A top-end 12-speed group with one internal battery wired to the derailleurs, and wireless shifters that can also control a Garmin. Rim brakes are still available; mechanical shifting is not.
Quick, smooth shifting; strong, controlled braking; comfortable hoods; integrated power meter; integrated Garmin control; long battery life
Widening brake-pad width and adding Servo Wave improves brake performance, but doesn't completely eliminate unwanted noise after hard braking
Shimano’s latest and greatest top-end road group, Dura-Ace R9200, rolls out today, and we have all the details in the news story. In this review I’ll focus on what I love, and what bugs me. Ergonomics, braking, and shift speed have all improved. Overall reliability, at first blush after a couple of weeks of riding, appears to be at Shimano’s high standard. This is an all-around excellent execution of modern road design.
Levers — new shapes
I appreciate the new hood shape, which curves inwards at the tops and has a smooth transition to the bars. While still not as curvaceous as Campagnolo, the R9200 fits well in my hands without pressure points. Just like good-fitting shoes and a comfortable saddle, bar and hood ergonomics are important!
There is a greater tactile difference between the two buttons on each lever than previous Di2; the smaller button is raised and textured. The buttons are still not as dead simple as SRAM’s one-per-lever eTap, but unless you are wearing thick gloves shifting is hard to mess up.
One thing I absolutely love about Di2 is being able to control a Garmin Edge computer with the buttons on the tops of the hoods. Previously, this required being a separate D-Fly unit that plugged into the drivetrain. Now that functionality is built it. You can also set up the buttons to control Bluetooth lights on your bike, or, to shift the gears. For me, being able to safely swipe through Garmin pages while riding in a group is a positive.
Gears — this one goes to 12
I’ve ridden Di2 for years now and appreciate the dogged reliability of the shifting. Unless you crash and bend your derailleur hanger, you are simply never going to have to mess with it. There are no cables to stretch, or fray, or get gunked up.
The speed of the shifting was already good and faster than eTap, and now it’s better. Faster is better, right? There are five speed options, which you set through Shimano’s app. Why would you pick anything but the fastest? I don’t understand.
Having 12 cogs allows for a big range and small steps in between each gear, which is a “Goldilocks” situation. The smallest cassette, the 11-28, has single-cog steps between the 11- and the 19-tooth cog. This is what road cycling should feel like: fine adjustments up and down the range, still with a satisfying ‘thock‘ when shifting under power.
I am testing a bike with a 52/36 and an 11-30; for me, this configuration works well for both up and down the mountains of Colorado.
Having an integrated power meter is A Good Thing. It’s cool that the Ultegra group also has a stock, dual-sided option. I have not yet tested the new meter, but Shimano says it’s the same guts as the existing meter, which I have found to be reliable and consistent, tested regularly against other meters and high-end smart trainers.
Electronic interface — a mixed bag
Yes, this edition of Dura-Ace marks The End of Mechanical Shifting. Cross yourself and say a prayer for its passing. While I do appreciate the feel and interaction of a smoothly functioning mechanical system, I prefer Di2. And a mechanical system takes a little periodic maintenance and tuning to keep it functioning smoothly. With Di2, you just charge it. All that to say, I’m not too bothered about mechanical shifting going away.
Another thing I love about digital shifting, be it Shimano or SRAM, is the option for satellite shifters. Shifting from the tops or the drops without so much having to move a hand is sleek. Do you need this? Of course not. You don’t need a bicycle. We are talking about high-end exercise toys here. I liken electronic shifting in general and satellite shifters in particular to automatic windows on cars. I’m dating myself here, but if you could just press a button without moving your hand, why would you want to go back to doing anything else?
The bummer with the new Dura-Ace is that you have to pick between ‘tops’ or ‘drops’ shifters, as each lever only has one port for them to plug into. (Nerd alert: I have both types on the bike I use for Zwift.)
The elimination of the junction box is a good thing. The charging port with the tiny plastic cover was always fiddley at best, and the button used to check battery life or make adjustments was tiny.
Moving this functionality to the rear derailleur helps somewhat. The new, magnetic power cable is definitely an improvement, and the fact that the same cable charges the power meter is sensible. But we still have the small, single-button situation, only now on the back of the derailleur. This one button does four things, depending on the duration of the push: check battery, connect Bluetooth, adjust derailleurs, change shift mode. It’s a lot to ask of one tiny button. Or, perhaps, of my one tiny brain to remember the various durations required to deploy various functions, with only one light for guidance.
Here, Shimano suffers from its own reliability in a way. Much like with the battery situation — you so seldom have to charge it that eventually you forget — the rear derailleur will so seldom need to be touched that you might forget what exactly the button does.
In any event, it’s not as simple as eTap where every shift gives you an indication of battery life with a flash of a green or a red light.
The semi-wireless thing — the derailleurs are wired; the shifters are not — is neither here nor there for me. I appreciate a clean cockpit as much as the next rider, but brake hoses still need to be dealt with, and Di2 wires are pretty small. The new Dura-Ace can be set up as wired, too, for longer battery life.
Braking — a strong improvement
One of the biggest changes in the new group is to the braking, as the lever, the caliper, and the rotor. Shimano has employed its Servo Wave cam technology at the lever, which means the first half of the brake lever stroke moves the pads more quickly to come into contact with the rotor, while the latter half of the stroke makes smaller adjustments. On its own, this makes for smooth, powerful modulation. When paired with a widening of the brake-pad stance width this gives this rotors more wiggle room. Or, to be more precise, more room for expansion from braking heat.
We all love the power and security of disc braking, especially in the rain and/or in the mountains. But none of us love the noise that can result from said disc braking. Often after long periods of hard braking, the rotors will rub on the pads until the system cools down.
With this system, that post-hard-braking noise decreased markedly, but wasn’t eliminated. On most rides, the noise is gone. For the launch, Shimano road manager Nick Legan took a couple of us down Lee Hill, a long, steep stretch where it’s easy to hit 55mph in a few spots before needing to brake hard for the stop sign at the bottom. This hill gets many brakes squealing in the latter part of the decelerating, and then rubbing in the heated aftermath. With the new Dura-Ace, the brakes were quiet for the stopping part, and there was only a faint ‘ting, ting‘ for a couple of seconds after releasing the brakes.
All that to say: the brakes are better. Not perfect, but better.
Shimano also changed the piston from ceramic to resin. I had a ceramic piston crack and fail on me once, but I honestly can’t say I can feel a difference between the piston materials. The brake pads remain the same.
Verdict — Yep, it’s really good
Shimano’s new Dura-Ace R9200 is an excellent road group. The shifting is quick, precise, and virtually service free. The ergonomics are well laid out. The braking is powerful and easy to handle. And the battery life is so long you’ll probably forget to charge it. Which makes the integrated D-Fly even handier, as your Garmin can let you know when the Di2 battery is running low.