As hour 4 approached of a latest gravel fondo, with sleet pelting me, and my quads aching, I hit the final huge filth descent. The most effective of the very dangerous line selections had been pocked, slick, and rocky. My fingers bounced on and off the tops of the brake hoods repeatedly as my numb fingers struggled for buy on the brakes. Proper about then, I positive may’ve used certainly one of Shimano’s 5 new gravel-specific drivetrain setups, which start to hit shops this July.
Extra on the combo of what’s coming in a second, however first to that particular use case, the place Shimano isn’t solely the primary to supply gravel-focused shifting, however can be the primary model to totally handle the challenges of braking and shifting whereas additionally driving terrain that, till gravel bikes blew up, was principally the reserve of mountain bikes.
And the primary issue that issues most once you’re on the diciest terrain is having the ability to maintain on tight, which is why Shimano’s new brake levers and hoods have been reshaped.
Sure, that’s a refined story, nevertheless it’s fairly key to efficiency.
Constant throughout the whole new unfold of 1×11, 2×11 and a pair of×10 methods (which vary in value from roughly present Ultegra down by way of 105 and Tiagra, relying on the way you combine and match) is a redesigned hood that takes numerous the meat out of a too-fat form that was initially designed for pedaling easy asphalt.
So Shimano’s new hoods aren’t solely taller on the ends, to stop your mitts from breaking grip throughout steep descents, they’re additionally textured, to assist you to hold your sweaty, moist, or chilly palms glommed to them.
Shimano additionally scalloped as a lot materials from the hood shoulders, narrowing the form and permitting for an enhanced attain of your index fingers to the levers. All of which could get you nearer to the identical simple, single-finger braking you get with fashionable hydraulic disc brakes on a mountain bikes.
Simply as essential as grip, is having the ability to cease.
Levers, in spite of everything, are levers, which means, like a pry bar, your hand has to use power at one finish to create the impetus required to actuate the brake. Conventional highway levers have largely pivoted extra simply from the drops, not the hoods, however on a steep descent on a gravel bike you’re ceaselessly braking from the hoods, making an attempt to stop endo’ing, holding your ass way back to potential. Which means you get much less energy into braking. However for those who can change the placement of the pivot in that see-saw lever motion, and transfer it up, it takes quite a bit much less stress to brake from the hoods, which is simply what Shimano did, transferring that pivot level .7 inches increased, for extra stopping punch without having as a lot enter on the finish of the lever arm.
Then once more, for those who actually need that from the bar tops Shimano additionally took a shocking step, including the choice of mini-bar-top levers that permit braking from the flats of your drop bars—an identical to the wrist place of your fingers when you mountain bike. Previous-school touring bikes used to supply bar-top levers, too—they usually sucked. However that’s as a result of they had been cable-actuated and deeply compromised each by the weak spot of these calipers and the challenges inherent in cantilever brake designs. These new bar-top mini-brakes must be much better just because they’re tied to the identical hydraulic shifter/brake system within the hoods—and since Shimano’s hydros have persistently provided the perfect braking efficiency of any model in the marketplace.
On condition that so many gravel bikes lately provide over-wide, flat buy factors on the bar tops, having the ability to brake from, arguably, the perfect steering place (i.e., why mountain bikes have horizontal bars somewhat than drop bars) may show a revelation. And positively for bikepackers who need a “roadie” place however need to combat even more durable to maintain from toppling throughout gnarly descents, bar-top-actuated hydros are going to be a godsend.
Yeah, yeah, however in regards to the drivetrain?
It’s query, and the reply is we’re undecided that this half issues fairly as a lot to most consumers as to bikemakers. The reason being that essentially the most vital particulars are a bit within the weeds.
When you already personal a Shimano-equipped gravel rig with through-axles, the excellent news is that upgrading to this new drivetrain sequence will work superb. You possibly can hold utilizing the identical 15mm-hubbed wheels you could have, though it’s cool that Shimano’s debuting a brand new, blue-collar priced ($420) wheelset with wider, 21.6mm rims and it’ll be provided in each 27.5/650b and 700c (i.e., “highway”) sizes.
The “weedsie” a part of the equation is that GRX strikes the chain line out from the bike body, the higher to stop the chain from slicing into the trail of fatter tires, and, Shimano says, combines the extra constant shifting of their gravel-specific RX rear derailleur that debuted final 12 months with a full set of two×10/2×11/and 1×11 setups.
It will get extra granular nonetheless once you dig into the choices, which embrace digital shifting Di2 at roughly Ultegra-level pricing, in each single and double entrance chainring choices. The detrimental of the brand new system might be gearing vary, relying on what you trip. Whereas SRAM’s Eagle system runs extremely large gear ranges, with singlespeed cranks right down to 30t and a 12-speed, 10×50 cassette, in 1x configuration, the widest Shimano gearing is an 11-speed cassette at 11×42 with a 40-tooth entrance chainring. Positive, you possibly can go together with two rings up entrance to get a bailout gear, however that provides complexity. Eagle grew to become a default for lots of gravel-heads as a result of ditching a entrance derailleur eliminates complexity, and filth provides upkeep points as it’s. When you’ve embraced the grime, working “one-by” grew to become a form of mantra among the many trustworthy.
Then once more, it’s debatable that the majority of rides don’t name for working the final word granny-ness of Eagle.
One bonus of going 1x with GRX is the lefthand shifter operate is changed by management for an built-in dropper submit, which is a fairly candy and sensible concept that brings us full circle again to these sensible levers and rewired brake hood design.
This design may additionally have a number of uptake amongst cyclocrossers, the place management is essential, and higher braking wins races. If the added leverage of these new brakes means it can save you vitality and are much less gripped, a number of racers and even not racers preferring a extra conventional CX cockpit are going to go for this new system.