WHY YOU NEED (OR DON’T NEED) SHIMANO’S NEW 12-SPEED WIRELESS DRIVETRAINS
A wireless hybrid that marks the end of cables.
For the first time in Shimano’s history, they are simultaneously launching two separate levels of road drivetrain platforms—Dura-Ace and Ultegra. The two new drivetrains are their first 12-speed road offerings, as well as their first attempt at a wireless system. While all of the latest features are significant, the one that is going to change the layout of the modern drivetrain is that Shimano is no longer offering cable-actuated drivetrains at these two levels.
ADDING ONE GEAR
While Shimano was the first drivetrain brand to offer up an electronic system (2009), they are the last of the “Big Three” to make the move to 12-speeds for drop bars. However, unlike the others, they are maintaining the same hub body, which means that for consumers that want to upgrade, 11-speed wheels are compatible with the new cassettes without any modifications.
Shimano is launching with two cassette offerings,11-30 and 11-34, and will have an 11-28 next year. Shimano is also maintaining their existing chainring offerings with 50-34 and 52-36, but adding a new 54-40. There will also be a few larger sizes for triathlon and pro racers, but Shimano is planning on the 50-34 and 52-36 being the most popular. In addition, they are offering a 160mm crank through 175mm lengths, with Dura-Ace adding 167.5mm.
When looking at the cassettes, the 11-28 and 11-30 add a 16-tooth cog, for one tooth increases from 11-19 on the 11-28 and 11-17 on the 11-30 option. The 11-34 cassette is essentially the 11-30 of the past with the addition of a 34-tooth cog. This means that on the 11-28 and 11-30 you will have that extra 16-tooth cog in what many would consider the optimum spot.
Since the 12-speed cassette has the same total width as the 11-speed, the space between cogs is narrower. This leads to “faster” shifting since the derailleur doesn’t need to move as far to switch gears. Obviously, this is all dependent on cadence, and a higher cadence will maximize the advantage. This is also true on the new cranks, as the chainrings are also slightly closer together to accommodate the 12-speed chain. Shimano is continuing their efforts to consolidate parts and the new drivetrains will use existing 12-speed chains from the mountain bike catalog.
While we don’t have the tools to measure the claimed faster shift speed, Shimano had speed charts that showed a decrease of 100 milliseconds to 70 milliseconds in the rear shifting speed, including communication time. Upfront it went from 340 milliseconds to 190 milliseconds, but the communication time is longer at 30 milliseconds instead of the previous 20 milliseconds. To put this in perspective, the average human blink lasts 100 milliseconds from open to close to open again.
THE WIRELESS HYBRID
It’s no secret that nearly everything connected in our modern world is wireless, and Shimano is no different. The previous Di2 technology was largely based on the original wired design and has seen very few technological upgrades over the last decade. In short, it was time for Shimano to make some upgrades, and they have, but as Shimano prefaced in a conversation, “We don’t make changes just because; they need to deliver a performance and user-experience advantage.”
The new Di2 12-speed takes advantage of a few new technologies. To start, similar to FSA’s wireless drivetrain, Shimano still uses a front and rear derailleur that is wired to the battery, meaning that the connection between shifter and derailleur is all that is actually wireless.
The biggest difference is that they are utilizing the smaller 1.3mm Di2 wire that is used in their STEPS e-bike systems. While the thinner cable is smaller and lighter, it’s also more efficient in its delivery of data and power. Also new is the fact that the junction box is history. Instead, the (seat tube located) battery has three wire ports and is the hub for the wires while the rear derailleur is the brains.
“While this might come as a surprise to many, Shimano has not been working on, and has no plans on moving forward with, cable-actuated derailleurs in their higher-tier drivetrains.”
Next, the wires use a proprietary connection that Shimano claims is more secure than other offerings that are currently on the market. They also claim that their data packets are significantly smaller, which helps in power consumption and speed. The shifters now house a small CR1632 coin-cell battery that is said to last about two years.
The rear derailleur is now the main communication source for shifting and also houses the new and completely redesigned charging connection. Shimano says that the hybrid system offers the best user experience as far as battery life and power delivery. With both derailleurs wired to the single, internally housed battery, there are fewer points of failure with the wireless communication that they claim is more stable. Shimano is utilizing the same battery as previous Di2 systems, but now with the new connections. Shimano claims the same battery life as previous systems at only 600 miles, but for us, it was always much more—about six to eight months between charges—but we haven’t had it long enough to verify.
THE BIGGEST EXPERIENCE UPGRADE
Shimano disc brakes have never been bad, but the new Servo-Wave technology that they’ve implemented into the brakes has made them a whole lot better. The amount of free stroke in the brake lever is significantly reduced, and the actuation is far more progressive. For us, this is a huge improvement and made for a more predictable braking experience. This also reduces the chances of bottoming the brake lever out on other fingers when braking hard from the hoods.
“Our test bike was equipped with a front 160mm rotor (where it matters most) and 140mm in the rear, which Shimano said is the new standard for pro peloton neutral support.”
