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Shimano simplifies its mid-tier components with the new CUES ecosystem

The family consists of three tiers below the 105 level that feature increased inter-compatibility, durability, and better shifting performance.

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Over the years, bikes have become more difficult and frustrating to work on for mechanics, that’s no secret.

At the top end, there’s the increasing ubiquity of internal cable routing, integrated headsets, and proprietary cockpits, among other woes. The middle tier and lower end—bikes equipped with components below Shimano 105—are a minefield of different groups with different cable pull ratios and cassette spacing, meaning limited cross-compatibility. Consequently, finding the right part can be difficult and time-consuming, and having everything on hand at a given moment to fix any customer’s bike is just about impossible for the average bike shop. 

Shimano is taking a big step toward helping out mechanics with Shimano CUES. The new ecosystem simplifies the lower-end groupsets with far fewer chains, derailleurs, and cassettes that are designed to be inter-compatible rather than the current hodgepodge of parts.

Shimano says a lot of the technology that made it into the budget groups in the past has been “trickled down obsolete race tech.” Take, for example, Hyperglide, a tech that is well suited to the small gear jumps of high-end road groups where every part is designed specifically for one another, but less so for the wider gear ranges of lower-end bikes. Factor in the part mixing of different brands (i.e. a third party chain on a Shimano group) that tends to happen with budget-focused bikes, and it becomes clear that what works for Dura-Ace does not for Claris.

Also read: New Cannondale SuperSix EVO arrives with aero tweaks, greater simplicity.

With that in mind, Shimano has started fresh for these mid-range and entry-level components.

Gone are Tiagra, Sora, and Claris on the road side, and Deore, Alivio, Acera, and Altus on the MTB side. They are replaced by 9-,10-, and 11-speed groups across three tiers: U8000, U6000, and U4000. Anyone still riding those old groups shouldn’t fret though. Shimano will continue to support these groups with replacement parts. 

It seems like a no-brainer to make all these parts play nice. Shimano MTB product manager Nick Murdick had been wanting to make this happen since his days as a bike mechanic. 

“Like a lot of bike mechanics I thought ‘man if I could just be the guy making the decisions at Shimano, so much of this stuff would be easy,’” Murdick said. Now he is in the exact position to make things easier for his old self and the many mechanics out there dutifully keeping bikes ticking along on the road. 

Shimano CUES cycling groupset
Shimano CUES has parts for many disciplines, including MTB and touring.

Making everything work together

For the new groups, Shimano focused on simplifying the number of parts it has to make and making more of the parts it makes compatible with one another. 

Across CUES, there’s the same cable pull ratio in every gear. That means every 9-speed rear derailleur option will work with every 9-speed shifter in the CUES family, and the same for 10- and 11-speed groups.

Though Shimano wouldn’t advise it, in a pinch, someone could take things a step further and run, say, a 10-speed shifter with a 9-speed cassette and derailleur. Essentially, mechanics have more options to help customers stay on their bikes, even if they only have a limited supply of extra parts.

CUES Cassettes get the same compatibility treatment. They have the same spacing between cogs so that every 9-speed cassette works with every 9-speed derailleur, and so on. And wherever possible, Shimano has included common parts across CUES, like derailleur pulleys.

Linkglide for better shifting and more durability

At the core of the new ecosystem is something Shimano is calling Linkglide technology. It’s a new tooth profile on the cassettes that moves the chain across gears more smoothly. The teeth are also taller and thicker to withstand shifting under load and prevent skipped gears and premature wear. 

This technology also doesn’t rely on a specific chain to work, so riders won’t see any significant drop-off in performance with a third-party chain—even if Shimano would prefer bikes be equipped with its chains. High-end road groups like Dura-Ace using Hyperglide technology rely on both the chain and cassette being from the same family. 

Shimano has designed parts in these families for different purposes, including commuter bikes and MTB, while maintaining that cross-compatibility with other CUES parts.

There are also both 1x and 2x drivetrain options in CUES. And while all the parts are flat bar for now, Murdick says there are more components on the way. We can only assume that means shifters and brakes for drop-bar bikes. 


Shimano CUES cycling groupset

CUES is a family of components across three tiers, and within each tier, there are 9-, 10-, and 11-speed parts, meaning there’s a wide range in pricing. Most of these groups will likely be bought by bike manufacturers directly from Shimano. 

At the high end, U8000, a 1×11 group without a crank or bottom bracket costs $289, with those two parts bringing the cost to $452.

The lowest-end U4000 9-speed system without a crank or bottom bracket costs $151. These prices are for a 1x system with the widest cassette and no brakes. 

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