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.