Shimano Ultegra Di2 video demo + Dave's first thoughts after some big miles

Mat talks you round the system while Dave rides all the way to France* to test Ultegra Di2 for you

by Dave Atkinson   August 9, 2011  

If you want the skinny on how Ultegra Di2 operates, and how it differs from Dura Ace Di2, then Mat's got that pretty much covered in yesterday's first ride piece. Since then we've been riding the bikes some more, up hills and down, and here's my thoughts on the new groupset thus far.

Firstly, it's more or less indistinguishable from Dura Ace Di2, both in function and in the look of the groupset. Given that it's half the price, if you are in the market for electronic gears (more on that in a bit) then it's a total no-brainer: you buy these, not Dura Ace, especially since we're assuming that Shimano will stick with the 2-core cabling for later revisions. Unless the 250g difference in weight matters to you that much. I weigh 100kg. It doesn't matter that much to me.

Spin the bike up to speed and have a fiddle with the buttons and everything works perfectly. Once you've committed the controls to memory they're as easy to locate and use as anything else, and since you're not mechanically shifting the mechs it's even easier. This is especially noticeable with the front mech; the motor's bigger in that one because as we all know, it takes more oomph to make front shifts. Not any more: that's the biggest draw. In fact, some of the talk on the press camp has been along the lines of, "can I have an electronic front and a mechanical rear?"

And why would you want a mechanical rear? Well, the gains at the back aren't as great. It does make good shifts, every time, don't get me wrong. But sometimes when you're climbing and you know the next shift up the cassette is going to be a bit graunchy, you feather it in to ease the load on the chain. Di2 doesn't allow you to do that, so you have to be careful in other ways, easing off a touch on those problem shifts. If you don't, you'll make it crunch, but it'll still make the shift, every time. It's just a different way of doing things and it's neither better nor worse, it's just that it's not immediately and noticeably better than a well-adjusted mechanical mech.

The front mech has two big wins: it shifts much more easily and it trims itself. The back doesn't have an obvious big advantage over mechanical, the gains are more marginal: the shifts are fast and accurate every time and the cables don't stretch. You can't sweep the lever through three or four ratios if you suddenly hit an unexpected climb – though probably you'll just get used to tapping the button quickly in an emergency – and it's a touch slower to drop it right down the block too.

Battery life has been mooted as an issue here; it isn't one really, or at least it shouldn't be. So long as you put a battery check on your pre-ride checklist then you're fine: if it's flashing red, just remember to bung it in the charger when you get back, unless you're out for 150 miles or more in which case you'll need to give it a quick blast before you go.

Dura Ace Di2 had two major problems, as far as I was concerned: it was fantastically expensive and difficult to fit in a home workshop. Ultegra Di2 has addressed both: It's half the price and the new plug-and-play cabling, which uses a widely accepted protocol for the shift commands, is much easier to fit. There's no heat shrinking, you just click the wires in place and you're off. Shimano say it's fully waterproof from the off. It's fair to report that we had one of the test bikes fail on the test rides, due to water ingress, probably in the battery holder. But these are still pre-production samples.

We've talked to people who have been using Dura Ace Di2 on cyclocross bikes and it's continued to be perfectly functional long after the brakes have stopped working. It's fairly easy for water to get into a cable system and stop it from being efficient; if an electronic system is well sealed it should be practically maintenance free. Although Ultegra Di2 will appeal predominantly to the sportive set, there's a decent argument that it's as useful as a low-maintenance option for a day-to-day bike. Albeit an expensive one. It may be that years from now the draw of electronic shifting will not be the shifts themselves, but the low maintenance of the system as a whole. It's a bit early to say.

So do you need it? No. You don't need it, so let's add it to the big pile of stuff – GPS units, carbon bottle cages, Rapha clothing, torque wrenches and so on – that you don't need. But actually, would quite like. To say Di2 is aspirational and that we don't need it is missing the point, and it's certainly not true for everyone. Ultegra Di2 will cost less than mechanical Dura Ace, and that's not the most expensive groupset available by a stretch. How much do you want to spend on a bike? Canyon do a Dura Ace equipped full carbon bike for £2,649, so Ultegra Di2 bikes aren't going to be stratospherically expensive. Groupset technology always trickles down, and Di2 is trickling down quicker than most. How long before it reaches 105? Tiagra? How far will it go? We don't know. But it's probably here to stay.

*It's really not that far to France from here

26 user comments

Oldest firstNewest firstBest rated

I don't need it, but I do want it!

