Even to a seasoned mountain biker or cyclist, drivetrains can sometimes feel a little overwhelming. You've got two or three main brands that offer several different speeds, with varying amounts of cross-company compatibility. It can be very easy for the uninitiated to be daunted by different brand's tiers and hierarchy. Shimano today release their full CUES range. The range of course won't unify all components but it does hope to simplify everything up to and including what was the 11-speed Deore tier.
There will still be a Deore 12-speed Hyperglide+ group, and everything beneath it will be part of the CUES family. That means you can expect to see Alivio, Altus, and Acera start to fade out in new builds, although Shimano does say inventory will still be available. All CUES parts fall under the Linkglide family.What is it?
So, what is CUES? Well, rather disappointingly it stands for Creating Unique Experiences. The irony of this groupset supposedly aiming and trying to reduce the number of unique groupsets being somehow lost. Anyhow, it will come in several series. There will be the 11-speed U8000, which will most likely be found on high-end city and urban bikes, the 10-speed or 11-speed U6000 which will be the utilitarian mountain bike group, and the 9-speed U4000 which will be for entry-level equipment.
There will be non-series cassettes coming in relatively wide ranges - there will be nine, ten, and eleven-speed options with ranges of 11-46t, 11-48t, and 11-50 respectively. All chains across the system use 11-speed spacing, as Shimano says this actually gives a greater amount of surface area for the teeth to engage on, and trying to implement an 11-speed system on something like an 8-speed chain width would run into issues in regards to wheel spacing.
Shimano says that the Linkglide is the smoothest shift that can be made when compared to Hyperglide+ of the same tier. The cogs are thicker and taller with a different ramp that's claimed to make them 300% more durable. This also means that the larger jumps you'll find on the 9-speed, 11-46 tooth system won't damage or wear the cassette prematurely. Shimano also claims that thanks to the features of Linkglide this should still be smooth. If Shimano's claims hold water, this will give learners more longevity, easier shifting, and a system less prone to being damaged when being treated with little to no mechanical sympathy.Does it actually make things simpler?
All the shifters use the same pull ratio, meaning that you could theoretically run an 11-speed shifter on a 9-speed cassette and just turn in the limit screw. In this instance, you'd be better off tensioning the cable in the largest gear with the ratchet two clicks into its range - not that Shimano is directly endorsing this, but it should make bike mechanics' lives a little easier.
The cassettes are non-series and house all the Linkglide-specific technology. That means that any 11-speed chain will still reap most of the same benefits. Naturally, Shimano claim that their chains will perform even better, but I think they should get some credit for being pragmatic and acknowledging the limitations of specing entry-level bikes, as well as the same problems many mountain bikers have irrespective of where they are on the food chain - getting parts in a pinch at the last minute.
These non-series cassettes feature some weight reductions compared to the 780 grams juggernaut CS-LG600 Shimano gave details on when first releasing Linkglide. They have now replaced that model with two lighter options. The CS-LG700 sheds 170 grams and the CS-LG400 which will be roughly 70 grams lighter and also cheaper than the original.
Because the Linkglide technology is in the cassette, and all the tiers use 11-speed chains, the chainrings, and cranks are all interchangeable, irrespective of what speed your cassette is. You could theoretically run the non-series 9-speed drivetrain and upgrade each piece to a higher level as you fancy should the mood take you, however with Shimano's durability claims the eventuality may not arise.New Tech in Entry Level Rear Derailleur
The U8000 and U6000 systems use the clutch derailleur that you'll be familiar with. However, the U4000 9-speed system does without. It uses a stiffer spring, and Shimano claims the chain retention is on par with their 11-speed XT and SLX groupsets from several years ago. There will also be a double crankset available, shifter, and mech available, although this will be more likely to be found on commuter bikes.Pricing
Affordability is very much at the heart of CUES, especially in the U4000 and U6000 groups.
The highest tier groupset, the U8000 is priced at under $290 USD
for a shifter, chain, cassette, and rear derailleur. With a crankset, chainring and BB it will increase the price to $451. The lower groups are where the value really begins to shine through though. For a U6000 group, again without the crank, you'll be paying $213 for the 11-speed
system or just $186 for the 10
. Which is very reasonable for a clutch-equipped wide range, and supposedly very hard-wearing group. Even if it most likely comes at the cost of extra weight.
The entry-level 9-speed U4000 package is just $150
, which is competitive and could represent a near full overhaul of a drivetrain, save for the cranks and chainring.
For comparison, an XT Linkglide system currently retails for just over $360.