Long-Term Test: Shimano XT Di2

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Our Canyon wasn’t designed specifically for Di2, but integrating the wiring neatly was easy and secure.

It’s now been two years since Shimano first brought their Di2 electronic shifting to the mountain bike universe, during which time we’ve all become more accustomed to the presence of battery power on our bikes – electronic suspension lockouts and dropper seat posts, plus power meters and of course GPS units, plus other gadgets, are improving the mountain bike experience.

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The long (very long) and rough descents of Finale Ligure were an amazing testing ground for the XT grouppo. This place is hard on all parts of your bike!

We’ve been riding Shimano’s new XT Di2 groupset for a few weeks now, including for seven days of non-stop riding in Finale Ligure, Italy, where it got a serious work out on some of the most superb trails on the planet. You can read our initial report on our XT Di2 test bike here, including the build process, or get all the details about the different chain ring and cassette options available for XT Di2 here.


Do we need electronic shifting in mountain bikes though?

When low cost, mechanical shifting (like the new SLX groupset we reviewed here) works so well, we appreciate it is hard to justify the extra complexity of electronics. There’ll always be the ‘don’t need it, don’t want it camp’, but we’re not in it.

The instantaneousness and the precision. Every shift happens lightning fast, and because there’s no cable friction, each shift is perfectly accurate too.

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Our test sled.

Di2 has been well proven on road bikes since 2009, and while road racing is different to mountain biking, in many regards it’s in the dirt were Di2 makes even more sense. And with XT bringing the cost of Di2 down a long way, electronic shifting is now far more relevant than in the past.


Explain please. Why does Di2 make sense for mountain bikes?

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Unfortunately the Di2 shifter doesn’t integrate with the brake lever using the I-Spec mounting system like a regular mechanical Shimano shifter can, which makes for a more cluttered bar (especially with the Canyon Shapeshifter system).

Maintenance is a big one. The quality of mechanical shifting on a mountain bike tends to degrade much faster than it does on the road, and Di2 totally removes this issue, as there are no cables to get gummed up or kinked, so your shifting stays consistent and effortless.

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Because the Di2 hits each shift so precisely, you never think twice about shifting under full power.

Consistency of shifting, no mater what the circumstances, is another big plus. On a mountain bike, panic shifting under heavy load tends to happen frequently, whereas on the road things tend to be done more smoothly. With Di2 on your bike, it doesn’t matter if you hit the button desperately as you strain on the pedals mid-way up a steep pinch, the shift will still be perfect and smooth.


So what makes electronic shifting superior to mechanical shifting?

The instantaneousness and the precision. Every shift happens lightning fast, and because there’s no cable friction, each shift is perfectly accurate too.

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Crank the derailleur clutch tension up high for superior chain retention.

Chain retention is improved as well, not just because the shifts are crisp, but because you can crank up the tension in the derailleur clutch without any issue, greatly reducing chain slap. (The new XT derailleurs allow you to do this very easily using a 2mm Allen key). On a mechanical system, loading up the derailleur with heaps of tension would result in a very heavy shift action, but on Di2 you don’t need to worry about this as the motors do the work for your thumbs.

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The end result is more chain security and a quieter ride, and despite blindly riding down some of the roughest trails we’ve ever encountered in Finale Ligure, we didn’t ever drop a chain.


So are there any downsides?

Compared to the mechanical cable systems that most home mechanics are familiar with, installing a Di2 system takes a little more time. You’ll need to decide where you want to store the battery firstly, plus work out the lengths of the various wires required to link it all up, because they can’t be cut to length later like a cable system.

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As we’ve discussed below, installing the battery in the fork steerer tube can present some dramas. We’d recommend you put it in the top tube, or in the down tube. Wrap it securely in some kind of foam or padding to wedge it safely inside the frame and prevent it rattling.

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The shifter paddles are located in a slightly different to spot to a mechanical shifter, but they do slide horizontally to adjust the reach. It’s just a matter of getting used to it.

It took us a small period of adapting to the feel and location of the shifter paddles. You can adjust the paddle positions, but they never felt quite as natural to us as the mechanical shifters we’ve been using for decades.

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We mounted the battery tucked up inside the steerer tube, which was very neat and didn’t rattle, but the PRO stem/headset arrangement needs a little bit of refinement.

One issue, which isn’t a problem with Di2 per se, is related to the PRO Tharsis stem we used with our Di2 test bike. The Tharsis stem is designed to work seamlessly with Di2, and it allows you to store your battery in the fork steerer tube. To do this, it does away with a regular headset star nut and uses a threaded collar system to preload the headset bearings. It’s a finicky system that is prone to coming loose on really rough trails. Until the system is improved, we’d recommend using a regular star nut and running the battery inside your frame.


Is water an issue? 

Unless you’re taking your bike to the bottom of the harbour, you’re not going to have any water related dramas. You can wash your bike as normal, and river crossings or any of the usual water you encounter in mountain biking aren’t a problem.

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How about battery life?

‘What happens if I run out of batteries?’ is one of the questions we get asked the most. Basically, if you run out of batteries, you should give yourself an uppercut. Can you remember to charge your phone every day? Then you can surely remember to charge your bike every few weeks.

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The battery is charged via a little plug into the side of the display unit. Over the course of the week of riding, we dropped just one bar of battery (we started on 3/5 bars, and dropped to 2/5).

The display very clearly shows you how much battery life remains, and the charge lasts for ages – in a week where we rode approximately 20 hours, the battery indicator dropped by one bar. If you’re running a front derailleur, the battery will drain more quickly because a front mech uses more juice, but still a few weeks of normal riding is what you can expect from a charge.

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There is actually a new chain ring design that has just been released for 1×11 XT – our test bike was using the older tooth profile, but even still it hung onto the chain perfectly and operated quietly.

Does it operate any differently to XTR Di2?

Riding XT and XTR Di2 back to back, you can definitely pick up some small differences – the XTR shifting action is lighter, and the motor in the rear mech a tiny bit faster too. But then XT has some benefits over XTR too, such as the Bluetooth connectivity via the new display unit, which allows you to customise the operation of the shifting via Shimano’s iOS app.

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When it comes to functionality, the XT Di2 system has all the same options as XTR, including the Synchro Shift mode (learn more about it here), so you’re talking seriously marginal differences overall.


So would you recommend it? 

If you’re looking at a new bike, put Di2 down as a big positive. We’ve already started to see a number of manufacturers speccing this drivetrain  on their 2017 offerings, and the performance would be enough to sway us in the direction of Di2-equipped bike versus a mechanical bike.

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Di2 won’t revolutionise your ride, but it will improve it. And despite the system adding complexity to your bike, it actually simplifies things from a maintenance standpoint, which is a big plus.

If we were looking to upgrade to Di2 on an existing 11-speed bike, then you’ll need to decide if the performance improvements are worth the cash. If you’re running a Shimano 1×11 drivetrain already, upgrading to Di2 (a shifter, rear derailleur, battery, display units and wiring) will cost you about $1200, but it will improve your ride and reduce ongoing maintenance. Weigh it up! There really are no downsides, so it’s simply a matter of whether you can justify the expense.

Flow’s First Bite: Shimano XT Di2

What’s the difference between XT and XTR Di2? Not much – a bit of weight and a lot of dollars. XT actually gets some features that makes it an even more attractive offering than XTR in many respects.

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The XT Di2 head unit communicates with your phone or tablet via Bluetooth to let you operate the E-Tube app. XTR Di2 users can add the new head unit to their existing system.

Read all about our experience with XTR Di2 here: XTR Di2 Long-Term Test 

Watch a video XTR Di2 in operation with an explanation of the shift modes here: Di2 Shift Modes Explained


XTR is a racer’s product; it’s all about the incremental gains that most of us wouldn’t really even notice. A few grams shaved here, a few Watts saved there. XT on the other hand, is aimed directly at the trail rider – the person who wants a tough, reliable but still high-performance groupset. So what is the weight penalty? Well, if we look at a 1×11 XTR vs XT setup (excluding brakes), then the weight penalty is about 290g. If you want to run an 11-42 cassette with your XTR 1×11, then the weight difference drops to just 180g. Yep, that’s it. Take a look at the spreadsheet below for the full weight comparison of XT and XTR Di2.

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From a features perspective, XT Di2 misses out on the multi-release shifting found on XTR (the ability to fire off two shifts with one push of the lever), but frankly, that feature is kind of redundant, given you can simply hold down the shift button and shift through multiple gears anyway.

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The XT shifter doesn’t have the multi-release functionality of XTR.

Otherwise, it essentially mirrors the features found on XTR. It has all the programmable Syncro Shift modes, customisable shifter paddle functions and adjustable shift speed features, and like XTR you can get it in 1x, 2x or 3x configurations.

