We detail the all-new, 11-speed Dura-Ace 9000 mechanical and 9070 Di2 electronic groups


The lowdown: Yes, the new Dura-Ace is lighter, yes it has another cog, yes it’s more expensive, yes it’s more powerful, efficient, (insert other positive adjective here). But is it better than 7900? Yes.

While thousands of fans lined the streets around L.A. Live for the final stage of the Amgen Tour of California, eager to see some of the sport’s biggest names, a small group of tech reporters avoided the day’s proceedings altogether. Instead, we gathered at a golf course clubhouse in Los Angeles’ Griffith Park.

We didn’t sport polo shirts and we weren’t meeting for a tee time. We were there to see the future. Or Shimano Incorporated’s version of it.

Shimano has come a long way from its beginnings in the early 1920s. From its first product, a single-speed freewheel, Shimano will now offer road cassettes with an additional 10 cogs. That’s right, Shimano has confirmed it. Eleven-speed is on the way.

The 9000 mechanical series of Dura-Ace will be the first Shimano group to receive the extra cog, with availability starting in September 2012. The electronic 9070 Di2 will follow in December. But there’s a lot more than an extra cog when it comes to the new Dura-Ace. Shimano 9000 is a complete redesign.

Overview

There’s a lot of material to cover here, so let’s start with an overview. As stated above, both of the new Dura-Ace groups will be 11-speed and because of that, the groups will only be compatible with Shimano’s new wheels and some existing Mavic wheels (used without any spacers). So if you want the latest, it’s going to cost you.

How much? Well, the 9000 mechanical group will run $2,700. The 9070 Di2 group will lighten your wallet to the tune of $4,140.

There are a few other things that stick out. The crank now only has four spider arms. The wheels are now wide-rim affairs, the mechanical shifters are slimmer than ever. Weights have gone down as well, even with an extra cog. The mechanical group weighs in at 1,977 grams, while the Di2 version is only slightly heavier at 2,047 grams (including the internal battery and wiring). That’s a weight savings over 7900 of 77 grams for mechanical and 172 grams for Di2. Both of these weights include cables, something not all manufacturers quote when giving weights.

Cranks: one crank, period

The most obvious change to the group is the lack of a fifth arm on the crank spider. The look is a bit bizarre at first, but after hearing the engineering reason behind the four-arm design, I like the cranks more.

There are dead spots in every pedal stroke. That’s no surprise to anyone, but Shimano decided that there was no need to build a crank that was stiff during that period of the revolution. Shimano’s super stiff, hollow chainrings allowed the removal of the fifth spider arm without reducing pedaling efficiency. The new crank also drops 52 grams from the 7900 crank.

Interestingly, Shimano has also done away with standard and compact versions for the new crank. Only one crank is offered and it’s essentially a 110mm bcd (compact) with a 24mm spindle. Obviously you must use Shimano’s new rings because of the unique spacing of the four-arm, 110mm spider. But again, thanks to the extremely stiff chainrings, Shimano will offer the crank with 50-34, 52-36, 52-38, 53-39, 54-42, and 55-42 gearing options. There will be no need to buy another crank if you decide to tackle the Dolomites for your next vacation, or take on a super fast time trial amidst your normal time scaling mountainous roads. That said, Shimano rings aren’t cheap. So choose wisely!

Shifters: better ergonomics

The shapes of both the mechanical and electronic shifters have changed. They are now more similar to one another than ever before. The mechanical shifters are slimmed down and rounded, doing away with the previous generation’s fairly blocked shape.

The hood is now a dual compound with softer rubber where hands rest most often. The new 9000 shifters offer the same 10mm of reach adjustment as before, but getting to the adjuster bolt is much easier. Installing cables is also much easier, something mechanics will appreciate.

The lever throw, or stroke, is a third less for a given shift and begins more outboard and finishes with the lever closer to vertical than before. This means that the shift occurs where a rider’s hands are at their strongest.

Brakes: designed for wider rims

The new brakes are compatible with current Shimano offerings. So if you’re looking for a brake upgrade, you can bolt on the 9000 brakes with no problems. The newest Shimano stoppers are designed around 23mm rims and will handle widths up to 28mm with an aftermarket pad that is a bit thinner. Previous brakes were designed for 21mm rims.

Braking power and modulation are both improved and during a brief spin on the bike (riding aluminum rims), the braking felt incredible. The brakes are extremely powerful and the modulation is fantastic.

The brakes now have three pivots, two rotating on bearings and the third on a bushing. The anchor bolt is no longer a pivot and Shimano claims that making all the arms shorter decreases friction in the system.

Shimano will also offer a direct-mount brake for use on time trial and aero road bikes. There is also have a quick release that splices into the brake housing, handy for many aerodynamic bikes (or possibly for use on cyclocross bikes with cantilever brakes).

Cables: new coating

New cables for both shifting and braking also help the group. Priced comparably to current cables, the new offerings have a polymer coating to reduce friction by a claimed 10 percent. Shimano’s Wayne Stetina also pointed out that as the polymer is worn off it doesn’t gum up the housing, “unlike another popular high-end cable set on the market.”

Derailleurs: lighter action

New styling cues are used throughout the group. While the new rear derailleur has an updated look, the front derailleur is a departure for Shimano. Its most striking feature is the extended arm for the cable anchor bolt on the front derailleur. Thanks to it, the overall force required to shift is greatly decreased.

Shimano’s design goal with the new 9000 series was to recapture the light action of Shimano’s venerated (my favorite) 7800 group that was lost in the 7900 group. Shifting the new group while it’s in a workstand shows that Shimano has been successful. On the road, thanks to the smaller shifter body, excellent ergonomics and light action, the group delivers exceptionally fast shifting. Front shifting in particular is phenomenal. The amount of force required is reduced, especially at the end of the now-shortened lever throw.

