The story behind the story: Falling in love with the bolts on Shimano Dura-Ace R9100

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Shimano’s overhaul of the latest Dura-Ace R9100 groupset was so discreetly thorough that it was impractical to even try and cover all the changes or details in one article. One aspect that I would have liked to have gone into further was the hardware used.

Yes, this is going to be a story about a bolt.

Shaving grams is often a thankless job, a task taken for granted when someone pours over a spec sheet. The new version of anything is supposed to be lighter, right? Perhaps, but the challenge lies in how you get there.

Titanium or aluminum hardware doesn’t save much weight over steel bits, but it does add up: a gram here and a gram there can yield 20g or more when spread across a groupset. However, neither alternative is as strong or durable as steel, and Shimano engineers are famously conservative when it comes to these sorts of things.

So instead, every nut and bolt on Dura-Ace R9100 is still ferrous, but meticulously massaged to trim just the tiniest fractions of weight. For example, the rear derailleur cable anchor bolt features a larger overall diameter but a shorter overall length than usual, a flatter and lower-profile head (with tapered edges, no less), and it’s drilled through its length to make it hollow. The bolt itself weighs just 2g, and even if Shimano managed to cleave 50% of the weight of a standard bolt, we’re still only talking about 2g.

Look elsewhere on the groupset and it’s more of the same. The brake calipers mounting nuts aren’t as radical but have trimmed-down flanges (there wasn’t much there to begin with), the front derailleur bolt is similar to (but not the same as) the rear, and even the cleat bolts on the latest Dura-Ace pedals have been drilled out.

I have no idea what this costs to develop and manufacture, but it likely wasn’t cheap or easy when you already have bins of perfectly good existing hardware in the corporate catalog. In comparison, just using a bag of off-the-shelf forged titanium hardware would have been a breeze, but that’s not Shimano’s style.

It’s this relentless approach that embodies Shimano’s attitude toward its flagship road groupset, and it’s the culmination of all these little details – not just one whiz-bang feature that sounds good in terms of marketing – that makes it so good. And for me, the fact that Shimano would devote so much energy to something most people would never even notice makes it all the more special in my eyes. It’s the very definition of obsession.

 This article is an exclusive for VeloClub Insider members only. 

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