campagnolo North America’s Tom Kattus invoked the name Syncro during the presentation, I admit I nearly fell out of my chair. For those who don’t recall, Campagnolo’s first effort at indexed shifting required a slight overshift before the lever settled into position. To say it was wonky would be diplomatic. That idea has been revisited with EPS—the front derailleur does an overshift automatically on upshifts. The idea is that if you combine a 40 percent increase in torque with a slight overshift you’ll get perfect shifting every shift, but you’ll also get a speedier shift, too. It makes sense when you think about it. Move the chain over just that much more and it will catch that much sooner.
The EPS Interface mounts easily on the stem, making adjustment easier to do on the fly (should you actually need to make an adjustment while riding) as well as making it easier for you to monitor battery charge from the saddle. It’s unlikely that battery charge will be a big concern when you’re out on rides, but should you start a long ride with a relatively low battery level, you will know where you stand thanks to the LED light on the left of the unit. It features five levels (bright green, blinking green, yellow, red and blinking red with a buzzer) that correspond to relative battery level.
I’ve been critical in the past of how much carbon fiber Campagnolo uses in its groups. My feeling has been that in some cases while the carbon fiber makes the component lighter, it also makes it unnecessarily fragile. The derailleurs have been my two big criticisms. That said, I’m fascinated with the way carbon fiber has been used in the bodies of these derailleurs and I don’t suppose they’ve gotten any more fragile than they were. I look forward to learning more about their manufacturing. What I really can’t wait for is a chance to ride this stuff.