Shimano Dura-Ace turns 50, the groupset that revolutionized the competition
The flagship groupset of the Japanese brand, which was able to put an end to Campagnolo's hegemony at a time when a top-level bike had to mount components from the Italian firm, reaches its golden anniversary. A drivetrain that has little to do with the one presented in 1973 and that arrives in the 21st century in top form with a firm commitment to electronics and disc brake technology.
Dura-Ace, innovation made in Japan for 50 years
Few imagined in the early 1970s that a Japanese brand, specialized in the manufacture of reels for fishing rods, would end up becoming the market leader in bicycle drivetrains. Today, however, Shimano is still the brand that sets the trends to be followed by the market.
If we focus on the world of road bikes, all these innovations have been poured into what, for 50 years, has been its flagship groupset, the Dura-Ace, a term that alludes to the innovative duraluminium construction used in its first version back in 1973. A material with a touch of the exotic at the time that allowed a significant reduction in weight compared to its competitors' offerings.
We would have to wait until 1984 for the arrival of the first indexed derailleurs with SIS technology, which would later be extended to all groupsets on the market, and we could even find this type of derailleur on supermarket mountain bikes at ridiculous prices almost a decade later with the boom in this type of machine.
In the 1990s, Dual-Control levers revolutionized the world of cycling by eliminating the cumbersome shifting levers located on the frame and integrating this function into the levers themselves, which were always at the rider's fingertips, so that choosing the right gear became quick and intuitive and was no longer something that the rider had to continually anticipate in view of the terrain.
By then, we were at the time when road bikes were already using 8 sprockets on the cassette, we would have to wait until the last year of the twentieth century to reach 9 and, in 2004, the brand presented its 10-speed groupset, which was undoubtedly one of the epoch-making ones. In fact, today it is still common to find bikes on the road using this groupset, which works almost as well as it did on the first day.
On the basis of its second generation 10-speed groupset, in 2009 Shimano revived an idea that the French company Mavic tried to implement in the 1980s without much success. It was an electronically driven groupset that was intended to push shifting precision to the limit while avoiding maintenance and adjustment problems. The Dura-Ace Di2 was born.
After serving as a platform on which to learn and lay the foundations of the Di2 system, in 2012 Shimano made the leap to 11 sprockets and, a few months later, the Di2 version of the groupset arrived, incorporating the E-Tube technology that a couple of years earlier had debuted on the Ultegra groupset, perhaps the only time a groupset other than the top of the range pioneered a technology. With E-Tube came much thinner cabling that responded to the complaints of frame manufacturers and made it possible, via computer connection, to upgrade the groupset and completely customize it.
A couple of years ago came the latest version, which is currently mounted by the majority of professionals in the peloton, with a dominant presence in the teams against SRAM or Campagnolo. With this new Dura-Ace, the 12 sprockets were incorporated and the possibility of having a mechanical groupset disappeared. From that moment on, the top-of-the-range Shimano groupset only has electronic drive and the now ubiquitous disc brakes, another technology introduced a few years ago in the Dura-Ace, which has been improved with better modulation or a design that allows more space between disc and pad to avoid friction.
Dura-Ace has reached its 50th anniversary as the reference groupset among road bikes, although in recent years the American firm SRAM has been looking hard to steal market share with its Red AXS. Meanwhile, Campagnolo, with its exquisite Super Record, has been losing the prominence it once had and today we can hardly find it in series setups, being reserved for lovers of the Italian brand.