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.


Roasta said...

Hi Gted,
I am with you on this. Yes its cool and does have plenty of benefits - more so for mtb than road.
Cost will be an issue but as with most tech stuff these days I wonder if it will come down in time?
One thing I wonder is just how well it will work retro fitted to a bike with not ideal cable routing. Those elec wires don't like been tugged especially compared to cable outers. I also wonder how water ingress will go. Most people get muddy mtb's and let loose with the hose to clean... time will tell I suppose.
Trail side or touring repairs will be awkward too unless you jag a nearby shop who carries spares. A Friend just recently toasted an XTR rear into the wheel. I bet he would have been even more upset if it was this new version.
At the end of the day I guess it is aimed at the pointy end of the spectrum for those who race or have plenty of cash to play with.

I get the willys just remembering to charge my phone let alone my bike.

Guitar Ted said...

@Roasta: Considering the success Di2 has had on the CX side and in Classics racing in Europe, I think the water/mud issue is not a big concern here. However, mtb'ers tend to "submerge" a bit more, so in those cases? Hard to say.

I really would be averse to taking the stuff on a big back country outing, but you still can get the mechanical groups for that sort of expedition.

As long as they give us the choice of mechanical and electronic, I think we'll be okay. If they ever drop the mechanical groups, well.....That's an issue in my mind that I'd really have a hard time with.

youcancallmeAl said...

I agree with you. Like a cellphone on a chairlift. I too want to get out in nature and leave the modern gadgets behind and would never buy such a toy. It's another case of the difference between what competitors need and what recreational riders need. And once again , the manufactures are going to have to convince the average Joe he needs what competitors need.

rideonpurpose said...

It truly is a simplification and one that fits with what this post is lamenting. The big difference here is that electronic is not a 'device' or distraction. It is simpler, less fuss, cleaner and actually the opposite of this. Yes, you have to charge it once in a while. Yes, it's not for riding across Asia (but nothing would stop me from riding it for a week long trip).

Guitar Ted said...

@rideonpurpose: I never said it wasn't better technologically. You're missing the point entirely here.

JYB said...

I agree completely with your sentiments. I wonder if I could charge s spare battery with my dynamo hub?;)

rideonpurpose said...

No, you missed my point I think.

My point is that if you want to escape from the day to day stuff and "gadgets" that having electronic on your bike only makes your bike more foolproof and ENABLES that experience more fully. A perfectly functioning bike is what ALLOWS that to happen.

Electronic shifting is not some distraction. You don't fiddle with it. It's the removal of the distraction that is imperfect shifting.

Guitar Ted said...

No, no, no

@ridesonpurpose: I understand 100% and if you go back and re-read the post, I say exactly as much as you did. So, yes- I get your point, since I already made that point, and agree with that point.

So, unless you can get beyond the mechanical aspects of your discussion, you don't have a chance of understanding my point at all.

It's about eschewing all aspects of electronica, which includes Di2.....

.....for better or worse, that's for each one of us to decide if we do go without. If you dig the higher tech advantages, and that your Di2 experience could be "superior", have at it. I don't begrudge anyone that. I get why it is "better" in those terms.

To me it is akin to the difference between the Dickie Scramble and the DK 200.

I'm sure you can understand that. Not saying one is better than the other, but I know which resonates with me more. See what I mean?

Guitar Ted said...

@JYB: I'm sure that at some point Shimano may even look at running a Di2 charge off a dynamo hub. It would totally make sense if the batteries were short lived.

However; I think it is more likely that Shimano would look at battery technology and economy of operation to conserve power, which seems to be where they are headed now, to elongate battery run times.

Unknown said...

I don’t think there can be one answer to the question you ask in the title. Each person will have a different idea of what it is that makes mountain biking appealing.

For you… “I feel mountain biking… is there… to take me as far away from this techno-driven madness as I can get.”

For me… I love the feeling of being perfectly in balance whizzing between the trees or rocketing down a hill, even mastering a tough climb. I love the sensation of being just beyond balance—so alive! (Though I don’t love the sensation of hitting the ground that follows that one.)

If you are right that these are “better than mechanically shifted anything from the aspect of shifting performance,” then I’ll probably be in the inevitable progress camp. The biggest thing I love about my Stumpjumper vs my previous bike is that I want a different gear, my thumb moves, and I’m in the correct gear all without really thinking about it. That contributes to my feeling of being one with the bike and in balance. That contributes to my joy.

I love my Garmin and looking at the map and numbers afterwards because it reminds me of the joy. I love the camera because the photos remind me of the joy. Etc.

Now… I’m really not likely to ever get electronic shifting. Not just the expense. I’m always forgetting to keep my Garmin, or my phone, or my whatever charged. I can ride without those. Riding without being able to shift would be a real joy-killer, so no thanks.

Guitar Ted said...

@Katherine Roccasecca: Great points! Thanks for your perspective. I do agree that if it enhances that "oneness" with the machine, then have at it.

I understand how that perspective would lead to making Di2 a choice for you. Me?

I rode my single speed today! ;>)

Unknown said...

After a while your suspension will charge the battery… Shimano has a cozy relationship with Fox.

29er Guy said...

Well said!

29er Guy said...

Well said!