Unobtainium, Hens-teeth and the Dura-Ace 12-speed Groupset – the three most wanted items of 2021! But if you search the haystack long enough eventually you’ll stab yourself with that needle – behind all the fancy boxes and extra gears is the new Dura-Ace any good?...
When I start building a bike I dry fit the headset, spacers, fork, stem, post and saddle so I can check the bikefit is correct, mark the fork for cutting and I mark the saddle and seatpost for position. After that it’s time to lay all the other components out on the bench – unfortunately there isn’t a bench big enough for the new “Priority Pack” and although it is made out of mostly cardboard you do have to wonder if Shimano have ever heard of global warming.
That said it is a darn fine box – retrieving the parts from it felt like unwrapping some fine boutique product rather than a race-orientated groupset for a bike, hopefully that’s not a bad thing?
The shifters feel similar to the R9100 version which isn’t a bad thing – they have tweaked the yaw of the lever, made the buttons more prominent and tweaked the reach but it’s more of a face-lift, rather than a design change. Mounting them up to a semi-integrated bar I really appreciated the change to the way the hose enters the shifter which will please mechanics everywhere. The hoses and connectors are the same as before but the brakes have borrowed a lot of tech from their XTR cousins – “servo-wave” means that the brake is more progressive than before. This also means that the pad travel increases, which in turn gives more clearance and therefore less noise on wet/dirty rides.
BB’s are identical to before and the crank, again, receives a facelift rather than a re-design. I like symmetry so the new crank looks a little better to my eye – I do hope they rethink writing “science of speed” on the left crank arm though as it looks proper naff. Chains and cassettes are identical in appearance to the older 11-speed versions except obviously there is now one more gear and so everything gets narrower. Cassettes fit on both Shimano’s new freehub body and existing HG freehub bodies which is good in terms of backwards compatibility, however I did wonder if that’s the case, why bother with Road Micro-spline at all, especially when it doesn't allow use of a 10 tooth cog?
The real changes to the groupset come when you set up the mechs and the battery. The group is designed to be run wireless from the shifters down to the rear mech, which is then wired into the front mech and the battery. This means there’s less to snag in modern aero front ends which has to be a good thing. There is no mechanical version, Shimano have gone full Di2 for Dura-Ace. The rear mech is paired to the shifters and then everything can be set up and adjusted wirelessly. The front mech no longer has any bump-stops and is set up using the shifters to program it which is similar to before, albeit clearances are tighter than before.
The rear mech has high and low bumpstops, micro-adjust and a relatively traditional B-tension adjuster, just like the R9100 version. The only difference is that there is now a gauge to set pulley wheel clearance a bit like you do with SRAM, which is more critical than it was before. I found that visually the clearance seemed too big but moving it closer affected the shifting for the worse, so I’d recommend using the gauge. Micro-adjustment of the gears is done in the same fashion as before.
Charging is done via the rear mech rather than a junction box which is a vast improvement – the only thing that worries me is that the charger cover is made from a rigid plastic rather than rubber. This seems like an obvious place for water ingress but I guess only time will tell on this – interestingly in the workshop manual they now state, no high pressure washing (so I guess all their sponsored athletes will have to use a bucket and sponge at ‘cross races from now on - unlikely).
One thing that I really would like is an EPS style internal frame mount rather than a seat post mount as the teeny-tiny 300 series wires feel very vulnerable when you slide the seatpost into place and I imagine travelling with this set-up is going to be even more tricky than before when there was one single wire that was heavily armored. With the new wires you definitely need to use the plug tool – they snap into place much more tightly and they feel quite delicate. I think I'll probably shrink wrap the wires in the seattube together from now on as that will improve their protection.
The other negative for me is the current lack of compatibility with other Shimano groups. If you see what SRAM are doing and the flexibility that they offer, Dura-Ace is really limited – you can’t run 1x, you have to run one single medium cage rear mech and there’s only a few cassettes to choose from. Perhaps this will change in time but for now you really don’t have many options.
On the plus side, the speed of the shift actually does feel noticeably faster and more positive. I was really impressed by the front mech which you can pretty much shift under full load. The brakes take a bit of bedding in but there’s a lot less noise when it’s wet and that’s true of the whole groupset actually, it’s really quiet which I like. In conclusion was my world set on fire with all the new tech? Not really... The R9200 groupsets are basically a face-lift version of R9100 with an extra gear, but is there anything wrong with that? The R9100 group was already beautifully refined – R9200 hasn’t really raised the bar, rather more it’s an evolution of an already great, reliable, sleek groupset.
Photos by Glen Whittington.
#aeightracer – Glen’s an ex-racer who still finds time to ride mountain bikes, road bikes, TT and ‘cross bikes for Southborough & District Wheelers. He started building custom steel frames in 2013 and has worked for various bike shops and teams since 2002. He started racing in 1998 and he now helps out with London and SE Cross League. His most recent claim to fame is 13th in the British National XC Mountain bike rankings and 15th overall in the National Series whilst setting up the.æight.bicycle.cøllective - #aeightracer
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