OMG, the New Shimano Dura-Ace Is Here

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The all-new Shimano Dura-Ace R9170 Di2 Hydraulic group. photo: Shimano

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Dura-Ace FC-R9100 crankset. You'll have the chainring choices of 50/34, 52/36 and 53/39 while crank arms will be offered from 165 to 180mm in 2.5mm increments. photo: Shimano

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Dura-Ace FC-R9100-P powermeter crankset. Notice the small black module near the top center of the crank arm. photo: Shimano

The Di2 electronic front derailleur. photo: Shimano

The Di2 electronic front derailleur. photo: Shimano

The Di2 electronic rear derailleur. photo: Shimano

The Di2 electronic rear derailleur. photo: Shimano

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The mechanical front derailleur, notice the lack of the long cable arm and much more compact design compared to the previous iteration. photo: Shimano

The mechanical rear derailleur. photo: Shimano

The mechanical rear derailleur. photo: Shimano

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Redesigned standard rim brake caliper, notice the quick-release assembly is now tucked in into the arm. Clean. photo: Shimano

Redesigned Direct Mount rim brake caliper. photo: Shimano

Redesigned Direct Mount rim brake caliper. photo: Shimano

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Dura-Ace R91000 Shift/brake lever for standard brake caliper and mechanical shifting. photo: Shimano

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Dura-Ace R9120 Shift/brake lever for hydraulic disc brakes and mechanical shifting. photo: Shimano

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Dura-Ace R91050 Shift/brake lever for standard caliper brakes and Di2 shifting. photo: Shimano

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Dura-Ace R91070 Shift/brake lever for hydraulic disc brakes and Di2 shifting. photo: Shimano

The new textured STI lever hood. photo: Shimano

The new textured STI lever hood. photo: Shimano

Flat Mount Dura-Ace hydraulic brake calipers. photo: Shimano

Flat Mount Dura-Ace hydraulic brake calipers. photo: Shimano

SM-RT900 Ice-Tech Freeza disc brake rotor. photo: Shimano

SM-RT900 Ice-Tech Freeza disc brake rotor. photo: Shimano

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Updated Dura-Ace SPD-SL pedal. Gone is the replaceable top plate and addition of hollow channels on both sides, presumed to shave more grams. photo: Shimano

And it’s a doozy.

You’ve seen spy shots, heard rumors, and might have even seen the official teaser (which more or less gave it away with the site aptly named www.duraace.com).

But yes, Shimano announced their new flagship road drivetrain group. The Dura-Ace R9100 series.

It’s still 11-speed driven with a metal chain, but the devil is in the detail, so let’s see what’s up with this grouppo.

Crankset

At first glance, it’s easy to point out that the FC-R9100 crankset has an (even) bigger crankarms, a darker finish (instead of the two tone silver/black) than the previous generation, but there’s much more under the hood. Returning are the four-bolt, Hollowtech II crankarm construction, but the chainrings profile has been reworked with a slightly wider spacing to accommodate frames with disc brakes and shorter chainstays. It’s also seven grams lighter and thank goodness the spindle remained the same at 24mm that we’ve come to love, or loathe, depending on who you talk to.

Integrated powermeter

Shimano is going to shake up the already crowded powermeter market a bit by offering their own power-measuring crankset, the FC-R9100-P. We haven’t seen much of the actual unit but we were told it’s a waterproof, dual-sided unit (powered by a single rechargeable battery) with an accuracy of +/- 2%. Communication will be done via your typical ANT+ and Bluetooth so you can use whatever head unit you have.

Mechanical system

On the cable-actuated side, the front derailleur (FD-R9100) has been reworked so that gone is the long lever arm. The light shift action remains but the action is much more compact, and cable management is said to be much easier.  Shimano has also integrated the tension adjuster right into the unit, so bye bye barrel adjuster. In the rear, the RD-R9100 borrowed the proven Shadow design from Shimano’s mountain bike derailleurs for a lower profile (no words on the possibility of any aero benefit – yet), direct mount capability, as well as better survivability in case of a crash (because shit happens). The hanger pulleys are also new, with a slightly longer toothing. To control the mechanical drivetrain, two models of STI levers will be offered. the ST-R9100 for standard caliper brakes and the ST-R9120 for hydraulic discs. The overall lever shapes remain more or less the same but with smaller detail upgrades such as textured hood tops (ala Campagnolo), and a claimed 14% shorter lever movement and 24% faster gear shift. It’s all about those marginal gains, dude.

