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Road Racing

2022 Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 in the wild: What’s there, what’s missing, and hidden secrets

Still a lot of questions to answer, but the next-gen Dura-Ace is looking pretty tasty.

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Much speculation has circulated around the next generation of Shimano’s Dura-Ace Di2 flagship electronic road groupset — which will presumably be dubbed R9270 in this electronic, disc-brake version — but now we have some more concrete information courtesy of Team DSM riders (and pro photographer Dion Kerckhoffs/Cor Vos) at the recent Baloise Belgium Tour. 

Shimano won’t officially comment on any of this, which means we still have an awful lot of questions. But we also now have a lot of answers, too.

Let’s go ahead and dive in, piece by piece.

12-speed cassettes, but no 10-tooth sprockets

We’re clearly all going to have to give up on the Spinal Tap references, as the chapter on 11-speed is clearly closed. As expected, Shimano has carried the 12-speed layout it already uses on mountain bikes over to the road. 

The general format remains the same as before, though. At least on the cassette used by Team DSM, the smallest seven sprockets are steel, while the remaining five appear to be titanium. It also appears that the largest seven sprockets are split into three mini-clusters, which are presumably made of some sort of fiber-reinforced composite. All of this is done to reduce weight and improve sprocket stiffness at the periphery — and hopefully Shimano has figured out how to eliminate any intermittent creaking or reliability issues with this design once and for all.

Count ’em! Photo Dion Kerckhoffs/Cor Vos.

It’s also worth noting that Team DSM’s cassette starts with an 11-tooth sprocket, so Shimano doesn’t appear to be following SRAM’s lead in going undersized. 

Unclear at this point is what the freehub body looks like, or other technical details like the total cassette width and individual sprocket-to-sprocket spacing (although my guess is the total width has increased — I’ll get to that in a minute). It’s certainly possible that Shimano is bringing its Microspline mountain bike standard over to the road, but I’m not sure there’d be a ton of motivation to do so if there isn’t a 10-tooth sprocket option. 

Fingers crossed this all still fits on the current Hyperglide 11 freehub body spline pattern, but that seems like an awful lot of hardware to cram into that increasingly limited amount of space. Nevertheless, we can all hope.

Either way, increased gear range is the name of the game these days, so it’s fair to assume that Shimano will offer cassette options with pretty generous spreads, particularly given there’s now an extra jump to play with.

Revised geometry on the rear derailleur and a single-length pulley cage (I think)

The new rear derailleur is an impressively sleek-looking piece of kit, with a smaller motor assembly out back and a more tucked-away location for the wire. To my eye, at least, it seems that the derailleur body has been shifted slightly rearward, and the parallelogram links look a bit longer than before, too.

Both of these echo what Campagnolo has done with its most recent 12-speed rear derailleurs, and the longer derailleur body in particular suggests to me that the total cassette width has grown as compared to the current 11-speed stuff. Assuming this is all correct. I expect a small improvement in chain wrap and slightly more accurate tracking in terms of chain gap across the spread.

Unless Shimano has also developed some sort of magic shrink ray, the new Dura-Ace Di2 rear derailleur looks to carry on without a pulley cage clutch to control chain movement on bumpy terrain, which would be a clear indication that Shimano is still maintaining Dura-Ace Di2 as a pure road groupset, as opposed to the more multi-purpose mission of SRAM Red eTap AXS. 

As for the pulley cage itself, it appears to be made of carbon composite, and given what Team DSM was running at Baloise Belgium Tour, my guess is that Shimano is going with a single medium-length cage across the board. Interestingly, Shimano isn’t bothering with oversized pulley wheels despite the potential gain in drivetrain efficiency. Both the upper and lower wheels still have just 11 teeth, and the upper pulley is positioned concentrically with the cage pivot.

The rear derailleurs on Team DSM’s Scott Addicts feature a direct-mount format with a dedicated hanger, but surely an additional short link will be available for use on standard hangers, too.

Mixed-material front derailleur

Like the rear derailleur, the motor assembly on the front derailleur is smaller than what’s used on the current-gen Dura-Ace Di2, only the difference is more dramatic here — it’s positively tiny. There’s generally a more aggressive appearance to it overall thanks to a new black finish on the outer cage plate. At first glance, I thought that plate might be carbon fiber, but upon closer inspection, I’m confident it’s still an aluminum piece, only anodized to match the rest of the groupset. 

More finger-friendly Dual Control levers

If you love the current Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 Dual Control hydraulic levers for how small they are relative to SRAM and Campagnolo, I have bad news for you: the new ones are a lot bigger, particularly up top. In fact, the newly bulbous shaping is quite SRAM-like, although I personally don’t think it’s a bad thing. 

Even if you have aesthetic objections to the new body shape, there are unquestionably some ergonomic advantages. That larger knob should provide a more secure grip for when you’re stretched out on the hoods in an aero position (just don’t let your forearms touch, the UCI will come after you) and Shimano has at least done a pretty good job of contouring everything to keep it looking reasonably elegant.

What’s more interesting is what you can’t see. While the new shape might be better for your hands, I can’t help but wonder if there are some changes inside to the hydraulic cylinder, too. We’d previously heard that a primary focus for Shimano in revising Dura-Ace was improving the brake performance, specifically in terms of ease-of-setup and quieter operation. Might there be some new hardware hidden away inside that extra real estate? Your guess is as good as mine right now.

The shift paddles don’t appear to have changed dramatically. The inboard one has a new striped texture to it, though, and my hope is that it also gets some sort of grippy coating so that your fingers can better differentiate between the two.

