Long Term Test: Shimano Di2 XTR

It's as simple and configurable as you want it to be

XTR Di2 performed seamlessly in the rugged desert terrain of Palm Springs, CA

XTR Di2 performed seamlessly in the rugged desert terrain of Palm Springs, CA. (click to enlarge)

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.

The Di2 display is a 30 gram unit that displays the current gear and can select the shift mode.  It shuts off after a few seconds to save battery life.

The Di2 display is a 30 gram unit that displays the current gear and can select the shift mode. It shuts off after a few seconds to save battery life. (click to enlarge)

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.

Continue to page 2 for more impressions and specs on Shimano Di2 XTR ยป

About the author: Francis Cebedo

The founder of mtbr and roadbikereview, Francis Cebedo believes that every cyclist has a lot to teach and a lot to learn. "Our websites are communal hubs for sharing cycling experiences, trading adventure stories, and passing along product information and opinions." Francis' favorite bike is the last bike he rode, whether it's a dirt jumper, singlespeed, trail bike, lugged commuter or ultralight carbon road steed. Indeed, Francis loves cycling in all its forms and is happiest when infecting others with that same passion. Francis also believes that IPA will save America.

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  • RM says:

    Trickle down has started over at SRAM with the release of the Gx gruppo. It won’t be long before I’m riding a Road bike with electronic shifting and disc brakes plus a carbon fibre Mtn 2x bike with electronic shifting. Having the one shifter control both front and back is brilliant. It lets you have top end speed as well as climbing power. Eagerly waiting for the budget versions.

  • Kuttermax says:

    Nice review. I’m currently running XX1 on all three of my bikes (Jet 9 RDO, Rip 9 RDO, Beargrease) and must admit I love the simplicity but some careful thought has to go into picking the front chainring. I’ve drifted towards using mainly 28 or 30t front rings and for the most part don’t miss the top end, but having a little broader range and tighter spacing of a Di2 2×11 setup would be pretty sweet.

    Right now I’m not compelled enough to switch over any of my existing bikes but I would seriously consider this system if purchasing a new ride. Hmmm, an Air 9 RDO with Di2 would be pretty nice….

  • Happy Bill says:

    However the term “Long term test” does not seem appropriate for a 6 week review. To me long term test is for something that has gone a full season.

    Six weeks in dry terrain is not really going to affect that system a lot. Throw heaps of mud and wet and cold at it and see how it handles.

  • Fat Biker says:

    Am I the only one that’s seen the price of these drive-train components and thought “damn that’s one nice expensive bike” only to realise it’s just the parts ??????
    I must be sooo out of touch . When did it become acceptable for these kind of prices to become real ?

  • BlackBean says:

    I can’t wait to put these on my mtb’s (or replace my mtbs with new bikes that has this standard). But the prices needs to come waaaay down first. 1×11 was a good step. However, it’s still mechanical.

    A concern with this that is no different from mechanical systems I think is that the front derailleur can still freeze up when riding through water in the winter. Other than that I think it’s hands down a better system.

  • Bryan says:

    Being someone who’s missing a few fingers on both hands, I’ll take the extra help shifting any day. Having the option to only shift with the left or right is great. Now the price needs to come down for it to be feasible.

  • jackson says:

    for a 1x (mechanical versus electronic) weight comparison, according to the chart there is a 1.8lb penalty. That’s a lot!

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