Shimano is fairly consistent with its product lifecycles and, following its usual pattern, it seems highly probable that we’ll see the launch of a new 12-speed Dura-Ace groupset in 2020, most likely called Dura-Ace R9200.
The current 11-speed Dura-Ace R9100 is a wonderfully refined groupset in all its permutations (disc, rim, electronic, mechanical…) and you could be forgiven for thinking that major improvements are unlikely.
Nevertheless, we’re excited to see what Shimano comes up with for 2020. Will Shimano go 12-speed on the road? Will the new Dura-Ace Di2 be partially or completely wireless? What mad new tech might be introduced?
As is traditional, Shimano won’t tell us anything at this point, so here are our predictions and my personal wish list of features, based on years of reporting on Shimano components and my assessment of the current road bike market.
1. Dura-Ace R9200 will be 12-speed
Shimano debuted its 12-speed Micro Spline freehub with the launch of XTR M9100. Josh Patterson / Immediate Media
Given that Shimano has already gone 12-speed with its XTR M9100 mountain bike groupset and both SRAM and Campagnolo have already added a twelfth cog to their road offerings, it seems all but certain that the next generation of Dura-Ace will follow suit.
That has major implications for the groupset as a whole, because it would mean finally abandoning the Hyperglide freehub, presumably in favour of the Micro Spline design, which launched with XTR M9100 in 2018.
This allows for the use of a 10t small cog on the cassette and has since been adopted for the second and third-tier SLX and XT mountain bike drivetrains.
A move to 12-speed is good news if you’re looking for closer spaced gears or more range, but it will of course mean no backwards compatibility for most wheels.
Of course, you never know, Shimano might just jump straight to 14-speed.
2. Dura-Ace R9200 will still be available in mechanical, Di2, hydraulic and rim brake versions
SRAM seems to have all but abandoned mechanical shifting at the high end and its rim brakes feel like a bit of a poor second cousin too — the new RED and Force AXS groupsets are electronic only, and there’s still no groupset-matching direct-mount brake option.
I can’t see Shimano taking a similar approach. Dura-Ace is a flagship for the brand with a long and storied history, and it’s always been a showcase for the very best mechanical shifting the company’s engineers can offer.
Similarly, while the disc brake takeover continues, a significant proportion of pro and amateur riders continue to use rim brakes, and Shimano won’t want to alienate them completely.
Their days may be numbered, but I’m not convinced Shimano is ready to drop rim brakes just yet. Matthew Allen / Immediate Media
As long as mechanical road groupsets continue to form the core of Shimano’s road range with everyman groupsets such as 105, and bike manufacturers continue to produce rim brake versions of their top-end bikes, I think mechanical shifting and rim brakes are here to stay as options at the top level.
Saying that, it’s possible that one or more of the groupset permutations might be dropped. Dura-Ace R9100 is available in four versions (R9100 mechanical/rim brake, R9120 mechanical/disc brake, R9150 Di2/rim brake, R9170 Di2/disc brake).
It’s conceivable that R9200 might do without, say, the R9220 mechanical/disc brake option, but Shimano generally likes to cover all bases, so I’m doubtful about that.
3. Dura-Ace R9200 will not be fully wireless
There’s no denying that SRAM’s wireless eTap groupsets make for wonderfully clean builds. SRAM
We know that Shimano has filed patents for wireless components in recent memory, but I don’t think the next generation of Dura-Ace Di2 will actually be wireless, or at least not fully.
Going wireless would mean fundamentally changing the way Di2 works and up-ending the existing E-Tube ecosystem, which integrates with the STEPS e-bike system.
Current Di2 (no pun, etc.) runs off a single, large battery, with components connected at junction boxes — typically one at the stem, and one inside the frame.
Wireless would necessitate separate batteries and the adoption of a new communication protocol.
Of course, there is precedent for starting with a clean slate — when Shimano launched its second Di2 groupset in the form of Ultegra 6770, the original Dura-Ace 7970 Di2 was completely orphaned, with no backwards compatibility at all.
Perhaps a more likely scenario for R9250/R9270 is a semi-wireless design where the derailleurs are physically connected to a main battery and a receiver, and the shifters communicate with them wirelessly.
A typical Di2 setup looks something like this — could it be streamlined? Shimano
In any case, some streamlining of current wiring arrangements would certainly make sense. In existing Di2 setups, a bike might have two junction boxes and a bar-end charging point.
One or more of these could be eliminated with some thoughtful engineering.
4. Dura-Ace R9200 will be a premium product aimed at road racers first
While lower-tier groupsets have always offered features aimed specifically at amateurs, Dura-Ace has historically been kept slightly apart, with the focus always on racers.
In recent years, for example, Ultegra rear derailleurs have been designed to work with cassettes up to 34t, while Dura-Ace has never supported a big cog larger than 30t.
In a similar vein, Shimano held off adding disc brakes to Dura-Ace initially, at a time when pros were riding rim brakes exclusively, instead offering them as non-series components nominally at Ultegra level.
It wasn’t until the debut of Dura-Ace R9100 that discs became part of the flagship race groupset.
When Shimano launched its GRX gravel components, it chose not to offer them at Dura-Ace level. Shimano
Most recently, Shimano dived into 1× for road and gravel with the launch of its GRX components, which top-out at the RX800 Ultegra-equivalent level.
