One of the most interesting things at the London Bike Show for me, was the chance to see and try out the new Dura Ace. Until recently I’ve only ever been a Shimano guy. I’m currently running Campagnolo Chorus 11 speed on my Stoemper and have been enjoying it a lot but I’ve probably ridden towards 20,000+km on Shimano. Over 5,000 of that has been on Dura Ace 7900 and I’ve also spent quite a bit of time on the current Ultegra (1,000km+) and the new 10 speed Tiagra.
When I saw the first pictures of the new Dura Ace gruppo I have to confess to being a little aesthetically challenged but I’ve already warmed significantly to the looks to the point that my DA7900 looks outdated now (especially the cranks) and now Dura Ace 9000 looks modern and highly engineered.
At the Madison stand they had two Shimano branded bikes set up on turbos, one with mechanical 9000 and one with 9070 Di2.
I couldn’t resist trying them both out. Firstly the mechanical 9000 and the big, big difference over 7900 was the front shifting – it’s much, much lighter and more positive and a tangible improvement over 7900. It was so nice in fact that I had to keep changing from small to big ring and back again.
The levers felt very good – similar ergonomics to me to the 7900 series. The rear shifting where obviously the big news is the 11th cog was also an improvement but a smaller one. The Shimano person I spoke to said that the new cabling design (and coating) had made a small but perceptible improvement on the rear shifting and I believed him – it did feel better but not as much as the front shifting.
I know riding on a turbo is very different that being out on the road but first impressions were very positive. Looking the components over, they look like Shimano’s engineers had also worked hard on the detail and the visual impression. Dura Ace 9000 is a more expensive looking groupset than 7900 was and feels like a clear statement that this is our top end and best work. Some of the engineering like the 3d cold forged chain rings are a work of art in themselves. Another fact about the chainset that has really impressed me is that all the crank combinations including the fantastic 52/36 semi compact are on the same 110BCD standard. This means you don’t need two cranks now – one for riding at home and one for the alps as you can simply buy two sets of rings. However if you’re on a 52/36 you may not need to – more on that in another post but Madison tells me stock of the 52/36 is coming (and it’s also interesting to note Campagnolo have launched 52/36 options on Athena, Chorus, Record and Super Record for 2013). I’m convinced that the semi compact is a fantastic option for many riders and really versatile.
If like me, you’re running 7900 and wondering what’s the least you can get away in upgrading to switch to 9000 – it’s definitely levers, mechs, cassette and an 11 speed chain. I believe you can run the DA 7900 series chainset (until those 52/36 ones arrive?) and the brakes. However according to Madison you can’t expect great shifting when using a 7900/6700 crankset combined with DA9000. This is because the shifting patterns and pin placement on the 7900 cranks are designed for a 10 speed directional chain and the new 9000 crank is designed to run an 11 speed symetrical chain. It should be noted that the 9000 brakes are also a step up in performance, so although you can run 6700/7900 brakes, they won’t be as good. So you’ll really want to upgrade all components and if you can find the cash – the going rate seems to be about £1350 for a full gruppo best price – making it around the same as the best price for a full Super Record groupset. The only real short cut with an older gruppo is the brakes, which is a shame as it rules out the cheaper step by step upgrade. How’s your credit card balance looking? Better than mine I hope!
As much as I like my Chorus – I’d be choosing Dura Ace 9000 at this price point.
I then got to try the second generation Dura Ace Di2. To be honest, it was my first go at Di2 and it was as impressive as people say. Watching the front mech change in particular was truly impressive. Watching the system trim as you moved across the cassette was interesting too, although I felt this was reasonably subtle. I’m no traditionalist and I thought even a small experience on a turbo of Dura Ace Di2 really felt like cutting edge technology. If you have the money and a frameset that the wiring will work with – then go for it and I don’t think you’d regret it. Fantastic.
From seeing what others who’re running Di2/electronic gruppos have been saying, an advantage of perfect shifts everytime is that you change more often, to make sure you’re always in the right gear. The second generation Di2 is also much lighter and in fact lighter than mechanical according to the guy on the stand. It’s also de rigueur in the pro peloton with lots of teams running Dura Ace 9070 gruppos. Like I said, if you have the budget – go for it.