Unfortunately there is no backwards compatibility with the 9000 group. The amount of cable pull for the rear shifting is somewhere between current Shimano road and current Shimano mountain derailleurs. So you can’t buy the new derailleurs and use your current shifters, nor can you buy only the new shifters.

Di2: plug and play options abound

The big news is that Dura-Ace receives the E-Tube wiring that we first saw on Ultegra. The smaller wires and smaller, waterproof junctions are easier to install and use smaller holes in the frame.

The front junction box is now plug and play with a charging port built into the junction. No more need to pull off your battery to charge it. This is an especially nice feature when used in combination with Shimano’s new internal battery. Shimano is working with many bike manufacturers to help integrate the new battery into production bikes. The battery will also be available aftermarket, built into PRO seatposts.

The new wiring kits, specifically the new F-junction box mounted underneath the stem, will make it possible to run multiple accessory shifters. So a Di2 rider no longer has to choose between sprint shifters or the “Roubaix button.” For a hilly time trial, riders can now run a drop bar with a clip-on aerobar, with shifting available in both positions.

In addition to the current shift button offerings, Shimano will also be producing a set of single-button time trial shifters. Professional teams came up with the idea of one button per extension, both controlling the rear derailleur similar to the sprint shifters. The new shifter is designated the ST-9071.

Di2 shifters also now have a programmable shift function. The rider can choose whether he wants to be able to dump multiple gears while continuously holding a button down. The rider can also program the delay, that is, how long it takes to hold the button before it begins to dump gears.

Lastly, the new wiring is also ANT+ compatible and Shimano will produce a computer (likely FlightDeck labeled) to show battery life and gear options.

Both derailleurs are smaller than before and each of the Di2 parts has lost weight. The shifters have taller shift buttons and they are more distinct than before, making it easier to shift with bulky gloves in winter. In a small change, the wire for the front derailleur now enters at the back of the derailleur to better hide wiring behind the seat tube.

Chain and Cassettes: cramming in 11

The new cogs are the same width as the 10-speed versions; they’re simply closer together. Chains, therefore, also retain the same width rollers. Only the outer plates of the chain are thinner. The outer plates are also now solid, instead of relieved like on Shimano’s current chains. Also gone is the need to orient the chain directionally.

Thanks to the retained cog and roller width and a new PTFE coating on the entire chain, durability should be similar to 10-speed versions. Cassette offerings include 11-23, 11-25, 11-28, 12-25 and 12-28.

Pedals: more fit options

Shimano will offer its popular Dura-Ace SPD-SL road pedals with a 4mm longer spindle. This will help many riders who currently use pedal spacers or a different pedal system. The axle will also be available as an aftermarket part, but the cost will be high when compared with buying a new set of pedals.

Shimano will also begin offering a third cleat option. The new, blue cleat features “front center pivot” float, rotating at the nose of the cleat instead of centering the float over the pedal body. The blue cleat has less float and doesn’t shift laterally like the current yellow cleat. The fixed red cleat will remain available. Shimano will also offer shims to help bike fitters accommodate leg length discrepancies.

Wheels: Shimano goes wide

Remember that you must use one of Shimano’s new wheels (or a Mavic wheel) to run the new 11-speed groups. The new wheels are, however, backwards compatible. You can run a 10-speed cassette on the newest offerings with use of a 2.85mm spacer. Thankfully, Shimano’s new wheels look fantastic.

Every rim is wider than before, in both the Blade and Accelerating Speed series. The “D2” rim profile is entirely different as well. Like most wheel manufacturers, Shimano tested its wheels in the wind tunnel and saw marked improvement with the new, wider shapes.

The Blade wheels are, as you would imagine, Shimano’s newest aero wheels. The C50 will come in both clincher and tubular versions while the C75 wheels are tubular-only. Both tubular versions will have a 24mm wide rim, with hidden nipples. The C50 clincher rim is a tad narrower with its 23mm aluminum braking surface.

The new Shimano rear wheels feature a 2:1 spoke ratio, with twice as many spokes on the driveside. Rear rims are offset and the non-driveside flanges are moved outboard by 7mm to help with wheel stiffness.

In the Accelerating Speed line, Shimano will offer the C35 and C24 in clincher and tubeless versions. Both receive an updated rim profile, which is wider and rounder in nature.

All use Shimano’s Dura-Ace hub internals and a new all-titanium freehub body.

Wheel details:
C24 tubeless: 1,454g (rim weight: 420g), $1,500
C24 clincher: 1,364g (rim weight: 383g), $1,400
C35 tubular: 1,362g (rim weight: 362g), $3,000
C35 clincher: 1,488 (rim weight: 439g), $2,200
C50 tubular: 1,449g, $3,200
C50 clincher: 1,672g, $2,400
C75 tubular: 1,545g, $3,500

Overall impressions

If you’ve read this far: bravo! After a brief ride, bombing up and down a shallow incline, the performance of the new 9000 matches Shimano’s claims. Braking is exceptional. Shifting is back to the lighter nature of 7800. The front shifting is simply divine. And while 11-speed is cool, it’s some of the smaller things that show that Shimano is listening to its customers. The wider pedals and new cleat options will help bike fitters in a big way.

The ergonomics of both the mechanical and electronic shifters are better and because reach adjust and installing cables is easier, life with the components will be a cinch. The devil really is in the details and Shimano seems to have focused on them. It’s easy to get caught up in the hype of another cog and wide wheels (though that needed to happen). Fortunately Shimano didn’t. A quick ride on the group only has us looking forward to longer rides on 9000.