Shimano Dura Ace 11-Speed Photo Leak!

Count the cogs...11 speeds on this prototype cassette.

“This one goes to 11!” We’ve heard this gag repeated endlessly in the bike world with respect to Campy’s introduction of 11-speed groups a few years back. Shimano hasn’t ignored this innovation. Evidence of a Shimano 11-speed group are mounting and it now appears to be only a matter of time until we see the product in its full production glory, although numerous spy pictures have already surfaced.

Any change this big begs the question of necessity. Sram released its newest road offering with only 10 cogs and is unapologetic in its enthusiasm to evolve the current technology to its fullest potential. But is this the right choice? 11-speed holds the promise of wider gear ranges for climbing without sacrificing the tight ratios between gears that riders need on the flats. Conversely, riders in flatter areas or time-trial specialists will appreciate having even tighter ratios than are currently available with 10-speed. But surely we can reach a point where tighter ratios are of little benefit. This is especially true if it comes at the cost of reliability, precision, or feel at the pedals or levers. Is it worth it if cassettes, chains, and chainrings wear out, say 5% faster? I don’t know what this figure would really be but since we are speculating I thought I would throw it out there to generate discussion. If it does wear faster when, does it stop being worth it to you? 3%? 7%? 15%?

Spy shot of a new prototype Dura Ace crankset.

Ultimately it will be up to each of you whether 11-speed will benefit your riding style. So we open the discussion to you. Is Sram on the right track with its evolution of 10-speed? Did Campy go off the rails with its switch to 11? Do you think that Shimano will deliver an 11-speed road component group that will exceed the performance of its current 10-speed groups?

Since I am doing the  writing I thought I would weigh in on that last question. When Shimano made the switch from 9 to 10 speeds for their mountain groups I feared the worst. The 9-speed groups already had reliability issues unless the shift cables were new, clean, and routed smartly by the frame designer. When the 10-speed product arrived I was pleasantly surprised to find that the 10-speed groups worked better than the 9-speed! The trick was increasing the amount of cable pulled per shift as Sram has done since it began making derailleurs. The result for Shimano was a more positive shift feel and more reliable shifting, even when cables were damaged, contaminated, or poorly routed. For Sram’s mountain groups the amount of cable pull per shift was reduced when they made the switch to 10-speed and I feel their shifting suffered as a result.

New brakes.

With all this in mind I expect that Shimano will increase the amount of cable pulled per shift in their new 11-speed mechanical Dura-Ace group. This should improve shift quality and reliability immensely. Ever since Shimano moved the shift cable routing under the bar tape it didn’t shift as well as the outgoing groups. I personally felt that the reliability of the 7800 group should have been slightly better all along (since Dura-Ace 9-speed was amazing) but was disappointed to find that things only got worse with 7900 mechanical.

With Di2 I have found that the system is so precise and reliable that I have no doubt 11-speed electric shifting will work superbly. So in short, I have high expectations for the new Dura-Ace, but since this is the Internet, I fully expect to learn of some dissenting opinions among our readers. What are your thoughts on it?