Shimano Dura-Ace and Ultegra Wireless 12-speed Groups Have Arrived
Faster shifting, improved ergonomics, better braking: there’s a lot more to the new groupsets than a 12th cog.
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Eagle-eyed cycling fans may have noticed some new-looking parts adorning the bikes of Shimano-sponsored professional cyclists this season. Now Shimano is ready to show off its latest and greatest road groupsets, which have made the leap to 12 speeds and wireless (well, semi-wireless). But there’s a whole lot more to the new Dura-Ace Di2 and Ultegra Di2 groups (called the R9200 and R8100 series respectively) than an extra cog and fewer wires.
A Thoughtful Approach To Wireless
Though the term “wireless” will probably catch most people’s attention, the new groups are, in Shimano’s words, “wired where it makes sense,” utilizing wireless shifters to communicate with derailleurs that are wired into a central battery. It combines advantages from both wired and wireless parts.
Shimano wasn’t going to go wireless unless it yielded faster shifting, and the new Shimano-developed wireless Di2 processing technology allows for exactly that, much faster in fact. By the brand’s own measurement, the new Dura-Ace R9200 wireless system offers 58-percent faster rear shifting and 45-percent faster front shifting than the last generation Dura-Ace R9100 Di2, a fully wired group.
But Shimano has opted to keep wires around on the derailleurs, running one wire from each to a central battery housed, as in the previous generation, in the seatpost. The good news is that the wired portion of the system is drastically simplified from before. Gone are junction boxes. Now all you have to do to set up a new group is connect a wire (which has been updated from the previous generation to be thinner) from the battery to each derailleur. Home mechanics and tinkerers will rejoice.
The advantage of this system is that you will only have to charge one battery. And, hopefully, Shimano’s revered battery life will continue in this latest generation—if it’s anything like the last generation we will have to ride the new group for a long time to test the limits. The shifters are powered by coin cell batteries which should last for about 1.5 to 2 years.
With the junction box gone, the rear derailleur takes on more importance in the latest Di2 generation, acting as both the charging port and housing a wireless connectivity sensor for your phone (more on that later).
The charging interface feels more substantial than before. There’s a click when the cable plugs in, which provides more positive feedback than the previous cable, where we sometimes were left unsure if the system was really charging. Plus, it’s just one wire that connects directly into a usb port, rather than one wire from the bike to a junction box, plus another wire leading from that box to a usb port. Just one more thing that has been simplified in the new generation.
12 Speeds, But Don’t Throw Out Your Old Wheels
Another big headline on the new generation Di2 is the addition of a 12th cog. But unlike when SRAM went to 12 speeds, introducing a 10-tooth cog that required a brand new XDR freehub standard, Shimano is sticking by the 11-tooth cog, meaning your old wheelsets will continue to work with the new groups. Shimano also says the 11-tooth low cog is staying around for the better drivetrain efficiency than smaller cogs provide. The additional cog means even smoother steps between gears.
For even better shifting performance, Shimano has added HYPERGLIDE+ technology from its mountain bike groups. This tech is a combination of new ramp designs in the cassette cogs as well as longer inner plates on the chain that combine for more precise shifting, even under power.
Shimano keeps things simple across its entire product line, using the same 12-speed chain from the XTR M91000 mountain bike series for the Dura-Ace level, and the XT M81000 chain for the Ultegra level.
Cassette and Chainring Options
Like before, the cassette comes in 11-28T and 11-30T options, but this time around the Dura-Ace tier is getting an 11-34T option. Up front, there are two familiar chainring options, 50/34T and 52/36T. But at the request of WorldTour sponsored teams, there is now a 54/40T option, for when you really need to turn over a big gear.
The Ultegra level will be slightly pared back, with 11-30T and 11-34T cassette options along with 50/34T and 52/36T chainring options. But the two groups’ parts are cross compatible.
The 11-28T cassette features single-tooth cog jumps from 11 through 19, then jumps to 21, 24 and 28. The 11-30T cassette has single-tooth jumps from 11-17, then goes to 19, 21, 24, 27 and 30. The 11-34T cassette still manages single-tooth jumps from 11-15, then goes to 17, 19, 21, 24, 27, 30 and 34.
The latest generation simplifies things in another welcome way: Both Ultegra and Dura-Ace rear derailleurs will be compatible with up to 11-34T cassettes, so no need to choose the right size derailleur cage.
New Power Meter
The Dura-Ace level is also getting a new dual-sided power meter called the FC-R9200-P which features improved accuracy. It connects via ANT+ and Bluetooth.
Redesigned Shifter Ergonomics
Becoming wireless is just the tip of the iceberg of changes to the shifters. They have been redesigned for improved ergonomics, with taller hoods that curve slightly inward, now looking and feeling a bit like Campagnolo’s road groups, which is not a bad thing. The redesign has an added aerodynamic benefit as well—and who’s going to say no to free watts?
