Shimano are giving their top-level Dura-Ace groupset a major redesign for 2013, moving it from 10-speed to 11-speed for the first time, lightening the shifting and adding extra braking power.
We’ve been lucky enough to try the new 9000 Series Dura-Ace on the roads of Belgium with Team Sky, but before that we’ll take you through the key technical changes…
We'll deal with just the mechanical components here. Check out our other story on the changes to Dura-Ace Di2. There's a lot of information here so strap yourself in.
Shimano have reshaped the levers to bring them into line with the existing Di2 electronic design. That means they’ve shrunk the diameter of the bracket considerably compared to existing mechanical options. When you have your hands on the hoods, it’s much easier to wrap your fingers right around the lever body for a tighter fist and a stronger grip, especially when you’re riding out of the saddle.
Shimano have also reduced the stroke distance required to shift gears. The release lever stroke – the inner lever that moves you to a smaller sprocket – is 30% shorter than before, according to Shimano’s figures. The shifting effort is much lower than before too (see below).
The hoods on some of our pictures are prototypes, by the way. The finished versions are dual compound and textured to provide a comfortable, non-slippy hold.
Provisional price (all these prices have yet to be confirmed) £469.99
Shimano say the 9000 Series rear mech provides lighter, shorter and more equal shifting operation than before. By ‘more equal’ they mean that the force you need to push the lever is virtually the same no matter the gear to which you’re moving.
On previous models, the higher up the cassette you went, the more difficult it was to shift. That’s not the case with the new incarnation. Of course, Shimano put a percentage on it; marketing departments love a percentage. They reckon that shifting to the largest sprocket is 47% easier with 9000 Series Dura-Ace than with previous generation 7900.
How come? It’s largely down to the new inner cables that Shimano are using. Rather than a PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene, if you’re interested) coating on the outside of the cable as before, Shimano will use a new polymer coating that reduces the sliding resistance to achieve lighter and quicker shifting.
The new rear mech is also designed to be more robust and durable than before, although we can’t say that’s ever been much of an issue for us.
Provisional price £189.99
The Shimano engineers have altered the front mech design considerably to revise the actuation ratio. The cable is now connected to an arm high above the cage to provide much more leverage, reduce the length of the lever stroke and cut the amount of force you need to apply.
Plus, the front mech uses the same polymer-coating on the inner cables as the rear mech so it gets lighter shifting as a result. How much lighter? Funny you should ask; Shimano reckon 43% less effort is required at the end of the lever stroke.
In order to provide more stability to the front mech, Shimano have added a support bolt through the middle that screws up against the extended front mech plate on your seat tube. If your bike doesn’t have an extended plate, Shimano provide a tiny piece of alloy that you stick to your frame to stop the bolt digging in.
There’s now also an elastomer strip on the inside face of the front mech’s inner cage plate to stop the chain rubbing on the metal.
Provisional price £89.99 (braze on) £99.99 (band on)
The 9000-series chainset looks very different from the previous incarnation in that there are four arms rather than five, with uneven spacing between those arms.
Why would Shimano go and design something as crazy looking as that? The idea of ditching one of the arms is to save weight – that’s simple. The idea of the unequal spacing is that you put most of your power into the pedals when the cranks are between roughly the 2 o’clock and 4 o’clock positions. As a rule, you apply less force through the top and bottom of the pedal stroke. Shimano have positioned the arms to provide the strength and rigidity where you need it most. They reckon it’s just as stiff as before, but lighter.
The other major point concerning the chainset is that all versions use the same bolt circle diameter. Previously, a standard chainset had a bolt circle diameter of 130mm and it was 110mm for a compact chainset (with smaller than normal chainrings). Now they’re all the same whether you run standard, compact or a time trial set up, making it much easier to swap between different sized chainrings.
One final thing that’s worth mentioning: the new chainrings are the same thickness as the existing 10-speed ones so Shimano don’t envisage any loss in durability.
