Saturday, June 2, 2012

And Shimano goes to 11...

Yes it does, so get used to it. Plenty of retro-grouches out there lamenting the end of civilization as we know it because Shimano is going to an 11-speed cogset with their new grouppo in early 2013. But what was wrong with 6-speed index/friction shifting, or whatever it was called, you may ask? It's called TECHNOLOGY, and just because we don't necessarily need it doesn't mean we aren't going to get it.

This is how it works in the rarefied air of high-end cycling components-

1) The consumer base at the high end is made up in large part of upper-middle class yuppies with disposable income. Established people in their respective fields have money, power and arrogance galore. What they no longer possess is their long-lost youth. To recapture this, they pursue athletic endeavors like cycling, where talent is at the bottom of the priority list. They can purchase speed with new aerodynamic wheels, carbon frames and $450 high-tech carbon-soled shoes. This is why the phenomenon of the aging weekend warrior suddenly experiencing an athletic fountain of youth doesn't occur in any other sport, where an athlete's biological clock dictates how good they'll be and for how long. At a certain age, once you're washed up, that's it.

The new crankset-from prototype... finished product.

2) But not so in cycling. You can invest in drugs that make you feel young and fit, follow a strict diet and training regimen and you too can turn back the hands of time. Cycling takes advantage of these insecurities by selling their customers products they have no need or use for. Due to peer pressure and marketing hype, they MUST have the latest gadgets. Power meters on Pinarellos is not an uncommon site in my neck of the woods on bikes that never see the starting line of even the most humble CAT 5 race. So an 11-speed  electronic Dura-Ace grouppo is going to be an easy sell for those who desperately do not want to be left behind.

3) And some cycling retailers will do everything they can to talk this new development up to their well-heeled and insecure clientele. I've seen it with my own eyes, where the sense of urgency will border on desperation. Bike shop owners will be nervously stating out loud to no one in particular how they will only get a few grouppos into the shop, and how anyone who wants one will have to act really, really fast, while customers huddle in the corners of the shop discussing in hushed tones how they'll have to be the first or else they'll lose their competitive edge on the Sunday morning steroid-fueled hammerfests.

Front derailler-

Rear derailler-

4) Let us also be pragmatic. A lot of the complaints surrounding this evolution is because the pricing has gone way over the heads of the average working class schlub. So in turn some of these cats become retro-grumps, pining over the good ol' days when Shimano 8-speed STI was more than enough to kick anyone's ass. That was also during the days when one could afford a relatively high-end frame for not that much money in comparison to today's price points, which are through the roof. So I see their point to an extent.

What they forget is that the industry was selling steel frames for the same price as high-end titanium and carbon before these two materials blew it out of the water in the mid-to late 1990's. So when Litespeed came along and Colnago began production of their famous C-40 carbon frame, the industry could no longer justify selling a heavy-ass piece of shit steel frame at the same price point. This is what took steel frames into the retro-grouch niche area that, guess what? people are STILL overpaying for.


Back to the new Dura Ace. I have ridden Shimano all my cycling life, and have never had any reason to switch to anything else. They did not fall prey to the "Me Too" nonsense of competing with Campagnolo over the extra sprocket wars. In fact, they waited quite a while to move up, and with this grouppo they knocked Campy and all other competitors out the box. The 11-speed will come in Di2 (electronic) and regular cable shifting, and if the reviews are anything to go by, they've done a fantastic job. And seeing as the retail prices for the D-Ace ($2,600 US) and Di2 ($4,000 US) is not that much of a leap from the previous grouppo pricing, we can't really complain.


...and rear.

The 11-speed cassette-

The new polymer cable coating, left, compared to the previous PTFE coating-

Campagnolo, with their market share dwindling both in the retail and sponsorship fronts, have been shoved into a corner. The new Dura Ace just looks better than Campy. It has a futuristic appeal that goes well with today's carbon frames and judging from the performance, will be a great hit once it hits the market full bore. I've never been a fan of SRAM, as they brought nothing new or innovative to the grouppo wars aside from large marketing and advertising budgets, and their stuff always garnered plenty of complaints from riders.

Madcow from Fairwheel Bikes did an extensive write-up on the new Dura-Ace. This guy is a respected member of the cycling community and seriously knows his stuff. I will always defer to his knowledge and expertise on anything cycling-related, because he is a pragmatic assessor of cycling equipment and always gives you an unbiased account, unlike the many shills that dominate the landscape of internet cycling forums. You clowns know who you are. Here is the link to the article-

The photos included in this blog post are from the Shimano Dura-Ace 11-speed mechanical. The Di2 comes   with the new FlightDeck computer, which is ANT+ and displays gear levels and battery life. The Di2 also comes with a kit to hide the battery in the seat tube, making for an even more streamlined appearance.

Pictured below is the diagnostic tool one can use with a computer to check for issues-currently not MAC compatible but I'm sure that change shortly-

No offense to the retro-grouches, cheapskates or those who can't keep up with new technology due to budget constraints (I'm not hating on that particular aspect of a person's situation, because not everyone has cash to burn and I understand. But what I summarily dismiss and deride are assholes who fit this description and hate on others out of sheer jealousy. That I will not abide.) but new cycling technology has nothing to do with what a rider "needs" to get over that one steep hill at the local steroid-fueled hammerfest, or whether anyone can or is stupid enough to spin out a 53-11 gear ratio going downhill (something not recommended if one values ones' life unless one is racing on an enclosed stretch of road).

The new Shimano stuff looks very nice, and the Di2 looks even nicer. I'm sure I'll come to the realization that an 11-speed cassette is something I cannot do without, because that's part of the peer pressure/marketing hype machine that gets people to make such superfluous purchases. Besides, who isn't inspited by riding top-end equipment? I know someone who runs a 10-speed Di2 and loves it-wouldn't go back to cable gear shifting if you paid him. He purchased a kit that integrates the battery inside the seatpost and it looks very space age. So he was ahead of Shimano in this regard by a few months. Funny thing is, he went around telling everyone who asked him where the battery was that it was a Shimano prototype setup-turns out he was right!!! LOL!!!

The 11-speed Di2 is the future, like it or not. It's our choice to either purchase the stuff or not. No problem there. The problem lies with goobers and dingleberries who go home feeling they've accomplished something grand because while riding a retro piece of shit they somehow managed to catch and pass someone on a more technologically advanced machine. So if you're that asshole on a steel frame with 6-speed friction shifting and cut-off commando shorts who brags about riding past someone on a carbon frame with Di2, that doesn't make you cool or rad or somehow superior. That makes you an asshole. These types of cats should have their day passes from the halfway house or mental institution revoked during daylight hours.

With the improvements in shifting efficiency, cabling, weight, stiffness, and looks, Shimano swung for the seats with their latest iteration of their flagship grouppo and blasted it into the upper deck with the bases loaded. No more calls, ladies and gentlemen-we have a winner.

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