Electronic drivetrains come up pretty frequently when I talk with my athletes and I recently was asked if Di2 was worth the upgrade over an equivalent mechanical shifting groupset.
Fair warning my experience with all things groups is very strong when it comes to Shimano. I have ridden on SRAM road groups and have a Mountain Bike with an SRAM Mechanical group set. I have never had the pleasure of riding on any other current or past electronic shifting systems. Many of my sponsors, athletes, and teammates have. I will share my experiences, anecdotal accounts and industry information that will be useful when it comes time for you to make that all-important buying decision.
But before we go much further I have a few notes
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OK let’s get back to the topic at hand.
Let’s talk a bit about the history of Electronic Groups first.
The very first single pulley derailleur was invented in 1928, however, the parallelogram rear derailleur we are all accustom to was introduced by Campagnolo in 1950 as the Campagnolo Grand Sports derailleur. Campagnolo’s original design has become the basis of a long string of evolutionary changes that have ended up what we have today.
It isn’t known for sure when the first front derailleur was invented but even before 1937 touring cyclist would manually shift front chainrings. It is believed that the first commercially available front derailleur was created by Simplex in 1949 by introducing the Simplex Competition front derailleur.
Fast forward 50 years!
1990 SunTour introduced the Browning Electronic AccuShift Transmission
1992 Mavic introduced Zap
1994 Sachs introduced the Speedtronic.
1999 Mavic introduced the Mektronic
2001 Shimano introduced a set of trekking components called Di2, which included electronic shifting and automatic adaption of a front and rear suspension to riding speed.
2000s both Shimano and Campagnolo provide prototype electronic shifting in professional road races to various world tour teams.
2009 Shimano sells the first commercially successful electronic gear shifting system for road bikes called di2.
A wireless system was announced by Tiso in 2012.
2013 Baron Biosystems introduces BioShift an automatic electronic shifting transmission.
2014 Baron Biosystems BioShift becomes ProShift
In 2015 SRAM announced its wireless electronic group set called, SRAM RED eTap. The group was released in Spring of 2016
2015 FSA displayed a working prototype of a wireless gear shifting system.
2016 FSA trials the new (hybrid) wireless shifting at the Tour de France in stage 17, and then at Euro bike in the same year FSA introduces the final form of the WE (Wireless Electron) group set.
2016 Paul Gallagher (inventor) displayed a working prototype of his XSHIFTER universal wireless gear shifting system. It is a patent-pending device that is claimed to convert any bike with mechanical derailleurs to wireless smart shifting in a few minutes.
Let’s talk about the typical questions.
How much more is electronic shifting over mechanical shifting.
The first generation of Shimano’s di2 was almost 3 times the price of mechanical Dura Ace but today’s electronic group sets can cost 90% or more than their mechanical equivalent. Of course, there are always exceptions and better deals to be had. Especially if you by the previous generation or purchase a bike that already has an electronic drivetrain.
So what make’s electronic shifting so great?
Improved or more reliable shifting
No Chain Rub
Multiple Shift Positions
Time Trialer and Triathlete dream set up
No more cable stretch
Occasional adjustments or customizations
No more fine tuning barrel adjusters
No more concerns about replacing cables
No more concerns about pre-stretching and returning after new cables are installed
What’s bad about electronic shifting
Final thoughts and experiences with electronic shifting