It's no secret that a new Shimano Dura-Ace groupset is on the way.
Shimano has been updating its Dura-Ace groupset on a four-year cycle for many years now. However, with launches in 2008, 2012 and 2016, the new Dura-Ace was expected to arrive in 2020 but to no avail. For reasons unknown - potentially COVID-19-related - Shimano broke its trend and we're now into the fifth year with the current iteration, Dura-Ace R9100 series.
In the five years since its launch, Shimano's competition in the best road bike groupset space has forged ahead at speed. Both SRAM and Campagnolo have increased the number of sprockets to 12 - or 13 - if you count Campag's new Ekar gravel groupset - and subsequently the range of gears on offer, too. SRAM and FSA have even upped the ante with wireless technology, simplifying initial setup and maintenance.
Despite this, Shimano's current Dura-Ace groupset is still an exceptional piece of engineering and still holds a loyal following. Despite SRAM Red eTap AXS having both wireless tech and 12-speed on its side, the debate of today's best road bike groupsets is still hotly contested.
But with the impending arrival of new Dura-Ace, what do we know, what do we expect, and when will it launch? A slew of patents and legal documents have been uncovered over the past year that has given us a few clues. So let's run down the rumours and the speculation to work out what's coming.
What will its series name be?
Cyclingnews prediction: New Dura-Ace will almost certainly be named R9200 and R9250 for mechanical and electrical respectively
Documents from the FCC (US Federal Communications Commission) pertaining to radio frequency - which we'll explain in more depth later on - include the name of two DAT files referencing software. For the document relating to the shifter, the filename begins STR9250, and for the document relating to the rear derailleur, the filename begins RDR9250.
To explain why this is relevant, Shimano's part numbers are prefixed with letters that reference the part in question, ST is the part number prefix for Shimano's shifters, and RD is Rear Derailleur. For example, an RD-R9150 is a current-series (R9150) rear derailleur. So to have the RD and ST prefixes on documents pertaining to the relevant components, with the inclusion of the predicted next series name (R9250) is fairly conclusive evidence. If not, it's an unfathomably huge coincidence.
Potential launch date: Unconfirmed
The obvious guess here is that Dura-Ace will launch in line with Shimano's 100 year anniversary. Shimano even has a teaser site with a full-screen countdown, with a note stating "The Official Centennial Site will open on March 23rd, 2021". However, something worth noting is that the countdown is currently set to expire two days earlier, at 00:00 on March 21.
Looking to history for clues, March would be earlier than Shimano's typical tact. Dura-Ace 7900 was launched on June 3 2008, The 9000 version came at a similar time of year on 31 May, with R9100 arriving a few weeks later in the year on 29 June 2016.
What we do know is that both Team DSM and Groupama-FDJ have reaffirmed their long-term partnerships with Shimano ahead of the 2021 season, so we're expecting those teams to be involved in the launch somehow. With Dura-Ace being the flagship road groupset in the Shimano range, when it does launch, we expect it'll first be seen bolted to the Scott bikes of Team DSM or the Lapierres of Groupama.
Will new Dura-Ace be wireless?
Cyclingnews prediction: New Dura-Ace will almost certainly include wireless technology in some form.
The most notable of the clues to-date were patents granted in November, uncovered by our friends over at CyclingTips, which showcased wireless radio receivers in the shifters and derailleurs, as well as a battery in the shifters.
The patent drawings showed road levers, ruling out the possibility of this patent being an MTB or e-Bike advancement. Therefore, given none of Shimano's current road groupsets are wireless, it seems likely that Dura-Ace would be the first to get the technology.
The aforementioned FCC documents relating to wireless radio frequencies back up the theory. These documents confirmed that Shimano has been granted FCC certification in the United States to use a radio frequency entitled 'Shimano Original' at 2,478 MHz in its shifters and a rear derailleur.
Or will it be semi-wireless?
Cyclingnews prediction: Likely
The other rumour that has been raised is the possibility of a semi-wireless option, not too dissimilar to the configuration of FSA's K-Force WE disc groupset. This would connect the derailleurs to each other via a battery in the frame, and this trio of components would then transmit wirelessly to the shifters.
In those November patents, Shimano included multiple variations of the final setup, leaving a few potential outcomes - and thus, keeping us guessing. In one variation, a wireless transmitter and battery was shown as being housed in each of the front and rear derailleurs. However, in another, there was a separate battery that connected the derailleurs.
