Update 2 February 2021: A new Dura-Ace R9200 groupset has yet to put in a verified appearance, but rumours continue to fly and there have been further clues to what the next generation of Shimano’s flagship road groupset might look like.
Shimano has filed a flurry of patents in the past year that could relate to new Dura-Ace, including ones that feature wireless components and 12-speed cassettes.
Perhaps the most significant development (one picked up by our friends at CyclingTips) is that Shimano has had both a rear derailleur and a “shifting module” tested under FCC (Federal Communications Commission – the US body that certifies wireless devices) regulations, but not a front derailleur.
CT’s Dave Rome (formerly of BikeRadar) points to the possibility that this means Dura-Ace R9200 will be ‘semi-wireless’, something we’ve previously speculated in our Dura-Ace wish list.
As noted in our extended speculation below, it’s possible Shimano may make certain components wireless (e.g. the rear derailleur), while retaining a physical connection between others.
This might be a way of simplifying wiring arrangements or achieving a compromise between convenience and battery life – FSA attempted similar with its K-Force WE groupset.
Shimano Di2 has always had far longer battery life than SRAM’s wireless AXS groupsets thanks to its large central battery, and Shimano might not want to force riders into more frequent charging.
It’s also possible that a semi-wireless arrangement could circumvent patents held by rival brands, although that’s speculation – we’re not patent lawyers.
An alternative explanation for the latest news is that everything will be wireless, but the testing has yet to be carried out or the reports just aren’t yet finished for the other components.
The one feature that seems like a dead cert is a move to 12-speed. Shimano has gone to 12 cogs all the way down to Deore-level (equivalent to Tiagra) on its mountain bike groupsets and it would be baffling if road didn’t follow suit.
If that happens, it will likely bring with it a shake-up of the gearing options on offer, since the 12-speed Micro Spline freehub permits the use of a 10t cog at the high end.
This could have major implications for the whole of Shimano’s drop-bar groupset range.
The dust has barely settled since the launch of the brand’s gravel-specific GRX components, but a move to 12-speed on the pure road side would steamroller existing compatibility between the road and gravel ranges.
Older updates continue below.
Update 9 October 2020: This week the internet is aflutter after Deceuninck–Quick-Step rider Remco Evenepoel posted a video to Instagram detailing a post-injury training ride that might give a glimpse of a new and potentially wireless Shimano Dura-Ace groupset fitted to his Specialized Tarmac SL7 team bike.
Here’s the video:
And here’s one of the images that have set tongues wagging:
There is something odd looking about the shape of both the front and rear derailleurs, with the front looking slightly chunkier than I’d expect. Nevertheless, I’m not convinced this is the new groupset.
I think the lighting is playing tricks and making familiar components look different.
If you zoom right in on the rear derailleur it looks like the previous-generation R9150 cable is actually there, it’s just almost invisible against the cassette.
But maybe I’m wrong? Is this the first sighting of Dura-Ace R9200? Is it wireless? Watch this space.
Original article continues below.
Shimano Dura-Ace R9200 – our predications
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 the near future, 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 next. 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?
We first published this piece in September 2019 and as of 9 October 2020, Dura-Ace R9200 has failed to put in an official appearance, suggesting my original prediction that Shimano would launch the groupset in 2020 is likely incorrect.
Of course, nothing about 2020 has been normal. The pro racing calendar is all over the place, with the Giro d’Italia currently being staged and the Vuelta a Espana set to overlap with its final week.
In an ideal world we’d be ogling newly launched bikes and trying to spot the next generation of Dura-Ace lurking on the roof of a team car right now, but we’re still hopeful that we might catch a glimpse of something new from Shimano this year, even if it doesn’t launch officially until 2021.
As is traditional, Shimano is tight-lipped on the subject, so here are our updated 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
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- and fourth-tier mountain bike drivetrains, XT, SLX and Deore.
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 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.
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, the number of flagship models that are disc-only is ever-increasing, such as the new 2021 Trek Emonda.
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
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 ebike 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. FSA’s K-Force WE groupset uses this arrangement.
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, long cage (GS) 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.
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 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 focused 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.
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.
Also, Shimano’s GRX range of gravel components has 1× options, 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, though.
A further consideration is crank spindle diameter; where other manufacturers have focused 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.
The 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 ebikes) 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 better connectivity to third-party devices.
My Dura-Ace 2021 wishlist
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.
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.