August 31, 2021
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.
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:
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.
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.
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).
A few of the features that caught my eye worth noting:
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:
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.
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.
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.
Shimano says October 2021, which would be a refreshing change given the current environment in the bicycle industry. Fingers crossed!
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