Aug 12, 2023
It’s the most premium offering from Shimano, but does it live up to the £4,281 price tag?
Words: Rachel Jary
Photos: Peter Stuart
After much anticipation, Shimano released its new Dura-Ace groupset to the world last summer. The debate about if the Japanese manufacturers would go the whole hog with a full-wireless groupset dominated the cycling tech world ahead of the big reveal. In the end, Shimano chose to combine a fully-wireless cockpit with derailleurs that still connect (via thinner wires) to a central battery.
Though this update made the majority of headlines, Shimano also introduced a range of additional clever upgrades that have further refined the Dura-Ace R9200 groupset, making it one of the most high-performing on the market today. From bigger changes to disc brake technology, to more subtle ones to hood ergonomics and chainring tooth profiles, the attention to detail is impressive – it’s a groupset clearly designed for those looking for every marginal gain.
Related: A brief history of Dura-Ace
We were able to put the groupset to the test aboard a – very slick looking – Pinarello Dogma F and ascertain if we could spot any faults in Shimano’s highest-end technology. We also decided if the hefty price tag is worth it for the non-professional bike riders among us who have to fork out bikes and components ourselves.
As someone who usually rides a rim-brake bike, it’s no surprise that I felt a huge improvement in stopping power while testing the Dura-Ace R9200. Part of this is now likely due to the Servo Wave technology that Shimano has brought over from its mountain bike range. The technology makes the initial piston travel quickly, before slowing it down as the pads come into contact with the rotor. The result is extremely rapid braking in emergency situations, though this speed is something to bear in mind and takes a little getting used to. On a few occasions, the sharpness of the brakes was slightly jarring, and I certainly had to train myself to get used to my new-found stopping power. The Servo Wave tech also means that the feeling is smooth when feathering the brakes, allowing plenty of control when slowing down.
Upon release of the R9200, Shimano did claim that we’d see a quieter braking system due to an extra 10% clearance between the rotor and the pad, something that was music to the ears of those of us who have suffered the soul-crushing sound of gentle disc rub on an extended alpine climb, or even anyone on group rides with noisy disc-brake companions. However, despite the extra clearance, the brakes did rub a little after scrubbing off speed – which we'd pin on a little air in the system. On our build, having a larger rotor on the front (160mm on the front and 140mm on the rear) offers a lot more stopping power, with most of the braking force going through the front of the bike.
Related: The inevitability of disc brakes
The extra clearance also didn't quite compensate for natural frame and fork flex. I found that the brakes made some noise when I was sprinting out of the saddle or moving the bike sharply from side to side up a climb. Still, this was all very minimal, and the responsiveness of the brakes more than makes up for the slight noise. It isn’t an issue that is isolated to Shimano disc brakes alone, either, and Shimano is arguably ahead of the pack here. It may well be the only thing that stops this groupset from being perfect.
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As with the older Dura-Ace, the position of the lever can still be customised, which I was pleased to see. It makes things much more comfortable for a rider with smaller hands, ensuring that you don’t have to shift position in the saddle in order to reach the brakes.
I found the new levers to be especially comfortable. As a rider with smaller hands, the girth of the levers suited me well and made it easy for me to shift gears and reach the brakes when required. The increased hood length meant that I had more room for three fingers underneath and added more security – likely a feature that will be well-received by pros with the current trend of gravel stages in races and in the upcoming cobbled Classics. It should be noted that this does increase the overall reach on the bike, however, so your usual fit may need to be adjusted accordingly, perhaps with a shorter stem.
As well as increasing the length, Shimano has raised the height of the hoods, which worked well for me. When I was riding on the hoods but sat in an aerodynamic position (arguably a better aerodynamic position than riding in the drops), the higher hood height offered a more comfortable, ergonomic position. Another change in the R9200 iteration of Dura-Ace can be seen in the texture of the hood covers. Shimano has paired back the amount of grip, but I still found the material to be tacky enough without wearing gloves.
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As someone who has had trouble in the past with hood covers sliding off the lever bodies when riding for long periods, I can safely say that there seems to be no risk of this with the new Dura-Ace. They fit extremely snug to the levers, and Shimano has added an array of dots on the inside of the rubber material to ensure there is no risk of movement.
Shimano has also made changes to the shifter buttons themselves, adding additional texture to assist with the ease of shifting between gears. As well as the texture, Shimano has added more height differential between the two buttons, something I found to be a welcome addition. Testing the bike in the winter, with thick gloves on the majority of the time, the change in texture wasn’t always enough to differentiate the two buttons, so the extra offset was a fail-safe in ensuring I didn’t hit the wrong button.
Shimano claims that shifting on the newest Dura-Ace is 58% faster at the rear and 45% faster at the front than the previous iteration, an impressive improvement in an already extremely quick system. Rather than the shifting speed, though, I found the smoothness between changes more noticeable, especially in the front derailleur. When testing, I tried to push things to the limit, changing between the big and small ring while attempting some pretty flat-out efforts, and Shimano didn’t disappoint. Even under such a heavy load, the transition was smooth and undisrupted. This is in part thanks to Shimano’s Hollowtech technology – an extremely stiff, ultra-lightweight hollow crank arm that also maximises power transfer. The chainring tooth profiles have also been specifically designed to ensure worry-free transitions.
