Shimano to launch Alfine Di2

Electronic shifting reaches the city/touring groupset... plus loads more 2013 Shimano products

by Mat Brett   March 1, 2012  

Shimano are extending their range of Di2 electronic shifting for 2013 but not in the direction you might think; next year, the Alfine city/touring groupset goes electric. The Japanese component giants are also revamping their Sora road and Tourney ranges, improving their road mechanical disc brakes, and offering new light-action pedals.

Alfine

So, the next Shimano groupset to get the electronic treatment will be Alfine. Who’da thunk it? Not us. After they introduced first Dura-Ace and then Ultegra Di2 options over recent years, we thought Shimano would trickle the technology down another road bike level to 105 next, or maybe take it over to the mountain bike world… but they’re not doing either of those things in 2013. If you saw Alfine Di2 coming, award yourself masses of bonus points.

Just in case you’re not up to speed, Shimano describe Alfine as, “The premium component group for City Touring with a stylish look and a wide-ranging gearing of internal hubbed gears.”

What’s the rationale for adding electronic shifting? We’ll allow Shimano to take up the story. Apparently, the advantages are clear to everybody…

“The advantages are clear to everybody: changing gears becomes easier, it gives a clear feeling and it is more durable than mechanical shifting. Shifting becomes more reliable and faster simply by touching the shift buttons. Shifting gears while standing on the pedals is no problem for the internal geared hub.

“The electronic switch offers easy access, short strokes and a lighter shifting effort. Next to the switch is a minimum information display that indicates in which gear you’re riding and what the status is of the battery life.

“The compact shifters provide a clean look on the handlebar. By the compact size it’s possible to grip the handlebar firmly and has less change to be damaged by hitting. Another durable advantage is that an electric cable does not stretch compared to the mechanical version. Naturally the cables are waterproof.

So, there you go, straight from the horse’s mouth. The technology used for Alfine Di2 is more similar to Ultegra Di2 than to the original Dura-Ace Di2 – it uses the same E Tube wiring – and, like mechanical Alfine, it’ll be available in both 8-speed and 11-speed versions.

The other big development is that with Alfine Di2 you get the choice of either flat-bar shifters or STi shifters for drop bars, where the gear shifter is integrated into the right hand brake unit. This isn’t an option that’s currently available in the mechanical Alfine line-up so it opens the groupset up to another range of possibilities. You can now have an internal-hub racy road bike, if you like, fully Shimano equipped.

The body of the STi shifter is very slim. Shimano have reduced the diameter from their current road ranges for improved ergonomics. The shifters we were shown at the recent product launch weren’t quite the final versions, but we’re told that these are pretty close (although there’s no need for a shift lever on the left-hand unit). An optical display on an LCD screen will tell you which gear you’re in.

Shimano and now Campagnolo have gained a foothold for electronic shifting in the road bike market very quickly, but they have a ready-made publicity machine in that sector in the shape of the pro peloton. Many of the fastest riders in the world are using electronic shifting and that’s a massive boost.

How are they going to convince city riders and tourers to make the switch? It’ll certainly be an interesting one to follow.

Sora

Shimano usually give at least one of their road groupsets a major upgrade each year and this time it’s the turn of Sora. If you don’t know, Sora is Shimano’s fifth-level group (after Dura-Ace, Ultegra, 105 and Tiagra).

So, what have Shimano done here? Well, quite a lot, actually. Previously, changing gear via Sora shifters involved swinging the brake lever to the side – as with Shimano’s higher level ranges – but also using a little thumb lever on the inside of the STi shifter body.

Some people couldn’t get on with that thumb lever, finding it hard to get at when riding on the drops. Now, Shimano have removed it, and substituted a lever that sits behind the brake lever. This brings Sora into line with the more expensive Shimano options.

Shimano have also broadened out the Sora range because they don’t want it to be a road bike group. They’ve brought in mountain bike-style Rapidfire Plus shifting options for flat handlebars – with optical gear displays, like the STi levers – and wider gear ranges than before.

Sora stays 9-speed but the largest sized sprocket it can handle is increased to 30-tooth (more on that below); there will be an 11-30T cassette for a super-wide range of ratios. There is a new chainset option too, with a 46-34T chainring combo that’s designed for both flat handlebar bikes and for cyclocross.

The flat-bar brake levers are compatible with different Shimano brake options. There’s a little ‘mode converter’ in the lever that you move to switch between V-brakes/mechanical mountain bike disc brakes and road callipers/mechanical road disc brakes/cantis.

The final things that Shimano have altered in the Sora group are the hubs. They’ve been upgraded with better sealing than before and the rear hub shell can now handle significantly more torque.

Oh, and the 2013 Sora groupset be available in black only – Mica Black, to be precise.

