We finally got a chance to get our hands on a bike equipped with Shimano’s brand-new Dura-Ace R9100 road group. We were blown away. Oh yes, it’s that good.
When it comes to road cycling, no group is better known than Shimano Dura-Ace. As the class leader in performance, longevity, and all-out good looks, the newest iteration of their flagship group does not disappoint. It is definitely the pinnacle of performance you expect from Dura-Ace. Shimano was nice enough to let us borrow one of their Moots neutral race support bikes equipped with all the fancy bits.
The first thing that stood out to me about the new R9100 group was that it was a definite aesthetic change. A far cry from the rounded, sculpted and shiny metal of Dura-Ace from years past, the whole group looks like it’s been dipped in radioactive mutating goop, transforming it into a sinister, menacing and aggressive character. The stealthy new look will startle a few, but I think that after seeing it in person, I’m sold on the appearance.
The crank is the most noticeably different element, with very oversized crank arms and a darker, sleek metal-black finish. The lever hoods are much smaller around and flatter than the previous Dura-Ace 9000 group. The brakes are wider-set, and have an aggressively sculpted, aero shape. Both derailleurs are totally redesigned, with the front derailleur receiving a mechanical reconfiguration for simpler cable routing. The rear derailleur looks more like a mountain bike derailleur, with a longer cage and an angular look.
Visuals aren’t the only things that have changed. The R9100 group is just as snappy and responsive as the previous generation of Dura-Ace, if not snappier. Shimano has made a number of improvements to the mechanical group that take Dura-Ace to the next level of evolution. Here are just a few of them:
- Cable entry and setup on the front derailleur is improved. The old derailleur had some issues with tire clearance on some bikes due to its long leverage arm mechanism. Getting rid of this using a linkage inside the derailleur allows for a lower-profile setup and now includes a cable tension adjustment at the derailleur itself.
- Improved brake caliper tire clearance, as well as a stiffer design for more power.
- Integrated power meter. The power meter cranks was not installed on our test bike, but the newest Dura Ace cranks will come in a power meter-equipped version that will feature a rechargeable battery and two leg power measurement.
- Finally, all the new parts are cross-compatible with Shimano’s existing 11 speed road groups. Want that new derailleur or the new brakes without buying a whole group? Slap them on your existing rig and ride away. Shimano obviously recommends running Dura-Ace as a complete system, of course.
So, how does it ride? Was it a quantum leap forward compared to the last Dura-Ace? After taking it on an aggressive club ride, I would say it’s tough to improve on the last mechanical Dura-Ace, performance-wise. It was in my opinion the best-performing mechanical road group of all time, pretty close to perfection.
The overall “feel” of R9100 is remarkably similar. It is incredibly precise, snappy, and obviously has that signature refined Dura-Ace feel. I wouldn’t say this group is a “revolution” per se, but the numerous small improvements and refinements have made a huge difference overall. Having ridden both 9000 and R9100, the biggest thing I noticed in the new group was the improvement in ergonomics. With more and more of our time spent on the hoods, it is crucial to get this part right. The hoods are just incredibly comfortable and naturally disappear in your hands. Every position is simply comfortable, from the drops, to a “TT” position on the tops of the levers.
But, really, everything else is great too. The braking is powerful and predictable. There is a noticeable improvement in stiffness in the crankset. It felt incredibly stable without any noticeable flex in the bottom bracket area. The front derailleur is ridiculously easy to shift, and the rear derailleur never misses a beat no matter how hard you slam it into gear. You can rest assured that Dura-Ace will shift when you ask it to.
The Final Spin
So is it worth the cash? Definitely, for those looking for the ultimate in performance. There are very few bad things to say about the new Dura-Ace. It’s incredibly refined and stable. The new aesthetics may not appeal to everyone, but it simply delivers on performance. This group is just so good.
- Lots of small refinements that enhance the ergonomics, compatibility and serviceability of the group
- Best performing and wide-ranging Mechanical Dura Ace Group Ever
- Not really a quantum leap in performance since DA9000 is already so good, but it leads us to wonder: how much better can it possibly get?
- Weight differences are marginal at best
- Aesthetics may not work for some bikes / people