The FCC documentation notably omits any mention of a front derailleur, which on its own suggests that the rear derailleur could act as the 'brain' of the system, and that the front derailleur would be connected to the rear via a Di2 e-tube cable or similar. This would work in a mirror image to FSA, which houses the brains in the front derailleur.
One other notable inclusion in the FCC documentation is the mention of a BT-DN300, which, for anyone who knows their Shimano part numbers, is a battery for its Di2 systems. The current iteration of Di2 battery carries part number BT-DN110, suggesting that BT-DN300 is new.
We saw Shimano launch new, lighter, faster e-tube cables (EW-SD300) along with the newest EP8 motor back in August 2020, so if new Dura-Ace is indeed wired in some capacity, it's likely that BT-DN300 will be compatible with those new cables. The '300' suffix on those part numbers might be a clue, but given BT-DN110 is compatible with EW-SD50 cables, we're not reading too much into that.
The BT-DN300 battery could very well be housed in the frame and be compatible with those new cables, but equally, it could simply be the part number given to a proprietary battery to be housed in the derailleurs.
At this stage, it's unconfirmed which way Shimano will go, but our best guess would be that new Dura-Ace will be semi wireless. If so, it would go some way to improving the initial setup of today's modern road bikes, negating the need to feed an extra cable through today's complicated integrated cockpits.
Will it be 12-speed?
Cyclingnews prediction: New Dura-Ace will almost certainly be 12-speed
The same patent documentation that gave clues to the wireless technology also included a very succinct drawing of a 12-speed cassette.
This, coupled with the expectation that Shimano will follow its competitors into the 12-speed realm, does quite heavily suggest that the new Dura-Ace groupset will be 12-speed. The documentation clearly pertains to a road groupset, with the patent drawings showing a side-on diagram of a bike with drop handlebars - with rim brakes, no less.
However, there is a small caveat here in that the cassette's biggest sprocket size shown in the diagram counts 36 teeth. More than one would expect from a top-tier Shimano road cassette. The smallest sprocket size on this cassette is 10 teeth, which does confirm that Shimano is following SRAM's lead of including a 10-tooth sprocket, and this could mean that Shimano will also follow the lead of reducing chainring size, which in turn, would go some way to explaining the potential need for a 36T sprocket.
For us, there are two feasible explanations here: Either the new Dura-Ace rear derailleur will offer radically larger capacity than its forebear such that it can handle a 10-36T cassette, or Shimano has fast-moving plans to trickle 12-speed down to lower-tier groupsets where a 36T cassette sprocket is more likely to be wanted.
Will it be disc brakes only?
Cyclingnews prediction: New Dura-Ace will come with both rim- and disc-brake variants
The November patents also include mentions of both cable and hydraulic variants, which given the non-existence of cable-actuated disc brakes at Dura-Ace level, suggests that rim brakes will remain part of the Shimano Dura-Ace lineup. Rim brake purists rejoice.
Will it be self-charging?
Cyclingnews prediction: New Dura-Ace will probably feature some battery-regenerating technology, but the groupset won't be entirely self-sufficient
Going back to those November patents, the shifters were shown to feature a 'power generation unit'. The patent suggests that this technology would use the motion of the shifting paddles to generate power thanks to the inclusion of a piezoelectric component, which, in turn, would generate power and recharge the battery.
The drawings depict coin-cell batteries integrated into the shifters, so we expect this power generation will simply re-charge the shifters themselves, rather than the whole system. Especially given we're predicting it will be wireless in some regard.
Will it only extend to the groupset? What about wheels?
Cyclingnews prediction: New Dura-Ace will comprise the full range of components as it currently does, including groupset, wheels, and a power meter crankset
It would be surprising to see new Dura-Ace omit wheels from the series, especially given past iterations have included wheels - both tubular and clincher - in the range.
We spotted certain riders from both Team Sunweb (Team DSM's former name) and Groupama-FDJ both using all-new, unbranded wheels at the 2020 Tour de France. Of course, it's not the first time a WorldTour team has gone sponsor-rogue, but in this case, given both teams' connection to the brand and the impending Dura-Ace launch, we expect the wheel was a new Dura-Ace prototype wheel being tested in the rigorous testbed that is the Tour.
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