Tourney

Tourney is an existing name in the Shimano world but they’re turning it into a bona fide road groupset for 2013. The entry-level Tourney range will feature 7-speed STi shifters with a thumb lever on the inside face of the body. There’s a reach adjusting screw on the levers too.

The chainset will come in a compact (50-34T) configuration while the rear mech can handle sprockets from 11T to 28T.

Disc brakes

Shimano have redesigned their road mechanical disc brakes for 2013 and they reckon they’ve stepped the performance up significantly.

According to Shimano’s figures, the BR-R515 road disc brake, which is roughly an Ultegra-level product, has 30% more power than the current BR-R505. They’ve also brought the profile down by 20% so it’s lighter – it’s now 181g – and less likely to take a whack.

The new BR-CX75 is very similar – again, it’s roughly Ultegra-level – but it’s designed to handle muddy cyclocross conditions and it weighs 156g.

Pedals

Shimano are introducing a new range of light-action clipless pedals called Click’R. They have much less spring-tension than the existing pedals in the line-up: Shimano reckon it takes 60% less force to step in and 50% less force to unclip. We gave them a quick go and it certainly feels a whole lot easier to clip in an out.

Aimed at leisure riders, these use the SPD (mountain bike/recessed cleat) system rather than the SPD-SL (road) format, and the pedals are dual-sided with a pop-up cage. The pedals come with built-in reflectors and Shimano say they’re best matched to their existing CT and UT leisure shoes.

Shimano are also launching a light-action road pedal that fits in the Tourney (see above) groupset. This one uses the SPD-SL (road) system and it’s called the PD-R540-LA – the LA bit standing for ‘light action’.

Rear mechs

We’ve touched on this already but Shimano are making a big thing of increasing the range or several of their rear mechs in 2013. SRAM have been doing exactly the same thing recently with their WiFLi technology that allows you to fit a sprocket as large as 32T and get some super-low climbing gears.

Shimano made the jump up to 30T with 105 last year and 2013 Ultegra and Sora rear mechs will be able to handle sprockets of that size too.

Next year’s 105 and Tiagra rear mechs will go even further. You’ll be able to run an 11-32T cassette with either of these groupsets with a compact chainset fitted up front.

We’ve no prices to give you on any of these products yet. We can tell you that they’ll start coming through this summer with the arrival of electronic Alfine chalked up for September.

For more info on Shimano products go to the UK distributor Madison.

22 user comments

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Nice! SOme good stuff there

G-bitch's picture

posted by G-bitch [298 posts]
1st March 2012 - 7:43

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I'm a big Alfine fan (with a lot of touring miles to base that on) and hoped but didn't really believe this would be next on the Di2 list. Can it be true? You know it's March 1st not April 1st?

Vin Cox

posted by Vin Cox [42 posts]
1st March 2012 - 8:22

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Are there still no mechanical drop-bar levers for Alfine then? Shimano appear to be missing a trick here.

My missus bought an On-One Pompetamine with Alfine and the Versa shifters, and unfortunately they were utter garbage. So bad that the bike went back.

I never quite understood why Shimano wouldn't make their own matching brifters.

And as for slimmer and more ergonomic, there's the contending issue of a dirty great battery pack hanging off your bike.

The other changes look good, nice to see them overhauling the Sora range, but very disappointed in Versa not having a mechanical drop option.

posted by thereandbackagain [150 posts]
1st March 2012 - 9:11

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I had to check the date... March 1st not April 1st.

posted by finbar [80 posts]
1st March 2012 - 10:35

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Quote:
Are there still no mechanical drop-bar levers for Alfine then? Shimano appear to be missing a trick here

no.

i think what's bascially happened is that they were committed to making alfine electronic, and the drop bar shifter is an easy win once you've done all the work on the rest of the system; all you have to do is plug it in. building a mechanical shifter is more of a ground-up job and shimano have always thought that hub/drop bar is a bit niche.

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7004 posts]
1st March 2012 - 11:06

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dave_atkinson wrote:
Quote:
Are there still no mechanical drop-bar levers for Alfine then? Shimano appear to be missing a trick here

no.

i think what's bascially happened is that they were committed to making alfine electronic, and the drop bar shifter is an easy win once you've done all the work on the rest of the system; all you have to do is plug it in. building a mechanical shifter is more of a ground-up job and shimano have always thought that hub/drop bar is a bit niche.

A great shame. It's a niche, but one where a number of manufacturers are using someone else's (horribly made) product to fulfil the demand.

How hard would it be to produce a mechanical lever with the right number of clicks and cable pull. At the end of the day it's only a ratchet.