Very surprised by the weight though. Almost the same as mechanical.

posted by othello [291 posts]
10th August 2011 - 8:45

4 Likes

So Ultegra Di2 uses "a widely accepted protocol for the shift commands" which is apparently not used by Dura Ace Di2, the only other electronic gruppo on the market. How can a protocol used by exactly one product, which itself is not even for sale yet, be "widely accepted"? I'm confused...

dhague's picture

posted by dhague [22 posts]
10th August 2011 - 8:52

5 Likes

so why buy dura ace? Looks to me like shimano are shooting themselves in the foot. If the only difference between all their groupsets is going to be weight in a few years time.

rrrrrrrrr.

posted by kaptnkrunch [57 posts]
10th August 2011 - 8:54

6 Likes

Where's teh video gone?

posted by martin [12 posts]
10th August 2011 - 9:34

6 Likes

It should be there martin, second box on the page. I can see it. Try refreshing the page if you can't

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4147 posts]
10th August 2011 - 9:41

7 Likes

the winder up on the video page aint working.

antonio

antonio's picture

posted by antonio [964 posts]
10th August 2011 - 10:04

5 Likes

Should be working now Antonio

Tony Farrelly's picture

posted by Tony Farrelly [4147 posts]
10th August 2011 - 10:07

6 Likes

I wouldn't go telling people they don't need a torque wrench (unless of course you were directing that comment toward people who don't do any wrenching of their own) but other than that, I approve of this article. Nerd

posted by TheBigMong [218 posts]
10th August 2011 - 14:47

4 Likes

Might consider it if they decidied to perfect it using wireless technology, like they have done with cadence and speed sensors. One for them to consider.

cycle more, work less!

posted by trek7000 [46 posts]
10th August 2011 - 16:24

5 Likes

Wireless is fairly obviously not the way to as it would need batteries to power both mechs. Which wouldn't work too well.

posted by RouleurTwo [21 posts]
10th August 2011 - 21:43

3 Likes

dhague wrote:
So Ultegra Di2 uses "a widely accepted protocol for the shift commands" which is apparently not used by Dura Ace Di2, the only other electronic gruppo on the market. How can a protocol used by exactly one product, which itself is not even for sale yet, be "widely accepted"? I'm confused...

I would guess it refers to a protocol for sending commands to servo-motors generally, rather than a protocol for shifts, if you see what I mean.

Stewie

posted by stewieatb [298 posts]
10th August 2011 - 22:29

2 Likes

Quote:
Although Ultegra Di2 will appeal predominantly to the sportive set, there's a decent argument that it's as useful as a low-maintenance option for a day-to-day bike. Albeit an expensive one.

I'd have thought that people who prioritise low maintenance would want puncture-proof tyres, mudguards and hub gears. I can't ever see it as a selling point for an expensive 10-speed gruppo. If I had a proper time trial bike that would be the first place I'd consider fitting electronic shifting.

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [2001 posts]
11th August 2011 - 9:56

4 Likes

Quote:
I can't ever see it as a selling point for an expensive 10-speed gruppo

maybe not this iteration. but the technology is only ever going to get cheaper...

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7437 posts]
11th August 2011 - 10:37

4 Likes

dhague wrote:
So Ultegra Di2 uses "a widely accepted protocol for the shift commands" which is apparently not used by Dura Ace Di2, the only other electronic gruppo on the market. How can a protocol used by exactly one product, which itself is not even for sale yet, be "widely accepted"? I'm confused...

stewieatb nailed it, pretty much: whereas DA Di2 used a proprietary protocol, Ultegra is based on the CANBUS standard (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Controller_area_network)

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7437 posts]
11th August 2011 - 10:38

5 Likes

I would love it, but just seen wiggle's prices for the pre-order, i think i'll wait Devil
http://www.wiggle.co.uk/?s=di2+ultegra

Gkam84's picture

posted by Gkam84 [8940 posts]
11th August 2011 - 11:03

4 Likes

There's a Group Buy on at Pedal Force currently. Might shave a few dollars off the price if enough people join up.
http://pedalforce.com/online/product_info.php?products_id=20585&osCsid=e...

They'll charge $35 to ship to UK

posted by RouleurTwo [21 posts]
11th August 2011 - 11:36

2 Likes

There's a Group Buy on at the Pedal Force site. If they get enough people to participate the price should be quite well discounted. The mods don't like links in these posts so go to the Pedal Force site, and look for the offer under Products/Specials

posted by RouleurTwo [21 posts]
11th August 2011 - 12:26

3 Likes

Bugger - sorry for the double post!

posted by RouleurTwo [21 posts]
11th August 2011 - 12:31

4 Likes

Don't like the shifting action of Di2 WHY the physical moving action of the levers. If the levers moved just like the mechanical STi's then id love it but you effectively got three levers; brake and 2 gears, I don't love it but like the idea of it. I love the movement of my tiagras too much, I could go and get Di2 but because of the movement - Shimano its your loss.

posted by yenrod [100 posts]
11th August 2011 - 12:39

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Thanks for the clarification, Dave - I did wonder if it would be CANBUS. That opens the door to some interesting datalogging potential - and even the possibility of antilock brakes... Smile

dhague's picture

posted by dhague [22 posts]
11th August 2011 - 12:40

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dave_atkinson wrote:
maybe not this iteration. but the technology is only ever going to get cheaper...