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An 11-42 cassette gives you broad range, or there’s an 11-46 option too.

What makes XT even more appealing than XTR, in our mind, is two things; a broader cassette range and an improved user interface.

Unlike XTR, which only comes with an 11-40 cassette, XT gives you an 11-42 and even an 11-46 option as well. With this extended range out back, we’re sure to see a lot of people going down the 1×11 route with XT Di2, which reduces the expense of the system a lot too.

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The new E-Tube App is a huge improvement over the previous PC-based software.

Finally the Di2 E-Tube interface (the software which allows you to customise the performance of your Di2, or to run diagnostics should a problem arise) gets brought into the 21st century. The previous version of this software was PC only, and required you to physically plug your Di2 system into a computer. It was clunky at best. XT sees the introduction of Bluetooth to the world of Di2, with all new E-Tube App for both iOS and Android devices, allowing you to customise your Di2 from your phone or tablet. Admittedly, once the system is configured how you like it, you’re not likely to use the E-Tube software very often, but it’s still a great improvement. XTR Di2 users can ‘upgrade’ to XT Bluetooth system by purchasing the XT display/head unit.

XT has built its reputation on reliability, that’s what’s made it the go-to for weekend warriors who can’t afford unnecessary trips to the local workshop. Does the introduction of electronics risk undermining this reliability? Based on our experiences, no. We’ve had well over a year of riding XTR Di2 now, and reliability hasn’t been a concern. In fact, with no cables or housing to get gummed up or damaged, we’ve had to spend far less time making shifting adjustments than we would have with a mechanical system.

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Our XT Di2 test sled is a Giant Reign Advanced. It weighs in at 13.1kg including XT pedals.

We’ll be getting our hands on an XT Di2 groupset for a proper long-term test in the near future. For now, we’ve nabbed one of Shimano’s demo fleet, a Giant Reign Advanced, setup with a 1×11 drivetrain. Unlike an increasing number of frames, it’s not specifically optimised for Di2 use, but even still the Di2 integrates into the bike very cleanly, especially as the bike has the PRO Tharsis bar and stem which facilitates internal wiring of the cockpit.

We’ll bring you more on XT Di2’s performance on the trail in coming weeks.

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Shimano XT Di2 Unveiled

Zap zap! Shimano have just confirmed that electronic shifting will be soon be available at a more accessible price point with the soon-to-be-released Di2 XT groupset. This is fantastic news, as the benefits of electronic shifting aren’t just relevant to the high-end market.

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We get the feeling we’re going to be seeing a lot more Di2 now.

We’ve been riding XTR Di2 for the more than a year now, and it’s superb (read our review here!). While Shimano billed XTR Di2 a real racer’s product, we’ve found it’s far more versatile than that, but the price was always going to be a barrier to most. Now that’s set to change.

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One of the neatest improvements over XTR Di2 is that you now have Bluetooth integration for all E-TUBE adjustments, along with a smartphone/tablet app to drive the software. If you’re already an XTR Di2 user, you can fit the XT display to take advantage of these new additions.

Before we delve into the XT Di2 equipment, let’s quickly recap on our time with the XTR Di2 system. We’ve now had the groupset fitted to two different bikes, the cross-country oriented Pivot Mach 4 and the all-mountain Trek Remedy. We’ve also run it in a number of different configurations, initially we had a double ring up front using the cool Synchro Shift mode before converting it to a single chain ring with an 11-42 cassette out back. Make sure you watch our video explaining all the Di2 shift modes below:

It’s fair to say that over the past 12 months, we’ve been able to put all of our initial fears about electronic shifting to bed – the system has been flawless, impervious to the crud and mud of mountain biking, and intuitive to use too. The benefits of Di2 are pretty obvious once you’ve ridden the system, but to sum up quickly:

  1. The shifts are instantaneous and consistent no matter what the conditions.
  2. There’s no adjustment required as with a cable system.
  3. Unlike with a mechanical cable system, the shift quality never degrades, so shifting feel is always light and smooth.
  4. The whole system is completely customisable (you can set which buttons do what, and the speed of the shift).
  5. You can shift through multiple gears by simply holding down the shifter.
  6. If you want, you can run a front derailleur and still only have one shifter (great if you also use a dropper post).
  7. The system integrates very cleanly into the bike as the wiring is unobtrusive, especially if you use the PRO Di2 bar/stem.
  8. You get a lot of riding out of one battery, like hundreds of kilometres.
  9. It sounds awesome.

Read our review of the XT 11-speed mechanical groupset here.


 

We still haven’t seen XT Di2 in the flesh and won’t for another week or so, but from the information we’ve received, it appears to have all the same functionality as XTR Di2, with a couple of notable improvements:

Easier to use E-TUBE software:

Judging by the information we’ve received from Shimano, the XT Di2 groupset has all the same functionality as XTR Di2, but with some welcome improvements to the  E-TUBE program, which is the software used to make adjustments or customisations of the Di2 system. Previously, using the E-TUBE software involved physically plugging the Di2 display unit into a PC (it wasn’t Mac compatible!). This has all changed with a new Bluetooth integration that allows users to control all the Di2 functionality from a phone or tablet.

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If you’re keen for multiple rings, XT Di2 will facilitate double and triple ring setups.

Wider range single-ring drivetrain, or still double/triple compatible:

XT Di2 is compatible with every drivetrain configuration you could ever want. You can run it with a triple ring crankset or a double ring (using an 11-40 cassette) with one or two shifters. Or you can set it up as a single chain ring system, using the recently released XT 11-46 tooth cassette or an 11-42 if you prefer. We’re a big fan of single ring drivetrains, and the massive 11-46 range will be broad enough to satisfy just about all riders we’d imagine.

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New Boost hubs for XT.

Boost hubs:

Shimano have used the XT Di2 release as an opportunity to also introduce new Boost compatible XT hubs as well. Boost hub spacing is rapidly being adopted across the industry, and now you’ll have the option of using XT’s bombproof hubs for your Boost bike too.

In terms of weights, we don’t have any more info yet, but we’d imagine it’ll be very similar to current XT offering. Nor do we have any pricing from Shimano Australia unfortunately, but the best indicator we’ve received is that “XT Di2 will be to XTR Di2 what Ultegra Di2 is to Dura-ace Di2.” We’ll leave deciphering that riddle to you!

We’ve confirmed with Shimano Australia that we’ll be getting a full review on this groupset very soon. Read below for the official word from Shimano.


Di2 technology lands at DEORE XT level

Di2 now features wireless customization capabilities with upwards compatibility to XTR level

 Sitting between the granite-hewn professional racers and the weekend warriors you’ll find a group of highly competitive and highly skilled mountain bikers. These are the privateers and the self-supported riders. These are the riders who put the hours in to keep themselves race-fit and have the skills to test themselves against the best. These are the amateur mountain bike racers. And these are the riders Shimano had in mind when it developed DEORE XT Di2 M8050.

If you’ve dreamt of winning races, if you’ve sent in a race application and started to wonder if you’ve got what it takes, if you’ve pinned on race numbers and glanced enviously at the other riders’ bikes then you know what the trail to triumph involves. If you cravethe latest components in search of the technology to change your ride, then the answer is Shimano DEORE XT Di2 M8050.

The technology to change your ride

Two years after launching the world’s first commercially available mountain bike electronic shifting system, Shimano brings the power and the technology to drastically change the way you ride to DEORE XT level.

At the touch of a button and with just one lever you can now change gear with extreme accuracy, speed and precision. When the trail suddenly turns up hill, your DEORE XT drivetrain can now respond to your every demand. When your hands are aching from gripping your bars, a light touch of your Di2 button is all you need to move to a more efficient gear. And together with Synchro Shift technology, which adjusts your front derailleur and your chain line automatically, you’ll always have the right gear options to quickly switch between tough climbs, technical descents and pure-adrenaline racing.

Much like the Shimano DEORE XT M8000 mechanical derailleur, the DEORE XT Di2 M8050 rear derailleur also includes Shadow RD+ technology, which is designed to eliminate chain bounce and keep chains on sprockets over multiple types of terrain, leading to a more stable shifting platform.

The most groundbreaking technology featuring on DEORE XT Di2 M8050 though is a new wireless Bluetooth connection to Shimano’s E-TUBE program, which is the system Shimano uses to set up and control the Di2 shifting behaviour. Through Bluetooth technology riders or mechanics can wirelessly communicate with their computer, tablet or a smart phone via the SC-MT800 system information display and a new battery. As well as allowing wireless workshop customizability, it allows riders to customize their shifting preferences on the trail via an app on their smartphones.

