JIM'S TECH TALK

RBR Newsletter

Observations on Shimano’s Ultegra Di2 after 18 Months

Sorry, I know I promised to review TruVelo Design’s impressive new wide-rim model 724 wheelset this week. However, when the maker found out that I had raced on his wheels in the Northern California District Road Race (60-64 age group) on August 16, a funny thing happened.

He was following the results because two other racers (a man and woman in younger categories) had won on his wheels. When he learned that I had almost won -- leading out the sprint and getting caught right before the line, he shocked me by calling and apologizing for giving me the wrong wheels to race!

It turns out that the winners were on the 733 model, which have 33mm tall rims versus 24mm on the 724s I rode. There are a few other go-faster features. I’ll go into more detail when I review the wheels. But, first, I have to give the 733s TruVelo rushed to me a good test in the USA Masters National Championships next week in Ogden, Utah (they’re even finished to match my red bike)!

18 months and 4,125 miles down the road

In the meantime, since it’s fall, when many bike shops are getting in their 2015 road bikes, you might be in the market. Maybe you’re lusting after Trek’s rumored-to-be 10.1-pound (4.6kg) $15K Emonda?

Or, to get to today’s theme, perhaps you’re considering a new carbon flyer equipped with electric shifting. If so, I thought it would be helpful to provide some long-term observations on my 2013 Ultegra Di2 10-speed electric shifting components. Di2 stands for Digital Integrated Intelligence by the way.

I reviewed my Di2 group back in March of 2013. Since then I’ve ridden 4,125 more miles and in many races. Note that Campagnolo has its EPS electric shifting components and SRAM should soon release a system that’s wireless. I’ve only ridden Campy’s EPS on a few short rides. But, I do believe electric shifting is worth considering if you’re bike shopping.

My Di2 is a full group but with “pod” shifters

To recap, because staying in the right gear is so crucial for optimizing performance racing against the clock (and because Di2 is pricey!), I only purchased Shimano’s Ultegra Di2 10-speed for my Cervelo P2 time-trial bike. So, I have not been riding Shimano Di2 shifting brake levers, but rather their “pod” shifters that fit neatly in the ends of the aero extension bars.

These pods are different than the regular STI levers. They do have 2 “buttons” on each side. However, the levers have individual blades (like Shimano’s cable STI levers) you press on for upshifts and downshifts (they barely move). Instead, the pods have small protruding buttons. The top shifts into easier gears, the bottom into harder.

Other than that difference, the wiring, battery and derailleurs are identical. Let’s look at my components and how they’ve functioned for the last 18 months.

Pod shifters

Even though they’re featherweight, made almost entirely of plastic and seemingly fragile, the pod shifters have easily withstood my use and abuse. The advantage of electric push-button shifting is not having to push and pull on a bar-end shift lever.

It seems like a minor thing, yet it’s significantly easier to simply press a button than it is to move your hand onto a lever and push/pull (often forcefully) to make that same shift. It can be the difference during a grueling TT between shifting and deciding not to shift, too, which can make you faster.

I’ve never crashed on these shifters, but I have already moved them onto 4 different aero extensions and rerouted the internal wiring multiple times. None of this harmed the electronics, the expanding ends that lock them in the bars, the tiny screws that hold the bodies together, or the wiring.

Buyer’s tip: Whether you go with regular levers or pods, like mine, be sure to really try the shifting action before you buy. Even all this time later, I often hit the wrong button, shifting into a harder or easier gear when I want the opposite. Also, I wish it took less pressure to make a shift. I thought you’d be able to tap shift, but you have to really press. Different brands and models vary, so find the one you like.

Wiring

When Shimano’s Ultegra Di2 came out, much was made of their new plug-and-play E-tube wiring system -- a big upgrade over the original Dura-Ace Di2 wiring. Each Di2 component connects with lengths of these small-diameter, flexible wires with plastic ends that press into the components and make a “click” so you know you have a solid connection. Shimano supplies a small tool for connecting and removing the wires.

The wiring has been foolproof on my Cervelo. Because my bike was not set up for internal wiring, I first routed the E-tubes along the frame. But then I got brave and decided to re-route them internally (after checking with Cervelo that it wouldn’t harm the frame). This took forever, but made for a super-clean install.

And, even being very rough with the wires to stuff them into and pull them through the frame, I didn’t damage a single wire. Also, loading the P2 on car racks and stacking it with other bikes at races, I haven’t once unplugged the wires from the rear derailleur (something that looks like it could happen).

Buyer’s tip: Even though Shimano’s wiring has performed flawlessly, I’m excited to see Shimano’s new wireless Di2 and SRAM’s, too. It only makes sense that you shouldn’t need wires and without them, you’ll have the cleanest and simplest setup. Supposedly, interference from other wireless devices isn’t an issue.

I’ll finish up my Ultegra Di2 post-18 month observations next week by going over the derailleurs, battery and a few final thoughts.

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Jim Langley has been a pro mechanic and cycling writer for 38 years. He's the author of  Your Home Bicycle Workshop in the RBR eBookstore. Check his "cycling aficionado" website at http://www.jimlangley.net, his Q&A blog and updates at Twitter. Jim's streak of consecutive cycling days has reached 7,531.

 
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