Oh, and one final final thing: Shimano are now offering 52-36T and 52-38T chainsets for those who want some small gears without sacrificing large ones. The other options are 50-34T, 53-39T, 54-42T and 55-42T. They’ll be available in 165, 170, 172.5, 175, 177.5 and 180mm crank lengths.
Provisional price £479.99 (£499.99 for 54/42 or 55/42)
You’ll be pleased to know that Shimano haven’t come up with a new bottom bracket standard although they have reduced the size of the bearing they use to save a little weight. The cup diameter is also reduced so you need to use a special tool when fitting, and Shimano say they've improved the sealing. The 9000 Series will come in a standard external version and in a press-fit option
Provisional price £49.99
Shimano have redesigned their Dura-Ace brake callipers for 2013 – they’re calling it their SLR-EV design in that it’s an evolution of the existing Super SLR dual pivot.
The new brake still has two pivots, but rather than having one of the pivots in the centre, each is positioned to the side, at the top of the drop section of the arm. Shimano describe this as a ‘symmetrical dual pivot brake’, which makes sense.
By repositioning the central pivot to the side, Shimano have shortened the brake arm. They say that this design lowers friction at the pivot area and also reduces flex.
Shimano reckon the chief benefit is that the new brake design offers 10% more power than previously with their new polymer-coated brake cables, or the same amount of power for less effort at the lever. That means you get improved modulation – more control at your fingertips
One of the other big benefits is that Shimano can now produce a direct-mount version of the calliper; it doesn’t mount via a central bolt but with bolts that extend through the pivots and into your frame or fork. That means a BR-9010 version of the brakes will be useable on time trial bikes in the place of V-type brakes. The design will come with an in-line cable adjuster that features a quick release.
Provisional price £139.99 per calliper
The most obvious difference to the cassette is clearly that it now features an 11th sprocket. The width of the sprockets is the same as on a 10-speed system, but they are fractionally closer together.
The freehub width has been extended by 1.8mm, so it is now the same as you get with Campagnolo 11-speed which will make things easier for wheel manufacturers (although the spline pattern is still different so you can’t use them interchangeably). It also means that riders with Campag-compatible wheels from manufacturers like Mavic, Zipp and so on can swap the freehub for a Shimano 11-speed one. Shimano have had to redesign their own wheels to bring them into line here.
That extra width means that you can’t use a Shimano 11-speed cassette on a 10-speed hub – the hub needs to be 11-speed specific. You will, though, be able to use a 10-speed cassette on an 11-speed hub as long as you use an extra spacer to take up the slack.
A 9000 Series cassette will weigh the same as a 7900-series cassette despite the addition of that extra sprocket. How have Shimano managed that? They now use a carbon mid spider carrier rather than aluminium. We’ll be really interested to see how the durability compares. The larger sprockets (16T and bigger) are titanium.
Cassette options are 11-23T, 11-25T, 11-28T, 12-25T and 12-28T.
Provisional price £209.99 up to 25T, £219.99 12-28T
The Dura-Ace chain is no longer directional – Shimano reckon that’s not needed anymore – so you can’t put it on the wrong way around. The inner plates aren’t slotted like they were before but the pins are hollow. The chain gets a new PTFE coating designed to for smoother shifts and increased durability.
You still need to use a pin to join it – there’s no quick-link option. Handily, the pin is a different shape from before so you won’t get it mixed up with anything else.
The bad news is that Shimano reckon you need an 11-speed specific chain tool to fit the chain. We can’t say if you can bodge it with a 10-speed chaintool because we’ve not tried it. Shimano certainly don’t advise that.
Provisional price £44.99
Dura-Ace pedals get a cosmetic update for 2013 and a version will be available with a 4mm longer axle.
Provisional price TBA
Shimano have revamped their Dura-Ace wheels too, and you will need to have 11-speed specific hubs if you want to run the 9000 Series groupset, although other manufacturers will be producing them to Shimano’s new standard.
