New Shimano GRX? Here’s our wish list for Shimano’s next-generation gravel groupset
6 things we want from an updated Shimano GRX groupset
The incessant pace of gravel tech waits for no rider and, three-and-a-half years after the launch of Shimano GRX, it’s time to compile our wish list for the next generation of the Japanese giant’s gravel groupsets.
When GRX arrived as Shimano’s first gravel-specific groupset in 2019, the brand launched three tiers of components. These are the RX800/815 (mechanical and Di2), RX600 (mechanical), and RX400 (mechanical), nominally matching the specs of the brand’s previous-generation Ultegra, 105 and Tiagra road groupsets.
Shimano hit a home run with the launch of GRX – it’s very good – but the gravel market has evolved significantly since 2019.
When will we see a new GRX family? Shimano updates its road groupsets roughly every three to five years, so we could see a GRX update in 2023. Equally, the industry (and, in particular, Shimano) is still feeling the effect of widespread component shortages and that could delay a launch.
Either way, regular BikeRadar readers will know we love nothing more than dusting off the crystal ball, so here’s what we want to see from a next-generation GRX line-up.
Okay, we’ll start with an easy one.
With Dura-Ace R9200, Ultegra R8100 and 105 R7100 all gaining an additional sprocket to become 12-speed, we want – no, demand! – GRX to follow suit, at least at its nominal Ultegra and 105 levels.
This is a logical progression, given the development of Shimano’s road groupsets but, given the popularity of 1x drivetrains among gravel riders (we’ll come on to this…) an extra sprocket can make a significant difference if you’ve ditched the front derailleur.
Remember, SRAM has long offered 12 speeds for its gravel components, while Campagnolo jumped straight to 13-speed with Ekar.
That said, GRX is currently available in both 11-speed and 10-speed flavours, so if Shimano’s update covers the same three tiers as the original launch, we’d expect the Tiagra-level RX400 components to follow the expected evolution of the road groupset and move to 11-speed.
2) Electronic evolution
The arrival of Shimano 105 Di2 was one of this year’s biggest – and most hotly anticipated – launches, but what does that mean for GRX?
First of all, any new GRX Di2 components will surely follow the lead of Dura-Ace, Ultegra and now 105 in ditching a fully wired setup, in favour of a semi-wireless arrangement. That means the shifters communicate wirelessly with the front and rear derailleurs, which in turn are wired to a central battery.
On the road side of things, Shimano has seemingly abandoned high-end mechanical groupsets in favour of this semi-wireless setup. Will Shimano also ditch mechanical shifting for a new, high-end GRX groupset?
Now that SRAM offers its third-tier Rival groupset in a gravel-friendly XPLR format, we also expect Shimano will bring Di2 electronic shifting to its 105-level components.
Gazing deeply into the crystal (gravel?) ball, we’d expect a new GRX line-up to look something like this:
- Ultegra-level, Di2 only, 12-speed
- 105-level, Di2 and mechanical, 12-speed
- Tiagra-level, mechanical 11-speed
Would Shimano need to offer a new 12-speed, mechanical 105 groupset before its GRX equivalent follows suit? Most likely.
In an ideal world, we’d also like Shimano to upgrade a future Tiagra-level GRX groupset to 12-speed, ensuring full mechanical compatibility between price tiers. But, given that Tiagra would need to jump from its current 10-speed status to 12-speed, that seems unlikely.
And could we even see Dura-Ace components for GRX? More on that soon.
3) Updated brake calipers and rotors
GRX led the way by introducing Servo Wave to drop-bar levers (albeit borrowed from Shimano’s mountain bike brakes) and that technology has now found its way onto the brand’s latest road groups.
Servo Wave makes the relationship between lever and brake pad movement non-linear, improving modulation and control, and is one of the reasons why Shimano’s GRX brakes are so good.
The GRX Di2 hood shape is also a work of art, and very different to that of the mechanical shape. Short and compact, the GRX hoods are a comfortable place to spend a lot of time and, crucially, also allow for confident braking on the hoods.
As far as braking is concerned, we’d expect Shimano to update the GRX brake calipers and rotors to mirror recent improvements to the new road groupsets.
That means more pad clearance, which is critical for grimy gravel riding, easier bleed port access and rotors to match the new RT-CL900 and RT-CL800 designs. In testing, we’ve found these offer improved warp resistance for quieter performance on brake-heavy descents.
We’d also like Shimano to introduce reach and bite point adjustment to its brake levers, as seen on Campagnolo’s Ekar gravel groupset.
Just leave the Di2 hood shape alone!
4) More 1x gearing options
Shimano, in its conservatism, has consistently backed 2x drivetrains for both road and gravel riding.
Indeed, while the current GRX family offers 1x components – a first for Shimano on drop-bar bikes – arch-rival SRAM is the preferred 1x provider for most riders.
How can Shimano level-up against the American upstart? Give us more 1x gearing options.
Officially, Shimano’s current GRX RX812 rear derailleur offers capacity for a 42-tooth sprocket, but SRAM’s 12-speed AXS XPLR, introduced in 2021 as the brand’s ‘sweetspot’ gravel gearing, steps this up to 44 teeth, with a wider range of 1x cranksets, too.
We’re also seeing an increasing number of SRAM riders opt for a mullet gearing setup, pairing gravel or road components at the front of the drivetrain, with a huge 10-52t Eagle cassette at the rear.
2x still has its place on gravel bikes – some riders prefer the ability to fine-tune gearing and cadence, particularly if riding less technical terrain – but it’s time for Shimano to refine its 1x gearing options.
And will Shimano, like SRAM, even go as far as embracing Di2 mullet gearing? We’ll need a full (and much-needed) update to XTR Di2 for that, but any update to Shimano’s premier mountain bike groupset could give an indication of what to expect from a new GRX line-up.
5) GRX power meter crankset
Shimano entered the power meter game in 2017, but the brand’s debut offering failed to set the world alight.
Ultimately, Shimano seemed content to limit its in-house, crankset-based power meter to top-tier Dura-Ace components, with third-party suppliers providing a wide range of options in an increasingly crowded market.
That changed with the introduction of a power meter to Ultegra R8100, offering dual-sided measurements to a claimed accuracy of +/- 2%.
That’s still a step behind SRAM, with the US brand offering a power meter for its third-tier Rival crankset.
Regardless, we want Shimano to offer a power meter for GRX.
Staring at your stem to crunch the numbers may not be in the ‘spirit of gravel’ but, given the rise of gravel racing, and the number of pros now dipping a toe into the dirt, a GRX power meter crankset would scratch that itch for power-hungry gravelistas.
Which leads us on to our final point…
6) We want Dura-Ace!
Gravel racing has become big business since 2019. Just look at this year’s inaugural UCI Gravel World Championships.
Currently, GRX tops out with its Ultegra-level RX800 components, but with some of the world’s best riders now turning their attention to gravel, is it time to reward them with the best Shimano can offer?
And while we’re at it, how about wider availability of the beautiful, silver-polished GRX Limited components from Unbound 2022?
The market may be small, but hey, why shouldn’t we ask for nice things?