Electronic Shifters For Road Bikes

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You Can Customise The Shifting

How does Shimano Di2 Actually Work?| Electronic Shifting 101

With Shimano Di2 and SRAM AXS eTap you can customise the shifting speed and the number of gears the system will shift when you press and hold the lever. You can also swap the functions of the upshift lever and the downshift lever, and even the functions of the left lever and the right lever. SRAM’s first Red eTap system didn’t have the ability to customise the shifting, but the two new AXS 12-speed groups can be customised via a smartphone app.

Campagnolo’s MyCampy app allows you to customise shifter function in an EPS system.

Electronic Replacement Parts Are Expensive

Throughout the life of your drivetrain, chances are youll have to replace a shifter or derailleur after an accident. Parts can also get damaged if you travel with your bike. The cost of ownership of electronic groupsets is higher because replacement parts are more expensive.

For example, an Ultegra Di2 rear derailleur costs around $200. Thats about $100 more than a comparable mechanical Ultegra derailleur. Top-of-the-line professional-level electronic rear derailleurs like the Sram Red eTap AXS cost over $700. Electronic shifters cost $250-$350 depending on the brand. Thats around $50 more than a mechanical version. If a part breaks, you cant downgrade to a cheaper version because all electronic components are high end and expensive. You may also need to replace the battery after 5-10 years.

If you participate in a cycling discipline where crashes and broken components are common, like downhill mountain biking, for example, you may be better off using mechanical components. If youre regularly breaking shifters, brake levers, and derailleurs, it may not be worth it to buy electronic.

You might want to consider labor costs for repairs as well. If your electronic shifting system stops working and the issue isnt obvious, it can be expensive to hire a professional to diagnose the problem and fix it. With a mechanical groupset, problems are generally pretty obvious and easy to repair.

Who Should Use Electronic Shifting

At this time, electronic shifting is a premium option. All of the electronic groupsets on the market are high end or professional grade. Electric shifting has become the norm at the professional level of the sport. For example, if you watch the professional road peleton, professional cyclocross racing, or gravel racing, youll notice that everyone is using electronic shifting. Electronic groupsets are just a bit faster, more consistent, and easier to use than mechanical groupsets. At the top level of the sport, any edge, no matter how small, is important. For this reason, anyone who rides competitively would probably benefit from using an electronic drivetrain.

Cycling enthusiasts will also enjoy electronic shifting. These systems incorporate some of the newest and most advanced technology in the sport. Current electronic shifting systems feel incredibly refined. They are a joy to use.

Of course, the cost is a major factor for many. If money isnt an issue for you and you want electronic shifting, you might as well spend the extra couple of thousand dollars and get it.

Beginners can also benefit from electronic shifting. For example, Srams eTap system cuts the number of shifting controls from 4 to 2. This system makes it much easier to learn and remember how to shift. Its very intuitive.

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Shimano Di2 The Intelligent Drivetrain

Electric drivetrain with the best of brains and brawn.

The revolutionary Di2 shifting system solves the challenges drivetrains present to the power-delivery equation in cycling. Di2 gives you instant, accurate, lighting-fast shifts the first and every time, at the push of a button. Even in the most extreme conditions, shifting is precise and controlled. You can change gear even under heavy load while climbing or accelerating. With Di2, you are in complete control.

Cycling is an exercise in physics the power you produce by pedaling is transmitted through the bicycle into forward movement, minus the friction of pushing your body, your clothes, and your bicycle, through the air.

It doesn’t matter if you’re riding in competition, ripping up a mountain-bike trail, or trying to set a new Strava record on your commute to work, you want as much of the power that you give the pedals to go into forward motion.

Did you know that the drivetrain can be a major source of lost power? Misaligned equipment, improper gearing selection, and imprecise mechanics can all siphon off the energy youre putting into your rides. Thats why Shimano spends so much time perfecting its drivetrains.

You Can Customize Electronic Shifting

Shimano ST

Because electronic groupsets are controlled by a computer and software instead of mechanical parts, they offer a great deal of customization. Shimano, Sram, and Campagnolo all offer smartphone and computer apps that allow you to make the customizations to your electronic shifting. Shimanos app is called E-Tube, Srams is called AXS, and Campagnolos is called My Campy.

With these apps, you can control the number of gears that the drivetrain shifts when you hold the shift button. For example, you can set your shifter to shift one gear at a time, burst through several gears, or shift through your entire gear range. You can also control the speed that the system shifts through the gears. These settings allow you to find the correct gear more quickly and easily.

Shimano Di2 electronic groupsets allow you to map different shifter functions to any button you choose. For example, you can choose which hand controls which derailleur. Maybe youre left-handed so you want to control the rear derailleur with your left hand. You can do that. You can swap upshift and downshift buttons. Newer Sram eTap AXS and Campagnolo EPS systems also allow you to customize button functions as well, though not as much as Shimano.

