Sunday, 3 June 2012


I was recently measured up for a new custom bike. After the initial excitement there came the hard decisions. Foremost among these is the groupset selection.

Firstly I ruled out the electronic groupsets. Apparently Shimano's Di2 works like a dream, and I could probably even afford it (unlike the Campagnolo electronic offerings). But for me it's a bit like a car - not too long ago you could pop the bonnet and tinker to fix things. Now a specialist needs to plug your car into a computer to do anything. I don't want a bike like that.

Also, I think the electronic groupsets are creating a fix for a problem that isn't really there. Shifting isn't that big a deal for me.

And finally, I think there are a couple of very big steps to be taken in integrating the electronics with the bike. One of the key benefits of an electronic groupset should be less cables creating a more minimalist bike. Instead the electronic stuff seems to clutter bikes up with wires, battery packs and motors.

I've always ridden Shimano. Dura Ace most recently, which has lasted me for years and performed like a dream. So it seemed like a logical thing to go with the familiar. But when the options were layed out on the table, Dura Ace wasn't appealing as much as I thought it might. Firstly, the crankset just doesn't do it for me aethetically. Then, in speaking to friends (including people in the bike industry), it became clear that the current Dura Ace 7900 is widely considered a bit of a lemon.

So, I started looking elsewhere. The other two options are Campagnolo or SRAM.

The big issue I have with the Campy stuff is that funny little thumb-operated down-shifter. It seems like a deficiency to me. I'm tall and catch a lot of wind, so I spend a fair amount of time riding in the drops. And it seems to me that I wouldn't be able to downshift in that position. Which is a pity, because I love the look and the European heritage of the company. Their curly font logo alone is almost enough to make you buy their stuff. On the down side, my bike industry insiders suggest that parts are a real drag to get in Australia.

The other option, SRAM, seemed like the way to go then. No thumb shifter, but instead a 'double tap' system that I'm sure I could get used to. Their graphics are a bit too bold for my liking and try to steal the show (does a brake lever really need that much in the way of big fonts and colours?). And there is some dispute about how good the new kids on the groupset block are. They are also the cheapest of the 3 options. Normally this would be a big positive. But I'm building a custom-made dream bike here.

Then, just as the decision was about to come down to a coin toss, Shimano came to my rescue by announcing the all new Dura Ace 9000 11-speed groupset. I remember well when they changed from 9 speed to 10 speed, because I had the option of holding out for a month or two, but choose instant gratification and ride 9 speed to this very day. A jump to 11 speed is going to give me more gears than I know what to do with.

It's due out in September, I hear. Which should mean that it will be available before my bike makes it out of the queue and onto the welding jig.

All reports so far indicate that Shimano have been hard at work on the things that were lemon flavoured in the old groupset, and they have modified the old crank arrangement. It's still no Campagnolo, but I think it's an improvement aesthetically. Perhaps it's just that it's new and shiny, and it's easy to fall for that. But, I think a decision has been made.

And now for wheels.....

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