What’s new with Shimano Dura-Ace and Ultegra 12-speed?

We’re expecting a drop of Shimano’s latest 12-speed Ultegra groupset at Pearson soon and will be offering it as an option on our road bike range, which you can pre-order now. What’s new with 12-speed Ultegra and Dura-Ace?

DI 2

They’ve been a long time in the works, rumoured to be appearing for years now, with an equal number of rumours about what they’d offer that would be new and different. But Shimano finally delivered the latest upgrade to Dura-Ace, called R9200, over the summer. 

At the same time, it rolled out 12-speed Ultegra R8100, which we’ll be offering on our Objects In Motion, Hammerandtongs and Minegoestoeven in our road bike collection. That was a surprise as Shimano normally staggers its upgrades to different years and means that you can get Shimano’s newest tech without the expense of Dura-Ace.

Obviously, the upgrade from 11 to 12 speeds is the big news, bringing Shimano’s two top spec groupsets into line with SRAM and Campagnolo’s premium offerings. But the upgrade has done more than just that, delivering real performance improvements that put the new Dura-Ace and Ultegra at the forefront of groupset tech and make them a compelling option to spec if you’re looking for a new performance bike.

We’ll run through the key changes from the outgoing 11-speed Dura-Ace and Ultegra groupsets.

Di2 only

Di 2 12 speed

Apart from that extra sprocket, the biggest news is that both Dura-Ace and Ultegra are now only offered as electronic groupsets, with no mechanical shifting option for either. Electronic shifting delivers real benefits over mechanical - take a look at our post asking should your next groupset be electronic.

You can still get rim brakes as well as disc brakes in both groupsets. There are significant updates to the disc brakes, as we’ll explain, but the rim brake callipers haven’t changed significantly from the previous generation.

Faster shifting

Shimano says it has made shifting faster by 58 percent at the rear and 45 percent at the front with its latest groupsets, thanks to new motors and a new battery. It was fast in 11-speed Di2, but that increase in performance puts Shimano ahead of the pack in shift responsiveness. If that’s too fast for you, you can slow it down in Shimano’s e-Tube phone app.

Reviewers have commented particularly about how noticeable the increase in front shift speed is. The front derailleur is also lower profile than its predecessor, with a smaller housing above the cage for its motor that Shimano says reduces its frontal profile by 33 percent and saves some watts and weight too.

Wider ratios

hammerandtongs 12 speed

It’s been a trend for ever, but the shift to wider and wider gearing continues with new Ultegra and in particular for the upgrade to Dura-Ace. Initially, both groupsets will be offered with the choice of 11-30t or 11-34t cassettes. Shimano says that an 11-28t option will become available in Dura-Ace in future. With an extra sprocket to play with, that extra range has been achieved while still providing small jumps between ratios, with the most-used middle five or six sprockets increasing in size in increments of one tooth, so it’s easier to match your cadence to the terrain.

Shimano hasn’t followed SRAM’s route (and Campagnolo’s with its Ekar gravel groupset) of offering a 9 or 10 tooth smallest sprocket, as it says that this decreases drivetrain efficiency. But it has changed the freehub to cassette interface, with a new spline pattern on the cassette that’s still compatible with older 11-speed Shimano freehubs but has more numerous, smaller splines. 

Its latest Dura-Ace and Ultegra carbon wheelsets have freehubs with the same spline pattern, and won’t mesh with an 11-speed cassette.

The new cassettes use Shimano’s latest Hyperglide+ ramp pattern that’s also used in its 12-speed MTB groupsets and, it says, leads to smoother shifting under load so you don’t need to ease off when you change gears.

Two power meter options

Both Ultegra and Dura-Ace now include the option to spec a dual sided power meter chainset. Both groupsets are available with 50/34t or 52/36t ratios. Dura-Ace adds a 54/40t option for the fast guys. There’s the usual wide range of crank length options in 2.5mm increments.

Note that the combination of a 50/34t chainset with an 11-34t cassette gives Dura-Ace users the option of a 1:1 lowest gear for the first time. That’s something unheard of only two generations back when the lowest Dura-Ace went was 34x28t, a 1.2:1 ratio.

