Equipment-obsessed editors choose every product we review. We can earn commissions when you buy from a link.
How we test equipment.
It’s Dura Ace Day. The day Shimano launches the latest version of its leading road group and arguably the most important dropbar group in the world. The massive OEM spec and Shimano influence mean what they do with Dura-Ace affects the entire equipment landscape. It determines what our bikes look like, what functions they have (and what functions Shimano’s lower end groupsets will ultimately have) and what SRAM and (to a lesser extent) Campagnolo will do in the future.
And for the first time, Dura-Ace Day is also Ultegra Day, as Shimano’s second-tier drop bar group starts at the same time. You can read everything about the new groups and our first impressions here. Below are my favorite features of the new groups, and a few things that made me less enthusiastic.
While searching through my old emails I came across a price list for the original Dura-Ace Di2 and made an amazing discovery: The new 12-speed disc brake, semi-wireless, Dura-Ace Di2 is cheaper than the 10-speed, rim brake, wired, Dura Ace Di2 group was announced in mid-2008. The 2008 group was $ 4,865 while the new DA 9200 group was $ 4,280.
The new Dura-Ace came out at regular times and we had to wait another year for the new Ultegra. But these are not regular times, so the new Ultegra starts with the new Dura-Ace. Fortunately, Shimano does its usual, and the new Ultegra makes up 98 percent of the new Dura-Ace: the only real difference is that an Ultegra groupset is 200 grams heavier and $ 1,700 cheaper. So if you’re not counting grams, you’re effectively getting the new Dura-Ace but saving yourself a ton of money. Almost enough money for a set of brand new Zipp 404 Firecrest wheels.
While wireless sounds more advanced than wired, the real benefits aren’t performance, but user experience. Removing the front half of the cable system – including a junction box – makes installing the new Shimano drives easier and there are fewer bits to rattle in the frame. Plus, there are no wires to create annoying clumps under your handlebar tape.
If you wanted previous versions of Di2 to relay gear and battery information to your main unit, you had to opt for the over ninety dollar EW-WU111 unit decide. This wireless unit was also required to enable over-the-air firmware updates and adjustments via Shimano’s E-Tube app. Without it, you had to use the Shimano PC app (Windows only) for updates and tuning. Those extra steps are gone with the new Dura-Ace and Ultegra as the wireless connection is in the rear derailleurs.
I’m drowning in various charging blocks and cables from all of the battery-powered devices I’ve acquired over the years. Fortunately, Shimano was smart enough to develop a magnetic charging cable to charge the drive battery and the new power meter.
A power meter is a new option for Ultegra. It’s the same double-sided system (individual left and right power meter) as the Dura-Ace crank. That means a rechargeable battery will provide power to both power meters and (claims) have improved accuracy over the power meters in the Dura-Ace 9100 power crank. Shimano’s cranks and rings are the gold standard, and this gives you a full-featured power meter in these cranks from the factory with the factory warranty at an Ultegra price ($ 1,160).
A single battery powers both front derailleurs. This is one less battery to think about when compared to SRAM’s eTap. Plus, the Di2 battery is in the frame so it can’t be torn off or lost, and you leave it in place while it charges. There’s no need to rush out the door with your bike and leave your battery behind.
Shimano’s smaller diameter EW-SD300 – which debuted with the EP8 e-bike motor – means Shimano can pack three ports into the battery. The previous system used larger diameter SD50 wires and there was only one connector in the battery. This means that each derailleur connects directly to the battery and eliminates the “B” junction box that could rattle in the frame. Cleaner and Simpler
Shimano added the 12th gear, but the cassettes still fit on the “11-speed” driver body. This means that any existing 11-speed compatible hubs and wheels are still relevant, removing one of the biggest upgrade issues.
I haven’t found that faster shifting increases my speed or talent, but I like it despite this. Faster shifting feels better, higher performance, more modern, more sophisticated. Plus, the Hyperglide system – I have extensive experience with this technology from Shimano’s 12-speed mountain bike groupsets – is fantastic and makes upshifting at full power smooth and seamless. Shimano’s Di2 shifting performance was already the benchmark, now it’s even better.
Shimano has increased the distance between the rotor and the pad by 10 percent, which should drastically reduce the annoying incidental contact caused by flex and movement as well as in wet and dirty conditions . From a user experience point of view, this is a significant gain.
As a remote shifter fanboy, I’m super happy that Shimano has drastically reduced the size of the remote switches. This opens up opportunities to position them in more places and makes the handlebars of a bike look less clunky.
At this point, the performance and consistency superiority of Di2 over mechanical circuits is irrefutable. But the simplicity of a non-powered shifting system has its place. And some drivers don’t like electronic shifting. Along with Shimano’s waiver of rim brakes – see below – there are many great bikes that riders cannot mount a new Dura-Ace or Ultegra drivetrain.
Shimano could, if they wanted, existing Di2 11-speed shifters make it compatible with the 12-speed rear derailleurs. I know this because they made the existing 11-speed TT / Triathlon shifter parts compatible with the 12-speed front derailleurs (it requires a firmware upgrade and Shimano’s new EW-SD50-to-EW-SD300 wire adapter). However, they do not offer this option for their drop bar gear levers. The cynical – and possibly correct – view is that they decided to force riders with functional 11-speed Di2 shifters who want to switch to the 12-speed system to buy an entire powertrain. It’s a double brake because the ability to upgrade the 11-speed stuff could be a solution for riders holding onto their rim brake wheels.
I know that Shimano traditionally wants its street groups to focus on the street while GRX focuses on gravel and cyclocross. Still, I’m disappointed that they didn’t install any clutches in the new DA and Ultegra rear derailleurs. We ride our “racing bikes” in new and different ways that often get them off the sidewalk, partly because of disc brakes and improved tire clearance. Heck, road bikes like the Trek Emonda and Tarmac SL7 can fit 32mm wide tires. Shimano’s decision likely revolved around faster shift speeds and improved battery life, which are good things. Even so, I think Shimano missed the opportunity to add a feature to the new groupsets that would suit the modern road rider’s experience.
While rim brakes are technically an option on the new Dura-Ace and Ultegra groupsets, I’ve heard that this option only exists for some markets and some Shimano-sponsored professional racing teams * hustINEOScough *. The new Dura-Ace and Ultegra groupsets with rim brakes may be coming to the US in small numbers, but I wouldn’t be holding my breath. Effectively, these new groups are just electronic gears and disc brakes. This means that the simple elegance of a traditional high-performance racing bike with rim brakes and mechanical shifting is practically a thing of the past.
I love the slim and compact hoods of the current Dura-Ace 9100 and Ultegra 8000, and I think SRAM (Red and Force: Rival AXS’s smaller hoods are fine) and Campy’s disc brake lever hoods too big and clunky. So I’m not very happy with Shimano’s decision to inflate the new hoods. One of the downsides to going wireless and having to make room for a battery, I suppose.
Overall, I think Shimano has made some solid updates to the Dura Ace and Ultegra. They added worthwhile features without adding much weight (20 grams or less) or significantly increasing the price. And while adding wireless was undoubtedly complex from a development perspective, in some ways it makes the groups easier for the user and the mechanic. As (almost) always, I recommend most riders to skip Dura Ace right away and buy cheap Dura Ace AKA Ultegra: it’s almost the same groupset and much cheaper.