Showing posts with label di2. Show all posts
Showing posts with label di2. Show all posts

Monday, June 02, 2014

XTR Di2: Inevitable Progress Or Have We Gone Wrong?

You Will Be Assimilated!
Last Friday the "big" news was the introduction of Shimano's XTR Di2. You know........electronic shifting? Like the roadies have had for awhile now, that stuff, okay?

So, the road guys seem to love this stuff, but it is crazy expensive. Even with the drop to the Ultegra level, you have to be pretty well heeled to get into a Di2 bike, since they don't hang these components on "cheap" frames......yet! I am sure somewhere that is happening, I just have not seen that yet. ( It seems that Bikes Direct hasn't gotten ahold of that stuff, which surprises me!) Anyway.......

So a question came up in a discussion on Facebook about this development and here's my personal take on electronically shifted mountain bikes:

First of all, the technology of Di2 is amazing. It works as advertised and yes- it is better than mechanically shifted anything from the aspect of shifting performance. Nothing comes close, and I am sure the XTR stuff will follow suit. The system obviously does away with cables and housings, which effectively eliminates the need to tune up the drive train. Replace wear related parts and keep the battery charged when either of those two things are necessary. That's it.

Shifting a Di2 bike couldn't be easier.
Mountain bikes more than any other type of riding discipline, (other than maybe cyclo cross), can stand to benefit the most from the elimination of cables and housings. So, from that aspect alone, Di2 will revolutionize mountain biking, and shifting a Di2 bike is a no brainer. Not only that- you can command what each paddle does, or use only one shifter to shift everything! "Have it your way" indeed!

So, what's not to like, other than the price? Well, that's hard to say without coming off as an anti-tech, retro-grouch, but here goes nuthin'.....

The Di2 system runs off a battery. So do all of our current devices du jour, and you know what that means: Ya gotta have a charger, cable, and you need to maintain the battery to be able to shift your Di2 mtb rig. Now, I will say that charging a road Di2 doesn't have to happen all that often, but the demands and rigors of mountain biking may make battery life somewhat shorter for off roading types. At any rate, we've introduced the "device culture" into the very heart of our mountain biking experience, and that's kind of what turns me off to Di2.

Why? Because I ride to get away from that very stuff. It is hard to do, as well. I have a smart phone. I take it with me out of responsibility to my loved ones. However; instead of turning it off and only using it in an emergency, I take images, check my e-mails, get and send texts, and take the occasional phone call. It bothers me that I do that so much sometimes that I actually get mad and turn the damn thing off.

You could always just go single speed!
Now I may never get a Di2 mountain bike, but if I did, the gadgetry factor would bother me even more. Maybe that's just me. I don't know how many folks would be with me on this, but all I do know is that I feel mountain biking, (or any sort of cycling, really, but especially mountain biking), is there as a human powered vehicle to take me as far away from this techno-driven madness as I can get. Even the act of cycling is sort of an antithesis to modern society. Why sully it with electronics?

Again, maybe I have a unique outlook here, but the whole idea of Di2 just feels weird to me. And then there is the cost of entry, which catapults Di2 into a range that may only be attainable to an upper class of the citizenry. Somehow that just seems weird when you consider the roots of mountain biking and the sort of vibe the sport has had for over 30 years.

So, is Di2 cool? Yes.....very cool. You cannot argue the technology. It works and does everything well, excepting that most folks will find it hard to afford it. I'm not at odds with the technology so much as I am at odds with what that technology represents for riding a mountain bike and the very reasons why we do that. Maybe I'm just being overly romantic about the whole deal and really, it doesn't matter in the end.

Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Batteries For Your Mountain Bike

Image courtesy of c_g
"Hey Hon! Can you grab the battery off the charger for my mountain bike? I forgot to get it on the way out the door."

That sound ridiculous? Well.....it's already a reality! Fox and Rock Shox have entered into the electronically controlled suspension game, and it won't be long before you start hearing a lot more about this stuff.

Probably the most intriguing of the two efforts for most folks will be Fox's set up, since it was they who collaborated with Shimano to come up with the electronic hardware that got Di2 off the ground for road bikes. Of course, Shimano has been using the battery to operate drive trains for three years now, but Fox was quietly coming up with a way to utilize the system for themselves. Of course, drive trains are not Fox's forte', suspension is.

