Cranking it to 11: Getting Aquainted With Shimano Dura Ace 9000
by Kevin Rouse
Availability: Early September, 2012
Dura-Ace 9070 Di2
Availability: Dec/Jan, 2013
Price: $4140 (apporoximate)
Before the perennial naysayers and retrogrouches begin to argue the merits of 11 cogs, let me just start by saying that Shimano has been in the component business longer than most of us have been alive. That, and of course, here at paved, In Spinal Tap We Trust.
That aside, Shimano’s latest groups are both functional works of art as well as extraordinary technological innovations. In fact, it’s hard to keep a grasp on objectivity when, personally, I find myself drawn to the latest Dura Ace like an obscenely rich art collector to a Edvard Munch masterpiece on auction at Sotheby’s.
Objectively, however, (I swear) Shimano’s revamped Dura Ace group and it’s ones-and-zeroes Di2 counterpart are definitely noteworthy to be sure.
Far from throwing another gear out back and subjecting it to a stint on an episode of Extreme Groupset Makeover (check your local listings), Dura Ace 9000, as it’s being called, is a complete redesign—all the way down to the cables.
I had the chance to get familiar with the new group at a top-secret, ultra-clandestine product launch (read: low-key presentation in a multi-use hall at a public golf course in Los Angeles) during the last stage of the Amgen Tour of California and even got some ride time on the new groupset. And, it’s safe to say, Shimano has been quite busy.
Shimano’s Wayne Stetina keeps an eye on a pesky journo as he takes a look at his 9000-equipped rig
However, in talking to Wayne Stetina, Vice President and Road Product Specialist for Shimano, it becomes evident that such work was necessary. In light of the shifting benchmark set by their Di2 groupset, there were rumors of obsolesence in regards to mechanical shifting over at Shimano headquarters.
Their mindset was that “if we can’t do something spectacular, then there may not be a future for mechanical shifting,” Stetina said.
Thus, in a nutshell, the mere fact that Dura Ace 9000 is a reality is a remarkable pedigree in itself for the all-new group.
A look at some of the individual component revisions, however, really begins to tell the tale of just how major the changes have been for this new group.
Completely redesigned, the new Dura-Ace 9000 mechanical levers feature a host of improvements. For starters, ergonomics have been improved to mimic those of Shimano’s slimmer, more sculpted Di2 levers . Additionally, Vivid Indexing is borrowed from Shimano’s mountain-bike groupsets and allows for uniform shift efforts-with more defined engagement—throughout the entire range.
And, speaking of shift effort, shifts now require an amazing 43-percent less effort (measured at the end of the stroke) along with having a much shorter stroke. If your looking for an engineering marvel, look no further. Believe it or not, the Dura-Ace 9000 mechanical lever requires much more effort to design than its electronic counterpart—now who said mechanical systems were simpler?
Faced with the option of maintaining their standard-setting braking performance and shaving weight or creating an entirely redesigned brake with much more usable power and modulation, Shimano thankfully chose the latter. Featuring 20-percent more power (10-percent comes from the new caliper itself, the rest comes from the new lever shape and improved cables) over their 7900 counterparts from the same input, the brakes utilize a new symmetrical dual-pivot design. Changing the pivot points and shortening the brake arms affords the new brakes much more modulation as well—something I could readily feel and appreciate in my short time on the new group.
Count ‘em, there’s 11. One more cog seems like a rather miniscule change, but now, wide-range cassettes offer a much more even progression, theoretically allowing the use of one cassette for all of your riding and racing. As a part of Shimano’s Rider Tuned drivetrain philosophy, and in combination with an expanded range of gearing options at the crankset level as well, the switch to 11 provides a plethora of gearing options to fit just about any rider’s needs.
Most notable is the new 9000 crank’s four-arm design, but what is perhaps more interesting is that now both standard and compact cranks use the same bolt diameter, meaning that all sorts of gearing possibilities are now on the table. As standard options, Shimano now offers, get ready for it, six different pairings: 50×34, 52×36, 52×38, 53×39, 54×42, 55×42. The switch to a four-arm design drops 52 grams, but with no loss in stiffness.
With the switch to 11-speed, the Dura-Ace chain sees it’s internal-width stay the same to maintain strength and durability, but sees its outer plates get narrower. Accordingly, then the plates lose their cutouts and perforations in order to maintain their strength. What this also means, is that the new chain is no longer directional.
Sporting a drastically enlarged pull-arm, the new Dura-Ace 9000 front derailleur allows for much-reduced shift effort and a substantially shortened lever throw. Paired with the new shift lever, the new derailleur design allows for some truly remarkable front shifting—Shimano just blew their old industry-wide benchmark entirely out of the water. It’s that good. Better trimming also corrects an oft-maligned weakness of it’s predecessor.
Redesigned for lighter shifting and to accommodate Shimano’s Vivid Indexing, shift effort is lower and is equal at both ends of the cassette. Shimano states that the derailleur will accept up to a 28-tooth cassette, though Stetina himself has had no trouble when running 32 teeth out back. Did I mention it’s also beautiful?
Last, but certainly not least, Shimano has entirely revamped its wheel lineup—you can’t run an
11-speed drivetrain if you don’t have an 11-speed wheelset.
Sporting 11-speed-compatible freehub bodies, Shimano’s updated wheel line features aerodynamic improvements and weight reductions across the board. They’re also reverse-compatible with 10-speed drivetrains with the use of a simple cassette spacer.