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How Does Shimanos Di2 Electronic Drivetrain Work

With an electronic setup like Shimanos Di2, there are no cables, well, not physical cables anyway. The system works on an internal cable routing network of electronic wires linked to a series of junction boxes that serve a relay and a command centre.

One is typically inside the bikes frame, near the bottom bracket shell, and the other, positioned hear the handlebars for easy access. They are how you recharge the batter and change certain setting such as trimming the chain.

The derailleurs move the chain with the power from one central battery, usually stored in the seatpost, or individual batteries on each component, depending on the brand. Electric motors in each derailleur receive a signal from the shift levers, via a junction box , which then directs them to move the chain either up or down the cassette or chainrings.

You Have To Keep The Batteries Charged

Electronic drivetrains are powered by batteries. Before your ride, you have to remember to check the battery level and charge if necessary. If you allow your batteries to run out mid-ride, your shifters and derailleurs stop working. This the biggest drawback to electronic shifting. Its one more thing to worry about. This is something you never have to think about with a mechanical drivetrain.

The good news is that electronic drivetrain battery life is excellent. Sram claims that their eTap batteries will last for 60 hours of ride time . Shimano claims that their Di2 batteries will last 2,000 km between charges. If you dont shift often, the batteries last even longer. The average cyclists who rides 3-5 times per week probably only needs to charge the derailleur batteries 4 times per year.

Because the batteries last so long, its easy to forget to charge them. Even professionals forget. There have been cases of cyclists running out of power during a race. To avoid running out of power during a ride, always check your battery level before leaving home. Sooner or later, you will forget to charge your bike and end up running out of power. Its inevitable.

All electronic groupsets have battery-level indicator lights that tell you when to charge. You can activate the indicator lights by actuating one of the shifters. Its best to check your battery level before each ride.

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Reasons Why You Should Get Electronic Shifting

First Published Jun 9, 2020

Shimano, Campagnolo and SRAM have all offered electronic shifting for several years, FSA has joined them, and SRAM has updated its eTap system to 12-speed and launched a less expensive Force eTap. With complete electronic-shift bikes costing from around £2,400, should you be thinking about making the move?

Let’s take a look at the advantages.

How Much Do Electronic Bike Shifters Cost

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Here we arrive at the elephant in the room: electronic group sets are significantly more expensive than their mechanical equivalents.

This is the main reason the adoption of electronic bike shifters has been somewhat slow, as the technology is still expensive to make, buy, maintain, and replace. So far, theyve been prohibitively expensive for all but elite cyclists .

A good rule for cycling, and for life, is not to ride what you cant afford to replace. And currently, theres a sizable price gap between electronic shifting technology and its mechanical older sibling.

That said, as electronic shifting inevitably becomes more commonplace and mass-produced, costs should start to come down to manageable levels and the recent electronic upgrade to Shimanos revered blue-collar 105 groupset is a great sign of things to come.

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Theres a growing trend amongst performance road bikes of hiding cables for a sleek look. Some brands have managed to find a way to squeeze both brake hoses and gear housings through tight bends, while others ease the process by making their bikes compatible with electronic gears only .

And its exactly this trend that had us keen to talk through some of the bigger points in the debate of electronic versus mechanical shifting when buying a new bike. No longer is it a simple case of which one shifts better, faster or requires less maintenance the topic has become broader than that.

And so while sitting in the middle of an apple orchard within Victorias High Country, we decided to do what anyone else in our situation would: discuss the major pros and cons of derailleur-based electronic gearing for road and gravel riders. Consider this a beginners guide to the topic.

You Can Change Gear On A Time Trial Bike While Out Of The Saddle

If youre riding a time trial/triathlon bike with mechanical shifting, the shift levers will be positioned at the front of the aero extensions where theyre easy to access when youre in your aero position. That means you cant change gear when youre riding out of the saddle with your hands on the base bar.

With an electronic system, you can have shifters on the aero extensions and on the base bar, so its easy to change gear if youre out of the saddle when climbing or coming out of a tight corner.

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Electronic Doesnt Always Play Well With Older Frames

If your bike has external cable routing, youll have to zip-tie the wiring to the frame. Its entirely doable technically, but the aesthetics arent great. As well, Shimanos new Di2 drivetrains are based around cigar-style internal batteries, which wont fit on all frames. Most frames made since 2012 have internal routing with cable stops that can be swapped for mechanical or electronic cables. You may have to buy new stops through a dealer.

On the other hand, SRAMs wireless eTap provides a great retrofit option to older frames, both because you dont have to deal with a wiring harness and because the batteries are mounted to the derailleurs. You install the derailleurs and shifters, pair them, and youre good to go, says SRAM road product manager Brad Menna.

