Previewing Shimano’s XTR Di2

Previewing Shimano’s XTR Di2

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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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.

 

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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.

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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.

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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.

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9 comments

  1. Steve

    Padraig, I agree – electronic shifting and Di2 specifically has been a game changer on road bikes. No doubt it will be the same off-road, perhaps more so for more challenging shift environment you described. But XTR has me a bit perplexed. Putting more tactile feedback into the shifting is great, but taking some of the in-the-moment gear selection decision making out it by using the Syncro pre-programming seems to go the other way. Using an automotive metaphor (and staying away from the wife’s wedding photos one), are we going from a manual transmission all the way to an automatic all in one fell swoop? I prefer the tipronic-like transmission logic of the road Di2 (manually choose the gearing, electronically make it happen) and the stick-shift-like feedback of XTR. Either way, I think manual, er mechanical shifting is on its way out for all but the third tier (less costly) and below of cycling groupsets.

    1. Dustin

      I’m with you, I don’t want the bike thinking for me. Also, if gives an audible ‘beep’ when you get near a front shift when using the syncro mode. I do NOT want my MTB beeping at me!

      Thankfully, the syncro mode is 100% optional, so if you don’t like it, you don’t have to use it.

      Now we wait for it to trickle down to XT and SLX level.

  2. MCH

    I find the option of Syncro intriguing. Program it and turn it on or off as one sees fit. I’ll bet that after a bit of experimentation, many will leave it on permanently. Whether it’s cars or bikes, manual control of shifting may be over-rated when it comes to performance. I look forward to this option on the road group.

  3. Souleur

    this is interesting, as is/has been the entire mtn bike grouppetto. Reflecting back on the love of singletrack, back the days we had rigid forks, hardtails and 8spd xtr (which was an awesome group), its interesting to me how the market/we have changed. Full suspension, wheel sizing, plush rides vs not, heck…even singlespeeds and the resisting crowd (me) draws a separation line between the crowds big enough to drive a kenworth long hauler through….and the difference between a $800 steelclad SS vs the top o the line $8000 cush bike, and at the end of the rides often times the separation is nil to none between the bikes et riders. i’m sure some will see this as a huge leap forward, and it is. Good for them. I will however be one to simply have to chose where do i spend my do-ra-me. Road bike, new hoops, clothing…or mtn bike…which I will purpose to trash, thrash and beat. So for me, my money stays on the road for now, maybe when it comes down in price it may be something later, but my weekend paycheck winnings on the Bianch SASS is minimal to zero and hard to justify the bump up.

  4. Pat O'Brien

    You lost me when I saw the battery level indicator. I can’t understand how an electronic shifter prevents a hard shift.

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  6. Fuzzgoo

    The really exciting part for us cyclo-tourists is that this stuff is compatible with Di2 11-speed road shifters. And the Syncro can apparently be used with a compact double Dura-Ace derailleur, not just the XTRs.

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