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Electric gears trickle down to Shimano's second-tier groupset

Shimano have confirmed that they will be introducing a Di2 digital shifting option on their second-tier Ultegra groupset for 2012 to run alongside the existing Dura-Ace range and we've had a look at it. The Ultegra equipment will not be compatible with the DA system but it will be much cheaper and, Shimano claim, just as reliable.

Rather than adapting Dura-Ace Di2 to hit a cheaper price point, Shimano have designed Ultegra Di2 – the 6770 system – more or less from scratch. The systems share many similar features and use the same lithium ion battery and charger, but you can’t use Dura-Ace shifters with Ultegra mechs or vice versa.

Shimano say, "The advantages of Di2 (Digital Integrated Intelligence) are clear for everybody who has tested it: changing gears becomes easier, effortless and faster by simply touching the shift buttons. Control at the top of your fingers. Additional benefits include an automatic trimming front derailleur, unmatched precision plus super easy installation and adjustment."

The Ultegra system looks a lot like the Dura-Ace version although the brake levers are aluminium rather than carbon fibre. It's also has to be said that while Di2 Ultegra may not be compatible with existing Di2 Dura Ace, from the conversations we had with the Shimano tech types at the launch it would seem there is every possibility it might be compatible with future versions of Dura Ace Di2. They seemed convinced that the system they have devised for Ultegra Di2 was the way to go for the future.

As with Dura-Ace, the rear mech comes with an electronic gear adjust which is an inner saver function that prevents damage should a fault occur. In the event of a crash or a heavy impact during transportation, for example, the motor disengages from the system to protect it.

The Ultegra system uses different electric cables to Dura-Ace, though. They have only two core wires whereas DA has four and the connectors have a diameter of only 5.1mm against 8.8mm for DA. This means manufacturers can use smaller holes in their frames for internal cable routing, having less effect on the structural integrity. Plus, the maximum sprocket size for use with the Ultegra rear mech is 28-tooth, one higher than with Dura-Ace.

Di2 has been around since 2009 and the vast majority of Shimano’s professional riders now use it rather than mechanical shifting. A major hurdle for amateur riders, though, has been the cost. Bought separately rather than as part of a complete bike, you’re looking at over £1,800 for the Dura-Ace Di2 system.

The Ultegra setup will be much, much cheaper. Although figures have yet to be set, the price is likely to be about the £1,000 mark; possibly less than a mechanical Dura-Ace system. All that, though, is far from confirmed.

Why might you still prefer to buy Dura-Ace, then? Well, if you’re weight obsessed, the DA system is a little lighter. The Ultegra Di2 levers are 313g (versus 255g for Dura-Ace), the rear mech is 270g (versus 225g), and the front mech is 162g (versus 124g). With a 71g battery for each system, the total Ultegra Di2 weight is 816g whereas Dura-Ace is 675g. So you’ll pay twice as much for DA and save 141g. Even the most ardent weight weenies out there are going to find it hard to justify that one – especially as a mechanical setup is lighter than either.

We’ve used the Dura-Ace version of Di2 on a number of test bikes and have found it to be superb throughout. Yes, it’s a little heavier than a cabled equivalent but you get fast, smooth and accurate changes every time and it’s absolutely effortless; you just touch the lever lightly and it shifts. It works in all weather and, depending on how often you actually shift gear, you get about 1,000 miles between charges; you’re never going to run out of juice on the road. You can recharge the battery up to 500 times.

Shimano haven’t released exact prices for Ultegra Di2 yet although they have said that it’ll be available in the autumn. We also expect to see a fair amount of Ultegra Di2 specced as original equipment on higher end bikes – we already know that Bianchi will be offering it as a option on some of their 2012 range. The Ultegra Di2 components will be exclusively available in the new Ultegra glossy grey finish.

Campagnolo have yet to release any news of their rival electronic shifting system. All we know is that the Movistar pro team are using it throughout the season but we have no news on a release date or prices. The Italian brand had better get a shift on, though, because with Shimano about to make their second launch into the market, it's going to be increasingly difficult for them to get a slice of the action.

Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over the past 20 years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for seven years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.

25 comments

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seanieh66 [196 posts] 5 years ago
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Fantastic news

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londonplayer [620 posts] 5 years ago
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Is SRAM going to launch their own version?

