Upgrading to Dura-Ace 7900

Rode DA 7900 this weekend and the group is a lot like upgrading an operating system: the same thing (it’s very much DA), but faster, snappier, and more responsive, with new gadgets to geek out on.

This is a quick upgrade review, while Mark works on a DA podcast with all the details. I rode the Hotspur with the new DA on a cold Winter day in downtown Seattle up into Magnolia hill, back on the Burke-Gilman Trail, and to West Seattle.

Hoods

While not as ergonomic as SRAM’s pistol grip, the hoods are noticeably improved and my hands just fit. The hoods also better accommodate the position many of us ride on our race bikes: slightly titled up, forearms straight, flattened back (seen in this photo). With the previous version of DA, many of us set the hoods pointed to the sky by turning the bars up so our wrists we’re flat. That’s a welcome change from the old DA setup, that had your hand dropping over the hood with a bent wrist. It’s also a good indication that Shimano paid attention to how people ride and race.

Shifting

When I started riding with Shimano, I complained like very other Campy fan about the light action. It was too light – so light that Shimano added a visual indicator to the cable, so you’d know what gear you were in and if you actually shifted. While 7900 is precise and the best shifting group I’ve used, it’s also very solid and sounds like an heavy, industrial ratchet when it shifts under load. There’s no mistaking it – you shifted and I felt the shifts in the pedals and up into the saddle. To me it was like: shift, bam, go!

Throwing the chain up onto the big ring was efficient, smooth and looked like something you’d see a factory robot do. It happens all in one motion and that’s because Shimano has the best chain rings in the business. I tried to break that motion by repeatedly shifting up and down and every time it worked. The only way to disrupt the upshift is to stop pedaling mid shift.

Trim

I dropped my chain to the inside trying to adjust the trim while riding hard and predict I’ll do that a few more times. Shimano changed the front derailleur trim to 3 positions instead of 4 (trim in both directions). I’ll let Mark go into the details of why that is in his review, but at first it really confused me.

There’s no trim in the big ring, but there is in the small. Shimano must think that more people ride smaller gears in the small ring than push the big gears like I do. I’ll ride a 53 x 17, 19, and 21 and never find myself in a 39 x 15. I think the trim change is for compact gear ranges, but for me when the chain rubbed on a rolling climb, I tapped the lever to adjust, and wham I’m suddenly spinning.

Weight

7900 is like 200 grams lighter and nothing I really noticed. On the scale, the Hotspur is now closer to 16 pounds. For the weight weenies, yes that’s a Ti bike weighing and performing on par with carbon.

Braking

Flying down Madison, in traffic, and stopping on a dime, with a hard right to the Seattle Public Library, the brakes performed as you’d expect DA to do. There’s probably a measure somewhere of how much better they perform, but what I simply noticed was modulation, strong stopping power, and “instant on.”

Design, Price, Value

da_cockpit.jpg A clean cockpit is arguably just visual and some cyclists may not care, but it makes a huge difference to me. Finally, I don’t have a clutter of noisy cables rattling around in front of me. Overall the drivetrain is very quiet. Riding around all I could hear was the tires and the wind – props to the Shimano sound engineer whose been working to reduce noise. You’ll hear how loud SRAM is even more now, when compared to this group.

In an earlier post about 7900, I observed:

It’s rather Sci-Fi in design and aesthetics – H.R. Giger-like, even what a drivetrain would look like on the set of Blade Runner …

Built up, DA 7900 looks solid, tough, ready to race. It matches the Hotspur’s high-end custom Ti-carbon aesthetics and that maybe a limiter. Is the group, at such a high price, for “doctor bikes” only? Possibly and in the race scene, the buzz is about SRAM for the performance and price. I don’t doubt you’ll see this group on tours, receational rides, and with fitness riders.

For racers, if you bang up your bike in an office park crit crash and need to replace the rear derailleur, that’s $400.00 and ouch. Checking catalog prices at Excel, I found

  • Campagnolo Record Group 10sp – $1,729.00
  • Shimano Ultegra Group 10 speed – $794.00
  • SRAM Red Group – 1,599.00

and they don’t list pricing on 7900, but expect it at $2700.00.

Is it worth it? Well, if it’s spec’d on a bike or you’re upgrading I think yes. Summary: really f’ing nice group and really expensive. Sell that old group on eBay, Craiglist, or move it to another bike. If you’ve got a stable like me, DA 7900 maybe reserved for the love bike that you don’t race in crits and save for rides with your brohams.

Back to my OS analogy, you could wait and get along just fine. If you do update, you’re going to appreciate all the improvements. I think between the three groups – Shimano, SRAM, Campagnolo – it’s a matter of taste v. performace. They all perform very well at the mid and higher end.

Thanks for Elliott Bay Bicycles and QBP for getting us this group so fast. Now it’s back to riding the rain bike, until racing starts.