Read our full Shimano Ultegra R8100 First Look
The same can be said for the rear derailleur. With the shift to 12-speed, the cassette now has a bigger range which makes jumps between the gears less severe. The bike I tested had a 30t cassette. However, Shimano does sell a 34t option if you’re likely to be tackling some steep bergs. It also offers a 54t chainring for those who like to stay on top of the gear above the 70kmh mark. This will come in handy to the pros on big mountain days, where they won’t have to compromise on gear ratios. For us mere mortals, it might not be entirely necessary, but it’s a nice thing to have all the same.
A new chain that Shimano has brought over from its mountain bike groupsets aids a much quieter drivetrain overall, though the gears need to be well indexed for this. Again, the chain helps with smoother driving over bumpy terrain – Shimano is clearly in tune with the growing trend towards gravel and adventure riding.
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The Dura-Ace RD-9250 rear derailleur can pair directly via Bluetooth with Shimano’s eTube app on a phone or tablet. This update has made the app much more accessible and allows for customisation of the groupset straight away. The other change that has come with the R9200 is that the charging port and Junction A box are now both integrated with the rear derailleur. While this has improved connectivity, it’s worth noting that the rear derailleur is a component that is susceptible to damage in crashes. With a replacement now costing in the region of £700, this is a hefty bill to settle should something go wrong.
To activate index mode, there’s now a button on the derailleur. However, it is also possible to index your gears while riding by programming one of the function buttons on the top of the shifters to achieve the same result. Formerly providing an indication of charge remaining, the relocation of the charging port and junction box also means you are now unable to see battery life when riding along. At the same time, Shimano has partly remedied this as the eTube app can now be connected with compatible devices. This means you can monitor remaining battery life and current gearing or manage updates via a connected head unit.
These updates are welcome and mean that more people will be able to utilise the app’s functionality, making customisation available to the masses.
Related – Future transmission: Is this the shape of gearing to come?
The test bike I received included the all-new Ultegra wheels rather than the Dura-Ace iteration. Though not sitting at the top of Shimano’s range, I was most interested to try the Ultegra hoops to see how they compared to the Dura-Ace alternatives. The introduction of Ultegra wheels came with the launch of Ultegra R8100, which was released at the same time as Dura-Ace R9200, the first time Shimano has offered a full-carbon option in Ultegra’s history,
The wheels come in three rim depths, and I chose in the middle: the C50s. These are all-round wheels, designed for fast riding, but they aren’t Shimano’s fastest option – the Japanese brand recommends the C60s for flat out sprinting.
I found the wheels to be extremely responsive for accelerations on flat roads, but at the same time, the weight of the wheels (approx.1,570g) meant that they also performed well on some hillier terrain. The light weight of the wheels doesn’t mean Shimano have compromised on rigidity, however, with the wheels feeling extremely stable and solid – ideal for sprinting and larger riders. The wider 21mm internal rim width also means that the wheels are compatible with more modern and popular road tyres, which offer a more comfortable ride.
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I rode the wheels in Cornwall, a windy part of the British coastline, and faced some strong crosswinds, which made me slightly hesitant to head out with deep rims. However, I was impressed with how the Ultegra C50s handled the conditions, holding their own against the howling wind and allowing me to feel in control throughout the ride.
Coming in at just 90g heavier than their Dura-Ace counterparts, the Ultegra wheels are a great option for high-performance wheels that aren’t as pricey. Priced at £1,258 for the pair, they still aren’t cheap, but will complete an entirely matching Ultegra group, rather than consumers having to source carbon wheels from elsewhere.
This groupset is pretty close to perfect, but you’d expect it from Shimano’s top of the range offering. Especially when you’re paying £4,281.87 for a groupset with a power meter and £3,631.87 for one without. Various components have taken a significant price increase too, making replacements even more of a sting to the bank balance. Shimano market this groupset as being made with ‘no compromise’, used by the professionals and made for them. So, if you want to have equipment at the same level as the world’s best, and you can afford it, there’s no reason not to go for it.
Are the performance gains worth it for the amateur rider, given the price? Well, of course, in any reasonable sense – no. But, for a groupset that really represents the pinnacle of technical development in cycling, for which the only flaw we could possibly pick was a moment of disc brake rub, Dura-Ace is something special.
The shifting speed was phenomenal, the braking power and control is as good as it gets, and the improved ergonomics make things even more comfortable. Shimano is in-tune with the shifting demands of modern road riding, which can often go beyond the tarmac, optimising their latest offerings for this purpose specifically.
Perhaps it's unaffordable, and certainly a little unattainable in many territories given supply chain issues, but I was left feeling that Shimano's latest offering has one unique selling point: this edition of Dura-Ace is, ultimately, the best of the best.Related: A brief history of Dura-AceRelated: The inevitability of disc brakesRelated: Rouleur Tech Podcast – is wireless the future?Related – The Desire Selection: Rouleur's guide to the best products in cyclingRead our full Shimano Ultegra R8100 First LookRelated: 1x gearing for the road is the Emperor's new clothesRelated – Future transmission: Is this the shape of gearing to come?Related – The Desire Selection: The best products in cycling