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ashy_2002 [49 posts] 5 years ago
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I Think we should bend every "new" frames rear hanger by 2mm .... that'll flumox it... It's great all these new gizmos.. but wheres the love gone of setting up your bike properly... I get just as much enjoyment in building them as well as riding them.... maybe I'm just getting old...

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therevokid [972 posts] 5 years ago
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You and me both Ashy  1

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Mat Brett [630 posts] 5 years ago
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SRAM have been strangely quiet on electronic shifting. It's unusual given that they've arguably been the most innovative of the groupset brands over the past few years, but we've not heard a dicky bird.

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pedalingparamedic [94 posts] 5 years ago
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Perhaps, like me, SRAM just don't see the point. I'm sorry but the shifting is just fine with mechanical stuff for me.

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SevenHills [216 posts] 5 years ago
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Agreed, weighs less and if anything goes wrong can be sorted out relatively easily and without the need for a degree in electrical engineering!  7

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handlebarcam [801 posts] 5 years ago
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Finally, all the world's problems solved. No, wait, that would be cold fusion. This is just another shiny thing for people to spend their money on.

Regarding SRAM, I guess their focus on low weight rather than gimmicks is working, seeing as they supply the most top-tier teams. That is even more notable, given that the professional peloton is the only place where electronic groupsets makes some sense (I'm sure the mechanics love being able to unplug the mechs, swap them around, move them around to suit different chainrings, etc.)

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Mat Brett [630 posts] 5 years ago
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handlebarcam wrote:

Finally, all the world's problems solved.

Is that what they're claiming? We missed that on the press release. They're unbelievable.

handlebarcam wrote:

No, wait, that would be cold fusion.

It'll cure cancer and that? Wicked.

handlebarcam wrote:

This is just another shiny thing for people to spend their money on.

You're kidding? They're not giving it away free? This is outrageous.

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dave atkinson [6262 posts] 5 years ago
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All bikes, and all components, are shiny things that people can spend their money on. The only thing we disagree on is what shiny things we want  39

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handlebarcam [801 posts] 5 years ago
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I was reacting more to the other comments than to the specific details of the press release, by people who believe it is "fantastic news", or that somehow because Shimano and Campag are doing it that SRAM must necessarily follow (as if it were a solution to any real problem - for the world or even just the average Ultegra-buying amateur road racer.) Personally, I think electronic shifting will be like automatic gears in cars: big in America, and standard on posh vehicles, but seen as a tad vulgar here in Europe.

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joemmo [1164 posts] 5 years ago
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I think this is all a bit beyond my bike technology acceptance threshold. That it is also beyond my financial outlay threshold is neither here nor there.  1

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Tony Farrelly [2871 posts] 5 years ago
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heh, we didn't get a press release on this from Shimano handlebarcam (well okay, we got one about half an hour ago)they were so keen to keep a lid on it that the invited everyone along to have a look and talk to the tech guys but didn't give us any prepared info at all - in case it leaked out I suppose.

Having ridden Di2 I'm not sure about your analogy with automatic cars is quite right, why Di2 is so good is that it simply makes the quality of each shift the best it could be if your gears were set up the best that they could be - and it stays that way. I'd also say that the new Ultegra set up does allow for home fettling it's just it'll be done via your computer, I think they expect users to come up with all sorts of 'enhancements'

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mr-andrew [300 posts] 5 years ago
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Recently someone pointed out that cyclists are a curious bunch - they love new technology but won't adopt it as it won't be as durable/reliable/efficient as whatever it's replacing.

I've already heard the anti electronic shifting arguments before. They were the same ones that were against carbon frames, 9/10/11 speed cassettes, and STI style shifters.

I suspect the real revolution with di2 is going to be in about 5 years time when it gets to Sora/Acera level users. 5 speed, low maintenance electronic shifting on a commuter bike? I'm in.

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Simon_MacMichael [2467 posts] 5 years ago
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mr-andrew wrote:

5 speed, low maintenance electronic shifting on a commuter bike? I'm in.

"Sorry I was late in today boss - forgot to charge my battery.."  39

(My own favourite lateness excuse was due to Tower Bridge being up to let a boat through - sat in a bus in traffic so going over London Bridge instead wasn't an option for me. Never took bus that way again).

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dave atkinson [6262 posts] 5 years ago
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anyone remember Shimano's 4-speed Nexus Auto-D electronic shifting from the late '90s? it was automatic and all.

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miffed [162 posts] 5 years ago
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Any news on the additional shifters for tri bikes?