5. Dura-Ace R9200 cranks will be alloy and 2× only
Shimano has dabbled with carbon cranks before, but I’m predicting that the next generation of Dura-Ace will stick with alloy. Shimano
Shimano has dabbled with carbon cranksets in the past and actually launched a carbon version of its Dura-Ace 7800 cranks way back in 2007, but since then, the brand has focussed exclusively on aluminium cranks, producing ever-more refined versions of its Hollowtech II design.
It seems likely that this trend will continue for R9200 cranks, although we did get a glimpse of an alternative future with a striking new crank design teased in a patent filed by Shimano.
What seems more likely is a shake-up of available ratios as we’ve seen with SRAM’s 12-speed AXS groupsets.
If Shimano adopts a 10t cog, it would only be logical to combine that with smaller chainrings, perhaps along similar lines to the 50/37t, 48/35t and 46/33t of SRAM’s X-Range cranks.
Shimano patented this radical crank design. Shimano / Google Patents
It’s conceivable that Shimano might move to direct-mount chainrings for 12-speed as it did with the latest XTR groupset, but I don’t think that’s going to happen.
Direct-mount offers an elegant way to support both 1× and 2× drivetrains on the same crank platform as well as a range of chainring — because bolt circle diameter (BCD) isn’t an issue — but I doubt the next generation of Dura-Ace will offer a 1× option at all.
Pro cyclists have shown little enthusiasm for 1× on the road (see also: the team Aqua Blue Sport debacle and the subsequent launch of the 3T Strada Due), so to offer 1× would not be in keeping with the racing-first ethos of Dura-Ace.
It would be fair to say that 1× on pure road bikes has some way to go. Matthew Allen / Immediate Media
Also, Shimano has only just launched its GRX range of gravel components which support 1×, so adding the option to the brand’s pure road offering would be a muddling of its current approach.
A curious side effect of Dura-Ace going 12-speed and sticking to 2× would be that the brand would then be offering 1×11 and 2×12, but not 1×12. No doubt 12-speed GRX components would be released in good time, however.
A further consideration is crank spindle diameter; where other manufacturers have focussed on 30mm designs, Shimano has stuck doggedly to 24mm, which eases backwards compatibility concerns.
I don’t see this changing — Shimano has proven it can make ultra-stiff cranks with 24mm spindles, and moving away from them would have far reaching implications for bottom bracket design that would put Dura-Ace entirely at odds with the rest of Shimano’s range.
6. Dura-Ace R9200 will brake even better, but you may not notice
The current generation of Shimano hydraulic levers offer a greater range of adjustment compared to the first wave of road disc components and the braking on offer is very, very good.
Realistically, any improvements on this front are going to be incremental ones, but it’s possible that the range of adjustment could be further increased or even made tool-free, although the latter seems unlikely.
Shimano borrowed Servo Wave from its mountain bike levers for the Di2 version of GRX. Kevin Fickling / Shimano
The new GRX Di2 levers use Shimano’s Servo Wave design for better braking off-road. Servo Wave makes the relationship between lever and pad travel non-linear, improving modulation in the latter part of the stroke.
It’s debatable whether this specific approach would offer a benefit on the road, but I could imagine Shimano looking to improve braking control if not outright power.
7. Shimano will do something different
Shimano won’t want to be seen to be playing catch up with SRAM and Campagnolo. There’s a strong incentive for the brand to strike out in an entirely new direction to differentiate itself from the competition.
It seems likely that it might do this on the tech and integration front. Shimano has filed some interesting patents in recent years including, for example, one that appears to describe a system of service indicators for bikes, which displays information to the rider in much the same way that a modern car tells its owner when to perform key maintenance, such as changing engine oil or replacing brake pads.
A system like this is more likely to appear on more utility-oriented bikes (and e-bikes) than the race machines for which Dura-Ace is intended, but it’s interesting all the same.
A greater level of integration seems inevitable for Dura-Ace Di2. R9100 debuted Synchro Shifting, user-assignable buttons on the shifters and Garmin integration, and Shimano now offers a Bluetooth antenna for direct communication with your phone.
Expect some further evolution of this everything-connected approach, perhaps with more sophisticated power meter integration and greater connectivity to third party devices.
My Dura-Ace 2020 wishlist
Above all, I’d like Shimano to be daring with the next generation of its flagship road groupset. This is the company that came up with pneumatic shifting and SPD sandals for crying out loud!
While I don’t think it’s going to happen, I would love it if the brand were to go fully wireless with Dura-Ace R9200.
Building a bike with SRAM eTap is such a delight, with no gear cables (or wires) to route through the frame, and no separate battery to install.
eTap makes for wonderfully clean builds, the likes of which simply aren’t possible with current Shimano groupsets.
I sincerely believe that Dura-Ace 9000 is one of the most striking groupsets ever made. BikeRadar
On the aesthetic front, I think Shimano could afford to be bolder. I happen to think Dura-Ace 9000 was one of the best looking groupsets ever made, with its angular lines and sharp two-tone accents. When it launched, it looked like nothing else on the market.
Dura-Ace R9100, on the other hand, was much more conservative in its design. It’s still a handsome set of components, but the mostly-black colour scheme (there’s a bit of subtle fading) just isn’t as radical and eye-catching.
I want Shimano to come up with something both beautiful and new for the next generation.
What are you hoping for from the next generation of Dura-Ace? Let us know your thoughts in the comments.