The Dura-Ace wheel range is large range so we won’t go into all of them here, but most noteworthy is the new C75 tubular carbon wheel – with a 75mm-deep rim – which will be added to the range for 2013. This wheel has been in development for ages and both pro riders and triathletes have been using it over the past two years.
The C75 will follow the trend towards wider rims – it’ll be 24mm wide. The existing C50 makes the jump from 20.8mm to 24mm for 2013 too. The idea is that the wider profile means there’s less of an indent between the tyre and the rim. This improves the airflow at slight yaw angles, reducing drag and avoiding any steering loss.
Shimano haven’t yet released individual figures for the 9000 Series components although they say the overall groupset weight is 1,978g, excluding cables. This compares to 1,957g for the new Dura-Ace Di2, excluding wiring. The mechanical components should be available in September with the Di2 following in November.
Shimano have been working closely with Team Sky in the development of 9000 Series Dura-Ace, riders from the British squad providing feedback for the engineers working on the project.
Alex Dowsett was the first rider to use the new groupset in a race but, through no fault of the equipment, he crashed in the Three Days of De Panne in March and broke an elbow.
“I was testing it properly,” he jokes. Alex has been using it more recently while returning from injury and has been impressed.
“I’m convinced by it,” he says. “The brakes are on another planet. You will notice the improvements straightaway and, even if you’ve been using Di2 before, you’ll be comfortable using it.”
No disrespect to Alex, but he’s bound to say that, isn't he? How often do you hear a pro rider bring up anything negative about their kit? Not often. We were fortunate enough to try out the new Dura-Ace groupset ourselves on a ride with Alex, Canada’s Michael Barry, and a bunch of other journalists from around the world. We were out on the roads around Kortrijk, Belgium for just over two hours: not long enough for a full review but we could get a feel for the new equipment in that time.
If you’re coming from one of Shimano’s existing mechanical setups, the first thing you notice is the smaller circumference of the levers. It’s the same as you’ll find on the Di2 shifters.
Why’s that a good thing? When you have your hands on the top of the hoods you can really wrap your fingers around the lever body for a firmer hold. I’ve got pretty big hands and I still find that useful, especially when riding out of the saddle. If you have smaller hands, it’ll probably be even more of a benefit – your fists are just that little bit tighter closed for a better grip.
The next big difference is in the feel when you change gear. The lever action required to move the chain across the cassette is lighter than before. Much, much lighter.
It’s still a distinctive feel and, as previously, you can go down the cassette to a higher gear one sprocket at a time, and three sprockets up the cassette with one sweep of the lever. The difference is that it requires so much less force, and that force is the same no matter the gear to which you’re heading.
The levers themselves – the actual blades – are slightly reshaped as well for easier control from the hoods, which is where most people rest their hands the majority of the time. To me, that’s not a massive change. Ride on Dura-Ace 7900 levers back-to-back with Dura-Ace 9000 levers and you can tell that they’re different but it’s a small refinement rather than a wholesale change.
The final big change is in the braking. The new Dura-Ace brakes are significantly more powerful than previously – and they were excellent before. Shimano say that the redesigned brake callipers achieve 10% more power than the 7900s. I couldn’t put a percentage on it, especially not from just one ride, but these brakes do bite hard and it’s really simple to apply the pressure.
You don’t often need to slam on your brakes as hard as possible so what’s just as important as the all-out stopping power is that you get increased modulation. That means you can control your speed very precisely with these brakes – and the more control you have over your braking, the faster you can ride in safety, and that has to be good news.
So, that’s a quick overview of next year’s 9000 Series Dura-Ace. We’ll do a more in-depth review once we get a groupset through for testing here in the UK. Shimano reckon that’ll be arriving in August so we’ll keep you posted. In the meantime, check out our story on the new 2013 Dura-Ace Di2.
Mat has been in cycling media since 1996, on titles including BikeRadar, Total Bike, Total Mountain Bike, What Mountain Bike and Mountain Biking UK, and he has been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. Mat has been road.cc technical editor for over a decade, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer. Now pushing 50, he's riding road and gravel bikes most days for fun and fitness rather than training for competitions.