Monday, June 02, 2008

Shimano Dura Ace 7900

I wasn't going to do a post about the new Shimano Dura Ace group. The press embargo was lifted, so everybody and their brother has been talking about the group today. It's worthy of the hype- believe me- but I just didn't feel "up to it" with all the battles I've been having with our lovely healthcare system (it's the "system" I have the problem with). Today being a particularly annoying day, I just wasn't "in the mood"...

... but in the end, I am still a total bike nerd and new widgets excite me and I have numerous good friends at Shimano on top of it all. So here I am.

This is the same picture everybody has been using of the group- the plastic parts molded just for the picture and for the sample cases to show manufacturers (like me). For wax and plastic, they are pretty.

I'm not going to go into too much detail because both VeloNews and CyclingNews do a much better job than I could hope to.

That said, I do have to lend my comments, especially since there is a little confusion among folks;

Shifters- this new shifter does have much better ergonomics to me and my big hands. The new body shape is better. I still think the SRAM hoods might feel slightly better, but that is because of the flatter section that transitions from the bar to the hood. BUT... these new hoods are much better than the older ones- in my opinion. The new levers also add carbon lever blades and reach adjustment- two great features. Reach adjustment just makes so much sense and is long overdue. SRAM already has it, so it's not a first... but it's a welcome addition. Much has also been made about the new cable routing all being under the tape. THIS is the best feature to me. Sincerely, I always hated the exposed cables, so this is the best thing about the entire group to me. Almost.

Front Derailleur- Yep it works and it's lighter. What else? Not much... except that the shift plates were redesigned so that there is no longer a "trim" position in the front shifter. The pre-production samples I played with shifted flawlessly... as well-maintained show samples almost always do. The jury is out on this one. SRAM was getting slammed for not having trim adjustment until Red came out. With Shimano going backwards... it makes you wonder.

Rear Derailleur- Carbon fiber pulley cage and a wider gear range are the big bits. The carbon cage is now ubiquitous with other brands... so why not Shimano. Like the front, the rear gets new cable pull ratios for even quicker feeling shifts. SRAM's 1:1 ratio is hard to beat- even for Shimano- but if anybody can, it's the folks in Japan.

Chain- My biggest gripe with Shimano has always been the frailty of the chains- for me. Some folks never have problems with the Shimano chains, but I have been plagued. Whether it's been a chain I installed (which raises concerns) or one installed by somebody else, I have never gotten good wear from the chains and have had numerous chains break. The new chain should help with that problem. Best feature of the chain (and possibly even the best feature of the group) is the reusable master link! Gone are the days of wondering if you got the Hyperglide pin installed correctly. Like the master link used by SRAM, this one works great and is tool free... but this one can be used multiple times... unlike the SRAM link (though, I admit that I have used mine numerous times without a single problem or degraded shifting performance... but you're not supposed to and you didn't hear it from me...). More importantly though, the new chain is directional- meaning it must be installed a certain direction. This is supposed to enhance the shifting and improve chain wear. If all of it works as marketed (and Shimano almost always does) then this chain should make me a happy man.

Crankset- This is a tough one for me... I hated the 7800 series (for looks) when it debuted, but I ended up really digging it as time went on. You simply can not argue with the stiffness of the cranks. They are stiff... S-T-I-F-F. The new crankset is lighter and supposedly like 20% stiffer. WHOA! I don't think that all comes from the new hollow big ring, but that must help. I'm not sold yet on the looks- yet. I have to confess that I really love the looks of both the Red and Record cranks. Both are just very sexy to me. Sorry. But neither has proven to be as stiff as current Dura Ace and new Dura Ace is supposed to be stiffer. As a heavy sprinter, crankset stiffness has been a big deal to me. I'm happy to trade a few grams and the carbon "oooh" factor for a bit more stiffness. A new compact crank is now officially available with the Dura Ace badge now too. For some folks that won't mean a thing, but for the ever-growing population of compact devotees, this is huge news. So, I'm still trying to like the new looks, but I know I'll like the new stiffness and Shimano's best of breed shifting (sorry, nobody has ever beaten Shimano's chainring shifting performance).

Brakes- Shimano brake calipers have always served as the industry benchmark and Dura Ace has been the mantel carrier for the brand. The new brakes are lighter and stiffer and stop even better. The new pad compound is much better in the wet and is soil-your-skinsuit good in the dry. The new arch shape increases power and the new pads add more stopping power than you're likely ever going to be able to control. SRAM has some great brakes, truly gorgeous, but the braking power is still just a step behind Shimano. The new Red brakes are way close to the current Dura Ace, but the gap might just be opening a little with these new brakes. No denying, again, that I prefer the look of the SRAM calipers... but I have to tip my hat to Shimano for overall braking performance... they haven't been beaten yet, in my mind.

Cassette- The new cassette is kinda like the old cassette. The cogs have a newly designed tooth profile and better aluminum cog carrier that is supposed to improve shifting while being lighter. Ok... I trust them. The best news is that more size options are available than ever before; 11-21, 11-23, 11-25, 11-27, 11-28, 12-23-12-25 and 12-27. That's a lot of options and combined with a compact, that 11-28 is gonna be WAY popular. SRAM is giving Shimano real competition on this item, with the Powerdome cassette, but it is a real splitting of hairs to pick a winner between the two. The SRAM Red cassette is lighter and really cool with it's hollow design (though noisy). Shimano and SRAM are close here, but the "old" Dura Ace might've lost a little to the Red cassette. The new Dura Ace cassette is gonna either close the gap or make things simply too close to call now.