Additionally, Shimano’s wireless D-FLY Data Management system will allow riders to see battery and gear information on their compatible third party display devices (eg bike computers). This technology will be rolled out with DEORE XT Di2 components and will be available as an upgrade for those currently riding Shimano XTR Di2, either with SC-MT800 or SCM9051 system information displays and a new internal or external battery.

The components of adventure

In terms of the components themselves, it’s the drivetrain where DEORE XT Di2 M8050 developments have focused.

SW-M8050 front and rear FIREBOLT shifters are designed to provide easy operation and accurate shifting with an ergonomic rotary action, short single-click action and effortless multi-shift possibilities. The FIREBOLT shift button placement is customizable and can be positioned exactly where the rider’s thumbs naturally rest. This allows you to shift faster and match your efforts like never before.

The SYNCHRO SHIFT technology inherent in the shifters means riders can rely solely on one shifter to take care of their rear and front gear changes. A customizable shift map means riders can program the exact gear ratio at which Di2 automatically shifts into the big ring when going up through the gears, or into the small ring when going down through the gears. Whichever gear ratio you choose, Shimano’s Rhythm Step philosophy ensures that riders make the minimum amount of incremental steps when changing up or down gears, allowing the rider to maintain an even cadence and fluid riding style. No large gear steps, no over-working joints and muscles, just effortless pedaling throughout the gear range. No compromises, just a focus on simplicity and enjoyment.

The shifters are designed to work in harmony with the SC-MT800 system information display, the RD-M8050 rear derailleur and the FD-M8070 front derailleur. Not only does the SC-MT800 system information display give a visual display of the rider’s gear and battery level, but it is also the control point for operating the trim adjustment and reboot function and wirelessly adjusting the multi-shift speed and SYNCHRO SHIFT operation via computer, tablet or smart phone.

The FD-M8070 front derailleur and RD-M8050 rear derailleur retain the accurate and stable shifting developed for XTR Di2 components. Computer-controlled auto trim on the front derailleur keeps the drivetrain running smoothly. Meanwhile, at the rear, changes are seamless, even under high loads, on steep inclines or when cassettes are more mud than teeth. The derailleur motors are twice as powerful as those on Dura-Ace and Ultegra Di2 to give precise shifting in difficult conditions.

Battery performance is identical to that of its big brother, XTR Di2, giving a minimum of several hundred kilometres of power under heavy usage (eg lots of shifting over three chainrings plus control of ancillary devices). The visual LED display indicates battery charge and the LED screen shuts off after a few seconds of inactivity to save battery life. If you do find yourself running low, charging the battery takes around 90 minutes and internal batteries work on a simple plug and play operation so can be easily swapped.

Durability is also in line with XTR Di2 components. A sealed, waterproof system means DEORE XT Di2’s electronic signals will stand up to mud, water and dirt from the worst of winter. Plus, with no worrying about cross-chaining, cable stretch, or cable adjustments, your gear changes will be incredibly consistent.

Long-Term Test Update: Trek Remedy 9.8 27.5

The Remedy comes in two wheels sizes, we went for the 27.5 one, it sits in between the 120mm travel Fuel EX and 160mm travel Slash. A real all-rounder with a buttery smooth rear suspension and relaxed geometry, it’s the type of bike that strikes a good balance between long and short travel. Perfect for travelling in search of new trails, not afraid of the rougher trails, and still efficient enough to keep up with the cross country bandits.

Coincidentally it’s the same bike that National Enduro Champion Chris Panozzo rides, although his goes much faster. Check out his unique build and setup here: Panozzo bike check.

We’ve been tinkering and modifying the Remedy from its stock spec, with a current weight of 12.6kg let’s take a look at what’s been going on under the hood of the ‘Pine Lime Express’.

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Hauling on Delatite, Mt Buller.

Front Suspension: 

The FOX Float 36 fork with its beefy legs is an uncommon sight at only 140mm travel, typically we’d see this travel category dominated by the FOX 34, with the 36 found on 160-180mm travel bikes. Not a bad thong at all though, it’s one of the stiffest steering front ends around, you really can put your weight over the forks and push them so, so, so hard.

The fork’s sensitivity isn’t the greatest though, especially when the rear suspension is smoother than butter melted on a silk tablecloth. A known trade for bigger diameter legs is increased surface area which often translates to more stiction, and being a non-Kashima level the fork on this bike does feel a little wooden when compared to the FOX 34 we reviewed recently.

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With a couple Air Volume Spacers fitted helps the fork feel more progressive.

We’ve fitted two air reducers in the spring side to add progressiveness to the stroke, the little plastic spacers are easily fitted but not supplied with the bike, we sourced them from FOX and popped them in to tune to our liking.

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Full Floater, fully plush.

Rear Suspension: 

Anyone who’s spent time on the Trek suspension bikes that use the Full Floater linkage system will agree, it’s one of the most sensitive and supple designs out there. After many years of Trek’s tight relationship with FOX they’ve been able to achieve the desired air spring that makes these bikes really tick without the need for their now superseded DRCV (Dual Rate Control Valve) rear shocks, the new large volume EVOL air cans on 2016 FOX Float rear shocks is exceptional.

The Remedy’s rear suspension is a system that certainly does require you to use the blue lever on the shock to your benefit, not in a bad way at all, it’s just so plush if you leave it open for anything but the descents it feels a little soft underneath you. To it’s credit, Trek’s proprietary RE:aktiv rear shock damper works so well in ‘trail mode’ that we spend most of our time in that middle setting, it’s still more sensitive to small impacts than your regular rear shock thanks to their unique damping system.

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Dwarfed by big mountains, Bright.

Shimano XTR and Di2:

The Remedy was lucky enough to be chosen for the ongoing review of Shimano’s super XTR Di2 electronic shifting and M9020 groupset. With the wheels and brakes also badged with the three letters that spell ‘oooooh, fancy’, the Trail series of XTR with its powerful brakes and wider rim wheels have been ridden hard.

There’s no doubt we’ll see more electronics in the future of mountain biking, Shimano are bound to trickle down the technology to lower price points like on the road cycling domain with Dura Ace and Ultegra, and SRAM mustn’t be far off with a mountain bike version of their wireless road cycling drivetrain, Red E-Tap. Electronics enable things to happen at speeds that are unachievable with hand, and wires can travel places gear cables cannot.

The shifting on this bike is exceptional, super precise and never have we needed to tune the gears, the battery lasts for months and on those trails where you are shifting gears under load nothing compares to the precision and consistency of XTR Di2.

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The Pine Lime Express, as we like to call it. Strikes a good balance between ‘trail’ and ‘all mountain’.
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Electrics, totally from the future.
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The wires travel inside the handlebar, tricky.

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While the Remedy doesn’t have any specific integration for the Di2 wires like some of the latest high end cross country bikes (Trek Top Fuel, Pivot Mach 4 etc) it’s turned out quite nicely. By using a couple of the rubber grommets and plugs that are supplied with the Trek road bikes specced with Di2 Ultegra or Dura Ace we’ve been able to make it look neat and secure.

One long wire travels from the rear derailleur through the chainstay and pops into view under the rear shock, then its back into the down tube where it exits alongside the rear brake and Reverb line before connecting to the computer. The battery is inside the fork steerer, made possible by the Pro Tharsis Di2 bar and stem.

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At home on Sydney’s iconic sandstone.

PRO Tharsis Trail Di2 cockpit: 

Nothing is neater than Di2 with internal wiring, and with Shimano’s component line working so close with Shimano on the dedicated cockpit, the result is the cleanest bike possible.

Click here to read our full review of the Tharsis Trail gear.

The Tharsis bar and stem take the Di2 to the next level, providing internal routing of the wire in through the bar and the battery inside the fork’s steer tube.

The bars were trimmed down from a whopping 800mm wide to 760mm.

C’mon that’s pretty darn neat, right?
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The wires travel into the stem and inside the bars.

Schwalbe Procore:

Schwalbe have successfully produced a very effective dual air chamber system for your wheels, in an effort to increase traction while reducing wheel damage and risk of flat tyres.

While it added 420g to the existing tubeless setup we had already, it’s been a super interesting test of an impressive product. We’ve been running between 10-14psi in the outer chamber and 75 in the inner chamber with great results.

We talk about Procore a lot, discussing its strengths and weaknesses, what bike it suits and what type of rider it will appeal to most. We’ll be delivering our conclusion soon!

Read our initial impressions and installation log here: Schwalbe Procore.

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The inner core of the Procore system, with 85 psi.
Finding traction in the loam of Derby.
Finding traction in the loam of Derby.
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The special valve can select and inflate the two air chambers by switching between them.
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It makes for a heavier wheel, but it has serious appeal and benefit.

