Shimano has changed the landscape of cycling components with the introduction of the 11-speed Dura-Ace 9000 group set. Check out the video to watch Chad Fetterhoff, Shimano’s Western U.S. Tech Rep, go over the highlights of the new gruppo and read our initial impressions below.
The group is so new that some of the parts were labelled “prototype” and the bike they were attached to was none other than Wayne Stetina’s! For those unfamiliar with the name, he is essentially Mr. Shimano in North America and is incredibly influential within the industry. This fact made the riding experience that much more exciting because it felt like riding a stolen bike!
Once rolling on the bike the new brakes quickly stood out as a marked improvement over 7900. I was not expecting this despite Shimano’s marketing efforts because I reasoned that Dura-Ace brakes have always been far-and-away better than most of the brakes on the market and making such a radical change to the way they functioned threatened to end that legacy. Boy was I wrong. The 9000 brakes are more powerful than 7900 but offer even more control and smooth modulation than the previous iterations. More power and more control? Win and Win.
The ergonomics of the new shifter feel perfect with the brake levers right where they should be and canted further outboard and back at the tips than the outgoing Dura-Ace group. The hood shape conforms to your hand just right and feels like a slightly meatier version of the 7950 Di2 hoods and the dual density hood material made them even more comfortable. Personally, I would prefer that the hoods be all the same color, but comfort comes first in my opinion.
The new long levered front derailleur and stiffer crank and rings translate to a very light feel at the shifter that makes for front shifts that feel much more like rear shifts in the amount of effort required and the speed of the shift. In short, the front shifting is downright amazing and very similar to Di2. I would even say that it is smoother than Di2 because you can modulate the pressure on the shifter and smooth the transition up to the big chainring. Another great feature of the front shifter is a revised trim layout. When downshifting from the big chainring to the small chainring the shifter stops in the outboard trim position of the small chainring instead of dropping all the way to the inner stop. This makes more sense as you are typically not that far up the cassette when shifting to the small ring (or, for me anyway). Although, if you are a rider that tends to shift into the larger cogs while riding in the big ring, cross-chaining is possible in big-big without any chain rub on the front derailleur. This is a great feature for riders using 50t large chainrings that can take advantage of being able to crest small climbs without having to make the big drop to the diminutive 34t chainring.
To be honest, I didn’t even notice the extra cog in the back compared to the old group, and that is a good thing. The shifting didn’t feel delicate or finicky, just solid and consistent. My only complaint is that the dead-throw of the shifter before it begins to move cable felt excessive and the shifter clicks felt a little rubbery and Ultegra-like. But this is purely a tactile thing and is essentially a personal preference, as others may prefer the new feel with its more pronounced, yet softer feeling indexes. The new feel did not in any way affect the shifting performance however with the Dura-Ace 9000 mechanical group outperforming every previous Dura-Ace mechanical group in my opinion. Perhaps the most telling comment on the new Dura-Ace came from one of the owners here at Art’s, Scott Smith, who remarked upon returning from a test ride, “This kinda makes you question why anyone would need Di2.” ‘Nough said.