26 Comments

I have zero interest in upgrading from 7800 to 7900, unless there’s a “broham” deal in the works from Mark V.  You lose a few grams and the cables tuck under the bar tape, but on the flipside it’s still a 10 speed group, and now it takes five lever throws to get across the cassette.

It’s a big mistake if Shimano’s flagship road group really is going to start favoring compacts.  The consumers might like it for a while, until the pros do their best to defect.

Nice write up - I wanna ride it!

One point of detraction: Orangy-Red finishing tape for the handlebars!?  Blasphemy!

I wondered what was going on with the red as well, but it matches the red in the Davidson badge on the head tube.

You sticking with 7800, looking at SRAM? Good point on the 5 throws. I forgot to mention that.  It doesn’t affect me, as I’m shifting all the time anyway and rarely do I drop three shifts at once. Note that I don’t know specifically if Shimano is favoring compacts, that’s a theory or even why there’s only one derailleur option. Mark does know that they are favoring compacts over triples. I also expect shops are already thinking of how to connect the new shifters to 7800 or just get the derailleurs and shifters. Why they priced it more than Campy, I don’t know and haven’t heard or read it elsewhere, but I’d like to know and hear some ideas.

Interestingly the dynamics have really shifted—where I use to liken Campy to Mac and Shimano to Windows. Now, it’s all changed up. In that same scenario, even with an Apple premium, Shimano is way out there. Maybe they realize that SRAM is going to beat them on price and are going for the high end, because they can, with their brand cache. Much like Mavic did with the R-Sys, also ridiculously priced for what that wheel is and crazy-French marketed as “based on wagon technology.”

I bought the DA7900.  I had a 8 year old Ultegra grouppo that was wearing out.  The DA is awesome and I can not wait until the streets clear up from all the snow.  The shifting is smoother and I even went the etra nine yards and picked up the scandium DA wheels.  Thanks to my local shop for cutting me a sweet deal. Back to the mountain bike until the snow and ice leave the roads.

Every time a new gruppo comes around, the same argument emerges…one side grumbling about how the old stuff (7400, 7700, and now 7800) is perfectly fine.  The other jumps onto the newest gruppo…cost be damned.

I use to be a grumbler…when 7800 was released, I went on a NOS buying spree and picked up enough 7700 parts to make my stash last forever.  It took me until last fall to want to buy a 7800 gruppo…again…waited until new stuff came out to get a good deal on the old stuff.

However, I opted not to wait for Dura Ace 8000 to come around before picking up 7900.  So I guess I’m no longer a grumbler. And yes…the 7900 will go on my “Sunday/Doctor’s bike”.

I still put in most of my mileage on 7700 though…and I still think it’s good enough!

Tai

Coloured finishing tape is blasphemy?! Mechanix choice! Suck it!  Ha!

Notice how I said NOTHING about it—and spun it as, “oh it matches the red in the Davidson logo,” but did think, “WTF is that.”

 

oh, I thought I’d add that my own shifting style for rear mech downshifts has me rarely completing a 3-position downshift at one go.  Small hands, you see.  I nearly always do rapid 1- and 2-position downshifts, so I can’t see me caring or even noticing the change when I get my own 7900. 

I can see the front shifter throwing me off, especially since I will be switching among 7800 and 7900 bikes, but I tend to live on the small ring more than Byron since my cadence is generally higher than other riders.  The crank/front derailleur design means that you can use all of the cogs from the small ring without rub, which is a big boon to compact crank users.  It will probably help me too, but it makes it tricky to tune the derailleur so that you can use the last position cog from the big ring without the chain hitting the derailleur cage.

BB flex on the Ti bike contributes to that rub, but when it rubs on the 7800, I tap it away—can’t do that on 7900.

Byron, I’m sticking to 7800 for now, but by the time I start thinking about spending a dime on a new group (when the economy loosens up a bit), FSA may even be a complete-group option.

I can’t help but continue to harp on the mistake being made with DA’s front shifting, though.  Shimano already caters to the 39-heavy/compact crowd with Ultegra SL, and a difference like this could go a long way toward some actual differentiation between its professional group and performance-oriented/price-insensitive consumer groups. 

Lastly, $1729 is awfully low for Record.  That kit has neither current componentry (it’s 10 speed) nor a crankset, and comes in at *~$350 more* than their equally incomplete and out of date 7800 group.  SRAM levers are crazy expensive on their own, too.

Is FSA for real or vaporware?

The last FSA component review I remember seemed to side with a complete group being “real.”  Even if that’s not the case, some quick looks at the present economic climate and development timeline of even electronic shifting would give the indication that it could happen if they waited until next month to start.