Di2

Now that we’re done talking about the mechanical side of things, let’s talk about the Di2 system. Again, borrowing from the XTR Di2 MTB group, synchronized shifting is now available with the new Dura-Ace 9150 Di2 group. Besides the standard synchro mode where the computer shifts the front chainring while the user shifts the rear up and down the cassette, the new “semi” synchro model basically flips it the other way around where the user controls the front chain ring while the computer shifts the rear to keep a consistent cadence. Pretty novel concept, don’t you think? Hardware wise, the new rear derailleur (RD-R9150) will receive the shadow treatment similar to its mechanical brethren while the front derailleur (FD-R9150) remains largely the same.

Ultegra 6870 and Dura-Ace 9070 owners rejoice

New firmware is coming  to your existing 11-speed Di2 groups this November so the synchro shift option is there if you so please.

Two more things on Di2

The lowly but oh so important cable junction box got a makeover and now there’s the option of having it integrated into compatible frames and handlebar ends for a cleaner appearance. Sure beats having a tiny black box at the bottom of your stem. While Shimano didn’t go full wireless like SRAM eTap, Shimano is releasing a wireless junction box, the EW-WU111, made to enable programming of the Di2 system from a tablet or phone (instead of a pc), as well as to those who want to transfer drivetrain data to computers for better visualization.

Derailleur

Unfortunately, the clutched Shadow Plus derailleur did not make it into the group.

Brakes

As expected, Shimano didn’t stop making caliper brakes while launching their first Dura-Ace disc brake. And as if the previous Dura-Ace brake is not good enough, the new brake calipers have been updated for even more stopping power and clearance (thank you) for 28C tires. For the hydraulic brakes side of things, however, it’s completely new. The hydraulic caliper utilizes the Flat Mount mounting system for a smaller footprint while a wider pad clearance was made to further minimize rubbing. The most visually-striking part of the brake system, though, has got to be the new SM-RT900 Ice-Tech Freeza rotor. While the stainless steel braking surface remains, the rotor’s aluminum inner core now extends out as one continuous piece towards the center for better a 30% heat reduction. And similar to its predecessor, it will only be offer with Centerlock mount in 140mm and 160mm diameter, just big enough to double as a pizza cutter and throwing star (but don’t tell the UCI about that)

Chain

It’s the same CN-HG901-11 with the tool-free connecting link. Nothing new here.

Cassette

Not much different other than the new 11-30 cassette combo. Let’s hope the dreaded cracked cassette syndrome is done and over with.

Pedals

The overall design is the same as any other SPD-SL pedals but the new PD-R9100 pedals are now 24.5 grams lighter and now shipped with hollow cleat bolts (ProTip: Use good hex keys).

Wheels?

Well, that’s another department deserving of a separate post. But yes, there are redesigned hoops in various materials and forms

Price and availability

The full R9100 mechanical group will be available this September for $2029.92. The R9100/R9120 mechanical/hydro brake group will come at $2354.90; The R9150 Di2 group will $3046.85 whereas the R9150/R9170 Di2 with hydraulic brakes will cost the most at $3137.90. Yea, there’s actually four similar, but different groupsets this time around within the Dura-Ace family.


We Love Aluminum Frames, and You Should Too

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eTap-equipped MKI road at NAHBS. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Frame holding jig in the finishing booth. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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A few of Andrew's origin frames. The steel one in the middle was the one he build while attending UBI in 2009. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Andrew prefers to operate the foot switch bare-footed for better feel and control. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Mise en place. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Pre-weld markings. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Spent welding rods. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Head tube on the welding jig. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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A bunch of triangles made while practicing welds.. and finishes. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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A JET horizontal mitering bandsaw plus the must-have, multi-use gallon bucket. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Rear triangle alignment jig. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Custom frame oven designed by none other than Andrew himself. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Frames. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Welding time. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Andrew seen through the yellow curtain. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

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Andrew, with a MkI road, and Manny. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

A custom aluminum frame is somewhat of a unicorn these days. Stroll down the aisles at NAHBS and it’s obvious that the dominant materials for frames are titanium, carbon, and steel. And those are all wonderful materials in their own right, but I have a soft spot for aluminum.

