Has the new Dura-Ace and Ultegra killed the affordable road bike?

By: A.V. Schmit

Much like when video killed the radio star, when the prophetic tune from The Buggles was the first song played on MTV when it debuted in 1981. Shimano’s Di2 has killed mechanical (cable actuated) shifting at least at the high end.

The Buggles, “Video Killed the Radio Star” premiered on MTV in 1981, and Shimano’s next generation of Dura-Ace and Ultegra components are Di2 ONLY.

With the introduction of Dura-Ace 9200 and Ultegra 8100 August 31, 2021, Shimano has gone “all in” on electronic shifting for their top two road group sets. Although Shimano has stated they will continue to manufacture 11-speed Ultegra R-8000 group sets for an indeterminant period of time.  Likely one model year.

Both new group sets feature a 12-speed cassette with new splined pattern, rim and disc brake options, an Ultegra crankset with power meter, as well as making shorter crank arms available for the first time, (160 mm). Along with a variety of incremental improvements in ergonomics, shift speed and shifting smoothness.

Dura-Ace 9200 is 12-speed, Di2 only, and retails for more than $4,000.00. Photo: Courtesy of Shimano, Inc.

But the big news is, both group sets are only Di2. That is to say, electronic shifting, where a battery and computer shift the gears based on signals sent from the shift/brake levers. This differs from mechanical or cable actuated shifting where a physical cable is “pulled” by the shifter to move the front or the rear derailleur. That’s the gizmo that actually moves the chain to a harder or easier gear.

Unfortunately, with innovation comes higher prices at the bike store. At retail pricing a complete Dura-Ace 9200 group set is north of $4,000.00 without sales tax. That’s more money than many people would be willing to spend on a complete bike.

Which led me to a question? How much do you need to spend on a road bike to get acceptable quality and performance? Do you need to buy new, or is pre-owned a good option?

Now, I fully admit, I’m a card-carrying bike snob. I ride Dura-Ace on my road bikes, and I have since Dura-Ace 7400, circa 1984. But that doesn’t mean I think a cyclist needs to spend top dollar to enjoy road cycling.

Far from it. I think one good way we keep the cycling community alive and growing is to be more inclusive. Simple things make a big difference. Like… waving. Unless I’m “hammer down” on my limit, I always give a little wave or a head nod to cyclists traveling in the opposite direction. Makes me feel good, and hopefully, them too.

Ok, that was a little detour from the point of this article. So, what is the difference between an ultra-high end road bike and a more budget oriented model? What would you spend for either?

On a Tour De France ready bike, arguably the highest end of road bikes, you will find a bike that weighs no more than the UCI (Union Cyclist International, the governing body of professional cycling) mandated minimum of 6.8 kilograms. (14.99 pounds).

At this point in time, every bike competing at the highest level of the sport in races like the Tour De France will most certainly be made of ultra-light high modulus carbon fiber. It will have Shimano Dura-Ace Di2, SRAM eTAP AXS or Campagnolo EPS electronic shifting. It will be fitted with aerodynamic carbon fiber wheels, tubular or tubeless tires, a power meter and a cockpit (seat post, handle bars and stem) also made of carbon fiber.

So, what will a bike made of space-age composites with electronic shifting and aerodynamic wheels set you back, between $12,000.00 — $15,000.00. That’s more than the cost of 2021 Hyundai Accent.

The 2022 Pinarello Dogma F Dura Ace Di2 has a retail price of more than $15,000.00. Photo: Courtesy of CICLI PINARELLO SRL.

Do you need to spend that much on a bike to get into cycling? The answer is an emphatic no.

So, what’s the difference between the ultra-high end, and a bike mere mortals can afford to ride. Let’s start with the similarities. They both will have two wheels, a frame and components to shift and brake. But that’s where the similarity ends.

More budget-conscious bikes may be made from carbon fiber, but will more likely be made from an aluminum alloy. If they are made from carbon fiber, they will likely not be hand-made, aerodynamically optimized and made to be as light weight as the technology allows.

As far as components, they will likely have mechanical (cable actuated) shifting such as Shimano 105 or SRAM Rival components. Keep in mind, that for the most part, component manufacturers “trickle down” much of the technical refinements they debut on their flagship group sets over time to their more moderately priced components. While they may not use some of the high-tech manufacturing processes or exotic materials, much of the technology makes its way down the respective product line over time.

