Shimano's flagship mechanical groupset steps things up a notch once again
We’re not going to lie to you – we at RCUK are big fans of a well-maintained, smooth operating mechanical groupset. There’s still something remarkably tactile and involving about operating a groupset that’s physically connected by cables from top to bottom. Somehow – and this is a wholly subjective view – the experience is just a bit more… real. That’s certainly the case with Shimano’s new flagship mechanical groupset, Dura-Ace R9100.
Now, we can hear the dissenters already, and logically we’d agree with most (if not all) of your claims of benefits of smoother shifts, self-trimming tech, the ability to go wireless, easy multiple shifting, and so on – it’s why SRAM Red eTap also has a place in the RCUK 100.
But on this occasion we’ll beg your forgiveness as we expose the details on the best mechanical groupset Shimano have ever made.
First off, R9100 is the rim brake version of the new Dura-Ace groupset (R9120 marks the switch to discs, while the R9150 and R9170 versions are Di2), and is interesting because it represents the peak of what Shimano can achieve using the most well-established technology. That means it’s probably approaching its xenith in terms of system efficiency – just as well, because that was Shimano’s express aim when designing it.
It’s not like the old 9000-series Dura-Ace was a slowcoach – far from it, it was a superb, pro-level groupset – but if we compare like-for-like, the new R9100 boasts quicker shifting through a lighter yet more positive shifting action, while those shifters have seen a re-profile for improved ergonomics. They come up slimmer, with a larger, more accessible shift paddle on the backside of a 14mm (up from 10mm) adjustable reach lever. The throw has also been shortened, making all shifts much more compact.
The caliper brakes have also seen some shavings in order to save a few grams, but more importantly to improve the feel – in doing so improving modulation and achievable power. They’re slightly smaller on the undersides too, coming up a little wider externally, allowing clearance for 28c tyres. A real boon given the move towards wider rubber.
The front derailleur loses the long lever arm to actuate shifts, instead opting for a more efficient and space-saving internal setup, while those eyesore inline barrel adjusters are no longer necessary thanks to an adjuster installed within the unit. The rear derailleur has also seen a significant change, adopting Shadow tech from Shimano’s mountain bike groupsets.
This keeps the derailleur further in board in the event of a crash – effectively protecting it – while Shimano have taken advantage of the cleaner chain line to lengthen the hanger. This makes fitment of the new Dura-Ace 11-30t cassette now possible, increasing the range of gears possible through Shimano’s flagship groupset.
Visually, of course, the new Dura-Ace is markedly different from the old 9000, and while those looks polarised opinion in the RCUK office at launch, we’ve since eased our stance towards the gloss-black look. The chainset retains the four-arm setup up for what Shimano claim offers the best in stiffness and power transfer, and has refrained from incorporating any carbon in its construction: it’s resolutely stuck with lightweight alloy. However, the crankset will also be available in 2017 with a neat power meter – something we’re looking forward to seeing.
However, what the new R9100 Dura-Ace groupset proves is that there’s not just life left in mechanical groupsets, but there are still improvements to be made even as electronics become more and more popular. This makes us happy.
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