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Chapeau, Shimano: CUES looks like a genuine game changer for bike shops, brands and consumers

Mechanic and reviewer Mike Stead thinks CUES is great news thanks to the durable Linkglide tech and mix-and-match compatibility between 9, 10 and 11-speeds

Shimano CUES is a genuine game-changer for shops, bike brands and consumers, many years in the making. What Shimano have done here is merged the three-lowest tiers across mountain bike and flat-bar road/city groupsets, from Deore and Tiagra down, into one family: CUES (Creating Unique Experiences). Shimano have “have all but confirmed” that CUES componentry for drop bars is coming, but not until later this year.

For the last three decades technological advances have happened to the highest-spec racing-oriented groups like Dura-Ace and Ultegra, and then trickled down through the ecosystem over the years. That goes out the window today, with all CUES groups using the same fundamental technology - Linkglide - leaving consumers and bike brands to choose based on needs and budget, and not be left wanting for longevity or performance. Linkglide is here predominantly to solve the problem of e-bikes eating traditional drivetrains - but the benefits can be had by any cycling paradigm, be it commuting, touring, bikepacking or 'acoustic' MTB. 

> Read the launch story here: Shimano unveils new cross-compatible CUES groupsets, consolidating Claris, Sora and Tiagra

There are three levels of CUES spec/quality/price: U8000 in 11-speed, U6000 in 10-speed, and U4000 in 9-speed. U8000 gets nicer finishes - think XT or Ultegra nice. As you go lower, the finish and design leans more towards the value end of the spectrum.

Critically, all CUES groups use 11-speed chains. This is a major departure on previous thinking where the chain width matched the number of gears. This means everyone can run one model of chain across most all of their bikes, and bike shops only need to stock one type of chain for most geared bikes.

This shift in thinking is driven by Shimano’s knowledge of how chains and sprocket teeth interact - and 11-speed chains are the optimum for tooth-chain contact. You can use other brand 11-speed chains if needed/desired without detracting from performance - the Linkglide shift tech is built into the teeth ramps, not the chain. 

Speaking of teeth, all CUES cassettes use Shimano’s Linkglide technology, launched last year for electric mountain bikes. Basically thicker, taller all-steel teeth that engage better with the chain and are far more resistant to wear, skipping or breakage.

2023 Shimano CUES cockpit

Shimano claims Linkglide lasts three times longer, shifts far quieter, and is much more forgiving of mis-shifting under full load, which is important for e-bikes. This also means you can run wide-range 9- or 10-speed cassettes with no horrific shift degradation due to large jumps between sprockets. CUES gives you 11-46T in 9-speed, 11-48T in 10-speed, and 11-50T in 11-speed. 

Another benefit is that the quickest-to-wear 11T and 13T cogs are available as parts if needed, and they are interchangeable across the range - more maintenance and consumer cost-saving goodness.

I’ve been riding my Bosch CX-powered 85Nm full-fat e-MTB equipped with a Linkglide 11-speed drivetrain all winter on steep red and black trails. Not a single mis-shift, dropped or broken chain, or even crunchy-geared complaint, no matter how much abuse I threw at it. After 500 miles the Linkglide LG500 chain is only half-worn according to my digital chain checker, and it’s just a £30 replacement.

What this means for consumers is that CUES parts will last far longer than you’re used to, shift better, quieter, and cost much less to maintain. Wins all round.

Another major win is that all pull ratios and cog spacings are the same. So you can mix 9, 10 or 11-speed CUES cassettes and mechs with different CUES shifters, and all that will happen is that you’ll lose one or two gears at the top or bottom (you decide), or hit the travel limit with a few clicks to spare. This is a huge boon for people travelling with bikes and needing emergency repairs, or when supply chain issues strike, or when you trash a mech or shifter the day before a trip and the local shop is out of your exact spec. Just grab what’s available, off the shelf or another CUES-equipped bike, and it’ll work fine.

Likewise the front mechs are all running the same pull ratios. This pull-ratio standardisation front and back will be music to the ears of gravel-bikepacker-touring folks, who for years have had to hack around with different combinations and ratio adaptors to get working combinations in the gear range desired. Once CUES appears on drop-bar levers, there shall be much rejoicing and many new combinations supported without hackery or faff. 

Diving into some of the differentiators amongst the CUES levels: The U4000 mech doesn’t have a clutch, but Shimano have installed a heavier spring and tweaked the design, and with Linkglide plus a narrow-wide 11-speed chainring, chain retention won’t be an issue for the focus city/trekking market. And retro-grouches rejoice... you get a barrel adjuster on the mech.