A more approachable road bike will most certainly not have a carbon fiber wheelset, it will have reasonably light weight alloy wheels. So, why not? Well price mostly. For example, a set of ZIPP 202 carbon wheels retails for $2,500.00. That makes it pretty difficult to being the price of a complete bike in under $5,000.00.

The 2021 Specialized Allez Sprint Comp Disc retails for $2,300.00. Photo: Courtesy of Specialized Bicycle Components, Inc.

So what do you do if you want to get started in cycling?

Step one, you need to determine what kind of riding you are going to do. Are you planning to roll around the neighborhood or go for a leisurely spin around a local park occasionally? Or are you planning to get into road cycling for fitness and possibly doing organized tours and events on a regular basis? In the first case, a hybrid or light duty mountain bike might be perfect. If the latter is more what you’re thinking, then you are going to need a road bike.

Chances are, you know at least someone who rides a bike. Maybe a friend or someone in your neighborhood has ridden the Triple By Pass, Bike MS or some other organized ride. They might be a good resource for you, at least as you get started in your search.

First things first. You need to figure out what size bike / frame you need, after you have decided on the type of riding you want to do. Now you could go to your local bike store and get a pre-purchase bike fit done. But that can be expensive, as much as $400 in some cases, which will likely burn up too much of your budget.

There are online resources that can help, like The Pro’s Closet, an online retailer of pre-owned bikes and components recently published a basic guide to bike fit:  https://www.theproscloset.com/blogs/news/what-size-bike-do-i-need

Online retailers like Competitive Cyclist offer online tools to determine your bike size: https://www.competitivecyclist.com/Store/catalog/fitCalculatorBike.jsp

If you are inclined to go “used” then there are online resources that can help expand your search, and potentially educate you on market conditions. Websites like Bicycle Blue book can be an invaluable resource when you are trying to find a value-oriented road bike: https://www.bicyclebluebook.com/marketplace/buy-now/

A cursory review of their offerings revealed a number of quality pre-owned road bikes ranging from $800 – $2,00.00. My recommendation would be to not go too much older than 10 years, as it may be difficult to get replacement parts when the time comes.

Screen capture of the Bicycle Blue Book marketplace.

If you can find it, a bike that was purchased new and spent most of its time in the garage, not being ridden, may be a great value. Now, the most important thing to consider is not the frame material: Carbon, Steal or Aluminum. Nor is it the kind of components on the bike: SRAM, Shimano or Campagnolo. Does it fit you, should be your primary concern? The “best deal ever” isn’t going to get you out on the bike, if you can’t ride it in comfort.

There are some things that can easily be swapped to improve a bike’s fit: handlebars, stem and saddles (seats) can tailor a bike to your specific body type. But the frame is the frame, and if it does not fit, then it’s not going to work for you.

You could also find a used bike that with some work could be just right for you. But you don’t have the tools or knowledge to upgrade or repair a bike. There are a number of options from YouTube videos to bicycle co-ops like the Lucky Bike Exchange (Denver) and Community Cycles (Boulder) that can be invaluable resources for the new to cycling enthusiast.

If you are more inclined to go the new bike route, you could make a trip to your local bike store or there are a number of online direct-to-consumer bike brands like: Canyon Bicycles and Blue Competition Bikes. Instead of maintaining a “brick and mortar” retail presence, they have moved the bike selection and purchase process to the Internet.

Canyon Bicycles

Blue Competition Cylces

Lucky Bikes Re-Cyclery

Community Cycles

There are many good shops in and around Colorado. They range from high-end boutique shops that focus on elite racers, to concept shops from bicycle manufacturers like Giant, Specialized and Trek who carry the gamut from kid’s bikes to bikes that could be ridden in the Tour De France. At one of these shops, you can anticipate spending between $1,500.00 to $4,000.00 for a quality road bike.

So, as the high-end gets even higher. In price that is. Does that mean you need to raid the kid’s college fund to start riding and enjoying road biking? Nope. A good quality new or pre-owned road bike is all you need and a willingness to get out there.

The author, out riding somewhere in Colorado on a blue bird day.

One thought on “Has the new Dura-Ace and Ultegra killed the affordable road bike?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.