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Shimano’s OTHER new Dura-Ace?

Shimano’s electric Dura-Ace is becoming more and more common in the ProTour peloton. Gerolsteiner rider Stefan Schumacher scored a podium placing on it at last year’s world championships. For three years now an electric prototype group has been raced in the spring classics and semi-classics. Last year it was also in cycling’s biggest show, the Tour de France.

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Spied in the peloton: a new lever shape, with under-tape cable routing

By Matt Pacocha

Un-plugged: Could these be the 2009 Shimano Dura-Ace shifters?

Un-plugged: Could these be the 2009 Shimano Dura-Ace shifters?

Photo: Graham Watson

Shimano’s electric Dura-Ace is becoming more and more common in the ProTour peloton. Gerolsteiner rider Stefan Schumacher scored a podium placing on it at last year’s world championships. For three years now an electric prototype group has been raced in the spring classics and semi-classics. Last year it was also in cycling’s biggest show, the Tour de France.

There’s no official word from Shimano about electric Dura-Ace (that’s not even an official name) but every time it shows up it looks more polished. The latest version ridden at the Tour of California and Tirreno-Adratico by Schumacher’s teammate Fabian Wegmann, among others, looks very production worthy. The question seems not to be if it will release an electronic group, but when.

The new e-Dura-Ace STI lever (or should we say ESTI?), and derailleur parts now appear to be forged and the rubber hoods are even textured, which can only indicate Shimano’s intent to
bring the group into production. The lever shape has less of a hook and more of a shelf, like Campagnolo and SRAM, while the brake lever, at least on the prototypes we touched at last year’s Tour, are fixed and do not pivot like a traditional STI lever.

But wait … what’s this?

More interestingly, it seems that a new set of prototype Shimano parts have cropped up in the ProTour; and those parts are different, still. VeloNews first noticed them in a Graham Watson photo from Paris-Nice. At first inspection of the photo they looked like another variation of the electric shifter, with the same flattened hoods and new shift and brake lever shape. On a closer inspection standard cables were noticed protruding from underneath the bar tape of Rabobank rider Michiel Elijzen’s bike. The levers are new and they are mechanical.

Shimano will not confirm if there is a redesign planned for its now four-year-old 10-speed Dura-Ace group. But if you hop around some of the techie Web forums, especially the European ones, it seems like 2009 will turn another page in the history of the Japanese company’s flagship road group.

The forums have labeled the components as part of a new 7900 Dura-Ace group and note the use of carbon and titanium as well as a plethora of other interesting specifications. Since we haven’t seen the new prototypes, the only thing we can say for sure about these parts are the shapes are new and so is the under-the-tape cable routing. Besides the shifters and rear derailleur, pictures of prototype brake calipers are also showing up.

Devin Walton, Shimano’s PR officer, offered a familiar company line about what can be seen in the pro teams’ hands.

“Obviously, you’re seeing stuff at races and that’s part of our normal test protocol; getting that stuff out there in the peloton and actually seeing how it does and evaluating it,” he explained. “It’s all prototype stuff. At this point there isn’t anything that would reflect what a final product would be. It’s all in the test phase.”

When asked how long he expected the new mechanical parts to be in the test phase, he simply said, “Until it’s ready.”

To have the parts ready for 2009, Shimano would shown them to OEM manufacturers at last week’s Taipei International Bike Show, behind closed doors.

“Nothing has been confirmed,” said Walton. “So anything that anybody has published is hearsay. We don’t have those numbers finalized so there are some things that may be hopeful and there are some things that people just don’t know.”

It’s all on the Web …

Shimano did take some action on the group.

The mail order company Competitive Cyclist posted details about a new Dura-Ace group, and called it 7900, in the ‘What’s New’ news section of its site.

But Shimano asked for the information to be removed and Competitive complied.

“We disseminated that information in the spirit of customer education,” said Brendon Quirk, the CEO of Competitive Cyclist.

The information Competitive posted about the new Dura-Ace group didn’t come from Shimano, but various sources from within the industry.

Renegade Reading

Where to look for the unofficial word on Shimano’s new Dura-Ace:

www.rouesartisanales.com
www.light-bikes.de
www.weightweenies.com
The Dirt-Boy blog

“We operate on the international playing field, so we’ve got a lot of friends out there,” said Quirk. “What we thought was a byproduct of a dialogue that we’ve had with colleagues within the industry, we didn’t know that we were speaking out of turn.”

Manufacturers need to get information out about what’s coming down the pike, so the OEs can buy it. But all it takes is for one sales rep or product manager to be a little too loose in the lips. Juicy information spreads like wildfire on the Internet, which makes it increasingly harder for the big manufacturers to keep their latest and greatest under wraps or contain a leak if one occurs.

“It’s a new era,” Quirk said. “I look at sites like rouesartisanales, for example. They had pictures of the Mavic Cosmic Carbones Ultimates two months before anybody else did last year; I look at sites like that. They, to me, are at the absolute cutting edge of this new type of media, which is this: geeked-out very narrow scope [reporting], but they have contacts and they have access to the new products.”

This situation is much like the one we reported on last year concerning leaked internal documents about SRAM Red information. You’ll remember that in the leaked document there were details about a titanium and carbon cassette, which ended up being false. In reality SRAM produced its ground breaking all steel PowerDome cassette.

“As we become more determined to provide our customers with product education, we straddle a fine line — a new line — between what a retailer does and what a media outlet does,” said Quirk. “We’re bummed that we upset them and we’re going to keep it buttoned up.”

To look at another leak, check out the carbon SRAM Rival lever on the Dirt Boy blog. Details to come.