Dura-Ace 9000 proves adaptable, precise and comfortable, raising the bar for all mechanical groupsets.
The hoods provide a comfortable perch and a nub on the levers enables solid and comfortable pointer finger wraparound.
The numerous design innovations in the Shimano Dura-Ace 9000 mechanical groupset looked good on paper when we unboxed the new groupset. Six months of serious road testing later, the revamped $2,700 flagship groupset lived up to that promise in several key areas, including ergonomics, shift feel, front derailleur shifting performance and braking.
The hood design provides a secure, comfortable perch whether you’re sitting in the pack in an office park crit or grinding out a six-hour training ride in the rain. The hoods feel slightly fuller towards the rear than the previous edition of Dura-Ace, but not so far in front that they cause numbness as some other hood designs do.
This just-right girth is coupled with a nub large enough to stop your hands from sliding forward if you nail a pothole, and the indentation at the top of the outer shift/brake lever provides a secure spot for pointer finger wrap.
Left: The levers flair outwards away from the hoods making it easier to execute shifts from both the hoods and the drops. Right: The long lever arm of the front derailleur makes for the lowest-resistance mechanical front shifting this tester has ever experienced. Shifting up or down, it’s a light tap and boom, it happens, even under load.
Shifting from the hoods or the drops feels comfortable and intuitive, and does not require contorting into any awkward wrist angles. The new lever design also cants out slightly towards the tips of the lever blades making shifts while in the drops easier than with previous generation Dura-Ace 7900.
Historically, I’ve found the 8, 9 and 10-speed Dura-Ace and Ultegra groupsets I’ve ridden to have excellent shifting performance. I still run 9-speed Dura-Ace on one of my bikes and Ultegra 10-speed on another. They both shift well. But Dura-Ace 9000 takes the performance of the most recent generations of Shimano 10-speed kit to a higher level. True to Shimano’s claims, Dura-Ace 9000 shifts flawlessly front and rear, even under huge load like during sprints and climbs. At first you notice how great it shifts, then you just forget about all of the calculations you typically have to make about shifting to avoid chain suck or dropping a chain.
The refined brake caliper design provides noticeably smoother, more sensitive modulation than Dura-Ace 7900.
Dura-Ace 9000 has slightly different shift feel at the levers compared to the previous generation. I didn’t have qualms with the previous generation, but Dura-Ace 9000 has clicks a tad more pronounced that I now prefer.
The new long-arm front derailleur design requires less force to execute upshifts and on both upshifts and downshifts have a predictable pause during chain movement. You don’t have to ease up on the pedals, it just sounds and feels different than what you’re used to–and helps execute the perfect front shifts that are one of the hallmarks of this group.
Dura-Ace 9000 has new slicker, coated cables coupled with a new brake design that I found to provide more precise, smooth, predictable modulation. Again, I found previous offerings from Shimano to work very well, but Dura-Ace 9000 works better.
The spider design on the new Dura-Ace 9000 allows you to use gear ratios that previously would have required swapping from a compact to a standard crankset or vise versa. With Dura-Ace 9000, swapping from a 53/39 to a 50/34 ring combo only requires changing your chainrings. With either setup, there’s not a noticeable difference in stiffness.
Couple this with the broad gear ratios that the 11-speed design affords including the 11-25 cassette I swapped for an 11-28, and you can easily gear up or down for time trials, climbing-heavy rides, hilly races or crits.
Left: The new crank and chainring design enables a spectrum of front gearing in a single crankset that previously would have required swapping between compact and standard cranks. Swapping from a 53/39 setup to a 50/34 was a breeze. Right: 11-speed opens the door for cassette ratios that can provide crit and climbing gears in the same cluster, such as an 11-28.
In addition to the groupset, I gave the Dura-Ace C35-CL clincher wheelset some long-term punishment, too (MSRP: 2,000; claimed weight 1,488 grams). These carbon hoops held up well, required minimal truing, spun up fast on the flats, climbed well, seemed to provide an aero benefit as compared to shallower rims and actually handled better than a conventional rim in crosswinds. They’re definitely worth considering as a training wheelset or if you need a wheelset that you can use for both racing and training on a broad range of courses.
The C35 wheels rolled fast on flats and uphill, felt very stable and predictable in crosswinds up to severe gusts, and proved durable enough for everyday use.
Pricing and Weight Compared to Dura Ace 7900
- ST-9000 Dual Control levers (pair) — $700 — 364g (-2g)
- FC-9000 crankset (172.5mm, 53/39T) — $700 — 637g (-12g)
- SM-BB9000 bottom bracket (English thread) — $50 — 65g (-25g)
- RD-9000 rear derailleur — $280 — 159g (-5g)
- FD-9000 front derailleur (braze-on) — $140 — 64g (-2g)
- BR-9000 brakes — $410 — 286g (+1g)
- CS-9000 cassette — US$350 — 192g (+4g)
- CN-9000 chain — $70 — 249g (-33g)
- Total: $2,700 — 2,016g (-71g)
- Note: Pricing subject to change based on current exchange rates.
Shimano has a winner with Dura-Ace 9000 mechanical. As hydraulic brake technology becomes more refined and electronic shifting becomes more affordable, those technologies will likely become pervasive on road bikes. But Dura-Ace 9000 highlights just how refined and high performing a more simple and more easily serviced mechanical groupset can be. And if $2,700 is out of your price range, many of these same technologies trickled down to Shimano’s new Ultegra 6800 group.
For more information visit www.shimano.com.