The U4000 crankset is a square taper, meaning it can be retrofitted to many existing bikes. The chainrings are riveted, unlike the U6000 and 8000, where they are bolt-on and therefore replaceable. The U8000 crankset is the lighter HollowTech II spec, while the U6000 is Shimano '2-Piece’, which looks and installs the same as HollowTech II but is heavier. All CUES levels get single and double-ring chainsets, and there are front mechs to match. 

Cassette-wise, there's three options: a low-spec LG300 to match the 2 x 9 setup, the workhorse LG400 that will be on most bikes, and the lighter LG700 top tier spec. Gone is the LG600 placeholder launched last year.

The U8000 and 6000 shifters come with or without visual indicators, and two-way trigger release. The U4000 shifters have indicators only, and one has the two-way option for release. 

For e-bikers riding Shimano STEPS motors, there are two CUES Di2 rear mech options that support new auto-shifting options. There’s a 10-speed for up to 43T and an 11-speed for 50T - again Linkglide ready. Auto-shifting is configurable to get you into the right gear based on speed and cadence - using the motor to power the chainring forward to shift gears, even if you’re coasting or stationary. You can also select the gear yourself, without pedalling. Nice.

Another bonus of wired electronic shifting on e-bikes is that this is much cheaper to do using CUES than SRAM AXS, meaning no more rear shift cables to replace, ever. Plus no shifter or mech batteries to charge.

Whilst no one has yet ridden a CUES groupset, my experience on Linkglide in the toughest of conditions has been faultless, so I have every reason to believe these new groups will be performance winners. Likewise, the longevity, cost-effectiveness and standardisation as well as repairability all add up to a great consumer and trade bonus. Writing as a small bike service business owner, I can’t wait to see CUES become widespread across my customer’s fleet. It will make holding spares much easier to do, speeding the turnaround of repairs and enabling me to support emergency repairs better. 

The flexibility, options and performance vs. value points that CUES now open to bike brands, shops and consumers is a genuine step change. SRAM and other brands will have a real challenge reacting anytime soon with products to match. Chapeau Shimano, chapeau.

Living in the Highlands, Mike is constantly finding innovative and usually cold/wet ways to accelerate the degradation of cycling kit. At his happiest in a warm workshop holding an anodised tool of high repute, Mike's been taking bikes apart and (mostly) putting them back together for forty years. With a day job in global IT (he's not completely sure what that means either) and having run a boutique cycle service business on the side for a decade, bikes are his escape into the practical and life-changing for his customers.

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Lukasz 3City | 9 months ago

What will be in road?
Low end: CUES with Linkglide - more weight, slow gear shifting, maybe three times longer life, low or middle price.
High end: Dura-ace / Ultegra / 105 only with Di2 - Low weight, precision, but big price.
And what will be in between? When there is no mechanical 105 or Tiagra (probably not very liked)

alan sherman | 9 months ago

Detail will be key. But generally seems a good approach. I miss the days of road and MTB components cross compatability with 7/8/9/10 speed parts.
I don't see the point in having 9/10/11 speed though. Just stick with 10 and change materials for price points. I think 10 is the sweet spot, 11 speed chains seem less durable. 7/8/9 last for ages.

The big question is: which current pull ratios have they gone for?

fwhite181 | 9 months ago

It's about IP, I suspect. The old 3500/4700/5800 series Sora/Tiagra/105 patents all run out in about 5-10 years, at which point those components using the pull-ratios that Shimano have used for the last 20 years can be made by generics and (should) tumble in price. CUES allows Shimano to change the bike market to a setup which uses a different pull ratio, killing off the competition from generics for another 20 years. 

I agree the cross-compatibility is going to make life simpler (ah the joy of being able to franken-bike any 2-speed shifter with my choice of 9-11 speed!) The key unspoken thing here is price - if CUES drop bars cost as much as the existing hydro groupsets, it will price out almost all of 'cheap' road bikes from using Shimano. Hydro Tiagra is twice the price of cable. It also forces anybody using an older frame with post-mount or rim brakes to replace the frame. CUES will be nice, but it's mainly about maintaining Shimano's market dominance, not being nice to consumers..