Maybe so, but I don't think "technology" is going to dictate the rate at which the price falls. More likely Shimano's estimate of the number of suckers out there willing to buy it at current prices.

For example, why do the brifters have a list price of £275? I thought the brains were in the control box dangling below the handlebars. If so, 275 quid is an awful lot of money for a pair of bog-standard, non-crabon brake levers, like the kind you can get for about a tenner, with a couple of microswitches each, like the kind you get from Maplins for about 20p. Arguably, mechanical brifters have always been overpriced too, although at least they were the heart of the system (probably that too is because they were adopted so eagerly by cyclists back in the 90s.)

Even a set of Ultegra Di2 cables cost 200 pounds RRP (actually more than the Dura-Ace Di2 version.) There is no significant "technology" in them. Looks like I need not have worried about electric groupsets polluting the purity of cycling for a while yet.

posted by handlebarcam [529 posts]
11th August 2011 - 14:29

4 Likes

The prices are pretty ridiculous. £170 for a front mech and £190 for the rear, that's compared to £40 and £60 for old tech, respectively.

There is one hell of a lot of 'trickling down' to happen before this is affordable or even justifiable for yer average bicyclist.

Simon E's picture

posted by Simon E [2001 posts]
11th August 2011 - 15:41

3 Likes

dave_atkinson wrote:
If so, 275 quid is an awful lot of money for a pair of bog-standard, non-crabon brake levers, like the kind you can get for about a tenner, with a couple of microswitches each, like the kind you get from Maplins for about 20p. Arguably, mechanical brifters have always been overpriced too, although at least they were the heart of the system (probably that too is because they were adopted so eagerly by cyclists back in the 90s.)

I don't disagree that they are overpriced with a significant early adopter mark-up, but a lot of money has no doubt been spent on R&D and manufacturing facilities to get this product to market... So perhaps your assessment is a little harsh!

posted by jackh [105 posts]
11th August 2011 - 17:59

4 Likes

Quote:
There is one hell of a lot of 'trickling down' to happen before this is affordable or even justifiable for yer average bicyclist.

There not for the average cyclist though are they? They're for people who can use the marginal benefit in racing or for those that have to have the most expensive gear (I imagine everyone with a Cervelo will be eyeing it up..) whether their fitness justifies it or not. I will continue with mechanical (especially after the comments about the rear mech) and look forward to a price drop in Campag Record as a result.

I also look forward to passing a fair few equipped with Di2 on the hills. I don't care if you have electric or cable - it's your legs that count... Big Grin

Silly me. You're probably right....

MercuryOne's picture

posted by MercuryOne [1072 posts]
12th August 2011 - 16:46

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jackh wrote:
dave_atkinson wrote:
If so, 275 quid is an awful lot of money for a pair of bog-standard, non-crabon brake levers, like the kind you can get for about a tenner, with a couple of microswitches each, like the kind you get from Maplins for about 20p. Arguably, mechanical brifters have always been overpriced too, although at least they were the heart of the system (probably that too is because they were adopted so eagerly by cyclists back in the 90s.)

I don't disagree that they are overpriced with a significant early adopter mark-up, but a lot of money has no doubt been spent on R&D and manufacturing facilities to get this product to market... So perhaps your assessment is a little harsh!

Just like to point out that it wasn't me that said that. It's a fair point in part - the levers are quite expensive as a proportion of the total spend - but to say that a) the levers are the same as bog standard £10 levers and b) the switchgear is the same as 20p microswitches from Maplin doesn't really help the argument, being as it is simply not true.

you're right, jackh - lots of R&D money, plenty of margin to recoup it. The more the technology gets developed, the more the price will come down. The rule of thumb with Apple products is to never buy anything before version 3, because that's the one where they'll nail it. Maybe we should be looking at this the same way? Smile

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7437 posts]
12th August 2011 - 17:08

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In other news, Mat made a very good point on the final ride:

Di2 is a two chainring system. Why are there two buttons on the lefthand shifter?

You either want to remain in the same chainring or change to the other one. So you only need one button, a 'change' button. Two buttons just means you always have one that doesn't do anything.

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7437 posts]
12th August 2011 - 17:11

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