Cues is a win for groupset compatibility – but come on Shimano, just give us a mullet!
Drop-bar shifters to come eventually, but why not go all-out now?
Shimano’s new Cues groupset is being billed as an affordable, adaptable, widely compatible and easy-to-understand range of components that will make life easier for bike brands and consumers.
While that’s all likely to be true, Shimano has missed a trick by not leaning into the inherent adaptability of Cues (you can read more on Shimano Cues here) and giving us what we want – an affordable, mechanical-shifting Shimano mullet drivetrain with hydraulic brakes.
That may feel like a simple ask, and one that Shimano has, thus far, failed to deliver on – but there’s light at the end of the tunnel.
What is a mullet drivetrain (and why are they important)?
Mullet setups pair wide-range mountain bike drivetrain components with drop-bar shifters.
They are increasingly popular with both aftermarket/custom builders and original equipment manufacturers (OEMs), offering the same range (if not wider) as a 2x drivetrain with the simplicity of a 1x drivetrain.
SRAM openly embraced the mullet drivetrain when it launched its AXS wireless components.
At the time of the launch, the brand commissioned custom bike builders to show off the adaptability of its new wares.
This was a home run from a marketing perspective, winning plaudits among consumers. Many gravel bikes at the rowdier end of the riding spectrum now ship with SRAM mullet drivetrains as stock.
Microshift has also made real inroads into the enthusiast market in recent years.
This is in no small part due to the brand’s acceptance of weird and wonderful drivetrains.
Microshift produces drop-bar shifters (as well as thumb and bar-end shifters) for Shimano’s mountain bike groupsets. Its own in-house components also accommodate similar setups.
These setups are now seen commonly on custom bikes and on catalogue builds (the recently launched Surly Preamble is the most recent example I can think of).
No mullets at Shimano HQ (for now)
Until now, Shimano’s road/gravel and mountain bike groupsets have used different cable pull ratios, freehubs and other standards. This meant the two couldn’t be combined to create an affordable mechanical mullet drivetrain.
While enterprising tinkerers have conjured up ways to make incompatible components work together, none of it is officially endorsed by Shimano (for the pedants among you, I am well aware it’s possible to bodge a Di2 mullet drivetrain, but that’s not a viable solution for most riders).
Cues is – or, rather, could be – a totally different kettle of fish.
Despite covering 9-, 10- and 11-speed components, Cues, which supercedes the existing Alivio, Acera and Altus groupsets, is based on a set of common standards.
All shifters use the same cable pull ratio, any 11-speed chain can be used with the groupset and every crankset will work with any drivetrain configuration.
This is a very welcome move that should make the lives of consumers, retailers and bike brands easier.
While it only currently encompasses flat-bar components, Shimano has also all but confirmed Tiagra and other budget road groupsets will soon be subsumed by Cues.
This means that, for the first time, riders (and brands) may soon be able to build the Shimano-equipped mullet drivetrain bikes we’ve all wanted for so long.
We could soon see, for example, affordable Tiagra-level hydraulic shifters paired with a wide-range 11-speed 1x drivetrain. That is a deeply appealing proposition.
Of course, all of this is based on the assumption that the unreleased drop-bar shifters use the same cable pull ratio as the rest of the Shimano Cues range.
However, given the new Cues range goes hard on inter-compatibility, I reckon there’s a damn good chance they will.
Either way, it’s unclear when the drop-bar components will arrive and, at this stage, that’s a missed opportunity for Shimano.
The launch of Cues presented a chance for Shimano to go all-out and plant its flag firmly on top of We Love Weird Drivetrains Mountain.
Cues may be a product designed in response to the demands of bike brands, but there would have been no better way for Shimano to cement the new group in the minds of the enthusiast market than finally rocking the mullet.
While there’s light at the end of the tunnel, we’re not there yet. I live in hope.