The future is electric

Those interested in electronic shifting take head, Shimano is releasing their newest group this month, Ultegra DI2.  This new road group incorporates and actually improves on The Dura Ace DI2 electric shifting that has been around for a few years now.  I just checked the prices and the upgrade kit would set me back about 1600 dollars, the corresponding Dura Ace Kit would set me back about 3200 bucks.

Neither one of these groups are in my future, but if I happened to find a million dollars buried in the woods on my next mountain bike ride these would be high on my list of expenditures.  Despite their expense now it goes without saying that the prices will continue to fall and the technology will become more accessable. 

Now I’ve never  ridden an electric shifting bike but I know a few people who have and they told me it was phenomenal, the mags all the sing the praises of electronic shifting, and races have been using it now and if it wasn’t better they wouldn’t be.  Preorders for Ultegra DI2 seem to be strong and anyone who wants it soon is probably in for a long wait.  Shimano’s electronic gamble seems to have paid off.

I decided to do a little research on electronic shifting because I could remember when Mavic came out with it back in the 90s.  It didn’t work out for Mavic obviously because most people don’t even know they made any components, let alone electronic ones.  Mavic pioneered electronic drivetrains with ZAP! then later a fancier version called Mektronic.  Both systems operated about the same and neither found much success.  

Mavic’s system was actually only electric for the rear shifter and used a novel system where the electronic signal only activated a small ratchet gear attached to the idler pulley, this activated a pushrod either in or out and pushed the derailleur.  THe power for the shift actually came from the drive train so battery life wasn’t a concern.  The problem was that under loads the system doesn’t work very well and the pros didn’t find it very helpful.

The Shimano system uses worm gear servos to match the same movements as their cable shfit counterparts.  Battery life isn’t much of a concern now thanks to rechargeable lithium battery technology.  Both front and rear derailleurs are electric and computer controlled to achieve perfect shfits under any conditions. 

When Ultegra DI2 is actually on the market and available you’ll be able to pick out a high end bike equipped with it for as low as 3200 dollars, OK that sounds like alot to me, but thats not ludicrous like the 10,000 dollar electric Dura Ace bikes I’ve seen.  So it will be affordable but is it better?

Lets list the benefits

  • No cables to ever foul up and replace
  • Effortless button shifting instead of throwing a lever
  • intelligent front shifting that will never be matched by a cable system
  • Remote shifting buttons buttons for aero bars

Now the drawbacks

  • More expensive than a cable system
  • Battery has to be charged every month or so
  • Electronics can fail
  • The bike won’t be completely human-powered

I’ve heard from a reliable source that Shimano is done researching and improving cable actuated shifting and is putting all of their might behind electronic shifting and if that is true we will see continued improvements and lower prices as the system matures.  I’m certain there is a mountain bike version in the works and while electric shifting is an improvement on road bikes it could be a god send on mountain bikes.  In my opinion its time bikes start advancing in more meaningful ways, the time of throwing an additional cog on every few years and calling in a revolution (Campy) is over, time to start actually inovating. 

Shimano has played their cards perfectly with DI2, they kept the project under wraps until they had the bugs worked out and when they finally did release it to the public it was under the flag ship Dura Ace brand that is synonymous with performance.  Now that they’ve got all of us bike geeks salivating for it they are bringing it a little closer to our reach.  My prediction is that in 10 years electronic shifting bikes will be as common as 29er mountain bikes are now.


About Matt Gholson

Cycling, school teaching, husband.
This entry was posted in Bikes and components, technology (geek) and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

3 Responses to The future is electric

  1. I had just read this about Campagnolos new Electric shifters when your blog post came in,

  2. Matt Gholson says:

    I forgot to even mention Campagnolos group, thanks!

  3. Steve says:

    I’m glad to see I’m not the only person with a Lottery Winner’s shopping list. Yours is more refined than mine. I would simply walk into my LBS and say, “Show me your most expensive bike.” I’m guessing that one would be tricked out with electronic shifters!

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