As a kid I drooled over a Klein Quantum Pro with that badass orange paint job, or the flaming red Cannondale CAAD Cipollini rode. There’s a certain beauty to fat tubed, smooth welding frame that just screams come at me bro.

Well, Klein’s gone now (RIP), but my hope of finding a good aluminum bike is not.

The Low Down

Sure, you could go with a big name factory option like Cannondale’s CAAD 12 and Specialized’s Allez, but if you want custom aluminum hand-crafted by an expert, Andrew Low of LOW Bicycles is your guy.

Growing up with interests in model airplanes, guitars and cars, Andrew started building roll cages for off-road vehicles while pursuing his degree in fine arts in Colorado. After moving back to his native San Francisco in 2005, he got really into bikes, and eventually got the idea to make his own frame.

Years of researching tools, saving money, and welding practice finally yielded two frames by the summer of 2010. From there, Andrew “started to take those around town where bike messengers were hanging out.” The LOW frames were an instant hit, and that was the origin of LOW Bicycles.

Today, besides offering four different track models, LOW is dipping into the resurgent aluminum road and cross market with their new MkI road and cross frames—all made in their 500 square foot shop so tidy you would think you just walked into a boutique car shop. Here’s what he has to say for himself.

The Interview

Andrew Low. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Andrew Low. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

Why aluminum? I like the look of oversized tubing as opposed to steel frames but I also wanted to make racing bikes and aluminum is a great material for that, dollar per dollar it’s the most effective material for racing. It’s really versatile in that you can make a really stiff bike and you can make really comfortable bike contrary to popular belief.

It’s just how you shape the tubes.

Aluminum is softer than steel and it’s not as rigid and brittle as epoxy which you find in carbon fiber.

How many frames do you make now? 12 frames every four weeks, and we stop 4 weeks out of the year. So that’s about 120 bikes a year.

Describe your bikes in five words: Beautiful, aggressive, well-designed, well-made, fast.

Why #thismachinekillscarbon? Because if you get on our bikes you won’t feel any disadvantage because you’re on an aluminum bike. I came up with that hashtag myself. The full quote is “this machine kills carbon and your preconceived notion of superiority.”

That’s what we’re setting out to do with our road bike. It started happening now in the industry where big brands are investing into high-end aluminum bikes. Specialized with their Allez which is a beautiful bike in my opinion. Some people are starting to realize that barring from buying the highest end carbon frame you can get just as good if not better performance out of aluminum. One of my bikes will ride much better than a similar-priced carbon bike. You’ll feel the difference.

Uphill or downhill: Downhill.

Favorite riding place: Riding in Marin is awesome, riding through traffic is fun. I used to love riding the city loop

Shaped aluminum tubes ready to be cajoled into a frame. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Shaped aluminum tubes ready to be cajoled into a frame. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

One thing people don’t know about you: I am working on getting my pilot license.

Favorite music: Bands that I grown up loving: the Ramones. Jonathan Richmond, jimmy Hendrix, Lou reed, a lot of stuff from late 70s, early 80s. I play the guitar.

What are you most proud of? That I’ve able to keep this going for five years. Most businesses fail within the first year. I am proud that it took off to begin with. We have a shit ton of struggle keeping the business going. But I am just really proud that I did something people like. For me that’s awesome. It’s validating.

Andrew hard at work. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly
Andrew hard at work. Photo: Stephen Lam/Element.ly

How long does it take to produce one frame: About 30 hours per bike.

Morning or night person: Both. I don’t sleep that much. I go to bed late and wake up early.

Anything else you’d like to add: Buy my bikes!