Shimano unveiled its new hydraulic brake system for road at the beginning of November. Photo Credit: Shimano/Eric Wynn
The first four days of November presented interesting times in the world of disc brakes for road bikes. Over the weekend, Shimano pulled together a group of cycling editors from North America and Australia to show off its new R785 hydraulic braking system along with its updated Ultegra 6870 Di2 electronic shifting gruppo, which we will address in a separate upcoming post.
That little pow wow went down on the Hawaiian Island of Maui, and featured plenty of product testing time, including one day when a handful of editors (RoadBikeReview included) rode up and then down the famed Haleakalā Crater. With a peak elevation of 10,023 feet, this-36-mile ascent is one of — if not the — longest paved climbs in the world. Can you say four hours of near continuous uphill pedaling time? We can. It’s spelled, U-G-H.
There was similar sentiment coming from the HQ hallways of Shiamno’s main rival, SRAM, albeit for far different reasons. On November 4, the Chicago-based component maker announced a recall for what it called a “technical issue with respect to a narrow production range of its RED 22 and S-700 road hydraulic road brakes (both rim and disc).”
The statement went on to explain that the unidentified issue was a “performance and safety concern” but that “there are no reported failures in the field.” Affected serial numbers of the SRAM recall range from 36T30993767 to 42T39407156, which according to SRAM represents 3,553 sets of brakes. Further SRAM claimed that based on its “investigative and quarantine efforts with our customers” it expected that there are fewer than 500 brakes worldwide in the affected range that are at dealers or have been purchased by consumers.
If you’re curious whether or not this all applies to you, the serial number can be found on the brake caliper (rim or disc) and on the outside of the box containing the product.
No one at Shimano would comment on the record about the plight of their rival. But obviously the timing wasn’t bad considering the Japanese component maker had been beaten to the punch, as SRAM road hydraulic disc brakes have been on the market for months, while Shimano’s wont be showing up at the consumer level until later this month.
But enough about the business of road bike brakes. Let’s talk about Shimano’s new offering.
Hood size will of course be a hot topic of debate as this new system makes its way to consumers. Photo Credit: Shimano/Eric Wynn
What’s New From Shimano?
The nuts and bolts of Shimano’s new R785 system consists of three parts: a hydraulic shift lever, a brake caliper and a rotor, the later two appearing to be re-branded XT components borrowed from its mountain bike line. There is also a hydraulic hose line that replaces the traditional brake cable.
The most common questions regarding these new offerings are or course how big is the new lever and what’s the overall weight penalty? The answers are bigger than a traditional lever (but not the towering size of the SRAM hydro offering) and 342 grams not including the extra frame material required for caliper attachment front and rear (about 125 grams).
It’s also worth noting that the 342-gram number is in relation to the brand new Ultegra 6870 group, which on its own is 126 grams lighter than the old 6770 group.
It’s also critical to note that this new hydraulic braking system is only compatible with Di2 electronic shifting systems, be it Dura Ace, Ultegra or the company’s internal hub Alfine drivetrain group.
Pricing has yet to be announced, which Shimano attributes to fluctuating exchange rates. But based on already-available U.K. pricing, expect it to come in somewhere in the $800-$900 range.
Why Only Electronic?
By only offering compatibility with Di2 systems, Shimano is pushing consumers into more expensive electronic shifting gruppos that use the E-tube system (10-speed Ultegra 6770, 11-speed Ultegra 6870 or 11-speed Dura Ace 9070). But they adamantly claim that this was not the primary intent, though they would not offer much detail when asked when/if a mechanical shifting offering would follow, only saying, “We’re always working on new products.”
So why electronic first?
“When you look at development, the main factor was that the Di2 lever had much more open space to work with [than a mechanical lever which has to include room for cables], so from an engineering and resource allocation standpoint — and how quickly we could bring something to market — it took less time and effort to develop an [electronic-compatible] system,” explained Dave Lawrence, Shimano America’s road and pavement product manager, who has in Hawaii to act as lead mouthpiece during the three-day press camp. “Honestly it was more timing than anything. Our goal long term is not to limit choice.”
So yes, we’ll probably see a mechanical shifting hydro shift lever from Shimano at some point. And based on the rate of change going on in the industry right now we’d guess that will be next year.
Is Bigger Worse?
Intended or not, Shimano is happy to be winning the hydraulic road brake shift lever fashion war. While SRAM’s oversized lever, which is mechanical shifting only, has taken more internet heat than a Miley Cyrus dance routine, the size of the new Shimano lever has created just a mild stir.
Shimano did have to make one concession, though. Due to spatial constraints, the R785s have only one E-tube port, meaning you cannot add sprinter shift buttons. And if you want to run satellite shifters (climbing for instance) you’ll need to install a five-port junction box under the stem.
Check out Page 2 to read our initial test impressions.