Shimano has announced a brand-new approach to its mid-tier component lineup, unifying the 9-, 10- and 11-speed 'lifestyle' lineup under a new product family called CUES. At the moment, CUES is only available for flat-bar bikes, redesigning the existing Claris, Sora and Tiagra groupsets - and mechanical 105 - into a range of interchangeable components, including derailleurs, cassettes and chains. The change also applies to the Altus, Acera, Alivio and Deore MTB drivetrains, which could make sourcing and fitting spare parts for bike shops and riders much less of a headache.
> Opinion: Shimano CUES looks like a genuine game changer
Totally revamping how we’ve come to know the Shimano drivetrain hierarchy, Shimano says that CUES will “offer smoother shifting, more durable components, and standardises compatibility across a wide range of categories” in the brand's lifestyle component lineup. The wide cross-compatibility of the CUES components should mean that repairs and upgrades are easier on CUES-compatible bikes going forward, as shops are not limited by the number of gears on the bike when it comes to replacing or updating components. As we understand it, though, CUES components will not be backwards-compatible with outgoing Tiagra, Sora and so on because the pull ratios are different to the older groupsets.
What is changing?
CUES, (which stands for "creating unique experiences"), is not a totally new concept from Shimano, as we've already seen it launched on the e-bike-specific electronic groupsets last year. Now, the CUES family is consolidating the mechanical mid-tier groupsets, meaning that whereas you previously had a rather clear hierarchy and limited cross-compatibility - between a Sora and Claris groupset, for example - the CUES system should make the mixing and matching of components across speeds much less of a faff.
The CUES lineup modernises the offerings, meaning that some drivetrain options are no longer available and the old groupset options are being phased out. CUES only includes hydraulic disc brake options, and the chainsets are limited to either 1x or 2x setups - meaning there will be no triple chainsets with a granny ring or rim brakes anymore.
Those who are currently running existing 9-, 10- or 11-speed drivetrains on their flat bar bike don't need to panic (yet) though, as Shimano has said the current drivetrain options will stay in the brand's offerings for at least the next seven years as they are being slowly phased out.
> Are we seeing the death of the triple chainset?
CUES will incorporate and discontinue Claris - Shimano's current entry-level 8-speed groupset for road, fitness and touring - as well, but the timeline of all of the changes being rolled out is not clear. This slightly vague launch of CUES can be seen as the introduction of the concept, rather than a definite announcement of groupsets being discontinued.
The CUES lineup
CUES consists of three levels of components across all riding disciplines: U4000, U6000 and U8000. The U4000 range is 9-speed, U6000 is available in both 10- and 11-speed and the U8000 comes with 11-speed components. All of these are cross-compatible, to a certain extent.
You will find all of the CUES groupsets designed to use an 11-speed chain - meaning all of the cassettes have the same spacing between the sprockets and can be run with any existing 11-speed chain - including the e-bike specific E8000 chain that was part of the e-bike CUES launch last year.
How is CUES more durable than previous drivetrains?
The cassettes all feature Shimano’s Linkglide technology - something the brand initially introduced as an alternative to its more premium Hyperglide tech. Whereas Hyperglide is all about lightweight and performance, Linkglide is about durability and in the case of CUES, compatibility and accessible price points, so we're told.
The Linkglide cassettes have a specifically designed, taller and thicker tooth shape that provides additional surface area and mitigates the chain from skipping, especially under heavier loads experienced on e-bikes. The design distributes pedalling forces more evenly to prevent premature wear due to shifts from less experienced cyclists, so in other words, the Linkglide system is very forgiving for gear crunchers.
The CUES Linkglide cassettes fit on a standard HG freehub body and the two smallest sprockets - the 11 and 13-tooth ones - are the exact same across the range so that they can be replaced separately from the rest of the cassette.
Shimano says the lifespan of the Linkglide cassettes is three times longer than that of the alternatives, making them the most durable in the brand's offerings. This obviously makes the Linkglide range more budget-friendly, as well, as you don't have to change the components so often.
Can different speed CUES components be mixed?
All of the CUES shifters and derailleurs use the same, specific Linkglide pull ratio, meaning that yes, the shifters can be used across different speed groupsets.
The CUES drivetrains feature 13-tooth jockey wheels across the range, again making the system more cross-compatible across the 9,10 and 11-speed CUES components. This should make sourcing and fitting spare parts much easier, because all pull ratios and cog spacings are the same.
When can we see CUES on bikes?
The CUES components are not widely available in the UK quite yet, but it's likely that most of the mid-range bikes that you're going to see enter the markets later in 2023 will be equipped with a Shimano CUES groupset instead of the outgoing 9, 10 or 11-speed models.
What about STI levers/drop bar bikes?
This is the first launch of CUES outside the electronic groupsets that were announced last year, and a source tells road.cc that “Shimano have 'have all but confirmed' that CUES componentry for drop bar is coming, but not until much later”.
We're taking this to mean that the CUES treatment, with the phasing out of Tiagra, Sora and Claris, could be coming to road bikes too, although we're not 100% sure if the phasing in and out times are the same as this initial announcement for flat-bar fitness, city and mountain bikes.
And the prices?
At the time of writing, we don't have any pricing information at all for the CUES system or any of the components in the new line-up... so we're unable to judge if it will indeed provide the accessible price points we've been promised right now! You can check out Shimano's website for more details on CUES, and we'll update when we get more information.
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