So they cooked up this system that uses the very same battery a Di2 system does and hooked it up to work the settings on your suspension fork, because- you know....it's easier than doing it manually.  There is a servo motor inside the right leg of the shock shown here, and also a servo that mounts on the damper for the rear suspension. Wires run into and out of the shocks, to the battery, and up to a ring shaped control module mounted on the handle bars.

Image courtesy of c_g

Fox dubs the technology "ICD", and it controls the "Climb, Trail, and Descend" modes on Fox shocks. For a full on tech geek fest, see "Pink Bike's" write up on the stuff here.

The stuff was also reported on here for Twenty Nine Inches

Thoughts: While it is easy to rail against batteries, technology in general, and all that on bicycles, one needs to pause and consider whether or not electronic suspension "mode selection" is worthwhile. Because this isn't really doing anything but making the selection of what platform your shock is set to easier to choose.  Keep in mind that the complete system, (Fork, damper, battery, charger, and harness with controller), is upwards of $2000.00USD. All that hard earned cabbage just to make switching settings easier? 

While the technology is impressive, for the minimal gains you get in faster switching of shock settings, one has to wonder why the system doesn't just decide all that for you for 2G. To my mind, this is the real benefit that needs to be pursued, if you're going to attach a battery and wires to your rig, anyway. 

Cannondale tried this once, and those that got to ride the prototypes said the technology showed lots of promise. Valving operated by electronics that could keep the wheels glued to the ground better than by mechanical means. Well, that sounds like something worth going after, and perhaps Fox is headed in that general direction with this. 

Also of interest is that since Fox collaborated with Shimano on this technology, it may be why we haven't seen a Di2 mountain bike group. Maybe. Just a speculation there that Fox has an agreement to keep that technology for shocks for the time being. 

Finally, as I pointed out yesterday, I am a single speed kind of guy, and I don't even fiddle with my suspension settings now. Why would I even want this Fox gizmo? Well, certainly, as the Pink Bike post stated, the long travel guys with their "squishy" bikes might like a "push to pass" button, but otherwise, I don't really see this as anything but a gizmo at this point.  An interesting, expensive gizmo at that.

Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Dumbing Down The Front Derailleur

Or: How Technology Is Making the Front Derailleur Irrelevant

No Chain Rub! No Missed Shifts!
The front derailleur- You know- that thing that swaps the chain from one chain ring to another? I have a funny feeling the bicycle industry has targeted this component for elimination.

It is a pesky component from a manufacturers standpoint. It gets in the way of innovation, it needs several different variations, and by golly, people complain about them. (Or do they?) I wonder. I think front derailleurs get a bad rap. But whatever the reason, you can look around and see that the component manufacturers are finding ways to emasculate this component. Electric powered servo motors, advanced geometry, and outright elimination of the component altogether are being shown on many top end bikes these days.

It used to be a skill that was somewhat cherished back when a rider had to learn how to shift without causing mayhem, and without noise. Back in the days of friction shifting you really earned your ability to shift with a stealth-like quietness and lightning quick speed. What? It wasn't possible, you say? Oh, au contraire my friends. Actually one could shift those old bikes quite efficiently and with a smoothness that might amaze you.

I once had a commuter bike with run of the mill 1980's componentry. Bar end shifters, drop bars, seven speeds, and two chain rings of 53 and 39 teeth a piece. Without a doubt this was one of the best shifting bikes I had ever owned or have been afforded the opportunity to ride. Yes- I had to learn how far to move the lever for each shift, but after some practice it was intuitive, smooth, silent, and fast. Plus, I didn't have to worry about where I put a battery charger for when the battery goes dead.

The front derailleur was dead simple and reliable. Fast shifting up or down. Under power or not. Miss a shift? Trim problems? Whatever. You learned how to operate the bike and it rewarded you with an always there, simple to use system.

Yeah.....maybe it's the retro-grouch coming out. Either that or there is something to this attraction to simplicity and reliability. Something just rubs me a bit the wrong way when a bicycle becomes a "device" and not the machine of beautiful simplicity and functionality that it has been for over a century.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Friday News And Views

Di2 Ultegra
The Roadies, They Are A Changin': A few days back I got to build up my first Di2 bike. If you don't know what that is, well.....where have ya been? But that's okay, if ya don't know. It is electronic shifting. The derailleurs move via an electronic impulse sent to a servo motor on a derailleur.