Team bikes still sport satellite shift buttons, so that’s clearly still an option, too.

Subtle changes to the crankset

The new cranks are still aluminum, and there’s obviously still a dual-sided power meter option that appears to use the same wired-together layout used on the current Dura-Ace power meter. The four-arm asymmetrical layout carries over, too, although it’s impossible to say if the bolt circle diameter has changed (which, I hate to say it, is likely — this is Shimano we’re talking about, after all). 

Shimano’s seemingly been dealing with one heck of a reliability issue with its current hollow crankarm design, though, which features a forged aluminum base and a thinner aluminum cap that’s bonded in place along the outer edge. Basically, crankarms seem to be coming unglued and/or cracking at alarming rates (Shimano refuses to discuss the matter at all, or even acknowledge the problem). 

Given the apparent scope of the situation, Shimano has hopefully gone to great lengths to ensure it’s no longer an issue. How it’s gone about doing that, though, isn’t entirely clear right now. 

Either way, the outer chainring on the Team DSM bikes is clearly not production-ready as it’s just a flat plate with contoured nuts to smooth the transition to the deep-profile spider arms. No doubt, production cranksets will once again feature hollow forged aluminum chainrings, since the dramatic improvement to stiffness that results relative to flat chainrings is one of the key advantages to Shimano’s front shifting performance. 

As for available chainring sizes, your guess is as good as mine right now, and until I hear otherwise, I have no reason to think Shimano is abandoning its long-running 24 mm-diameter steel spindle.

Hidden updates to the chain

At first glance, the hollow-pin chain doesn’t appear all different from the current model, although there would certainly be dimensional changes if the sprocket-to-sprocket spacing is, indeed, narrower than 11-speed Dura-Ace. 

Upon closer inspection, though, you can see that the inner link plates are much longer than before, and have a much more dramatic chamfer to them, too. Shimano being Shimano, I anticipate some spiel about the new shaping improving shift performance. However, I also wonder if this might help quiet down the drivetrain, too.

The inner chain link plates have some very interesting shaping. Photo Dion Kerckhoffs/Cor Vos.

Either way, the Shimano Dura-Ace R9270 will still be offered with a master link — or, at least, Team DSM’s bikes are equipped as such, so I assume it’ll be offered to the public as well.

Them’s the brakes

Ok, so Shimano is supposedly improving the brake performance on this next generation of Dura-Ace. But how, exactly? Unfortunately, we don’t have any clear images of the calipers, so I can’t draw any conclusions just yet.

Assuming Team DSM is actually running new disc-brake calipers on its team bikes, I do see Shimano continuing to use finned disc brake pads to help dissipate accumulated heat, it’s still flat-mount, it’s still a dual-piston configuration, and the body is still made of forged aluminum. And unless they’re just not done yet, it’s worth noting that Team DSM is using XTR mountain bike rotors, not Dura-Ace ones.

Will there still be specific Dura-Ace rotors? These current-gen ones were designed to help cool themselves as they spin, but we’ve noticed teams using Shimano’s mountain bike rotors for a while now instead. Photo: James Huang.

Aside from that, though, we’ll continue to have to wait and see what develops here.

What about wireless? And mechanical? And rim brakes? 

Ah, yes, those three elephants in the room.

Shimano obviously hasn’t gone fully wireless with Dura-Ace Di2 R9270 as there are visible wires going to the rear and front derailleurs. But where do they go from there, and what’s happening up front with the levers? None of those connections are visible, but that doesn’t entirely rule them out, either.

That said, we’ve already uncovered plenty of patent and FCC documentation that suggests R9270 will use a semi-wireless format, with the two derailleurs physically connected to the new battery, the two levers perhaps connected only to each other (and satellite shifters), and the two sub-assemblies communicating wirelessly from there. That sort of arrangement would obviously be more cumbersome to assemble and set up than SRAM’s fully wireless AXS systems, but it’d still be an improvement over current Di2 designs (at least in terms of setup). If the derailleurs really are connected to a rechargeable battery that’s of similar capacity as the current Dura-Ace Di2, we should expect some pretty fantastic run times, too. And where will you attach the charger? That’s to be confirmed.

As for rim brakes, I have a hard time imagining that Shimano will go disc-only with this new generation of Dura-Ace, but then again, this is the same company that thought Dual Control was a good idea for mountain bikes, too. Who knows.

And will there still be a mechanical Dura-Ace transmission? Will there be an R9200 at all? My heart certainly hopes so, but my head tells me that Shimano’s bean counters wouldn’t have seen a lot of financial motivation to keep banging that drum. Fewer high-end bikes are even compatible with mechanical drivetrains, too, so even if Shimano wanted to continue flying that flag, the market is growing progressively smaller.

Wheels, wheels, and more wheels

Team DSM’s bikes were fitted with unlabeled wheels, but it seems safe to assume we’re looking at new Dura-Ace models here, too. There’s not a whole lot to report just yet based on these images: roughly a 50 mm depth, carbon fiber construction, bladed stainless steel spokes with exposed nipples, aluminum hubs, and apparently both tubular and (presumably) tubeless-compatible clincher tire fitments. Shimano doesn’t appear to be bothering with two-to-one lacing. 

These are probably new Dura-Ace wheels, too.

What else? We’ll have to wait and see.

The crystal ball

Ok, so how much of this will end up being correct, and how much will be completely wrong? Given the production-ready appearance of all of this stuff, the official release surely isn’t far off, so we shouldn’t have to wait for long. 

Let me know in the comments if I’ve missed anything, or what you think of all of the changes in general. 

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