Hubs- Yeah right. Outside of Paris-Roubaix custom team wheels and a few folks who still prefer custom wheels (like me), nobody buys hubs anymore. It's a complete wheel world now. Gone are the days of buying a group and having new wheels built to your spec- consumers have almost entirely forgotten that joy (if they ever knew it). I personally miss those days and would love these hubs laced to some nice rims with a nice spoke and nipple combo... but even I ride prebuilt wheels now. That said, these new hubs are sweet. The bearings are beyond smooth and are now adjustable with a simple allen wrench. The rear freehub mechanism is still titanium and still engages really quickly. What else do you wanna know? That's what I thought...

Here's the deal- I've only played with sample parts in a controlled environment and they worked with 100% perfection. I haven't actually ridden anything yet. Once I can get my hands on a group (which might never happen) and I am fit enough to ride again, I promise I'll give a more in-depth review. That said, like all things Shimano does, they do their homework. The company can be beaten up for being slow to respond at times and maybe being too conservative, but they don't make too many mistakes... ever (I still say their pedals are the best on the market and I have become addicted to their shoes as well). Some people are complaining that the group is still too heavy- 2052gm vs the 2181gm of the current group. Well, a little extra weight might be the difference between riding and walking for many of us. Seriously- how many of us are riding le Tour or the Giro? Yeah, that's what I thought. These parts are still light enough that Pro Tour teams have trouble keeping bikes heavy enough to pass the UCI weight limits. I don't know about you, but a 15lb bike under my heavy ass is guaranteed to break- I promise you. These parts are light enough for riders who are much more picky about weight because they make a living on a bike... so they're light enough for me.

The thing that most folks will complain about is the lack of backwards compatibility with older groups or other groups. Most of the new parts, due to the enhancements/ changes/ upgrades, will only work with the new group. But these changes are long overdue and I am happy to see them. For the most part, Dura Ace has been unchanged since 2004... which is too long.

Shimano's PR Manager is a guy named Devin Walton. I've known Devin for many years now and I can honestly say that he's a truly top-notch guy. Devin is paid to be the mouth of the company and to tow the company line... but knowing him gives me that little extra bit of security because I trust him. I've had beers with the guy and have talked to him for years... he's good people. He's pretty excited about the stuff- no doubt because he's more aware of the PR war with SRAM than most people. Frankly... that buys a little of my attention.

Like I said, IF I ever get some parts to bolt to a frame, I'll report my findings. But on the surface of things and based on the prototypes I've touched... Shimano is back in the fight after a couple years of fighting for attention. This is what I talked about a few years ago when SRAM entered the group market; competition breeds innovation. Something both Shimano and Campagnolo needed.

I'm excited. The future looks bright for high-end enthusiasts.

(PS- For the record... Campagnolo is barely mentioned because I haven't ridden anything from Campy newer than 2004 product. I happen to know changes are cooking there as well and I am anxious to see what they bring to the table.)


m said...

I'm still upset about external bearing bottom brackets. I have never been comfortable on the bike since.

James said...

Tim, Thanks for sharing your thoughts on the new group.It is good to hear straight talk from someone who has actually played with the prototypes. The two tone finish is going to take some getting used to, but overall I like the look of the new group. I was a big fan of the 7800 series crank though, so any new crank is tough for me to get excited about. Still, I think Shimano is definitely leading Campy in the industrial design department. Having SRAM in the mix is definitly a good thing for consumers because it pushes everyone to make better products.

UltraRob said...

I quit using the Shimano chains many years ago because I broke so many of them. The problem was mainly on my mountain bike. I've done much better with what are now the SRAM chains.

Smelley said...

Holy Crap. I don't know what impresses me more, the DA group, or how much you're typing with that thumb.

Thanks for sharing.

ADIG said...

Great post Tim! I agree with you on the crankset...they look like they should keep spinning when you are stopped at a light.

C said...

I was never a fan of the 7800 crank. Too bulbous for my tastes. That said, the new cranks look a bit more svelte. Also hope they have better ankle clearance for those of us who have a toes out stance. I don't race so I could care less about stiffness. Besides, I think way too much is made about stiffness. Just look at all the races Sean Kelly won on a flimsy Vitus!

I'm most excited about the hubs. Nothing beats the smoothness of loose bearing hubs. Funny how people will spend hundreds of dollars for ceramic bearings that are no smoother than well maintained loose bearings. Ditching the cone wrenches will make maintaining loose bearing hubs a much easier task.

Also excited to see Shimano sticking with down tube shifters. STI doesn't even come close to matching down tube shifters for precision. You cut out all that extra housing and it's amazing how much crisper the shifting is. Since I don't race the STI shifters really don't offer much advantage.

I also like that Shimano is still sticking with allow. Personally, I've never warmed up to black components. Polished silver just looks so much better. Sadly, it's all but impossible to find nice silver stems, posts, handlebars, etc. these days. I predict in another year or two silver will become the new black.