Absolute Black Oval Chainring:

With an in depth review coming to Flow shortly, we’ve fitted Absolute Black Oval rings to both our Trek Fuel EX 9.8 27.5 and the Remedy.

It’s odd to ride at first, with a slightly lumpy feeling pedal stroke that is quickly forgotten about during the ride, but with more oval rings becoming popular, the benefits in the theory were worth exploring.

The chainring uses a narrow/wide tooth profile, and it’s all very secure, no dropped chains at all. But the XTR cranks don’t exactly match the black chainring so it’d better be worth it, or it won’t be on for long.

The word from Oval is: “Our Oval chainrings work because a rider does not produce power evenly through a pedal stroke; they maximise the part of the stroke where power is produced and minimise resistance where it isn’t. Oval rings make the spin cycle a lot smoother and are easier on legs while climbing. Believe it (or not), but a round chainring doesn’t transfer torque to your rear wheel as smoothly as an Oval one. You will actually feel your stroke to be more “round” with an Oval shape than with a round chainring.” – Oval.

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Chilling in the green room, Derby.

Ergon GE1 Slim Grips:

Left and right specific, and angled towards the edge to give your hands the best position for wider handlebars, the GE1 Slim Grip from Ergon is a real favourite here.

And the colours match.

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Stay tuned for more sightings of this great bike on Australia’s latest and greatest trails for many more months to come.

 

Tested: PRO Tharsis Trail Di2 Cockpit

Shimano’s revolutionary electronic shifting is more than just having great shifting gears with zero maintenance. It’s the first step we’ve seen in mountain bike development opening up all sorts of freedom in areas that cables dictate frame design, wires can go anywhere, bending and travelling where cables simply can’t.

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Now that is neat, is it not?

What is it?

Pro is Shimano’s component line, with a big range of bars, stems, saddles, wheels and any accessory you would ever need. Working alongside Shimano has its benefits, especially when integrating the XTR Di2 into a dedicated bar and stem, the Tharsis. Available in cross country and the ‘Trail’ series we have here, it’ll cater for any bike between an XC race bike and a big enduro rig.

– The Tharsis Trail series stem comes in four sizes from 35mm up to 65mm. Weights start at 95 grams.

– The Tharsis Trail series bar is available in Di2 specific or regular, 800mm wide with 20mm ride. Weighing 214 grams.

– The bar is available in a non-Di2 option too.

– Full details at PRO website here.

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The slim and attractive shifter and brake combo.
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The wires sneak into the stem, just under the faceplate there is a gap, designed just big enough for the wires.

How it works.

The whole idea behind the Di2 specific components is to accomodate and hide the electrical wiring for both or just one shifter/derailleur. The wires travel inside the bars, through the stem and into the fork steer tube where the Di2 battery is stored.

The typical star nut assembly that keeps the headset bearings tight is replaced with Pro’s Headlock system, a 32mm cone spanner winds down a threaded collar underneath the stem to preload the bearings. This frees up the inside of the steer tube for the battery to be stashed inside. The battery clips into a cradle that wedges itself securely inside, never a hint of movement is possible with this method.

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From the shifter to the computer, the wires travel inside the bar.
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Into the stem goes the wire to the battery.
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The tiny Di2 battery wedges itself inside the fork steerer tube.
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And up and over into the steer tube.
Holes and grooves in the carbon. Whoa.
Holes and grooves in the carbon. Whoa.
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Spot the wire?

Installation

The installation process is certainly quite fiddly and time consuming when compared to a regular old setup, in fact with all the latest bikes going with internal cable routing in some fashion we are forced to be spending a whole lot more time doing the tasks that were once quite quick and painless. But we all know how nice it is to have a neat bike once its all done, so we put up with it.

Shimano supply a little plastic cable guide tool which can help you guiding the wires through the bars and stem, but we found the best way to save swearing and cursing is using the Park Tools Internal Cable Routing Kit. This little life saving kit will save you so much time and frustration, a worthy investment if you’re often working on internally routed bikes.

The battery cradle that houses it inside the steer tube is a simple and effective, and there’s enough room around the battery to stuff any excess wire inside for extra neatness.

The bars are 800mm wide, unless you’re particularly broad and aren’t bothered by trees in tight singletrack, it’s best to trim them down to suit you best. We ended up at 760mm wide.

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Nifty little cap finishes off the clean setup.

We fitted the PRO Tharsis cockpit to a cross country bike too, the Pivot Mach 4. Read that review and see how neat we could make it too – Tested: Pivot Mach 4.


Riding Tharsis

We like the aesthetics of the bar and stem, it’s got a nice feel to it and is very stiff for its weight. The subtle black on black finish adds to the minimal nature of the internal wires to create a very understated look up the front of your bike.

The stem took us a little bit patience though. The Headlock system is a pretty straightforward system but finicky to setup, follow the instructions closely but do crank up the stem bolts slightly higher than the recommended 5NM torque, and we used friction paste on the steer tube for an extra secure grip, or the headset would come loose during rides. Frustrating to say the least early on during testing, but we’ve sorted that out now with the paste and extra torque and it’s remained tight since. We’d not go travelling without the supplied 32mm cone spanner provided though just in case, its not exactly your standard tool found on the everyday multi tool kit.

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Neat! And quiet.
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Sneaky little wires hiding away.

From your riding point of view its certainly very refreshing to have zero clutter, looking down at your bars you see only your brake and dropper post cables, very tidy indeed.

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Quiet bikes are fast bikes.

With rumours of Shimano trickling down their excellent Di2 electronic shifting to lower price points the Tharsis Trail gear will have even more appeal, it takes what we love about no gear cables to another level.

During our long-term review of the Di2, we’ve become accustomed to just set and forget and enjoy the ride, and now with the wires hidden away it’s easier than ever to forget what’s now out of sight.

Shimano XTR Di2 Synchro Shift Review

“Man, I don’t want my bike deciding for me when it’s time to shift!” That was our very first line of thought when we heard about Shimano XTR Di2’s Synchro Shift system. But like so many of the ranters out there in Internet land, we totally misunderstood what Di2 Synchro Shift was about and how it worked.

Shimano XTR Synchro Shift 3

[divider]What is Syncro Shift?[/divider]

In a nutshell, Syncro Shift is a function/mode found on Shimano’s new XTR Di2 groupset which allows you to have a drivetrain with multiple chain rings (i.e. 2×11 or 3×11), but only use one shifter. This has the advantage of allowing you to maintain the wider gear range of a mutli-ring drivetrain, but makes for a simpler, cleaner  and lighter cockpit, or allows you to run a dropper post lever in place of the second shift lever.

To be 100% clear, Syncro Shift is not an automatic shifting mode. It only shifts when you tell it to – it won’t go all Skynet on your arse and start deciding when it’s time to change gears autonomously!

[divider]How does it work?[/divider]

As you probably know, in a multiple chain ring drivetrain, there is significant overlap/duplication of gear ratios. Even in a 3×11 drivetrain, there are really only 15 or so unique gears (in a 2×11 drivetrain it’s even less, only 12 0r 13). What Syncro Shift allows you to do, is use every single one of these unique gears sequentially, without having to think about the front derailleur at all. This is because Syncro Shift mode handles the front shifting in order to maintain that sequential order of gear changes.

Shimano XTR Synchro Shift 1 3

As you move up or down the gear range, the front and rear derailleurs are shifted in tandem in order to maintain the logical progression of gear ratios. Because you don’t have to think about the front shifting, from a rider’s perspective, it’s like you’ve got a single chain ring, but with a 15 gears out back (or 13 if you’re using a 2×11 setup).

Confused? Watch the video below. It explains all the shift modes in detail – please note, this was shot months ago, early on in our testing.

[divider]No surprises[/divider]

Even once we understood what the system was all about, some reservations remained, mainly that we’d somehow be ‘surprised’ by the front shift occurring. Needless to say, that hasn’t been an issue. The system gives you a loud double beep to alert you that a front shift is about to occur, and even if it did not, the front shifts occur with such precision and so quickly that they’re really just as smooth and seamless as a rear shift.

[divider]Customising the system[/divider]

Shimano Shift Mapping
Shimano’s E-Tube software allows you customise just about all aspects of your Di2, including the shift patters for Synchro Shift. Unbelievably it’s not available for Mac yet, and it’s pretty clunky software, but workable.

Di2 actually has two Synchro Shift modes, designated by S1 and S2 on the display. Using Shimano’s E-Tube software (which is PC only!)  you can customise the shift patterns for each Synchro mode, in order to best serve different situations. For example, we configured S1 as our ‘trail’ mode, adjusting the shift mapping so that the chain dropped to the smaller chain ring earlier, weighting the gearing range towards the lower end, and maintaining a straighter chain line overall. S2 we configured as our ‘race’ setup, so the chain would remain in the large chain ring until we’d downshifted to the very lowest gear on the cassette, and only then would it drop the chain to the smaller ring. When shifting back up the range in S2, we configured the shift patterns to be more aggressive, with a larger jump in ratios between gears 3 and 4. Either way, as long as you know which of the two modes you’re in, the behaviour of the system is completely predictable.