This leads directly to the fact that Shimano has put no forward technology or effort into evolving their rim brakes. For this new Dura-Ace series, they are offering a shifter option for rim brakes, but it is nothing new. They are recycling the old 11-speed levers with the new, smaller Di2 ports and will be a fully wired system with no wireless option. If you ask us, this will likely be the last top-tier Shimano rim-brake offering. This should come as no surprise, and for us, in fact, it was a bit shocking that they even had this offering at the Dura-Ace level.
Let’s not mistake this with the thought that we want rim brakes to go away. We know there are thousands of bikes and consumers out there that utilize rim brakes, and that will continue. But, like any other industry, manufacturers have to plan for the future and the evolving technology that is inevitable to embrace. There will be plenty of rim brakes in the market for years to come, just not at the modern pinnacle level.
THE DEATH OF THE CABLE
Additionally, Shimano has not been working on, and has no plans on moving forward with, cable-actuated derailleurs in their higher-tier drivetrains. Sure, the Sora line and lower will continue with the cable technologies that were developed over the years, but for now, they are gone from the Dura-Ace and Ultegra series. We even got a hint that they might be going away on the 105 series components, but only time will tell.
Shimano says the electronic shifting is far more accurate and minimizes the degradation of components. If a Di2 drivetrain is adjusted correctly, there should be no reason to adjust derailleurs, and if you need to, it’s an indication that something else is wrong or worn. At the end of the day, it’s about user experience, and Shimano believes that the electronic system delivers the best and most reliable experience for riders of all levels.
In addition to utilizing the mountain bike chains, Shimano is also borrowing the existing mountain bike-derived XTR and XT rotors, which are used with an option for an internal or external lock ring. After a lot of testing, Shimano found that during extreme heavy braking for extended periods of time that the MTB version of their rotors dissipated heat more efficiently and had less material expansion. In fact, it was at WorldTour races earlier this year when we first noticed some of the pro bikes using the mountain bike rotors, which are also a few grams lighter.
For those that are not sold on wireless, there are ports in the shifters for a fully wired setup. Shimano says it gives no added advantage, but is an option for those worried about wireless security. The shifters also have an additional port for auxiliary shifters, but you can only run one set, so you have to pick sprint style or climbing; you can’t have both. These shifters are also much smaller than in the past and easier to implement under bar tape.
THE RIDE EXPERIENCE
This might not be what Shimano wants to hear, but this new Dura-Ace system shifts and feels the same as the 11-speed Di2 system. For us, this is a good thing, because Di2 has always been so reliable, fast and consistent. The new shifter buttons have the same layout, with two buttons on each lever and an additional button at the top under the hood that is customizable. The shifter buttons on the lever have a new texture and a more significant separating ridge, making it easier to feel which button you are pressing.
While Shimano claims faster shifting speeds, thanks to the narrower gap between cogs, we truly didn’t notice. As we stated earlier, it’s like noticing every time you blink. Di2 has always been so quick to actuate; the difference, in our opinion, is unnoticeable. The new hood shape is a bit larger, and all of our test riders became quick fans. Everyone commented on how their hands seem to have more support when on the hood.
Both the front and rear derailleurs have had their size reduced, but overall, the general cosmetic look of the groups is very similar to their blacked-out 11-speed counterparts. The crank has the most noticeable design change with a few sharper lines that are a balance between the mountain bike offerings and the sleeker lines of the previous road crank.
While out on the road, few were able to identify that we were riding the new parts, but the shifters with their more rounded profile were the instant giveaway on closer inspection. Shimano will only be offering one rear derailleur cage length that is compatible with all of their cassettes and crank offerings. This, in our opinion, is positive and makes building a custom kit much easier when trying to figure out cross-compatibility.
We have the 52-36 crank matched with the 11-30 cassette for our Dura-Ace build. For most, the 50-34 and 11-34 are the best options, offering a 1:1 climbing gear, and would compare to the older 11-30 11-speed cassette in gear gaps. Shimano expects the 11-28 to be the least popular option and the reason it’s delayed but does have the smallest gear gaps for those racer types that have minimal climbing. To be honest, we think that would be plenty of gear for those that normally ride at the pointy end of rides.
The brakes are hands down the highlight of the new parts group. The feel and modulation are more predictable, and although we don’t have any scientifically measured evidence to prove it, they definitely come on stronger. This could be because of the lever position when getting further into the stroke, but we had less over-braking and more controlled heavy breaking.
For the Dura-Ace version, the calipers are a new one-piece, monobloc design that Shimano claims offers a weight and rigidity benefit, but it’s hard to distinguish on the road. Shimano also noted that the brake pads sit 10 percent further away from the rotor to help minimize brake rub when heated rotors expand.
WHAT ABOUT WHEELS?
For 2022 Shimano is also launching new wheels that bring them closer to the modern and quickly evolving segment. Shimano will launch both an Ultegra line and Dura-Ace line with three depths for each. The C36, C50 and C60 are all tubeless-compatible with a hook bead and 21mm internal width. On the Dura-Ace versions, there is a new 12-speed-only hub body that is not compatible with 11-speed cassettes.
