It’s the Little Things: Shimano Dura-Ace 9100
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You have a product. It dominates the market. It is considered one of the most reliable, durable and best-functioning products ever made for cyclists. No one rode it and thought: “Well, this needs an update!” Dura-Ace 9000 was launched way back in 2013, when Donald Trump was just some TV crackpot picking fights with celebrities on Twitter. It’s 2017, and while Mr. Trump may be the same, the market demands that Dura-Ace has to change—so Shimano Dira-Ace 9100 was born.
What are the groundbreaking, innovative changes we’ll see in Dura-Ace 9100? There aren’t any. It’s still 11 speeds and from the saddle it feels essentially identical. The biggest changes are aesthetic, taking cues from Shimano’s MTB groups. It’s black, fading to a smoky gray; the derailleurs are much more angular; and the cranks and brakes have a surprisingly bulky look. We’re still on the fence with this aesthetic reboot. We’re getting used to it, but still feel 9000 is a better-looking kit.
So 9100 looks different, but is it? There are claims of shorter and easier lever throw as well as more powerful brake calipers, but in the saddle those differences are hard to discern, certainly since 9000’s brakes are so good. Since 9000’s release, the issue with rim braking has never been a lack of power, it is the pad-and-rim interface that causes problems and that doesn’t change with 9100.
So what are the real differences? The new front derailleur design eliminates 9000’s long arm, yet still provides an easy lever throw. Riders wanting to squeeze 30mm tires into road frames will appreciate the extra clearance. Shimano also added a cable-tension adjustment at the front derailleur, so no more in-line barrel adjusters needed.
The rear derailleur uses the MTB Shadow design, with a short outrigger from the dropout keeping the derailleur more protected. During any unplanned dismounts the QR hits the ground before the derailleur. This also shortens the shift cable’s path from rear of the frame to the derailleur giving the bike cleaner lines and even shaving a few grams. And the Shadow derailleur gives wider tires an easier path in and out of the dropout.
The short cage can now also shift the new 11–30 cassette—and that may be the biggest change of all. Wider gears and better tire clearance mean 9100 can better manage the new ride-your-road-bike-everywhere movement. With the MTB influence, we imagined a clutch in the 9100 rear derailleur, but it was not to be. However, Shimano representatives were cagey when answering clutch-based questions so perhaps a 1x Dura-Ace version could be in the hopper.
The brake calipers seem much larger than the 9000’s, with a bulky, somewhat unrefined look, but the caliper-release lever now tucks nicely out of the way when closed. Power is supposed to be improved at the high end thanks to a new booster plate affixed to the caliper, but your pads and rims better be simpatico for that to be apparent. Though 28mm tires are now the accepted maximum, we’ve fit 30mm tires with ease.
When it comes to the levers the feel is almost pure Shimano 9000. The new hoods are textured, the shift paddles are slightly larger and reach adjust is increased. Shimano has worked hard to shorten the lever throws as Dura-Ace has always lagged behind SRAM and Campy in that regard. The massive throw required to shift the rear derailleur outboard has been reduced by 24 percent and both throws at the front derailleur have been reduced by 14 percent.
A short throw and reduced shift force are typically mutually exclusive. Maintaining the easy throw and still keeping the force required to make the shift low was an impressive feat. We just wish it were more noticeable in the saddle. Dura-Ace 9100 still feels like 9000 at the levers and this is mainly due to the play in the lever before a shift is initiated. Unlike SRAM or Campagnolo, Shimano levers have never initiated a shift immediately; you must pass through a dead area. We won’t call it slop, as there is no way a company with Shimano’s pedigree hasn’t engineered it in, but we can’t quite figure out, or get Shimano to communicate, why it wants the play in the system.
Building from a product as legendary as Dura-Ace, a product that has been refined since the early ’80s, big changes were never in the cards, because they simply weren’t necessary. Is 9100 “better” than 9000? Perhaps that’s the wrong word. It is slightly more versatile thanks to improved tire clearance and wider gear range. But better? No. If you aren’t screaming for an extra 2mm of tire volume or a 30-tooth cog out back, there is no need to upgrade your 9000, but if you’re in the market for a new bike, you’ll find 9100 a worthy successor, retaining everything that was great about 9000 except, perhaps, the aesthetics.
Check out shimano.com for more details.