I’ll believe in an FSA component group when I see it, and when I see it, I’ll wait for the redesign before I sell it. With things that involve moving parts, I haven’t seen FSA nail it on the first try. SRAM did pretty well with their road groups, but they had a decade of experience with drivetrains, more if you include the companies that they bought up.

Nobody is clamoring for FSA brakes or front derailleurs (the only thing they currently market that resembles a gruppo), so I’d imagine that it’s a uneasy time to introduce a gruppo.

The issue that gives the impression that DA7900 favours compacts will not affect the electronic DA, since that derailleur automatically trims always and in every gear. Byron formed his opinion on an initial ride, but I haven’t had a chance yet to re-tune the drivetrain based on his feedback. The issue may be less than initially thought, but I’ll have to get back to you on that.

Finally, here is a comparison of new gruppos based on price.  Based on wholesale OEM costs from our kit supplier for identical groups (no hubs, post, or hs), Chorus 11sp is 2.5% cheaper than DA7900, while Record-11 is 39% more, and Super Rec-11 is 67% more.   

Most of that is the fact that the stuff is new, and some of that is the across the board rising costs in the bike industry. So either DA7900 is reasonably priced, or it’s all insanity.

The only time I can remember being angry with a crank is an FSA. It took the strength of Atlas and the leverage expertise of the Egyptians to remove a pedal from the crankarm, but the right arm only. Ridiculous and I’m not confidant they can pull off a group with machining like that crank arm.

To the “trim and the rub” (sounds like something you could get in a market in Taipei), that shouldn’t buzzkill the group at all. It was my take away from the ride that, “hey I can’t trim the front chain ring anymore,” and why is that? I want to do that, why can’t I do that. Is there a memo on that?

Geometry, BB flex, are all going to affect trim and rub. Point is on the 7800 I can tap to adjust the trim in the big chain ring and cannot on the 7900.

All groups have issues and SRAM has them as well—check my review. SRAM’s one-to-one requires absolutely precise alignment to work. If it’s not aligned, it doesn’t shift. I also experienced the *loaded shift drop or chainstay reach-around.*

Note that when SRAM does work, it rocks and is a great value. To Campy 11, I haven’t ridden it, but did hear some murmurs of some issues.

I can’t understand the removal of the trim feature for the front derailleur/shifter.  Does it really make the shifter that much more complex?  Having the feature makes cable tension and adjustment not so overwhelmingly crucial and would definitely help with flexy frames and all that.

That being said, I still rock friction shifters on most of my bikes…

@Ghost Rider,

Clarification—there’s trim, but small ring only.

It seems like Huggas are becoming a powerful force.

* We asked for bakfietsen and longtails, and the niche was born.
* We longed for drop-bar Nexus, and it happened.
* HED Cycling needed to update their website, and a day later, it happened.
* Now when we point out the Campy price differential, here comes an across-the-board slash on component prices.

It’s almost like The Secret’s law of attraction, except it’s not complete rubbish.  Dare I speak the rest of my wish list, or will I jinx it?

@Champs

What Oprah calls the *Secret*, we call the Power of Hugga!

Hum…. I ride a Colnago President with 7800, Sram chain and 11/28 cassette, Stronglight ti crank with the 7800 chainrings.

got a lot of money in this bike. and… i do love it.

Lately, I have been thinking of more bling… an upgrade! ......to Campy Super 11 or the 7900…

Funny thing…. I just bought a 1997 Colnago Master Light with Ultegra 600 si…. 8 speed…. (for 700 on Ebay)
       
            THIS BIKE SHIFTS LIKE A DREAM!

SO…. AND…..          Go figure

Best shifting ever for me was my Gary Fisher with Deore XT thumb shifters.

Has anybody tried using the DA 7950 compact crank set with the DA 7800 Front Derailleur?

The DA 7800 Front Derailleur states that it is only good for 15 teeth, ie 50/35. But if the DA 7800 Rear Derailleur can stretch to an 11/28, which is 2 teeth more than recommended, then I was wondering if the Front Derailleur can stretch 1 tooth more to accommodate a 50/34?

I’m not sure if I’ve set up a bike with 7800 fr der and 7950 crank for any customers, but i distinctly remembered kitting a 7700 fr der with a 7950 crank and 11-28 9sp cassette: no problems.  do it.

oh, incidentally, i did set that up with a 7900 rr der

Thanks Mark ... the Ultegra 6750 crank should work also?

Hi Mark, I have another idea and that is to use one of the new MTB XT Dyna Sys 10 spd 11-34 teeth cassettes with a MTB XT(M772)/XTR(M972) GS/SGS RD (which should be compatible with my DA 7800 STI). 

Not sure through whether to use a GS Medium Cage or a SGS Long Cage? 

This option would give more range than using a 7950 compact crank set and if I really needed to I could then go to a compact crank.

What do you think of this idea for lots of touring and hill climbing?

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