[divider]No brainer front shifting[/divider]

Front shifting normally demands a fair bit of attention, even if it’s largely subconscious in more experienced riders – shifting under heavy pedalling load can lead to all kinds of dramas, like snapped chains, bent chain-ring teeth, dropped chains or ruined derailleurs. Then there’s the consideration of cross-chaining, running gear combos that cause premature wear of your drivetrain or sub-optimal performance.

Pivot-Mach-4-20
Synchro Shift won’t bungle a shift under heavy pedalling load like you might with a mechanical groupset.

Synchro Shift removes these issues from the ride experience entirely. You can shift under load whenever you want with total confidence that there’ll be no dramas, the chain slots into the next gear perfectly and won’t over-shift or drop off the chain ring. And because the front derailleur and rear derailleur work in tandem, you’ll never find yourself running really extreme chain lines inadvertently either.

In this regard, Synchro Shift really does deliver some of the aspects we like about 1×11 drivetrains, but with the benefit of multiple rings.

[divider]1×11 or Synchro Shift?[/divider]

Undeniably, Synchro Shift is better than using two separate shifters – we can’t imagine there will be many riders out there who’ll opt to run separate front/rear shifters once they’ve experimented with Synchro mode. But the million dollar question is:  Is Synchro Shift better than a 1×11 drivetrain?

Shimano XTR Synchro Shift Remedy 1 (1)
No doubt, 1×11 looks slick. But there are compromises.

And that IS a very good question. Do multiple chain rings combined with Synchro Shift offer sufficient benefits over a 1×11 system to justify the complexity? Or are you better off saving the weight, expense and battery life and just going for a 1×11?

The answer, of course, is that it depends on your priorities. We’ve configured our Di2 system with both all the possible variants: 1) 2×11 with two shifters 2) 2×11 with one shifter and Synchro Shift 3) 1×11. We straight up can’t see any benefit of option 1, but when it comes to options 2 and 3, there are pros and cons.

A significant factor is gear range. If you want a larger gear range, then a multiple ring system is better, hands down.

We raced our XTR Di2 equipped bike at the Convict 100 Marathon race, and we relished having a full gear range of a 2×11 drivetrain – it made a long, hard day in the saddle easier, both on the climbs and on the flat, fast road sections. We could have done it on a single-ring, but it would have been a tougher ask.

The chart below serves as good comparison of the relative gear range offered by Shimano 3×11, 2×11, 1×11 and, for comparison, SRAM 1×11.

Gear Chart XTR 2

[divider]Broader range cassettes:[/divider]

If the single chain ring option is your preference, then it’s possibly worth looking into other cassette options which offer a broader range of gearing than the standard XTR 11-40. The heavier (but much more afforadable) XT cassette is available in an 11-42 spread, or you could theoretically run a SRAM 10-42 as well (though Shimano would obviously say this was a no-no). The standard 11-40 XTR cassette offers a good spread, and the gear ratios are well spaced, but it is a bit constraining overall.

Shimano-XT-11-Speed-3
We prefer the wider 11-42 range of the XT cassette to the 11-40 of the XTR.

[divider]Weight savings:[/divider]

On the plus side of a single-ring set up is that there are decent weight savings to be had in ditching a front derailleur, chain ring and shifter – with XTR, those savings amount to approximately 290g. Going to a single ring is also quieter, and looks bad ass.

[divider]Chain retention: [/divider]

We have dropped the chain on our XTR drivetrain in both 2×11 and 1×11 configurations. This is no huge surprise – it’s not a Shimano issue, and we’ve thrown the chain on SRAM 1×11 setups many times too. The saving grace of a having a front derailleur, is that if the chain does come off, you’re more likely to be able to pedal it back on, whereas if it comes off a single-ring your only option to stop and put it back on. (Or, of course, you could run a chain guide if you’re using 1×11).

Shimano XTR Synchro Shift Remedy 2 (1)

[divider]Reduced battery life:[/divider]

Synchro Shift is much more demanding of your battery life than either manual shifting or 1×11 modes. The front derailleur uses the lion’s share of the battery juice, because it requires a lot more force to execute each shift, and Synchro Shift puts it to work more often. We also seemed to experience accelerated chain wear in Synchro Shift mode, though we’re reluctant to 100% attribute this to Synchro Shift, nor can we explain it other than to say that perhaps we didn’t have our Synchro Shift configured to deliver nice, straight chain lines.

[divider]So what would we do? [/divider]

Shimano XTR Synchro Shift 6
For us, being able to position a dropper post lever where you’d normally find the left-hand shifter is a big plus.

If we had to make a choice between running a single-ring or running 2×11 Syncro Shift, what would we bolt to our bike? Once again, it would depend on what we wanted to do. We’re happy to admit that we’re suckers for the simplicity, ease of use/maintenance and clean lines of a single-ring drivetrain, and 90% of the time the gearing range it provides is fine. We’d be happy to live with the small compromises in gear range on our home trails, where the speeds are never that high, and the climbs aren’t that long.

Shimano XTR Synchro Shift 4
The front derailleur isn’t dead. Batteries recharged it.

But if we did more racing (of any sort; marathons, Enduro, cross country), or if we regularly rode in steeper, bigger terrain then we’d go for a 2×11 with Synchro Shift all the way. We’d also most likely pair it up with an 11-42 cassette as well, just to extend the gear range even further.

Interestingly, if the choice was to run 1×11 or 2×11 in a mechanical groupset (i.e. no option to have Synchro Shift), then we’d most likely opt for a single-ring. For us, being able to position a dropper seat post lever in place of the left-hand shifter is a really big deal – it makes using a dropper much, much easier, and when we’re able to use the dropper post quickly and easily, we enjoy the ride a lot more.

As we’ve outlined above, Synchro Shift makes the front derailleur desirable again. It allows you to have your cake and eat it – a bigger gear range, but with far fewer of the downsides you’d normally associate with a front derailleur and a left-hand shifter. Is it a revolution? No. Does it make us pause in our headlong rush towards single-rings on ever bike? Yes.


 

For more reviews and our experiences with XTR Di2 read on:

Our first impression of XTR Di2.

Fitting XTR to the Pivot Mach 4 Carbon with internal wiring.

Explaining the Di2 shift modes.

Shimano XTR Di2 – Shift Modes Explained

We’ve now logged about three weeks on board Shimano’s new XTR Di2 11-speed drivetrain on our Pivot Mach 4 carbon test bike, happily zapping, beeping and whirring away through the trails. We’re conducting a long-term test on this remarkable new groupset; our aim is to find out what it’s really like to live with electronic shifting on a mountain bike. You can read all about the installation process and some of the questions we hope to answer in the coming months, here: http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/shimano-xtr-di2-long-term-test-installation/

Shimano XTR Di2 9
A whole stack of gears. The 11-40 cassette is broad enough that we’re spending most of our riding time in the big chain ring.

One of the most unique features of the Di2 drivetrain, is that it offers you a variety of different shift modes (all of which can also be customised, which is an aspect we’re yet to really explore). Our drivetrain is a 2×11 configuration, and as such we have three different shift modes to choose from.

Shimano XTR Di2 10
Ultimately, we’d like to just run the right hand shifter and use Syncro Shift mode full time.

 

There’s a ‘conventional’ manual shift mode, using both left and right shifters which control separate derailleurs, just as with a regular cable-actuated shift system. The big difference between a cable system and the Di2 system is that the shifts are completely instantaneous, and you can hold down the shifter button to shift across the entire cassette in one go.

The system doesn’t just suddenly launch a front shift at you out of nowhere, giving a loud double beep to let you know that a front shift is coming up next.

Then there are two Syncro Shift modes, which allow you to use just one shifter, with the system automatically shifting the chain between the chain rings. The two Syncro modes can be programed to offer different shift patterns; for example, you might set one mode up for racing and and configure it to keep the chain in the big-ring most of the time, only using small chain ring as a bailout gear. Then you could set the other mode up to use more lower range gears, staying in the small ring for longer. Again, we’re yet to delve into customising these modes, and so far we’ve been sticking to the pre-programed settings.

Shimano XTR Di2 21
The display is not intrusive. In fact, the only time we’ve been distracted by it is when riding in very low light, when it’s actually quite bright!
Shimano XTR Di2 8
The front shifts are powerful and crisp. The little servo motor that drives the front derailleur packs a punch, so much so that it carries a warning to keep your fingers out of the way!

