Shimano goes wireless - reacting to the new Dura-Ace R9200 and Ultegra R8100 12-speed groups

Shimano goes wireless - reacting to the new Dura-Ace R9200 and Ultegra R8100 12-speed groups

Shimano announced some big changes today - first, 2 new 12 speed road groups, second, they're wireless, and third, new versions of both Dura-Ace and Ultegra are being introduced at the same time. Fourth, and perhaps most shocking; there are no mechanical shifting groups offered at this time, all future Dura-Ace and Ultegra are wireless!

12 speed was predictable as Shimano keeps pace with SRAM and Campagnolo, and wireless was also a solid bet (Shimano's various patent applications had previously revealed they were at least working on prototypes), but Dura-Ace and Ultegra refreshes at the exact same time was unexpected, and I don't think anyone would have predicted that Shimano would stop offering mechanical shifting groups completely. Previously, Shimano had released new Dura-Ace first, and then those changes would later "trickle down" to Ultegra, and later, 105. For the first time, Dura-Ace and Ultegra will have parity at launch.

Dura-Ace R9200 and Ultegra R8100 have wireless shifting*

*Sort of. 

As with SRAM's AXS eTap, Shimano has adopted wireless shifting, but Shimano's implementation is completely different. SRAM's groups use batteries at each shifter and derailleur, each of which is not connected by wire. Shimano's new groups shed the wire between the shifters and derailleurs, but the derailleurs are still connected by an internal wire hidden inside the frame, and both are powered by a single hidden seatpost battery. On SRAM groups, each derailleur must have it's own battery directly attached - on the new Shimano system, each derailleur can be sleeker and smaller, because the two derailleurs share a hidden battery. 

This design has a couple key benefits:

  • Each derailleur can be physically smaller and lighter
  • There is only a single charging port to charge the entire system, instead of managing multiple batteries

On the new platform, the "junction box" (you'd typically see these hanging below the stem) has moved to the rear derailleur, as has the charging port. It's very sleek! Moving the junction box cleans up the wiring at the handlebar stem too.

How long do Dura-Ace R9200 and Ultegra R8100 batteries last?

Shimano says 1,000 kilometers for the internal battery that powers the derailleurs. The wireless shifters have separate disposable coin style batteries (likely the same as used in your heart rate monitor strap) that are good for 1-2 years.

There is no mechanical shifting option at all?

You read that correctly. These new shifters are electronic, wireless only. There is no option for mechanical shifting. While the system is designed around modern road bikes with disc brakes, rim brakes do remain an option (still with the wireless shifting though).

Dura-Ace R9200 details

A few of the features that caught my eye worth noting:

  • Cross-compatibility with the XTR (i.e. MTB) 12 speed chain. This likely means that many/most of the 12 speed chains already on the market, such as those from KMC, will work with the new Dura-Ace and Ultegra groups - stay tuned for final info.
  • Many riders were already using XTR MT-900 disc brake rotors, and now that is "officially" supported.
  • The backward compatibility of the cassettes is really slick - they'll work on your older 11 speed freehub bodies, and also on the new 12 speed-specific version found on the new Shimano wheels released at the same time. (the reverse is not true, your old cassettes won't work on the new wheels)
  • There were complaints about riders being unable to differentiate between shifter buttons on prior model Di2 systems; Shimano listened and re-shaped the buttons, so they should work better in full-finger gloves.
  • The extra cog is used to provide a 16 tooth, reducing the gaps in the middle of the cassette (i.e. the gears you use riding in the bunch about 25 MPH) 

Ultegra R8100 details

The new Ultegra R8100 group offers much of the same experience as Dura-Ace R9200 - it's just a little heavier, and a little less expensive, as usual. The main difference is availability - Ultegra fans won't need to wait the typical 1-2 years for Ultegra to "catch up".

What's actually different? Not much:

  • a complete Ultegra R8100 group is about 2/3rd of a pound more than Dura-Ace R9200
  • It will cost you about $1,500 less

What about cyclocross and gravel riders?

Drop bar, off-road, all-season riders should appreciate some of these changes. For example, the shifter buttons are now differently shaped and further apart, making it easier to differentiate them while wearing full-finger gloves.

If you are invested in multiple sets of wheels, you'll also love the backward-compatible 12 speed cassettes - no need to replace all your freehub bodies! This is great for teams who own many wheelsets.

How about 12 speed GRX?

Shimano's GRX group has become increasingly popular for cyclocross racers. The new Dura-Ace and Ultegra groups, notably, lack a clutch rear derailleur, and the media photos all show 2x double drivetrains, not 1x single chainring setups.

It seems like a natural fit that GRX Di2 would get a similar re-design, but for the time being, GRX Di2 stays 11 speed, and wired.

So what are the downsides?

It's not all roses. The primary downside is clearly setup time. Compared to a SRAM AXS eTap system, there will be a longer installation and prep time prior to riding. You'll need to remove the bottom bracket and crankset to route the cable bundle that connects the derailleurs to the internal battery, and also the seatpost, to get that battery installed.

As with any new offering from Shimano, you'll pay for the privilege. SRAM's recently announced XPLR line includes the following AXS eTap rear derailleurs: $255, $350, and $710 MSRP for Rival, Force, and Red respectively. Dura-Ace R9200's rear derailleur carries a list price of $815, and the Ultegra R8150 is $409 - although both brands are typically heavily discounted after availability improves following the normal scarcity at launch.

Dura-Ace R9200 availability

Shimano says October 2021, which would be a refreshing change given the current environment in the bicycle industry. Fingers crossed!

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