Review: Shimano Dura-Ace 9000
article & images by Nick Salazar
Mar 4, 2013
Many tech editors (including Yours Truly) have predicted the death of mechanical component groups, due primarily to the success and advantages of electronic groups. But despite the march of motorized progress, the development of mechanical groups continues to press on. Moreover, the latest offerings show that mechanical isn't exactly on its last breath. These new groups are stunning showcases of bicycle technology that prove that the mechanical group is alive and well. Today, we're taking a look at Shimano's new flagship mechanical group, Dura-Ace 9000. Interestingly, this new mechanical group also forms the core of the parallel electronic group, Dura-Ace Di2 9070. Many of the parts are shared from one group to another. But before we delve into the merits of the group itself, we've got a few questions to consider. The first of these is, if electronic groups are so great, why do manufacturers continue to push top-end mechanical groups?
There are several reasons consumers continue to demand mechanical. But those reasons are diminishing in number and in efficacy. The two biggest ones that remain are the prohibitive price of electronic groups, and their heavy weight compared to mechanical. However, both of those reasons are being eliminated. The weight complaint is about to be eliminated – 9070 may actually be lighter than 9000, which we'll confirm whenever we have the chance. And although 9070 is certainly an expensive group, you can already buy Ultegra Di2 6770 for a little less than the price of a new Dura-Ace mechanical group.
But there are other reasons people cling to mechanical groups. For one, there are a lot more options, and most of them are much more affordable than electronic. That will change eventually, but for now, the budget build is mechanical, across the board. In some ways, a mechanical group is also more robust; if a cable snaps, you can replace it yourself – but if an electronic derailleur's servo motor goes haywire, you may be out of luck. Along the same line of thought, there's a certain familiarity about a mechanical group; the home mechanic has probably been wrenching mechanical drivetrains for many years, and the introduction of electronics may be rather off-putting.
And finally, there's something of a philosophical argument people make against electronic shifting. A lot of riders have a feeling that the entirety of the bicycle should be mechanical, and there's just something wrong about using a battery to actuate your shifts. I understand this argument because I made it myself for a time. And then I tried Dura-Ace 7970 on my tri bike, which immediately and completely changed my mind. Again, I think it's just a matter of time before we're all riding electronic, especially for tri/TT. There's nothing quite like it. But for now, cable-actuated groups continue to march on. This is our review of Dura-Ace 9000 mechanical.
Before we dive in, I want to address the issue of the BR-9000 brakeset, and my own personal bias. As you are probably aware, TriRig manufacturs the Omega brake, and I like to put the Omega on my bikes whenever possible. When I review a component group like Shimano Dura-Ace, or SRAM Red, the brakes are excluded from the review, and I think this is the appropriate thing to do. For one thing, I love my Omegas and want to leave them on my bike, but more important is that I have an obvious bias towards my own stuff. That is, I wouldn't be able to objectively review the brakes even if I wanted to. So instead of saying something unfair to Shimano's excellent brakes, I chose to leave them out of the review altogether. But I'm happy to say this much: Shimano's Dura-Ace road brakes have always been the industry standard for power, modulation, and reliability. With 9000, they introduced an entirely new mechanical formula that sets the bar a knotch higher, and Shimano thinks this story is as important to the Dura-Ace 9000 story as the upgraded shifting. However, for the reasons I've discussed, the brakes won't be highlighted here, and I hope you can understand why. In any case, I did take some pretty pictures of the brakes for you to enjoy.
One other issue to consider before we get into the review itself is component compatibility. The world of road compomnents is marching inexorably towards 11-speed drivetrains, and that's a good thing. What you will want to be aware of is what it means for your existing components, and what you can "take with you" going forward. The biggest thing to watch for is rear wheel compatibility; Shimano's 11-speed hubs are about 1.8mm longer than the 10-speed variety, meaning most old wheels aren't compatible. Most wheels manufactured in 2013 or later will already have the new specification in mind, and will be compatible with 11-speed groups. And moreover, new wheels will be backwards-compatible with 10-speed drivetrains. This is achieved through the use of a small 1.8mm spacer that takes up the extra room not used by a 10-speed cassette. So if you're not ready for a new drivetrain, but you ARE in the market for new wheels, just make sure they're built with 11 speeds in mind, and you'll be good to right now, and whenever you make the switch.
Also, some wheels may be able to convert to 11-speed: for example, Zipp offers a conversion service for its 2012 wheels, which can be modified with a new axle and freehub body for 11-speed. It's not the easiest or most convenient conversion, and must be done by a Zipp dealer. But it would certainly be cheaper to update those wheels than to buy all new ones. I have several Firecrest rear wheels that I'll probably update. I plan to move to Di2 9070 when all the parts are out, and that will require the new parts.
There are probably some other common compatibility questions as well. What about mixing and matching cranks, shifters, derailleurs, cassettes, and chains? Well, the component most often introduced into a non-uniform drivetrain is a foreign crank. And the good news is that there's no reason you can't use a 9000 crank on an older drivetrain. The chain spacing hasn't even changed, so shifting performance should be very good, even though the ramp and pin timings are different. So, if you love your 9000 crank (or have paid to put a Stages Power Meter on it), you should be able to port it to other bikes. On the flip side, you could probably use another 10-speed crank in your 9000 group, although I haven't tried that. The official word on these kinds of swaps is that they aren't supported, so just be careful, and make sure you don't drop a chain and scratch your pretty carbon frame.
As far as the rest of the drivetrain goes, it's best to stay consistent. The 9000 derailleurs really have to be used with the corresponding shifters. The amount of cable pull for both the front AND rear derailleurs is unique in 9000, and you need shifters matched to it. And obviously, you coundn't use an 11-speed cassette on anything but an 11-speed drivetrain.
Before we dig into the group, it's worth stopping to have a look at the test rig we set up for this review.