Who Made The First Electronic Groupset

Shimano ST

Mavic, the French brand most famous for its range of wheels, was the first brand to pioneer an electronic groupset with the Zap in 1992.

It was a wired system where shifts were actuated by a button on the shifter. When you shift, the system sends an electronic signal to the rear derailleur, where a solenoid engages the jockeywheel and, coupled with the speed of the riders pedalling action, actuates the shift.

The speed of the shift is dependent on how fast you are pedalling. This was a common complaint from the pros who used the system, because the shifting was haphazard when being used under load.

Mavic then updated the system in 1999 to Mektronic, which was wireless. It also had its problems it was a weighty affair and had reliability issues.

Although innovative, Mavics technology didnt really take off due to its lack of refinement and reliability, but it certainly sowed the seeds for what would come a decade later.

On that note, in 2009 Shimano launched its Di2 electronic technical with the Dura-Ace 7950 series groupset. This trickled down to Ultegra 6750 a year later.

Campagnolo was next to the party with Super Record EPS in late 2011.

SRAM was the last major manufacturer to produce an electronic groupset, but took things a step further with the release of SRAM Red eTap in 2015, which was the first wireless groupset.

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Electronic Drivetrains Can Collect Data

Cycling nerds love collecting data about their ride. Some use a GPS head unit to track their distance, speed, and elevation change. Some use a power meter to track their power output. Others track their heart rate.

Electronic drivetrains allows you to collect even more data about your ride. For example, you can track how much time you spend riding in each cog, when you shift, and how many shifts you make. This data can help you select the ideal tooth counts for your cassette and gear ratios for your drivetrain. You can also track this data over time to to see how your fitness improves. You cant collect this kind of data with a mechanical groupset.

The Sram eTap AXS system can use Bluetooth, a compatible head unit, and ANT+ to save your drivetrain data to a FIT file. This file includes a shift profile. You can then use a number of applications to analyze that data.

Shimanos Di2 system can connect with some compatible GPS devices. This allows you to track some data during your ride. For example, you can view your gear ratios and gear selection as well as check your battery life on the GPS screen. You can control your GPS with buttons on top of the brake hoods. You can program different screens to show different data.

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    Electronic Shifting Is More Consistent

    Electronic drivetrains shift exactly the same way every time you push the shift button. Shifting is much more consistent. This is possible for three main reasons.

    First, electronic drivetrains are controlled by electric motors and software. These are much more precise and consistent than your fingers. The system can time each shift so it occurs when the ramps and pins on the chainrings are in the correct positions. This way, you always get a smooth shift. With a mechanical drivetrain, you can shift at the wrong time and grind gears or drop your chain.

    Next, user error is much less likely with an electronic drivetrain. For example, you cant accidentally move the shift lever too far and skip a gear or not push the lever far enough and miss a shift. An electronic shifter is just a button. You either push it or you dont. If properly adjusted, it cant push your chain too far or not far enough. Chain drops are less likely for this reason.

    Because electronic shifters operate with a wire or wirelessly, you dont have to worry about your shifting being affected by excess friction in the system. There are fewer moving parts. Shifter cables on mechanical groupsets can get rusty, crimped, contaminated with dirt and debris, or bent due to poor cable routing. Mechanical shifters can also get contaminated with debris. This creates friction which makes the shift rough, slow, and less predictable.

    Electronic Groupsets Are Heavier

    Electronic vs mechanical shifting: the pros and cons

    On average, electronic groupsets weigh 200-400 grams more than comparable mechanical groupsets. Its difficult to compare the exact weight of the systems because there is so much variation in the weight of different crank sizes, chainring sizes, cassette sizes, brake caliper types, brake rotor sizes, chains, batteries, brake hose lengths, wire lengths, etc.

    A Shimano Ultegra R8070 Di2 groupset with disc brakes weighs around 2600 grams. A Shimano Ultegra R8020 mechanical groupset with disc brakes weighs 2314 grams. In this example, the electronic shifting version weighs 286 grams more than the mechanical version.

    Sram and Campagnolo electronic and mechanical groupsets have similar weight differences. For most riders, the weight difference is so small that it is insignificant.

    Currently, the lightest electronic groupset is Shimanos Dura Ace R9170 Di2, which weighs around 2400 grams. The mechanical version of this groupset, the Dura Ace R9120, weighs around 2100 grams.

    One thing to keep in mind when comparing the Shimano electronic groupset weights to other models is that Shimano doesnt include the weight of the battery, wires, and junction box. They probably do this because there are multiple battery and junction box types and every bike will use different wire lengths. A Shimano Di2 battery weighs around 52 grams. Wires weigh 30-50 grams depending on the length. The junction box weighs around 10 grams.

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