I’ve spent the last six weeks riding Shimano‘s XTR Di2 electronic shifting mechanism so it’s time for an in-depth report. My test rig is a Pivot Mach 4 with 115mm travel equipped with FOX suspension and all Shimano parts. The testing area was the Palm Springs, CA desert and the redwood forests of Santa Cruz and Woodside, CA.
I didn’t know I needed 2×11
I’ve been a diehard 1×11 fan and have been preaching about its glory to all that would listen. I’ve even converted a couple of 2×10 bikes in the stable to those extended range 1×10’s and Narrow/Wide front. I haven’t been pleased with the performance of the conversion setups but certainly understand its value proposition for folks upgrading existing bikes in the stable. For 1×11, I’ve been 90% happy with the drivetrain and occasionally run out of gearing on the steep climbs. But at 150 lbs and a former singlespeeder, I’d usually make most climbs. What I really liked was the lack of the front shifter. That allowed me to focus on riding and it freed up prime real estate on the left handlebar side so my left hand could focus on activating the dropper lever under the bar.
We did several rides in Palm Spring, CA. Terrain was extremely rugged, especially the Palm Canyon Epic route shown here.
Gear range and simplicity
Color me surprised as I got on a 2×11 Di2 setup I actually liked and utilized the full gear range. Just as I did in my singlespeed days, it turns out I adjusted my riding style towards my available gearing on my other 1×11 bikes. When the climbing got real steep and long, I just put on my big boy pants and mashed up the climbs. I would use every fiber in my body to get up the steeps. Or in defeat, I’d just walk. Then at home, I’d swap out that 34 tooth front ring for a 32, or a 30 or even a 28. But as the front rings got smaller, the spin efficiency seemed to suffer a bit.
So as I got on the Di2 2×11, I actually enjoyed the gearing range. It was cool to stay in the big ring on the flats and rollers and spin. Then as the trail got steep, I’d get on the lower gears with effortless, perfect shifts. I’d make the climbs and I’d still have a gear or two to spare. Or I would just rest even during a climb, a steep one at that. It was refreshing to have my choice of gearing back.
The key to all this is Di2 allowed me to get rid of the front shifter using Syncro Shift. This is a computerized logic that tells both shifters when to shift the front ring and how much to adjust the rear gearing to match the previous gear. There’s two Syncro Modes available with the system and a completely programmable mode is available as well. This is the magic of Di2 as it gives you the range and the simplicity.
Electronics, batteries and other complexity
My big fear with Di2 was that my ride would be overrun by complex wires, displays and battery anxiety. Living with this system, I then realized that the complexity is in the installation, not in the riding. There’s a small new array of parts and standards during setup and installation but that’s really for the mechanic to figure out.
My job was to ride, pedal and push the triggers. That was it, really. This latest system worked better than any other before it. There’s no barrel adjusters, trimming the left shifter, worrying about cross-chaining. I just pressed the shift buttons and it seemed to never run out of gears. It would jump between the big and the small ring on its own and it gave me an audible ‘beep’ if the next shift was going to cause a front ring shift. The shifting was always perfect and I never heard any rubbing or popping from the chain. Since there’s no mechanical cables to wear out, stretch or loosen, the system is more consistent over time.
And what about the pain in the rear battery charging? Well I’ve ridden the bike for a solid six weeks, about 3 times a week and it looks like I still have 3 out of 5 bars left on the initial battery charge. There’s a visual LED screen indicating the gear that I’m in but I never actually look at it. Why should I? I never run out of gear anyway. It turns on momentarily after a shift then it shuts itself off after a few of seconds.