Saturday, October 16, 2021

Brief Look at Dura-Ace R9200 and Ultegra R8100

Here is a quick look at the newly launched Dura-Ace and Ultegra 12 speed road groupset. I went to Shimano Cycling World at Kallang a few days after this groupset was announced on 01 Sep 2021, and they had some samples on display! I was able to get a close look at some of the components, and even hold it in my hands. So here is a quick look at some of the components that interested me the most. If you want to know the details, check out the various major bike websites, they have all the information there.

For this new 12 speed road groupset, it uses hydraulic braking, and electronic Di2 shifting only. If you are looking for mechanical braking or mechanical shifting, you have to look at the previous 11 speed generation of components. Oh, and the shifters communicate wirelessly with the rear derailleur, so no more Di2 wire routing is needed around the handlebars. This would save me a lot of trouble, as compared to the great difficulty of cable routing through the PRO Vibe handlebar that I used on the Cervelo Aspero.

New road shifter, with hydraulic brakes and Di2 shifting. The hood is taller, as the battery and electronics are located there.

This is the Ultegra ST-R8170, and the front cover reminds me of the first road hydraulic Di2 shifter, the ST-R785. However, this does not have the high brake pivot position.

The road shifter is shaped such that it curves and tilts inwards at the top, for a more comfortable grip.

The hood is much taller than the current ST-R9170/R8070, which is not necessarily a bad thing as it can be held at the top more comfortably. The Bracket is also longer, which allows 3 fingers to fit comfortably underneath.

Putting the Dura-Ace ST-R9270 and Ultegra ST-R8170 side by side. The ergonomics are entirely the same, but Dura-Ace uses a carbon fibre lever with an extremely smooth clear coat surface.

Dura-Ace uses a high gloss front cover, which will pick up a lot of fingerprints. In this case, I prefer the stealthy matte look of the Ultegra front cover.

Based on this first look, it is more worth it to get the Ultegra shifter, as it is much cheaper than the Dura-Ace version, and yet functions and feels exactly the same, and weighs just a little bit more. What you don't get is the big Dura-Ace logo on the lever to show off.

Recently I did a comparison of the various hydraulic Di2 shifters, by comparing the current road, gravel and non-series shifters. Looks like some time in the future, I should get one of these new shifters for comparison as well.

I also got to ride the test bike that was set up on the bike trainer, to feel the actual ergonomics of the new shifters. The new hood ergonomics are an improvement from the current shape, and I was already pretty happy with the current shape. The tall hoods and inward curve actually does make it more comfortable to hold the top of the hoods in an aero hoods position. In fact, Aerocoach measured this position to be faster than using the drops!

Aero hood position, with all the fingers at the front of the shifter, instead of underneath the shifter.

In this aero hoods position, the forearms rest on the handlebar, reducing frontal drag.

Of course, on current shifters you can use the aero hoods position as well. However, the current shifters are not specifically designed for this position, which is why the hood shape is not comfortable, or are just too small to grip properly. With the inward curve and tilt, the aero hoods position becomes much more comfortable and secure.

New shifters set up on the new PRO Vibe Evo handlebar on the test bike. I am not a fan of the Evo handlebar, as the shape is too angular for my liking.

The touch points of a road bike are mainly the road shifters, the saddle and the pedals. Sometimes, it is the handlebar as well. For this new groupset, the improved ergonomics of the road shifters is noticeable.

Other than the new road shifters, I was curious about the new brake calipers as well. As seen below, Dura-Ace uses a different construction, where the brake caliper is machined together as one piece, instead of making them separately in left and right halves, and then bolting them together. This makes it different from the previous generation of Shimano road hydraulic brake calipers. This one-piece Mono Body construction is currently in use on XTR BR-M9100 brake calipers.

Ultegra BR-R8170 on the left, Dura-Ace BR-R9270 on the right. The Dura-Ace caliper is slightly smaller as it does not need protrusions for the two halves of the brake caliper to be bolted together.

The bleed ports have all been redesigned compared to the previous generation. The Dura-Ace caliper does need an additional aluminium plug at the side, to seal up the hole that is required for internal machining.

With a single piece construction, the brake caliper would probably be lighter in weight, as two bolts are not necessary to secure the two halves together. Also, the stiffness should be improved for one-piece construction, as compared to two halves.

The price would be very different as well, as the one-piece Dura-Ace construction seems to be much more expensive to produce, with more machining steps required.

Next, let's take a look at the new Ultegra RD-8150 Di2 rear derailleur. I was not able to compare it side-by-side with the Dura-Ace rear derailleur, due to lack of time and the presence of other visitors.

New Ultegra 12 speed rear derailleur, which has a less sculpted design compared to the current 11 speed Ultegra RD-R8050 Di2 rear derailleur.

This new rear derailleur is only offered in one cage length, instead of short cage (SS) and medium cage (GS) for smaller and larger cassettes respectively. The claimed benefit is such that one rear derailleur  can be used for all compatible cassettes (11-30T and 11-34T), and therefore the bike mechanic or customer does not have the change the rear derailleur if they change the cassette size.

In my opinion, Shimano basically just released a single medium cage (GS) version, to cater for the maximum chain capacity required (Front 50/34T, rear 11-34T), which is 39T in total.

In other words, if you are only using a smaller cassette such as 11-30T, the cage length is longer than necessary. Also, if you run a front single drivetrain, the cage capacity would also be way bigger than necessary. This solitary rear derailleur specification does have wide compatibility, but it also means that you are carrying around a little extra weight due to the longer cage, and also reduced ground clearance, especially for smaller wheels.

Available in just one specification with one cage length, and the cage seems pretty long. I would classify it as a medium cage rear derailleur.

I have used the Dura-Ace rear derailleur across a few different bikes, and I think it works exactly the same as the Ultegra version. As the Dura-Ace version uses carbon fibre for the inner and outer plates, it is lighter in weight but also more vulnerable to impact damage compared to aluminium.

Once again, the Ultegra version of the derailleurs should function the same as the Dura-Ace version, just with a less impressive surface treatment, a little higher weight, and a lot less expensive.

I also checked out the new 12 speed cassette, to see how it is designed. As per current 11 speed road cassettes, the Dura-Ace version uses some titanium sprockets to lower the weight, which is why it is much more expensive than the Ultegra version.

Ultegra CS-R8100 11-30T cassette. No titanium sprockets to be found here.

Finally, the new Dura-Ace and Ultegra carbon wheelsets. This time, the graphics are a lot more subtle, which I personally like. However, this does make it look more like OEM wheels.

On the other hand, they are a lot lighter than the previous Dura-Ace wheels, which makes it more competitive compared to other wheels. Even Ultegra gets its own carbon wheelset, instead of the previous RS770 aluminium wheelset which I used on the Focus Paralane.

New Dura-Ace C50 carbon wheels!

I would have liked to share more pictures, but I just did not have time to check out the other components (crankset and front derailleur) in more detail.

This rounds up the brief look at some of the new components of the new Dura-Ace and Ultegra series. The other online reviews are much more comprehensive, but they are mostly just official marketing statements. In this post, I have added some of my own observations and opinions, which you will not find in the press release on the other websites.

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