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Shimano Dura-Ace 9100 groupset review

11 Feb 2018

Page 1 of 2Shimano Dura-Ace 9100 groupset review

Verdict:

An evolution more than a revolution, but Shimano Dura-Ace 9100 has a few impressive tricks up its sleeve all the same

For 
Benchmark setter for front shifting; good looks; cross-compatibility with current Dura-Ace
Against 
Not a big step forward if you already have Dura-Ace 9000

Historically Shimano has always worked on a three-four year cycle for its top tier groupsets, progressing methodically through the range.

Dura-Ace, as the flagship group, obviously gets the royal treatment, receiving the highest level of technology and utmost premium enhancements ahead of the rest.

Inevitably though, this always benefits the lower tiers, Ultegra and 105, that can borrow from this learning next time they find themselves on the engineer’s drawing board.

2016 was Dura-Ace’s turn, having been without an overhaul since the 9000 groupset was launched mid-2012 (for 2013 model year). Enter then, Dura-Ace 9100.

New look

The changes in its appearance are instantly noticeable.

The chainset, the centrepiece of the group, has bulked up even more than its already chunky predecessor.

It has also acquired a new glossy surface finish that, like the other components has a fade from black to a sort of gun-metal or pewter grey.

It has retained the same asymmetrical four-arm configuration, supposedly to improve power transfer, but for my money the more crucial feature (that thankfully has also been retained) is the hollow outer chain ring.

Still the best

I believe it is this alone that gives Shimano supremacy in the front shifting department, and the 9100 upholds this accolade.

Shimano’s hollow chainring design is unbelievably stiff laterally, such that as the front mech shoves the chain sideways into the back face of the outer ring (during shifting from the inner to outer ring) there is no loss of efficiency in the system and the shift is made without hesitation. Every time.

Buy the Shimano Dura-Ace 9100 from Merlin Cycles

It’s impressive for a mechanical shift to be practically as flawless as a motorised electronic shift, but Dura-Ace 9100 manages it, as 9000 did before. 

Shifting perceptions

Part of that process is of course the shift levers themselves. Shimano claims to have reworked the internals of the Dura-Ace 9100 shifters to further reduce the lever stroke required to make the shift, theoretically leading to easier, faster shifts.

I wouldn’t say this was particularly noticeable over its predecessor though, at either end of the drivetrain.

To be fair though, Shimano trying to improve on the 9000’s shifting is like trying to improve on the acceleration of a Formula One car – without some major new innovation, you are only ever going to be making tiny gains.

Staying with the shift levers, the hood ergonomics feels much the same too, although apparently also reworked slightly to be a little slimmer this was not overly discernable.

The textured rubber hood does make for a slightly more secure feel in hand though.

Redesigned derailleur

As more and more features commonly seen on mountain bikes – disc brakes, suspension systems, wide tyres and so on – seem to be finding their way onto modern road bikes, so it is fitting that the new Dura-Ace 9100 rear derailleur has taken cues from Shimano’s top-tier mountain bike components.

The ‘shadow’ derailleur was first introduced in the mountain bike range to try to tuck the mech in much closer under the chainstay and behind the cassette, in short, so it didn’t stick out so far where it was vulnerable to being struck by rocks, tree stumps and the like.

That’s an important asset for off-road riding, but arguably less essential on the road. Although, that said, it may save the mech from some damage in a crash.

Regardless, it looks more techy, and the higher cable entry point means a shorter run of outer cable, plus there is now the opportunity for direct mount, once manufacturers get fully on board with thru-axles and dropouts accordingly.

Front mech alert

A few people had warned me the front mech was complicated and a bit of a headache to set up, but although it is more complex than the previous design it is really not of huge concern.

In fact the cable-clamping mechanism is actually less fiddly than the outgoing tall-arm mech – a design that had a little pin to direct the cable’s entry point depending on its angle of approach.

At least that has gone. It never really worked as well as it should have in principle anyway.

Now the cable entry is self-explanatory, and easily achieved, but what happens after is the slightly more tricky part.

Instead of just cutting the cable off, usually about an inch or so from the clamp and crimping on a cable end, the cable must now be fed back around behind the mech and positioned in a kind of loop, held in place with a small plastic cap, before it’s cut and crimped. 

Redesigned

The reason is the new mech activates with a sort of a twisting movement, rather than the older lever design.

This is supposedly to lighten the shift action, but also to increase the clearance behind so as not to foul against wider tyres.

What’s more, and ‘praise be’, there’s an integrated cable tensioner, via a grub screw on the top of the mech.

Why was this little gem never thought of sooner? It’s a superb feature, arguably the best upgrade of the entire 9100 Dura-Ace groupset.

It’s super easy to use and thankfully spells the end for unsightly in-line cable adjusters forever. Great news.

Better braking?

Shimano claims the braking force on the new 9100 callipers is improved too, compared to its predecessor, thanks to an internal brake booster.

Like the shifting advances though, I’m at pains to try and actually detect the enhancement out on the road.

The old 9000 brakes were considered by many as the benchmark in the industry, and these are still every bit as good with a solid feel at the lever and powerful, progressive braking on tap, for confident stopping.

Buy the Shimano Dura-Ace 9100 from Merlin Cycles

The quick release mechanism has been repositioned such that the lever now sits entirely in-board, rather than poking out the side.

Shimano hasn’t made any aero claims about the roughly 0.01 watt saving this might bring, but every little helps. Of course I jest, but regardless it looks a little neater.

The most relevant element to the new shape of the calliper is that it’s more sculpted to take up to 28mm tyres, keeping it in line with current trends.

Worth the upgrade?

Overall, would I rush out and buy the Dura-Ace 9100 groupset? Not if I already had Dura-Ace 9000.

The changes, to my mind, are 90% aesthetic, and 10% functional improvement (and aesthetics are subjective anyway), plus most of the 10% functional enhancement is in the front mech.

So with that knowledge, and as the shifting actuation has not changed, which means there is cross-compatibility between the 9000 and 9100 components, I might be tempted to just buy the new 9100 front mech.

However if you’re dreaming of a new bike equipped with this latest range topping kit then 9100 is still very much worthy of the Dura-Ace moniker, and deserving of the top slot in the Shimano’s hierarchy.

You won’t be at all disappointed.

Verdict: Not a huge leap forward from Dura-Ace 9000, but front mech improvements and future-proofing versatility keep Shimano at the head of the field. 

Page 1 of 2Shimano Dura-Ace 9100 groupset review

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