Any fears we had that the Syncro Shift mode would prove somehow disconcerting or unpredictable have already evaporated. The system doesn’t just suddenly launch a front shift at you out of nowhere, giving a loud double beep to let you know that a front shift is coming up next. The shifts between chain rings are conducted with a corresponding shift at the rear derailleur (i.e. it downshifts the rear at the same time as upshifting the front), so that the ratio changes are kept even, and you don’t have that same huge jump in gear ratios that you normally associate with a front shift.

Shimano XTR Di2 6
The rear derailleur is bulkier than a standard Shimano mech, but we haven’t had any impacts yet.

Our preference is to eventually remove the left hand shifter and install a dropper seatpost remote lever in its place, and our experience with the Syncro Shift mode thus far definitely gives us the confidence to do so. We’re going to be revisiting our XTR Di2 drivetrain plenty more in the coming months, so we’ll leave it there for now. Stay tuned. Zeeeeeep!

 

 

Shimano XTR Di2 Long Term Test – Installation

After an agonisingly long wait, we’re finally embarking on our long-term test of Shimano’s new XTR Di2 11-speed groupset! Over the coming months, we’ll be putting the most high-tech mountain bike groupset on the market to the test. Hold onto your butts.

We’ve previewed (and ridden) the XTR Di2 groupset extensively last year at the product launch in October. Make sure you read all about it in our XTR First Ride Impressions piece: http://flowmountainbike.com/tests/seismic-shift-xtr-di2-first-ride-impressions/

But what we’re interested to learn now in our long-term review, is what it’s like to actually live with this groupset: what the installation process is like; what it all weighs; how hard is it to setup and maintain; how does it perform in different conditions; how useful are all the programmable shifting modes; is a double or single-ring our preference; is the twin-ring / single-shifter option any good; how useful is the Syncro Shift mode….?

These questions, and many more, are what we hope to answer. But for now, let’s look at our bike of choice for the build, and what the installation process was like for a Di2 newbie.

Pivot Di2 build 1
The Mach 4 Carbon weighs in at 2.68kg, with 115mm rear travel.

For this long-term test, we chose the 2015 Pivot Mach 4 Carbon as the frame for our XTR build. Why? Well, it’s freaking gorgeous. We have a real fondness for Pivot bikes, and we’d have to rank them as one of the best engineered bikes on the market. They’re amazing performers.

The new Mach 4 Carbon hits the sweet spot in terms of usage too; with 115mm of DW Link rear travel and geometry designed around a 120mm fork, it’s just a banging trail bike, and ideal for the bulk of trails we ride around home and on our travels.

Pivot Di2 build 9
The Di2 battery is housed inside the frame, accessible through this port, which also gives you the access needed to make wiring it all up a little easier.
Pivot Di2 build 2
See the little plugs near above the the linkage? Those are ports for Di2 wiring.

But there’s another reason we picked this bike too, and that’s because it’s the first Di2 optimised frame on the market. The frame features a battery port, and the cable port covers are interchangeable to accept either regular gear cables/housings or Di2 electric wires. Pivot are leading the way for Di2 compatibility.


Getting started with a Di2 installation requires more forethought than your standard build. You can’t just install all the components and then bung the housing/cables in at the end – you need to be a little more strategic than that. Our XTR Di2 system included two shifters (you can run just one, even if you’re using multiple chain rings), front and rear derailleurs, a display, two junction boxes, battery and a bunch of wires in varied lengths (1 x 250mm, 2 x 300mm, 2 x 500mm, 1 x 750mm and 1 x 1000mm) – now we just had to connect the whole web.

Before we delve into the detail, it’s worth mentioning a few things. Firstly, we’re only going to be focusing on the Di2-specific elements of this bike build now – the other elements (brakes, cranks etc) we’ll touch on in later pieces.

Secondly, there are no concrete rules around how you have to wire up a Di2 bike – we could have done things in a variety of ways – the parts don’t have to be wired up in some precise sequence. All that matters is that all the elements of the system are connected in some fashion. As long as they’re joined up, it’ll all talk to each other and work fine.

The third point worth mentioning is that it’d be bloody handy to have a proper internal cabling kit/tool before tackling a Di2 installation. Compared to regular internal cables, the flexible wires of a Di2 system can be a menace to manipulate through the labyrinth of a carbon dual suspension frame – we used every trick in the book, especially when installing the wiring for the rear derailleur. Get the right tools and you’ll swear a lot less than us.

Pivot Di2 build 23
In addition to a Di2 compatible frame, we also opted to use latest Di2 compatible cockpit from PRO. These components really make a huge difference in terms of giving you the cleanest possible integration.

The shifters and handlebar were the first port of call. For the same reasons that we chose the Pivot frame, we opted to run the new Tharsis XC bar and stem from PRO. This equipment is Di2 optimised, with provisions for running all the wiring largely internally, making for an exceptionally neat build.

The PRO Tharsis XC bar has three small holes in it – one in the rear-centre and towards each end of the bar – so you can run the Di2 wires from the shifters through the bar and back into the stem. Threading them through was initially a nightmare, until we realised we’d accidentally chucked out the special tool to aid this process. After digging it out of the bin and watching this incredibly helpful video, things became much easier.

Pivot Di2 build 16

The shifters themselves are one of the neatest elements in the whole groupset. They have sturdy highly-textured paddles, which have a really positive mechanical click to them (unlike road bike Di2 shifting, that kind of feels like pushing a Nintendo controller). For now, we’re running both left and right shifters, though later we’ll experiment with running just the one using the Syncro Shift mode.

Pivot Di2 build 17

The final element of the cockpit area is the display unit which mounts alongside the stem. We’ve heard plenty of mutterings from people saying it’s one element of the system they could do without, but it’s very unobtrusive in fact, and carries all kinds of good info about battery life, shift mode as well as facilitating adjustment of the derailleurs.

Pivot Di2 build 25

We used the two 500m wires to run from each of the shifters and back out the port in the centre of the bars, and into a junction box. The junction box would then be housed inside the body of the stem. Our experience is that the 500mm wires are only just long enough for the job – in this configuration they’re pulled quite tight. Ideally, we’d have gone with slightly longer wires to make threading them easier. As it stands, if we ever wanted to swap the current 720mm bar for the 740mm version, then we’ll need to install some longer wires to make it work.

Pivot Di2 build 13
The PRO Tharsis XC stem uses a rotating sleeve to pre-load the headset. You fasten up the top stem bolt, then tighten the headset by turning the threaded sleeve with the supplied 32mm spanner, before tighten the lower stem bolt to hold it all in place.

Next up we installed the fork and stem. The stem is a little different – it uses a threaded collar/insert to preload the headset, which removes the need to run a star nut. Without a star nut, you’re able to  install the Di2 battery into the fork steerer, a feature that we didn’t take advantage of as the Pivot already has its neat battery port. If you did want to go down the route of a steerer-mounted battery, it’s worth noting that the PRO Tharsis stem is not available in lengths shorter than 80mm.

Pivot Di2 build 41
No star nut means you can run the Di2 battery inside the fork steerer if you wish.

From the junction box we ran two wires – a 250mm wire to the display unit, and the 1000mm wire to the battery – with both wires exiting from inside the stem on the lower edge of the face plate. Although super neat, mounting the junction box inside the stem was a super tight fit – the cables had to be bent pretty severely to get it all in. If you were hoping to run a shorter stem, you’ll need to find a different location for the junction box – either inside the handlebar (yes, that’s an option), or externally somewhere.

Pivot Di2 build 34
The junction box is housed inside the stem for super clean lines. It’s a very tight fit though, with an 80mm stem.
Pivot Di2 build 39
Here you can see the wires exiting the junction box via the underside of the stem faceplate, with one wire leading to the display unit, and the other heading back inside the frame towards the battery.

The longer 1000mm wire was then routed inside the down tube to another junction box, which we were able to easily install via the battery port. Into this second junction box, we also plugged the wires for the front derailleur (300mm wire), rear derailleur (750mm wire) and battery pack (300mm wire).

Pivot Di2 build 37
The second junction box is housed inside the frame, down near the bottom bracket, and accessed by the battery port. From this junction box run wires to the battery, front derailleur and rear derailleur.
Pivot Di2 build 38
The long, slim Di2 battery fits neatly into the Pivot’s frame. We took the precaution of securing it with a zip tie around its base to help prevent rattling.

It was here that the Pivot’s Di2 port system came into its own. While threading the cables through the swingarm for the rear derailleur was enough to make us weep (read our point above about using a proper internal cabling tool/kit), the end result is exceptionally clean. The battery port tucks the whole hoohah up inside the seat tube perfectly too, and because all the battery charging is done via the display unit, there’s no need to ever actually take it out of the frame again.