Why? Well.......because it is "better"! (Of course) That's what Shimano, the bike companies, and the bike shops want you to believe. And in several ways it is better. But nothing comes without compromises. There are a few glaring ones that you don't hear much about when these bikes with Di2 get discussed.

A few things jumped out at me when I built the bike. In no particular order....

  • There is a corded charger you will need to keep the battery charged. Oh.......but the battery lasts a 1000 shifts....  Okay, but ya know what? In the fine print, it says you should not run the battery completely dead, because it may shorten battery life. So, you will charge that expensive battery more often than you think. Know what that means? Your bicycle just became another "device". You know......like a phone, a mp3 player, a digital camera, (shall I go on?). Yeah....so keep track of that corded charger, and always bicycle in areas with 110V outlets in the U.S.A. (Shimano sells separate chargers and cords for other electrical outlet/power standards)
  • The derailleurs are butt ugly. Yes.......I said it! The servo motors needed to move the derailleurs look like gray, plasticized tumors. They are uninspired from an artistic viewpoint, and look very out of place. Some of that is due to "newness", I will grant that, but they do not look like an integrated part of the derailleurs and thus, stick out like something alien to the rest of the machine. 
  • The Ultegra Di2 has about a 30% shorter battery life than Dura Ace Di2, even though the batteries are identical. The wiring scheme on Ultegra Di2 consumes more energy per shift. (It's in the fine print with the system, and verified by a Shimano tech meeting I attended a year ago.)
  • The levers are really cool. I love the shape of the hoods. The buttons are decent. It was my favorite part of the system by far. 
  • It shifts with precision, but faster? I will not say that. You can't screw up a shift though, unless you press the wrong button/lever. 
  • The rear derailleur, in particular, concerns me. The servo motor lengthens the body of the derailleur a lot, which presents a longer lever arm for impacts to bend/shear drop out hangars. I predict that more derailleur hangars will die due to this longer derailleur body design. 
  • Everything about the system is very expensive.
But other than that, it's awesome!

 And then there are those disc brake thingies.... The other deal going down with roadies is the whole disc brake wave that is coming for model year 2013. I find all the hoopla a bit ironic, and a bit humorous, since it reminds me of mountain biking circa 1999.

Disc brakes arguments were heated then. "It'll never be anything other than a down hill thing", or "it will weaken wheels to much", or again, "wheels can't take those forces from disc brakes without being made so heavy I won't ride them."

Similar roadie specific grievances are being put forth even now. Of course, none of it will matter in five years. By then it will be an accepted part of the scene, and road bikes without hydraulic brakes or mechanical disc brakes will be seen as quaint, retro machines, not unlike how 650B rando bikes are seen today.

My question: Will there be a "Roadie Retro-Grouch Societe'"?  I want to buy the t-shirt if that happens. I have the mtb version mothballed in my collection to go with that.

But seriously- If the whole brifter-with-hydro-brakes thing can be solved, I would definitely be interested from a drop bar mtb/gravel grinder viewpoint. And ya know what? I am 90% sure we'll see something this year yet for that. Of course, you'll have to upgrade to 11 speeds out back! That's okay though, since I'll just ditch the front derailleur thing-a-ma-bob altogether when that comes down the pipeline.

Speaking of gravel grinders..... My next event is CIRREM which happens next month near the end. Wow.....by the looks of the way things are going, I may use a Mukluk at that event too! Either way, it is a hilly, metric century length deal that I know I can do. I look forward to getting down there and seeing the Des Moines folk I have met. Great folks!

And gravel grinders continue to come out of the woodwork! i have been getting hammered by promoters wanting their rides up on Gravel Grinder News of late. The calendar is filling out nicely with quite a few first time additions.

And finally.....I have started the cue sheets for T.I.v8. So far I have up to Checkpoint #1 done, and by the end of the weekend I hope to have most of that job bagged. Then after that I will hand off some drafts to a couple of folks as we drive the course to double check things in the field. I will have also double checked everything myself at home first by that time as well.

Hopefully that part of Trans Iowa will be dialed before the event starts and not prove to be a stumbling block to any of the riders.

Have a great weekend and get outside and enjoy life if you can!