Among all the mechanical drivetrains on the market, just one stands out as the industry benchmark — Shimano’s Dura-Ace. This year, Shimano re-designed their full Dura-Ace lineup and the R9100 groupset has been in for review. Spoiler alert… it’s still the benchmark for mechanical shifting.
Shimano Dura-Ace R9100 Groupset Features:
- Redesigned Dual-control levers with redesigned lever stroke
- New internal shifting unit with lighter shifting action
- Same ergonomics between hydraulic and mechanical systems
- 14mm reach adjustment
- Shadow RD rear derailleur (11-30t cassette maximum)
- Updated Hollowtech II crankset (52/36 tested)
- New Dual-Pivot brake caliper with Direct-Mmount options (28c clearance for both)
- MSRP: $2500 (approx)
Looks great and stays on top
It didn’t take more than a few miles to be impressed with the new R9100 groupset. Previous rides aboard R9000 were good but not earth-shattering. I found it only marginally-better than Ultegra at a significant cost difference. Now, the R9100 really does feel like the top-shelf kit it should be with shiny good looks to match. Aboard the Fezzari Fore CR5, the Dura-Ace kit has been nothing short of fantastic.
The improved ergonomics are immediately felt as the hoods are comfortable and just the right diameter to reach the levers to shift or brake. The squared sides of the levers are much smoother than previous generations and really feel about the same as SRAM’s latest Red eTap HRD levers. That little bit of blockiness is important because of Shimano’s tried-and-true mechanical shifting pattern.
Speaking of shifting, that’s where R9100 shines. Shifts are immediate, crisp and quiet. I’m not kidding as both up and downshifts are as fast as I’ve ever experienced. The ramping pattern on the 11-30t cassette works in concert with the Dura-Ace chain for an up/down bonanza even under load. I will point out that year-round shifting is still difficult as the small shift paddle (that works well with bare fingers) becomes difficult to hit with winter-weight gloves on. I guess not everything is perfect.
Most test bikes that have come through the door have been equipped with reliable Ultegra 6800 kits. The comparison between 6800 and 9100 is unfair as the latest Dura-Ace simply outshines it in every way. I’m anxious to try the latest Ultegra R8000 as it likely performs on par with Dura-Ace but with a weight penalty — we’ll see.
While shifting is one important part of any drivetrain, braking is a close second. Dura-Ace brakes are the industry-standard and braking with the Reynolds Assault wheels has been absolutely fantastic. Modulation is superb with all the power I could ever want. Feathering the brakes or grabbing a fistful was always as expected. I’ve seen some scuttlebutt on the lack of fine-tuning adjustments with the brake’s quick-release lever. Apparently, hard enough braking will pop a partially-open brake release all the way open. Honestly, I have been riding with the rear brake partially-open for some time and it has yet to slip into fully-open mode. Still, it appears to be a potential design flaw that I’m sure Shimano will remedy.
Shimano remains committed to alloy cranksets, which is still surprising to me. That said, the chunky new Dura-Ace crankset is quite fetching if you ask me. A quick look around the interwebs and they appear to be quite polarizing with lots of haters out there. I’m a fan of the look and an even bigger fan of the performance. They are stiff and deliver quality shifting and power transfer. Aside from Shimano’s confidence in their alloy expertise, I’m told that aluminum cranks are better for power measurement than carbon so that may also play a part in the continued use of the material.
I have also spent some time aboard the Shimano Dura-Ace R9170 Di2 disc groupset on the Factor O2 Disc and even though my time was limited to an afternoon, that kit is also quite impressive — more miles would be needed to deliver ore details on the R9170 group.
- Ultra-fast shifting
- Entire system is super-quiet and smooth
- Braking power is excellent in the hoods or drops
- Updated ergonomics adds to comfort and feel
- I’m not missing my disc brakes in dry weather — stops are consistent
- Trusted by more professional teams than any other grouppo
- Shadow RD tucks neatly under the chainstay
- Braking and shifting with winter gloves remains difficult (though slightly better than before)
The Bottom Line: Shimano Dura-Ace R9100
Outfitted with mid-compact cranks and 11-30t cassette, I’ve been able to climb and descend everything that the Wasatch has to offer. And, during those efforts, I’ve enjoyed some of the smoothest shifting I’ve ever experienced from a mechanical drivetrain. Performance has truly been incredible with superb braking to boot. Add on top of that, the revised and ergonomic-er hoods and these are again the top mechanical groupset I’ve tested.
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