Pivot Di2 build 36
The tiny section of wire spanning from the seat tube to the rear triangle is almost all you see of the wiring for the rear mech.
Pivot Di2 build 28
The Pivot’s Di2 ports secure the wiring neatly, but we’ll probably tape or zip tie this small section of exposed wiring to the frame so it won’t snag.
The Pivot Mach 4 Carbon comes with a bunch of these flush cable port covers so you can seal up any unused ports.
The Pivot Mach 4 Carbon comes with a bunch of these flush cable port covers so you can seal up any unused ports.

Installing the derailleurs is a damn sight easier with Di2 than with non-electric shifting. There’s no trimming cable housings, fitting cable crimps or fiddling with barrel adjusters. You just bolt the derailleurs on in the regular fashion and plug in the wires and they come alive like magic.

Pivot Di2 build 10
Don’t bash this on a rock. Please. The rear derailleur is a work of art. It actually features a ‘safety’ mode that disables it temporarily if it detects an impact, preventing you from then overshifting into your spokes with a bent hanger.

Setting the derailleurs up is a largely a plug and play affair too. You simply set the limits up limit for the for rear derailleur, shift to the gear number five, then change the computer to ‘adjustment mode’ which allows you to make tiny tweaks to the derailleur position using the shift paddles to get it perfectly aligned. You then set the lower limit and b-tension and you’re done. The front mech is even easier, as the lower limit is all you need to worry about.

Pivot Di2 build-3
The front derailleur features neat rubber pads to reduce chain rattle.

Pivot Di2 build-2

The final step is to charge the battery, which is done via a port on the side of the display unit. A full charge takes about an hour and a half. Shimano are reluctant to put a figure on how many shifts a fully charged battery will give you, but if it’s anything like their road Di2 shifting, a few weeks of regular riding wouldn’t be out of the question.


Overall, the installation process did take us longer than what we’d usually expect with mechanical drivetrain, but we put that down to inexperience – this was our very first Di2 build, while we’ve been building bikes with cables for decades. And having said that, some recent bike builds we’ve had to contend with, in this era of internally cabled everything, have been equally as tricky.

Pivot Di2 build complete 2
11.06kg of super bike!

Knowing what we do know about how it all goes together and what length cables should be used where, we’d love to have another go at building a Di2 bike from scratch, as we think the whole process would be quite fast and smooth. The actual adjustment element once all the components and wiring were in place was far easier than with mechanical shifting, and hopefully it’ll require a lot less maintenance in the long term too.

Feel free to post any questions you have in the comments section below too, and we’ll do our best to answer them.

 

 

 

Seismic Shift: XTR Di2 First Ride Impressions

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Flow was invited by Shimano to the recent Cape to Cape MTB stage race in the Margaret River region of Western Australia to sample the new XTR Di2 (Digital Intelligence Integrated) technology. Over a couple of race stages, and a few classroom sessions and some tasty beers, we got a great introduction to this new world order of intelligent, electronic shifting.

mmmmmmm. What more can we say.

The great debate begins

We humans love to debate; VB vs XXXX, Capitalism vs Communism, Apple vs Android, Justin Bieber vs Metallica – the list is endless. We mountain bikes are just the same, and we’ll fight tooth and nail over a technology that we either love or loathe. Since the advent of the 29” wheel, we can’t think of a product that will draw a line in the sand clearly as XTR Di2. And yes, we now know which side of that line we stand on.

We can’t think of a product that will draw a line in the sand clearly as XTR Di2. And yes, we now know which side of that line we stand on.

For some, the idea of electronic shifting seems unnecessary, but we see it as part of the evolution of our sport. We’re all for smart evolution and the introduction of electronic functions and intelligence into our ride experience is just part of that journey. You can close your eyes to the possibilities and stroke your beard as you ride your rigid singlespeed, or you can embrace this evolution. We’re going with the embracement, because who doesn’t love a hug, even if it’s from a robot derailleur.

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Back to the classroom

Before we were able to hit the trails, we hit the books – it was off to the classroom for a little lesson on all things new on XTR and Di2.

Sitting in the mobile Shimano showroom on the grounds of the Colonial Brewery were treated to all the background and technical details of the entire new XTR range. Overtime we will introduce you to that entire range, including new brakes, hubs, and carbon/aluminium wheels, however we’re going to focus our attention with this article on the Di2. It’s the sexy part after all.

Oh doggy, pictures cannot detail how good the new XTR hubs look.  (dribble, dribble, dribble).
Oh doggy, pictures cannot detail how good the new XTR hubs look. (dribble, dribble, dribble).
Our test Mach 4 is fitted with Shimano XTR XC/Race series parts and the smaller 160mm Freeza rotors are on both front and back. the new XTR also comes in a Trail/Enduro version wich gives you more stopping power. There have been some changes to the brakes themselves and heat management is still a priority for Shimano.
Our test Mach 4 is fitted with Shimano XTR XC/Race series parts and the smaller 160mm Freeza rotors are on both front and back. We’ll conduct a full review of the revised XTR brakes once the bike is back on our home turf.

Shimano have had half a dozen years experience with electronic shifting in the road world, but they haven’t just shoe-horned roadie tech onto our bikes. XTR Di2 has been engineered for our needs, so much so we can now thumb our noses at the road crew, as our version is a more advanced product. Not only has it been designed to handle the abuses of mountain biking in a physical sense, but it has greater functionality too; most notably, the addition of Syncro Shift (more on that later), a digital display unit, plus the capability to integrate with your FOX electronic suspension lockouts.

Shimano is still offering 2X and even 3X (and yes, you can get Di2 and mechanical in 1X).
Shimano is still offering 2X and even 3X (and yes, you can get Di2 and mechanical in 1X).

Shimano are firm in their assertion of the benefits of a multiple chain ring setup, as opposed to a single ring. A single-ring XTR option will exist,  but Shimano believe a 2x system is prime for most of the market, even at the high end. While SRAM are focused on a single ring coupled with a 10-42 tooth cassette, Shimano feel a closer ratio cassette of 11-40 teeth with multiple rings is a better arrangement and it delivers a larger overall range with a much closer ratios.

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The 11-speed cassette offers a 11-40 tooth spread.
The position of the clutch switch has been moved on both Di2 and mechanical derailleurs.
The position of the clutch switch has been moved on both Di2 and mechanical derailleurs.

What this means in reality is a much smaller difference in leg speed and/or power change at each shifting point. Big differences in gear ratios do impact upon your cadence meaning you have to rebuild power with each shift, while closer ratios enable a more constant pedalling speed and more consistent power output.

The display unit of the Di2 is very useful and is used to both display information and control functions of the shifting; including switching betweeen manual and Syncro Shift modes. Also, note the Di2 compatible top cap? Well, that's because you can hide the batterty in the steerer tube, and as thus the star fangled nut has been removed. Headset tightning is achieved by an old school locking thread and nut undernearth the stem.
The display unit of the Di2 is very useful and is used to both display information and control functions of the shifting; including switching betweeen manual and Syncro Shift modes. Also, note the Di2 compatible top cap? Well, that’s because you can hide the batterty in the steerer tube, and as thus the star fangled nut has been removed. Headset tightning is achieved by an old school locking thread and nut undernearth the stem.

We’ve seen some internet warriors disparaging of the system’s digital display (‘I don’t need a computer to tell me what gear I’m in… etc etc’) but in reality it’s a very neat addition. Aside from current gear information, it also allows you toggle between manual and Syncro Shift modes, plus view battery life, suspension mode and more. We noted that the display unit does sit in a position that should protect it from most crashes too. In the case of our bike, the display was made all the neater with the new Shimano Pro Tharsis bar and Di2 specific stem which neatly hides all the cables. The whole arrangement was so clean and simple, it was weird looking at our bike to start off with, like something was missing!

Another look at how neat the whole package looks. You do feel like something is missing!
Another look at how neat the whole package is. You do feel like something is missing!
And here's where the battery is hidden on the Mach 4. It mounts directly inside the frame and is easily accessed through a well sealed port. Battery and junction box location may not be as integrated with other manufacturers however with other locations including stem, seatpost, and bottle cage mounts you're going to see some different flavours on the market.
And here’s where the battery is hidden on the Mach 4. It mounts directly inside the frame and is easily accessed through a well sealed port. Battery and junction box location may not be as neat on all bikes; Shimano offer various options for batter mounting, including inside the seat post, steerer tube or on the bottle mounts.

It’s the possibility for clean integration that is another benefit of an electronic system. Because the wires can bend and twist in ways that a shift cable never could, the whole system can virtually disappear into the bike frame. In the case of our test bike, this was taken to a whole new level. The Pivot Mach 4 Carbon is one of the very first bikes to be specifically designed to work with Di2, with a port at the bottom of the down tube to house the battery, and cable routing ports for the thin wires.