I'm a great believer in progress, but I also like the right tools for the job. Electronic shifting on urban/commuter bikes seems like a solution looking for a problem. I don't want my everyday bike to be battery-powered.

posted by thereandbackagain [150 posts]
1st March 2012 - 11:24

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The Sora looks like a really solid upgrade. Shimano seem to be really pushing quality through to the lower ends both their road and MTB groups. As for electronic urban shifting, seems brilliant. The average commuter probably won't need to charge too often, and could probably have a charger at work and home. Can't see battery life being an issue. I can see the need for something more theft proof though.

mr-andrew's picture

posted by mr-andrew [291 posts]
1st March 2012 - 11:34

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A dynamo hub to charge the battery perhaps? that would suit a load of commuters/ tourers/ adventurers that use hub gears. Thinking

posted by petejuk [25 posts]
1st March 2012 - 12:10

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I wonder what the M (lit) and the A (unlit) are on the Alfine gear indicator display? Future Automatic mode upgrade?!

posted by overshoot [46 posts]
1st March 2012 - 12:16

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petejuk wrote:
A dynamo hub to charge the battery perhaps? that would suit a load of commuters/ tourers/ adventurers that use hub gears. Thinking

That's an easy hack using an ewerk... and the battery wouldn't be needed really.

Vin Cox

posted by Vin Cox [42 posts]
1st March 2012 - 12:25

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overshoot wrote:
I wonder what the M (lit) and the A (unlit) are on the Alfine gear indicator display? Future Automatic mode upgrade?!

the short answer is they didn't mention it. however, shimano have produced a speed-sensing, auto-shifting hub gear before; it was called Auto-D and it was based on a Nexus 4-speed hub, with a speed sensor on the rear wheel and handlebar control. that was back in 1998... given that it's a pretty simple inclusion and well suited to urban bikes (and e-bikes that use a bottom bracket motor) it would seem like a logical step.

Dave Atkinson's picture

posted by Dave Atkinson [7004 posts]
1st March 2012 - 12:49

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I've seen the "power Di2 from a dynohub" idea before and it's 100% of genius. Given that Shimano also make dynohubs you'd think they'd have figured this out. An Alfine Di2 bike with a dyno powering lights and shifting would make so much sense for commuting or even touring.

Bez's picture

posted by Bez [334 posts]
1st March 2012 - 13:08

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Wondered how long it would take for Shimano to jump on the massive-cassette wagon. Good stuff.

posted by Yemble [22 posts]
1st March 2012 - 13:33

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All in, Shimano have been pretty busy. There's a bunch of other exciting stuff for 2013 that we're not allowed to tell you about yet. We had to sign a bit of paper and everything. I think they're allowed to take our first born or something if we break the embargo.

Watch this space.

posted by Mat Brett [1705 posts]
1st March 2012 - 13:38

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'There's a bunch of other exciting stuff for 2013 that we're not allowed to tell you about yet. We had to sign a bit of paper and everything.'

Servo assisted disc brakes?
KERS?
Heated saddle?
MP3 dock?
Cruise control?
Built in iPad?

arrieredupeleton

posted by arrieredupeleton [518 posts]
1st March 2012 - 15:32

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overshoot wrote:
I wonder what the M (lit) and the A (unlit) are on the Alfine gear indicator display? Future Automatic mode upgrade?!

We've asked them about this and they said, "Yes, you're absolutely right. Well spotted. There's automatic shifting on the way."

Nah, they didn't actually say that, They said, "Mind yer own business, we'll tell you in our own good time." In so many words. So there's clearly automatic shifting on the way.

There's an unlit SA in the middle too, by the way. Semi-automatic???

posted by Mat Brett [1705 posts]
1st March 2012 - 18:28

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Electronic shifting hub gears powered by a dyno hub that also powered lights and drop bar disc brakes could make serious in roads to off road, touring and adventuring. As long as the robustness and all up weight are low enough. I'd like to see it on a genesis day one cross this year.

posted by petejuk [25 posts]
1st March 2012 - 19:33

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Is there a pic of the Di2 flat bar shifters? Couldn't seem to see one.

posted by Jason D [3 posts]
3rd March 2012 - 2:41

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Wow

DREAM
COME
TRUE !!

jimmythecuckoo's picture

posted by jimmythecuckoo [1184 posts]
3rd March 2012 - 8:46

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Electronic hub gear in preparation for integration into an e-bike groupset perhaps?

http://www.bikeradar.com/news/article/shimano-unveil-new-steps-electric-...

Brings all sorts of possibilities for automatic shifting, regenerative braking, built in lighting, etc and of course you already have a battery.

posted by dodgyrog [8 posts]
3rd March 2012 - 13:32

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Isn't electronic Alfine sort of a move into mountain bike world? With many hybrid and mountain bike manufacturers having offered an alfine model of their mtb and hybrid bikes?

roadie come mountain biker come single speeder and back again

posted by cborrman [84 posts]
3rd March 2012 - 14:18

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Would be interested to hear from wheel builders out there what they are reqiested to lace alfine hubs to: 26"/29" mtb or 700c rims?

roadie come mountain biker come single speeder and back again

posted by cborrman [84 posts]
3rd March 2012 - 14:29

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