Shimano can’t leave a good idea alone. If indexed shifting is good for road bikes, it must be good for mountain bikes. And if integrated control levers are good on expensive bikes, then they must be good on affordable bikes. Disc brakes? Great on mountain bikes, so why not…? With a history like that, electronic shifting was bound to show up on mountain bikes at some point, right? Well the announcement is here.
For 2015, Shimano’s XTR will offer a Di2 version. It will work with each of the three crank options the group enjoys, with one, two or three chainrings. But before I dig deeper into the technical side to the group, there’s a fundamental distinction the XTR Di2 enjoys that needs celebrating. If there’s one detail about Shimano’s road Di2 groups that has received consistent criticism, it’s that the tactile feedback from the buttons is somewhat indistinct. There’s less feedback than with a computer keyboard, or even my car stereo’s buttons.
I’m pleased to report that XTR Di2 gives a very distinct click when you depress any of the four buttons. The feedback is both tactile and audible. There will be no confusion about whether or not you’ve pressed the button hard enough to execute a shift. Now, if only they’d update the Dura-Ace and Ultegra groups to operate this way.
Weight will drop with the electronic shifters but rise derailleurs. The Di2 shifters tip the scales at only 64 grams, whereas the mechanical versions weigh in at a (still light) 102g. The rear derailleur goes from 221g for mechanical to 289g for the electronic version, while the electronic front derailleur picks up a scant 14g, at 115g. There’s a system display that adds another 30g. No official word on what the battery and harness will weigh.
Until relatively recently, my feeling was that while Di2 was nice, the Dura-Ace 9000 mechanical group was so good that the weight and cost penalty were enough with Di2 that it was a tough sell, not the no-brainer 9000 was over 7900. More recently, that has changed thanks to more than a thousand miles on some Ultegra Di2. I’ve really come to love the group. That said, the appeal of XTR Di2 was immediate. It’s a game changer off-road in a way it hasn’t been on the road.
I had a chance to ride a prototype bike around a parking lot. Again, not ideal, and not enough on which to base a review, but it was still instructive.
Di2 is known for flawless shifts. The trouble is that most of us rarely ever experience a bad shift on the road. Off road is another matter, though. I’ve heard pops, grinds and pings that have caused me to ease up on my effort. As recently as last year I broke a chain under a hard shift. I see Di2 as offering peace of mind—perfect, flawless shifts every time with no worries about a broken chain.
The display does more than tell you what gear the bike is in. It is the brain for the unit and offers riders an interesting feature, called Syncro. With the group set in Syncro, you can program exactly the sequence of shifts you want so that you can use only one shifter to shift both front and rear in exactly the order you determine. Your upshift sequence can differ from your downshift sequence as well. I shift so much off road that I can lose track of which chainring I’m in, so the possibility that I can push one button and not have to think about what the result will be, just that I’ll have the gear I need is insanely attractive to me. Almost as hot as my wife’s wedding photos.
It’s this feature that takes this group from amazing to savings account. The last time I was this excited about a new mountain bike group, Shimano had just introduced Hyperglide shifting ramps to its new 7-speed Deore group.
Officially, there’s no word on how much the group will cost, but it should start arriving on bikes to dealers in the last quarter of 2014.