Paul J replied to fwhite181 | 9 months ago

They can hardly patent a pull-ratio, surely?
It'll be other stuff that gets patented. And Shimano will hope those will interplay enough with the more fundamental, unpatentable stuff that generics are deterred.  2

fwhite181 replied to Paul J | 9 months ago

You're right, they can't explicitly patent the pull-ratio, but they can patent things like the geometry of the derailleur arms, the spacing of the cassettes, and the dimensions of the ratchets in the shifters, which more or less wrap up the pull-ratio. It's why SRAM have double-tap and Campi keep their thumb-buttons. 

a1white | 9 months ago

So, correct me if I'm wrong, a cheap Tourney equivalent hybrid bike will now be equipped with expensive hydraulic discs? Just ridiculous. 

wtjs replied to a1white | 9 months ago
1 like

So, correct me if I'm wrong
You're wrong, just as you are on the related topic.

a1white replied to wtjs | 9 months ago

I like how you just state "I'm wrong" but don't state how. Thanks, that really helps the debate.

looking into the details not mentioned. in any of the reports. On the CUES webpage I can see the that ther shifters are seperate from levers:

This would give scope for a 3rd party manufaturer, such as Tektro, to make cable levers to work with the CUES shifters. So yes hopefully it still looks like cheap entry level hybrids will not be put out of reach, price-wise, with expensive hydralic brakes. I guess we should all be grateful they aren't just offering it as Di2 😅

ChuckSneed | 9 months ago

Paid opinion.

Tinbob49 replied to ChuckSneed | 9 months ago

Why is it? How would you know? For all I know you could be a paid opinion saying the opposite. 

KiwiMike replied to ChuckSneed | 9 months ago

<guy who wrote it here>

Can 100% confirm Shimano paid absolutely zero for my take. 

If you'd like to provide evidence to the contrary, please do. I'll wait. 

ChuckSneed replied to KiwiMike | 9 months ago

So you spew this drivel for free?

Off the back replied to ChuckSneed | 9 months ago

ChuckSneed wrote:

So you spew this drivel for free?


People in glass houses!

KiwiMike replied to ChuckSneed | 9 months ago

As has been clarified before by F-AT, et al are advertiser-funded sites. People who write articles like me above are paid for our time. At no stage do advertisers have any say, whatsoever, in content. Never. For reference, I've written any number of 1- or two-star reviews over the last decade. As have others. If this was payola, all the reviews would be 4-5 stars and we'd never bitch.

You do seem awfully cross about life in general - maybe this site/content isn't for you?

Argos74 replied to ChuckSneed | 9 months ago

Absolutely - the clue's at the top of the page - mechanic. CUES makes their jobs far, far easier, and generally more accessible to people like me who are mechanically a bit basic and just like riding bikes.

I'm in the process of refurbishing an old 26" rigid MTB as a general fun runabout and commuter bike. And it's been a massive faff sorting out the drivetrain, have ended up mixing and matching with SunRace and Deore components. The CUES kit would make everything a lot easier, and generally more suited for purpose. I'll be very interested to look at the pricing structures for groupset building options.

xernobyl | 9 months ago
1 like

I'm curious to see the difference between the cassettes. Considering the cog size and pull ratio are the same, are the 9 speed cassettes just an 11 speed cassette with 2 spacers on the end instead of cogs?
Anyway, all this sounds great. It would be even better if it was an open standard and other brands joined. Curious to see the pricing and whatever happens to Tiagra / Sora / etc.

rjfrussell | 9 months ago

Have Shimano gone mad?  This sounds as though it is The Man in the White Suit territory:  cheap, long lasting, one-size-fits-all, it's commercial suicide. 

xernobyl replied to rjfrussell | 9 months ago

Cheap? Did you mean to write "affordable" by any chance?

kil0ran replied to xernobyl | 9 months ago

Shimano stuff is cheap (unless you're in the rarified air of running road hydro or Di2). Have you seen the price of SRAM cassettes?

Linkglide stuff is robust, cheaper, longer lasting - at the expense of some weight and slightly slower shifting performance compared to Hyperglide.

What this is basically doing is splitting utility and leisure cycling from performance/race cycling, and I'm all for it. Less inventory, less waste, less stuff shipped from one side of the planet to the other, less complexity, greater interchangeability and repairability. I'm all for it.

KiwiMike replied to rjfrussell | 9 months ago

From Shimano's press call (my notes):

Their focus is: durability, freedom of choice, smooth shifting, range selection

Fewer hassles mean more riding / more often. Yes fewer shop visits - but more riders, riding more = better overall

We should all be applauding Shimano from the rooftops, for taking a long-term stance focused on longevity, repairability, ease of use and performance. 

Gone is the boom-bust annual cycle of constant 'upgrades' to more features/speeds/lighter etc. I'm sure CUES will evolve - but in a way that doesn't leave the previous stuff hanging. 

SRAM has a major, major challenge now - I've thought for years their stuff - that lit the 1X fuse - has been overpriced and not reliable/repairable enough. eg clutched mechs. 

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