Another sure sign of Spring is when the cycling press starts spotting electronic road groups in the peloton. I’m sure I speak for all of us when I say that this is always tremendously exciting. Certainly we’ve all been spending the winter pondering such questions as: Is this stuff any closer to hitting the market?; Which expendable domestique will be guinea-pigging it this time?; and, Which part of the bike did they move the unsightly, bloated battery pack to this year?
Of course, the biggest question of all is: When will Shimano unveil a new Dura Ace group? It’s been like four years since the current version of Dura Ace came out, and a lot has happened since then. SRAM have come out with Red, and Campagnolo have come out with...Red. What’s more, Shimano have already overhauled XTR, which has an “X” built into the rear derailleur and everything! Finally, it’s well-known in the industry that a Daniel Day Lewis Oscar win generally presages a new Shimano innovation. In 1990 Daniel Day Lewis won for “My Left Foot,” and that same year Shimano released S.T.I. This year, DDL won for that milkshake movie, so you can bet they’re about to announce something big.
But will it be electronic? Well, so far it looks like the answer is no. In what is undoubtedly the biggest journalistic coup of my career, I’ve gotten my hands on what may be the very first image of the next Dura Ace group:
(Image courtesy of Jimmy from Brooklyn.)
Obviously, the most striking thing here is that Shimano seem to be staying with an aluminum crank. Without a press release we can only make inferences, but it’s possible that Shimano intend for the carbon FC-7800C to remain an aftermarket item. Interestingly, though, the crank does appear to have an integrated shoe, which leads me to believe that they’re extending their “total integration” concept to the shoe/pedal/crank interface.
The next thing you’re likely to notice is the improved ergonomics of the shifters. A source in the industry tells me that the new system will come in a full range of sizes so that each rider can customize his controls for perfect fit. The new system will likely be marketed as “Mammo-drive,” though we’ll have to wait for a press release to find out exactly why. (Early testers apparently already refer to the shifters as “breafters,” according to the source of the photo.) Word is that Shimano also intend to release a woman-specific shifter, though I was unable to obtain any images.
The third big change is in the rear derailleur. SRAM have long touted their 1:1 actuation ratio as superior to Shimano’s, so it would appear that the Japanese giant has gone back to the proverbial drawing board here. Again, without a press release we can only speculate, but a rear road derailleur should be quick yet compact, and certainly nothing is quicker and more compact than a chipmunk. Furthermore, while the rear derailleur is clearly not electronic, it is not cable-actuated either, and a closer look shows that Shimano may be moving towards some kind of hydraulic system:
The big question in my mind is whether Shimano will offer replacement organs for the derailleur should it require overhauling, or whether it will need to be replaced with an entirely new unit in the event of a failure.
In any event, this image will surely have the cycling world buzzing. This is a surprisingly organic turn for a company heretofore known for its mechanical precision. In many ways this image raises more questions than it answers, but one thing is for sure: roadies all over the world will doubtless be clamoring to get their hands on a pair of those shifters.