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Shimano Dura-Ace R9200 and Ultegra R8100: Shimano finally goes 12-speed

31 Aug 2021
Verdict:

All you need to know about the new 12-speed Shimano Dura-Ace and Ultegra groupsets

Price: 
TBC

After a long wait, Shimano has updated its flagship Dura-Ace groupset. In so doing, the almost equally proficient Shimano Ultegra also benefits from a serious and unexpected spruce-up. With both groupsets released simultaneously and sharing virtually all the same functions, below you'll find a run-down of the key takeaways from both launches.

Dura-Ace R9200 and Ultegra R8100

So, what's new? Much anticipated, most internet prognosticators will be collecting on their bets as both groupsets sprout an extra sprocket and so make the leap from 11 to 12-speed.

More unexpected is the fact that both Dura-Ace and Ultegra groupsets will only be available in electronic formats. In fact this is probably the biggest shock of all surrounding the launch, as it means anyone wanting to stick with cable-actuated derailleurs will now have to look to the third-tear 105 groupset once the existing mechanical components are discontinued.

Not only will Dura-Ace and Ultegra now be electronic only, but both also switch to wireless cockpit shifting in most configurations. However, luddites still have something to celebrate, as, unlike its most significant rival, Shimano will continue to support rim brakes across both groupsets.

Key points

  • Dura-Ace and Ultergra are now 12-speed.
  • Both ranges will only be offered in the electronic Di2 format.
  • Both provide wireless cockpit shifting options.
  • Ultegra gains an optional dual-sided power meter.
  • Dura-Ace can now accommodate a 34t largest sprocket.
  • New race-focused 54/40t Dura-Ace crankset introduced.

Invited to see the new Dura-Ace in action, Shimano surprised a few journalists by also launching the similarly updated Ultegra at the same time.

Last revised in early 2017, Dura-Ace being updated has been in the works for some time. However, while the current Ultegra groupset is only slightly younger, its more modern features had left many assuming it would have to wait a bit longer for an overhaul.

Instead, Shimano has dropped both updates simultaneously, a move reinforcing the idea that both groupsets now progress in lockstep when it comes to their design and evolution.

Electronic Only

The biggest news is that both the latest Dura-Ace and Ultegra will now only be available in electronic formats, with Shimano intending to offer riders the very best technology can deliver.

Consigning gear cables to the dustbin of history at the elite level, rather than trickling down, this radical switch-over will be enacted simultaneously on both Shimano's race-focussed groupsets.

Beyond the extra gear and electronic-only availability, the other big headline is Shimano's long-awaited switch to a semi-wireless actuation. However, despite ditching most wires, Shimano claims both new groupsets benefit from its fastest ever-shifting.

Explaining Shimano's semi-wireless shifting

In swapping from an entirely wired system, Shimano has worked hard to reduce the lag inherent in a wireless communication protocol, resulting in an overall increase in shifting speed while reducing the number of components and simplifying the front of the bicycle.

This is partly achieved thanks to Shimano's proprietary communication protocol that blocks interference and allows the components to talk to each other without having to first introduce themselves.

With a central battery continuing to power both front and rear derailleurs, Shimano's shifters will now instead communicate wirelessly with the rear derailleur. This is then responsible for sending instructions on to the front derailleur if needed.

The resulting semi-wireless system should provide a long battery life of around 1,000km-plus simple, single-point charging. With the shifters themselves powered by a CR1632 battery, this should last up to two years before needing to be replaced.

While the update will see wires disappear from most riders' bicycles, there will still be the necessary ports allowing mechanics to use wires if they wish.

However, this function is aimed predominantly at riders looking to build less conventional cockpits, such as those found on time-trial bikes.

Another plus for the new layout is its easier charging. With the rear derailleur taking over from the junction box as the place to top-up the system, this can now be achieved via a standard USB cable.

Also now sporting indicator lights and ANT+ capabilities, it can communicate with devices including a bike computer or phone for easier setup and adjustment. While the rear derailleur gets many new bells and whistles, the front derailleur has been significantly slimmed down.

Partly thanks to a 33% reduced frontal area, both versions have shed a few grams despite employing stronger motors.

Refined ergonomics

Along with a cleaner wireless cockpit, Shimano has also worked hard to improve the ergonomics of its shifters. Their body has been tucked in slightly to help riders maintain a more aerodynamic position, while the top of the hood is now higher for enhanced security and comfort.

The offset between the two shift buttons has also been increased to help riders differentiate between them. At the same time, they’ve also been made longer for easier access when riding on the drops.

Allowing auxiliary shifting, the option to fit a revised sprinter's shifter further down the bar remains. However, this can now be integrated into the handlebar itself rather than simply retrofitted, giving component makers something new to play with.

12-speed drivetrain components

With so many clever electronic features, it's almost possible to overlook the groupsets' mechanical traits, given their inherent aim to propel you as quickly and efficiently as possible. In this regard, the big news here is the addition of an extra sprocket.

Bringing the total number to 12, the addition means the newer groupset can also accommodate a broader range of cassettes, with the option of running a 34t largest cog now available to Dura-Ace users for the first time.

It fits with existing freehub body standards, so happily changing over won't require you to fiddle with or ditch your existing wheels.

Along with conventional compact (50/34t) and pro compact (52/36t) cranksets, Shimano has also introduced a new 54/40t option for Dura-Ace only. Requested by elite-level riders, it replaces the more conventional 53/39t option while apparently working better with the firm's range of 12-speed cassettes.

By comparison, at Ultegra level the 53/39t configuration has been killed off, leaving riders with a binary choice between compact and pro compact cranksets. Like its pricer sibling, Ultegra can also accommodate a 34t largest sprocket, although it has possessed this ability for a while now.

More exciting for Ultegra fans is the novel option to spec a twin-sided power meter on your crankset. Removing one of the key remaining differences between Shimano’s two high-level groupsets, a similar move also sees Ultegra now benefiting from a similarly branded carbon and tubeless wheel range to match those already available to Dura-Ace users.

Braking

Already plenty powerful, on both groupsets, Shimano has focussed on improving control while also quieting the system and making maintenance easier. Both sets of callipers now benefit from 10% greater pad clearance.

Combining with rotors possessing improved resistance to heat deformation, this should reduce the risk of unwanted rubbing while making the brake less susceptible to the misalignment of other components.

To accommodate this wider space between the pads, the action of both systems’ levers has been increased. Keeping power similar, Shimano claims this nevertheless enhances modulation.

With brake pads and rotors now supposedly better able to dissipate heat, Shimano is also working towards more standardised parts and smaller rotors across its various braking systems.

Barely mentioned at the launch, Shimano will continue making both rim brake compatible shifters along with the necessary callipers for those that don't yet want to switch to disc brakes.

Pricing and availability

Now more than caught up with its rival Sram, both the Dura-Ace R9200 and Ultegra R8100 groupsets are scheduled for aftermarket release in October 2021. However, complete bikes sporting the latest parts may start to appear in September. For an indication of how much the new groupsets will set you back, see below:

Dura-Ace

R9270-P (Di2 Disc with power meter): £4,281.87

Dura-Ace R9270 (Di2 Disc without power meter): £3,631.87

Ultegra

R8170-P (Di2 Disc with power meter): 3,070.87

R8170 (Di2 Disc without power meter): 2,370.87

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