The shift buttons have also undergone a redesign. They are now longer, for easier access from the drops. And increased offset between them makes differentiating easier—especially important as winter rolls around and dexterity gets buried beneath thick gloves.
The additional, assignable function button atop the hoods remains in the latest generation. And the brake levers now feature a 4.6mm longer reach, adding more space between the handlebar and the brake lever blade.
Stronger Braking Performance
Shimano’s hydraulic road groups had already provided enhanced stopping power compared to rim brakes. Now it’s getting even better. The new brakes feature a faster initial engagement and wider area, for greater brake modulation. And a 10-percent increase in brake pad to disc rotor clearance means quieter braking. Ever get some noise or slight rub on your disc brakes? That occurs as the rotors heat up and expand under braking—allowing more space around the rotor means less noise.
The front derailleur has also undergone a noticeable transformation in the new generation groups, losing 33 percent of its frontal area for a substantially reduced footprint, and fewer grams. The Dura-Ace version weighs just 96 grams.
New App for Easy Customization
In the past, it was possible to customize (reassign the shift buttons) and fine tune your Di2 shifters, but it wasn’t a simple process, requiring an actual computer and usually a bike shop to carry it out. Not anymore. The new E-TUBE app allows you full customization and the ability to connect with third-party bike computers at home with your phone, catching up to SRAM’s app for eTap components.
Weight & Pricing
Crankset: $625/no weight provided; power meter crankset: $1,470/ 754g; shifters (disc): $1,100/ 350g; Shifters (rim) $785/ no weight provided; cassette: $360/ 223g; front derailleur: $450/ 96g; rear derailleur: $815/ 215g; chain: $87/ 242g; rim brake caliper set: $395/ no weight provided; hydraulic disc brake caliper set: $365/ 233g; battery: $185/ 53g
Crankset: $315/ 716g; power meter crankset: $1,160/ no weight provided; shifters (disc): $810/ 382g; Shifters (rim) $425/ no weight provided; cassette: $112/ 297g; front derailleur: $260/ 110g; rear derailleur: $410/ 262g; rim brake caliper set: $163/ no weight provided; hydraulic disc brake caliper set: $171/ 282g; battery: $185/ 53g
Dura-Ace parts are set to start shipping in October, while Ultegra parts are scheduled for sometime in fall 2021.
The Future Is Now, and It’s Di2
Shimano also has some big news in pushing cycling technology forward: no more mechanical groups in the Dura-Ace and Ultegra levels. That’s right, like SRAM, the top groups are all electronic now.
One more thing…New Wheels
The new Dura-Ace and Ultegra aren’t just groupsets; they include three new wheelsets in each tier as well. The new wheels are based around a tubeless rim with a 21mm internal width and a new more aerodynamic rim profile that comes in 36mm, 50mm and 60mm depths in both the Ultegra and Dura-Ace levels. Shimano has also developed a Direct Engagement freehub body for the Dura-Ace level wheels that adds additional splines to better distribute load, in the process also shaving 45 grams from that part alone. That means that the Dura-Ace wheels can only accept the new 12-speed cassettes, but otherwise the older 11-speed freehub bodies you are currently using for Shimano groups and the new Ultegra wheel line can accept the new 12- speed cassettes or be used with older 11-speed groups.
The Ultegra wheels cost $1,400, while the Dura-Ace level ranges from $2,100 to $2,200.
Dura-Ace First Ride Impressions
We’ve been able to get some initial miles in on a new Dura-Ace group with an 11-30T cassette and 52/36T crankset. Here are some initial takeaways.
Off the bat, shifting is noticeably faster. And though the shift time on both the front and rear has improved drastically, the front shift time has been the most noticeable—which is also a testament to just how fast the shifting already was in the rear. The shifts continue to be super crisp, exactly what you would expect from Shimano’s top-shelf gear.
The new shifter ergonomics are also a plus in our book. They offer a comfortable feel with a more secure hold thanks to the taller hoods, a trick picked up from the GRX gravel shifters. Plus, while larger, the hoods still have a silhouette that isn’t overly large or chunky. The lengthened shift buttons are also a welcome addition, making access from any position all the easier (though we didn’t ever find this to be much of an issue before). The greater offset between the two buttons is the biggest breakthrough for us, making distinguishing the buttons easier. We’ll be glad to have that when the gloves come back out later this year.
Overall the system is sleek looking, continuing that readily identifiable Shimano look, while switching up the looks of the hoods slightly. The rear derailleur cage is bigger than before, but its ability to cover every cassette offered in the range makes swapping parts out for a given route easier.
Check the pages of Peloton for a longer term review once we’re able to put this group through its paces.