Shimano has whittled down its other chainset options. Previous generation Dura-Ace offered 53, 54 and 55 tooth outer chainrings, while Ultegra had the 46/36t option popular with cyclocrossers. We don’t know if any of these will appear later.

Semi-wireless, but still with a central battery

minegoestoeleven 12 speed

The other news is that the new groupsets use wireless protocols to communicate between the shifters and the derailleurs, but unlike SRAM eTap, there’s still a central battery housed in the frame which powers the shifting.

Shimano says that that means that there’s greater capacity, so you don’t need to recharge the battery so often as with derailleur-mounted batteries - around 1000km of range between charges.

The hydraulic brake shifters are each powered by a CR1632 coin cell, which Shimano says will last for up to two years. They’re easy to replace, fitting into a slot under the lever hood. 

If you want to run rim brakes, rather than being connected up wirelessly you still need a wired connection through the frame to the derailleurs. There’s the option to run the disc brake configuration wired too, which ups battery life.

Shimano has also reworked the lever ergonomics. The hoods are a bit longer and wider, so they’re more comfortable, while the upshift and downshift buttons are a bit more widely spaced than in the previous generation groupsets. That’s good news as it was quite easy to hit the wrong lever with the older set-up, particularly when wearing gloves or riding over cobbles. The options to add satellite shifters and reprogramme the shifters are still there, as is the third concealed button that can be programmed to perform other functions, like operate a computer.

Better braking

Shimano says that its Servo Wave braking, as used in its MTB groupsets but new to road bikes, improves modulation and is lighter and smoother, with a shorter free stroke before the brakes engage. It gives the brakes a non-linear action, so they work more lightly at first but have a stronger action later in the lever stroke.

The pads on the new disc brake callipers retract further and the rotors are the same as used in its high end mountain bike groupsets. Many pro riders were already using these rotors on their bikes. They’re lighter than the salami slicer rotors in the previous generation road groupsets as well as dissipating heat and resisting warping better as they heat up, so brake squeal and clicking may be a thing of the past, or at least much reduced.

Easier programming and charging

Shimano has done away with the Junction A unit which used to be housed in the bar end or embedded in the frame. Charging of its 12-speed groupsets is via a port on the rear derailleur, which is a neater solution. Junction A also used to let you change between shifting modes, but that’s now all done via a button on the rear mech or using the e-Tube phone app. 

In 11-speed Di2, you used to need to buy a separate wireless unit and add it to the wiring harness or plug your bike into a laptop’s USB port to programme your shifting. But the new rear mechs have Bluetooth and ANT+ built in, so changing shift patterns and speed and checking battery and drivetrain status have become a lot easier, as has updating firmware. It also means that you can link up your groupset to your bike computer to see what gear you’re in and other information.

Same weight

objects in motion 12 speed

What hasn’t changed much is the weight of the new Dura-Ace and Ultegra Di2 versus their predecessors. In fact according to Shimano both are slightly heavier. The new Dura-Ace R9200 is around 35g heavier than the old R9100 for a disc brake set-up at 2438g, while new Ultegra R8100 is some 11g heavier than old R8000 at 2716g. 

That makes Ultegra R8100 around 278g heavier than the new Dura-Ace R9200, so there’s not a huge weight penalty in swapping from Dura-Ace to Ultegra, despite a large difference in their prices.

Pre-order your Pearson bike with 12-speed Shimano shifting

We’re opening pre-orders for 12-speed Shimano Ultegra on our full road bike collection, including the Objects In Motion, Hammerandtongs and Minegoestoeven, so you can be one of the first to experience the new groupset. We’re expecting availability from early 2022.

Both 12-speed Shimano Dura-Ace and Ultegra offer real benefits over the old 11-speed options, and you’ll be able to enjoy 12-speed shifting on our unique range of highly rated Pearson bikes.

Undecided on which bike is best suited for you or if the 12 speed is your next groupset? Book a chat with one of our cycle experts who will be able to answer any questions you may have.

Authored By Paul Norman
Paul has been riding since he was a teenager - and that’s a long time ago now. He was into gravel before it was even invented, riding over the South Downs on his cyclocross bike. He’s been writing about bike tech for leading UK publications and websites for over six years, travelling throughout Europe covering bike launches and riding with some of the road racing greats.
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