Also, the Dura-Ace version of the C60 has an HR (high-rigidity) nomenclature that Shimano says makes them a stiffer option for sprinters or heavier riders. All of the Ultegra wheels will have the current 11-speed hub body for compatibility with old and new drivetrains. For more on the new wheels, keep an eye out for a future review
THE POWER METER
Shimano didn’t have samples available for us for the launch, but the new power meter is a carry-over from the 11-speed offering but on both of the new crank platforms. The rechargeable battery is still in the spindle, and both the left- and right-side sensors are wired to the battery. The only change is a new charging port that mimics that of the new Di2 style, so you only need one style of charging cable. The door to access the charging port is also improved and doesn’t feel like it’s going to break when opened.
We did speak to Shimano about their relationship with Pioneer. In short, they purchased technology assets from Pioneer in 2019 but not any hardware. Shimano hinted that in the near future there will be a software update to implement this, but at launch, it will be the same technology that is currently offered on the 11-speed version.
A NEW APP
Along with the launch of the new drivetrains, Shimano is launching a new E-Tube app that gives users more customizable options. It is also said to be more user-friendly, but at the launch, only Shimano employees had access to the beta app. From the few minutes we got to play with it, it looks to be easier to navigate and understand. Since the new drivetrains are wireless, the connection to a mobile device is built-in and no longer sold as an add-on.
Users can adjust shifting speed, as well as the synchronized and semi-synchronized shifting preferences. You can change the multi-shift settings as well. The button layout of the shifters can be changed, as well as assign what auxiliary buttons do. At the end of the day, it’s very similar to the previous app but with an improved user experience.
These rear derailleurs are road-specific and have no clutch mechanism or heavier chain retention. Yes, you could use them for gravel, but that’s what the GRX is for. Shimano will offer both 140mm and 160mm rotor compatibility, but many frames will dictate on what is spec’d. For me, I’m a fan of 160mm rotors for the added heat dissipation and ease of having a spare, but ever the style-monger, Zap prefers 140mm in the front and rear because he says it looks better and still brakes well enough. Our test bike was equipped with a front 160mm rotor (where it matters most) and 140mm in the rear, which Shimano said is the new standard for pro peloton neutral support.
If you have an 11-speed Di2 system, it cannot be upgraded or programmed to work with 12-speed. The exception is on aero bars, where some of those specific buttons can be used for a TT setup but will require a wired setup and an adapter. What is the same is that the battery is still internal, and you will have to locate your bike near a wall outlet for charging duties.
For me, personally, I think the new system is outstanding, and I would upgrade just to get the improved braking feel. If I were on rim brakes I wouldn’t invest in the system, as it doesn’t gain any significant upgrades, and instead put that money aside for something else.
The (hopefully) soon-to-launch power-meter update should make the Shimano unit the most advanced offering on the market. While everyone covets the prestige of the higher-end Dura-Ace parts, we would all opt for the Ultegra parts since, minus the normal differences in material and weight, they are nearly identical in performance and cost much less. At the end of the day, you can mix and match, but let’s just hope Shimano can deliver the new parts in a timely fashion for fresh bike builds.
- “Wireless” but only from the levers.
- New brake tech is a true improvement.
- No retrofitting older 11-speed components.
- Di2 for everyone.
- Still, one battery that is internal.
- Still tethered charging.
- Disc brakes are the priority.
- Rim brakes get the added gear but no new tech.
- Only one rear derailleur cage option—yes!
- Same great performance that Shimano is known for.
PRICES & (CLAIMED) WEIGHTS
- Cranksets with Chainrings: $624.99
- Power Meter Crankset with Chainrings: $1,469.99, 754g
- Di2 Disc Brake Lever Set (Left and Right): $1,099.98, 350g
- Cassette (11-28/30/34): $359.99, 223g
- Di2 Front Derailleur: $449.99, 96g
- Di2 Rear Derailleur: $814.99, 215g
- 12-Speed Chain: $814.99, 242g
- Hydraulic Disc Brake Caliper Set: $364.98, 233g
- Disc Brake Rotor (140mm and 160mm): $81.99, 212g
- Di2 Battery: $184.99, 53g
- C36 Wheelset: $2,099.99, 1,338g
- C50 Wheelset: $2,099.99, 1,465g
- C60 Wheelset: $2,199.99, 1,609g
- Cranksets with Chainrings: $314.99, 716g
- Power Meter Crankset with Chainrings: $1,159.99
- Di2 Disc Brake Lever Set (Left and Right): $809.98, 382g
- Cassette (11-30/34): $111.99, 297g
- Di2 Front Derailleur: $259.99, 110g
- Di2 Rear Derailleur: $409.99, 262g
- 12-Speed Chain: 252g
- Hydraulic Disc Brake Caliper Set: $170.98, 282g
- Disc Brake Rotor (140mm and 160mm): $55.99, 212g
- Di2 Battery: $184.99, 53g
- C36 Wheelset: $1,399.99, 1,481g
- C50 Wheelset: $1,399.99, 1,562g
- C60 Wheelset: $1,399.99, 1,642g
For more info head to shimano.com