The 2022 Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 Insider's Guide
Blink and you might miss it. The latest generation of Shimano Dura-Ace is here. Called Shimano Dura-Ace R9200, it benefits from some keeping up with the Jonses behavior - 12-speed gearing and wireless shifting - while introducing a slew of shifting and braking improvements that Shimano hopes will keep their top road bike drivetrain at the front of the peloton.
A quick glance at Shimano Dura-Ace and you might think it was the same as the previous generation. The finish carries a similar gloss black paint, the crankset still uses a four-arm pattern, and the branding placement and locations don't look all that different either. But there are a whole bunch of changes, most of which are obvious upon closer inspection.
Let's start with the shifters, the part we likely interact with the most, and this is somewhere Shimano placed a great deal of emphasis. The lever itself is larger than before, with a longer area to place hands that is also slightly wider, and the top area is larger too. Further, the lever bodies themselves seem higher when placed side by side on the same handlebar with the older Dura-Ace, again to meet the needs to riders who have angled previous-generation shifters up higher.
Does that mean the levers are as big as SRAM? No, and thankfully so. The hoods are still narrower than most. That said, if you're moving from previous-generation Shimano Ultegra or Dura-Ace Di2, you may need to consider moving to a slightly shorter stem.
Other ergonomic changes include the brake lever blades themselves being slightly more flared out so they fall into your fingertips while on the hoods a bit more easily. The shift buttons are slightly more offset, and the inboard shift paddle extends farther toward the tip of the brake lever.
Rim brake fans will find familiar feel with the new Dura-Ace groupset. Shimano has taken the previous-generation Dura-Ace R9100 levers and adapted them to the new shift wires and electronic shifting protocol. Rim brake calipers will remain the same as the previous generation as well.
Disc brakes see a few changes in hopes of improving power and control. They adapt Shimano's Servo Wave tech (as seen in Shimano GRX Di2 levers), which aims to cut the free stroke of the brake lever between pulling the lever and contacting the pads to the rotors. Additionally, it should mean that braking power increases exponentially the more you pull it, rather than the on-off feel Shimano road brakes are known for.
There is also a fair bit of borrowing from Shimano mountain biking outside of Servo Wave. Dura-Ace (and the new Ultegra groupset) now use Shimano's 12-speed mountain bike chains. Further, Dura-Ace now uses Shimano's existing mountain bike brake rotors, which are not only lighter, but should be stiffer too.
Pedals and bottom brackets - outside of some finish changes - are unchanged from the previous generation. An unchanged bottom bracket means that cranks use the same 24mm-diameter spindle and Hollowtech II alloy construction.
What's the big difference here, then? Well, we'll call it two big changes: semi-wireless connectivity and 12-speed gearing. These are likely what draws people in, and and certainly are the two things that will define this drivetrain among history.
Every generation of Shimano Di2 drivetrains until this point were physically wired together, with cables going all the way from the shifters to the derailleurs and even a battery. Dura-Ace R9200 now has each shift lever fully independent from the rest of the drivetrain, with cables connecting the derailleurs to a battery. There are a number of advantages to making the shifters wireless means there is one less wire to feed through a stem, steerer tube, or downtube. It means there is one fewer junction box to place under the stem, in the downtube, or at the handlebar end. But perhaps most importantly, it takes a lot of the guesswork out of deciding what Di2 cables are needed and where
It should be noted that Shimano is still leaving the option to physically wire the shifters to a junction box. Shimano claims that in doing so, battery life for the entire system increases by about 50%.
Shimano Di2 systems up until this point were controlled by a central brain (called the Junction A) that was independent of any shifters or derailleurs. This latest generation sees commands sent from the shift levers sent directly to the rear derailleur, the new brain of the system. The function button that initiates shifting adjustments and the like is found there, as well as a new charge port.
To be clear, Shimano has not yet introduced a fully-wireless system here, as there are still wires that connect the battery to the derailleurs (and shifters if you choose). The wires themselves are new, downsized considerably to make them easier to route through frames.
Yes, there is still a central battery that powers the derailleurs, unlike SRAM AXS that has a battery hanging off each derailleur. The clear advantage of the separate battery are lower-profile derailleurs, particularly the front derailleur. While the rear derailleur is slightly bulkier than before (due to being the brains of the system) it is still a low profile to minimize chances of it being banged against something in a crash. Shifts for each derailleur are said to be 60% faster than before, and that responsiveness from button click to shift is said to be quicker still.
Of course, the other big change is the addition of a 12th gear out back. There are three cassette options - an 11-28t, an 11-30t, and an 11-34t, which is notable for road applications in that it introduces seven one-tooth jumps in between gears rather than the big two tooth jump minimum of the previous 11-34t. In short, riders are now much more likely to find the gear that matches their cadence while still having a decent climbing gear. Dura-Ace cassettes see titanium sprockets in the five largest gears, while the others are steel.
Shimano's cassettes adopt a new cassette spline pattern that is said to prevent individual gears from digging in to the freehub body. While the new 12-speed cassettes look the same as Shimano's Microspline-compatible cassettes, they are not compatible with mountain bike freehubs. Rather, they are backwards-compatible with existing 11-speed freehubs, meaning Shimano yet again will not allow your beat up Mavic wheels from 2005 to fade quietly into retirement.
Tooth profiles have changed to adopt Shimano's Hyperglide+ shaping first found on Shimano's 12 speed mountain bike drivetrains. Shimano claims that upshifts into harder gears are said to be 66% faster than before, though downshifts are supposedly no faster than before.
Dura-Ace sees three chainring option combinations up front: a 54/40t, a mid-compact 52/36t, and a compact 50/34t. Like before, the outer chainring is a hollow aluminum that is said to increase chainring stiffness, thus improving shift performance. These new gearing options mean that for the first time, Dura-Ace offers a 1:1 climbing gear straight out of the box. Rejoice, climbers!
And for those wondering, there will be no mechanical Shimano Dura-Ace option. It is a hard pill to swallow for us as well, so if you're a mechanical shifting devotee, Campagnolo has several drivetrains waiting for you.
Spec and Weight Breakdown
Weights overall make this slightly lighter than the previous generation of Dura-Ace Di2 with disc brakes, and lighter still if one specs the power meter option. However, this is about 60g heavier than the equivalent SRAM RED eTap AXS 2x drivetrain, but slightly lighter than Campagnolo Super Record EPS.
We're planning on going into detail on how this groupset rides and performs once we get more saddle time, but Ryan goes over the details in the above video. In short, the shifting is faster, smoother, and more reactive than before. Having the small one-tooth jumps between gears while still having the climbing gear makes a difference here especially if you're sensitive to changes in cadence. The braking performance has also improved too.
In short, it is all really, really good. After all, this is Shimano Dura-Ace we're talking about here.
Is the inclusion of a semi-wireless drivetrain and a 12th cog really better than Dura-Ace R9100? After all, the previous generation drivetrain was exceptional, even five years after its introduction. Time will tell, but ultimately we feel that the new Shimano Dura-Ace R9200 drivetrain makes steps ahead in shift speed, shift reliability, and gearing that the previous generation didn't. It might seem similar to SRAM RED eTap AXS on paper, but this is a completely different way to achieve a similar amount of perfection. Shimano fans rejoice, for Dura-Ace is better than ever.
Words by Alvin Holbrook. Media by Ryan Littlefield, Ezra Jeffries.