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Mat Brett [630 posts] 5 years ago
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Good point, miffed. I should have mentioned that. No, is the short answer, they're not in the range. The complete range, available from September, comprises dual control levers, front and rear mechs, battery and cables.

Go here for the details. http://cycle.shimano-eu.com/publish/content/global_cycle/en/nl/index/pro...

There were no plans for bar-end shifters or satellite shifters when Shimano announced the Ultegra Di2 launch to us back in February (it was embargoed until now). I'll check whether that is still the case.

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1961BikiE [254 posts] 5 years ago
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Cyclesport mag did an article on the reduced presence of Campy in the Pro Tour teams. One reason was the cost at this point to them to supply Movistar with Campy electronic groupsets. Another reason was that some of the teams they wanted to supply already had wheel contracts and Campy wanted really to supply wheels almost more than groupsets. The reason being that with deep section rims they can get BIG advertising logos out there, where it is difficult to do on brakes gears etc (for being seen on race photos). They asked SRAM about if they had plans for electronics. The reply seemed to be that at the moment development costs were more than they wanted to spend. So maybe they have a different persepctive on electronics but also (maybe) they simply don't have the finances to do the development work? Maybe they are pushing the budget with all their sponsorship as they see it as good advertising for consumer selling?

Someone above claimed SRAM had been more innovative than the other 2 in recent years. Care to explain? Double Tap? Innovation or a forced development to not infringe Campy/Shimano patents? XX? IMHO it's not a REAL innovation, it's a development. XX cassette milled from a single billet of alloy? Very impressive but 9 hours per unit? Hardly very green is it? Don't get me wrong, I think they are up there with the (old) big 2 and it's good to have a competitive competitor and their growth from making grip shift is impressive. I just don't think they have added much to the market place other than a different take on the same thing. But that's my opinion and nothing more important than that.

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Mat Brett [630 posts] 5 years ago
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miffed wrote:

Any news on the additional shifters for tri bikes?

Our man at Shimano Europe says: "Not at this moment but it seems logical that additional satellite shifters etc. will be added in the future. Sorry, cannot give you any details at this moment."

In other words, they probably will but they're not ready to rock just yet.

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don_don [149 posts] 5 years ago
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I predict a voice activated shifting iPhone app for cycling amputees. It would also be able to cause the gears to shift randomly and uncontrollably, in the event of some ragamuffin riding off on your pride and joy..

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farrell [1950 posts] 5 years ago
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I like that idea, a remotely activated setting that just swipes the chain clean off if someone swipes your bike, preferably when its under great pressure, up a hill or something.

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hairyairey [300 posts] 5 years ago
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Seems to me to be a solution for a non-existent problem. Isn't it just the case that as bikes get lighter manufacturers are looking to sex them up a bit?

Personally, a mobile phone charger while riding would be much more useful, but that's because my daily commute is 160 miles, 30 of which are by bicycle across some of Hertfordshire's delightful hills

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Simon E [2854 posts] 5 years ago
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joemmo wrote:

I think this is all a bit beyond my bike technology acceptance threshold. That it is also beyond my financial outlay threshold is neither here nor there.

It's almost the opposite for me. While I'm sceptical of marketing bullshi*t I'd love to give it a go, but could never justify the cost.

I would have thought that TT / tri-bar shifters would be the ideal way to demonstrate the benefits of leccy shifting.

To say SRAM are not innovating is rather unfair. I think they're making kit that stands up to the competition on quality and does have distinctive features. Double-tap, aero TT shifters, 10-speed MTB groupsets (X7, not just at the top end XX), 1:1 actuation ratio, a wide ratio road groupset with Apex (and 10-speed flat bar shifters and brake levers that work with the road caliper brake levers for 2012)...

I should think they've put a lot of R&D money into road shifting/drivetrain components and aren't ready to spend big to play 'me-too' with electronics. It adds hugely to the cost of a bike if supplied as OEM and I suspect that is their top priority for road.

hairyairey wrote:

Personally, a mobile phone charger while riding would be much more useful

Perhaps you could rig up a pannier-mounted solar panel like Susie Wheeldon described in Radio 4's Excess Baggage on Saturday morning (the programme was devoted to cycling. Highly recommended). Or, better still, turn it off for a while.

Susie's website - http://www.thesolarcyclediaries.com/

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dave atkinson [6262 posts] 5 years ago
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Quote:

Personally, a mobile phone charger while riding would be much more useful

Biologic make one, as do Tout Terrain. both hub dynamo powered.