By Tom Demerly for TriSports.com.
Shimano officially unveiled their new 11-speed Dura-Ace 9000 group to the U.S. market this week. The new mechanical component kit was previously unveiled for the press at the recent Giro d’Italia and featured in UK and European media.
The new kit includes a visually stiking four-spider crankset. The four crank spiders are asymmetrically positioned where most drive forces are applied in the pedal stroke according to Shimano. This design accounts for the asymmetrical appearance of the arm position. The crank is only available in a 110 mm bolt pattern. Chainrings for the 110 mm bolt pattern, previously only seen on lower-geared compact cranks, will go up to 53 teeth with more chainring sizes available later. This means consumers do not have change cranks to make large adjustments in chainring sizes, a coup for Shimano.
The new minimal design places a heavy reliance on the stiffness of the chainrings so Shimano has included updated hollow-forged chainrings. Aftermarket chainring sets will be sold as a matched pair for optimal stiffness and front shifting performance.
Front shifting on the new Dura-Ace 9000 11-Speed is greatly improved based on our test rides here in Tucson owing to the new chainring, shift lever and front derailleur design. The most striking feature of the new front derailleur is the higher pewter colored pivot arm and widely braced link. This long arm works with the new shift levers to produce a front shift of uncanny accuracy and response with minimal force. It is a marked improvement over the previous 10-speed version.
New mounting hardware for this front derailleur may be required on some bikes to achieve the optimal angle and proximity of the derailleur cage to the chainrings.
As with many new Shimano introductions this group features a new and, for the time being, unique pull ratio for accurate shifting. As a result the front derailleur is reliant on the identical series front shifter.
The new rear derailleur features a lighter, more skeletonized appearance and uses reduced size cable clamp bolts, now 4 mm instead of the prior 5mm. Both the upper guide pulley and lower jockey wheel rotate on bearings. The “Centeron” capability, the ability of the top guide pulley to slide slightly from side to side for optimal alignment with the cog with minimal noise, continues on 11-speed Dura-Ace 9000. The new rear derailleur has the shift capacity to handle up to a 28 tooth large cog now.
The cogset will be available in five different combinations; 11-23, 11-25, 11-28 (the one we are most excited about), 12-25 and 12-28. You don’t have to buy a new frame to accommodate the extra cog. Rear dropout spacing has swollen by 1 scant millimeter from the previous 130 mm distance to 131 mm. Almost every frame will spread to accept this new 131 mm spacing without problem. The freehub body is 1.85 mm wider however, meaning the 11-speed cog will not mount on an older 10-speed hub.
The new chain is coated with a low friction polytetrafluoroethylene or PTFE coating. This coating, sometimes trade named “Teflon” reduces friction and noise and prevents dirt from sticking to the chain. The chain is finally idiot-proofed by being non-directional, you can’t put it on backwards as with previous designs.
The brakes enjoy a substantial redesign called “SLR EV”. Shimano used the acronym “SLR” on previous brakes to denote Shimano Linear Response, the mechanical magnification of effort that made the brakes easy to acctuate. The mechanism appears more complex but does feel noticeably smooth with little effort at the lever for a lot of braking force. Pivots on the brakes appear to ride lower, accounting for part of the improvement in feel. The barrel adjuster feels great and adjusts easily, a benefit in this generation of evolving rim widths. The brake features a two-tone finish with a nod to Shimano’s love of the “pewter” anodized color used on previous groups.
Even little details like a nicely redesigned quick release skewer were apparent on our test bike. The profile of the dual control levers felt familiar if slightly smaller but the movement and force required to shift do feel lighter. Shift accuracy was outstanding, on par with the Campagnolo mechanical 11-speed groups and also lightening fast. The largest improvement in shifting, however, is from small chainring to large under load. We tried to drop a chain or produce a clunky shift; no luck. Front shifting, even in full crossover gears, was laser-guided accurate. Comparisons with the current 10-speed Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 front shifting were common and favorable.
Shimano faces customer resistance to adopting a new rear hub format with Dura-Ace 11-Speed 9000 so they had to build in enough benefit to justify the change. For early adopters previous 10-speed wheels will have to hang in garage or go to E-bay. Has Shimano built enough benefit into the group to justify an upgrade early on? I’ll suggest “yes” since all tactile interactions with the group, from braking to shifting and even the sound of shifting have been improved. You will feel the difference. While an update to this 11-speed format is a choice for cyclists now it may shift toward a more industry wide trend. Shimano has historically developed components “from the top down” with changes in Dura-Ace soon influencing Ultegra and 105 series components. While Shimano has made no official announcements about any such changes the historical precedent remains.
The Shimano personnel we talked to offered no official insight on bar-end shifters for aerobars, but other industry sources in media and OEM supply to popular bike brands suggested Shimano “has to” offer a new 11-speed bar end shifter for aerobars.
Based on our exposure to the group and the test rides we took the update is worth being excited about. This is a component update that will have implications over the entire next decade. From our test rides its going to be a good decade for Shimano and their new 11-speed mechanical groups.