Di2 will come OEM on a few bikes soon and how these accommodate the battery and cables will vary as there isn’t a single standard yet. Shimano does however offer a few different configurations including a seat post battery, head tube battery, and external battery housings. Di2 can also be retrofitted but that’s a job best suited for your local bike shop.

Ride time, baby

After school, we got to ride the bikes. Our first spin was in the Cape to Cape’s famous Red Bull Shootout.

The Cape-to-Cape is a super fun event and the local folk come out to support the riders.
The Cape-to-Cape is a super fun event and the local folk come out to support the riders.

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Our very first impression was just how much the shifters felt like a mechanical system. Unlike the road variety if Di2 (which we’ve ridden quite a lot), the shift feeling is strong and positive, with a real click. Shimano explained that a soft “electronic” feel wouldn’t work as the rough terrain and aggressive nature of our movement on the handlebars would introduce too many false, or accidental shifts. We loved that feel of a strong, positive shift and immediately it felt “normal”. The shifters also have all the multi-release functions of the mechanical brother (ie. two upshifts at once) but with a little more firepower; hold your thumb down and it will keep on shifting across the whole cassette.

We loved that feel of a strong, positive shift and immediately it felt “normal”

Our test bike post-race on display in the Shimano shipping container. It had been cleaned up at this stage but only a few moments before was covered in mud.
Our test bike post-race on display in the Shimano shipping container. It had been cleaned up at this stage but only a few moments before was covered in mud.

That evening there were a few minor changes we wanted to make to our shifting. We sat down with our friendly Shimano techs and watched as they connected a laptop with the free E-Tube software (PC only at the moment) to our bikes and made a few minor tweaks.

We got to see how adaptable and programmable the whole Di2 system is. From something simple like changing shifting paddle function, to more complicated operations like setting the Syncro Shift programs, it’s all as easy as sitting on a laptop and not a greasy finger was to be seen.

It can shift underwater

The next day saw us entered into Stage 3 of the Cape to Cape race, and the 57km stage from Xanadu Winery to the Colonial Brewery proved to be super fun and a great way to get a feel for the new Di2. With loads of undulating terrain we shifted thousands of times in those couple of hours and we never missed a shift.

Midway through stage 3 of the Cape-to-Cape and we're getting really comfortable with the new world of electronic shifting.
Midway through stage 3 of the Cape-to-Cape and we’re getting really comfortable with the new world of electronic shifting.

The crisp, firm, mechanical feel at the thumb is transferred to a sweet futuristic robot sound as the derailleur executes perfect shift after perfect shift. At no time did the feeling at the thumb ever change. Constant, instant, snappy, and comfortable. It was hard not to fall in love with it.

We also spent some time in the Syncro Shift mode and explored the automated front derailleur shifting. Syncro Shift is designed to give you the benefits of a multi-ring setup, but with only one shifter (ideal for people who want to run a dropper seat post, like us). It did take us a little while to get used to only using the right hand shifter to go up and down all 22 gears. Our brains are so wired against this automation that we were initially hesitant to trust the system but it proved to be more than trustworthy.

At no time did the feeling at the thumb ever change. Constant, instant, snappy, and comfortable. It was hard not to fall in love with it.

The Synro Shift mode is completely programmable and depending on your riding style, preferred cadence, and other factors, you might want to change the shifting points (at what gears you automatically shift from small to big front ring and visa versa). We found it a very interesting experience, and more time on the Di2 will enable us to put it through a longer test. We’re looking forward to getting this bike on home soil, removing the front shifter entirely, fitting a dropper post remote and seeing how Syncro Shift goes in the long term.

 

You can see the cable leave the shifter body and immediately run away and hide, never to be seen again! We hope to remove the left shifter and use Syncro Shift full-time.
You can see the cable leave the shifter body and immediately run away and hide, never to be seen again! We hope to remove the left shifter and use Syncro Shift full-time.

We also had a bit of a fun experiment planned with the new Di2. Electronics and water are times at enemies and we knew that there were a few water crossings along the way. Our plan was some submerged shifting! Even in the deepest-axle-high-rear-derailleur-competely-covered-in-muddy-smelly-water crossings we were still able to shift – literally underwater.

And what about other issues? Shimano have it covered, and probably have an answer for all of your questions. As an example, in order to protect your investment, the system has a safety mode where the rear derailleur can sense an impact and avoid further damaging shifting, such as over-shifting into the spokes. In this safety mode you can then re-adjust the shifting (without getting off your bike, of course) and get it back into tune.

That bit at the back, that's the motor that takes care off all the heavy lifting. Your thumb will always rest easy, not matter what the conditions.
That bit at the back, that’s the motor that takes care off all the heavy lifting. Your thumb will always rest easy, not matter what the conditions.

And yes, the battery can go flat, but the system is smart enough to shut down less important functionality first (like the front derailleur) in order to save power. Of course, once you’re done for power you are done for shifting, but with a worst-case scenario range of over 300km, we think you’ll be ok.

At the end of the 57km we were buzzing at how great the event was, and how perfect our first experience on Di2 had been. It shifted perfectly all day, it felt the same at our thumbs from shift number one through to shift one million, it took a dive in some pretty muddy water, and it held off a few sticks and rocks. And it made sweet robot noises, which didn’t lose their novelty!

Our first thoughts

Shimano XTR Di2 is not just an evolution that finally removes a cable system we’ve had for almost 200 years, it’s also a shift (pun intended) in how we think about changing gears. While the system is complex, its effect is to simplify the riding experience, and to open up new possibilities in bike design.

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What Shimano may sometimes lack with sexy marketing they more than make up with long lasting, well-built products of consistently excellent quality. And just like in the road world where Di2 has been a game changer, we’re sure the long-term implications for mountain biking will be huge.

The Pivot Mach 4 Carbon test bike with full XTR and Di2 is staying in our test shed for a little longer and over the next little while we’ll be going into more detail about the new technology. Until then here’s some answers to your questions you’ve posted already:

 

Your first questions from Flow social media:

 You: Now if they can make wireless brakes…

Us: http://www.gizmag.com/wireless-braking-for-bicycles/20150/

 

You: So u have to charge the battery before you canuse your mtb bike? If something breaks thats gonna be expensive to replace ouch. $600 of rear der.

Us: We haven’t been informed of the cost yet but we can pick few more parts for around that cost that are pretty damn easy to break too. Also, we’re all pretty accustomed to charging a phone, so one more battery every few weeks should be ok.

 

You: too much money we can have fun for far less money.

Us: True. We have actually found a pretty good way to have fun with some stickytape, a hamster, and a dollar coin, so it’s all relative really. We think that the technology is well worth the money and when compared to other expensive upgrades it stacks up well in the cost vs performance ratio.

 

You: Are you sponsoring me with this bike?

Us: Yes! Can you please send us your resume, with a large sum of money attached.

 

You: Tough job.

Us: But someone has to do it.

 

You: Had a squizz at this at the C2C in between beers at the Colonial Brewery. Didn’t know the Flow team was over here this year – enjoy yourselves?

Us: We dad a blast and highly recommend both the race and riding in the area.

 

You – It would be super nice to take it for a test ride in a place like Oregon.

Us- Yes, yes it would. Can you please purchase the tickets for us? And also make a booking at your most recommend Mexican restaurant too.

Flow’s First Bite: Pro Tharsis XC Di2 Integrated Bar, Stem and Post

Shimano are introducing Di2 into mountain bikes at an age where riders are always looking to simplify and clean the look of their bike’s cockpit area.

Electronic shifting will allow bike and component manufacturers to attain new levels of freedom, without the restrictions inflicted by cable routing. The little wires are thinner, bendier and can squeeze through tighter and twisty places better than a gear cable and housing. What’s next? This.

Enter the Pro Tharsis XC cockpit, designed to play to the strengths of the Shimano XTR Di2 system, with an unprecedented level of minimal appearance. Pro is Shimano’s component arm, hence the collaboration to work with the two areas towards a great outcome. The Tharsis range is also available in non-Di2 specific variants, but here we look at the Tharsis XC with Di2 integration.

The Tharsis XC Flat Top Di2 handlebar uses special grooves and holes to hide internally the wires that come out of the Di2 shifters, the seat post has the capabilities of providing a home for the battery, and the stem does away with the star nut to allow the battery to be hidden inside the fork steerer. If you like your bar, stem, and seat post to match and you are lucky enough to have Di2 on order this will take neatness and a squeaky clean appearance to the next level.

The stem uses titanium bolts and Pro’s Headlock system, which allows a 100mm stem to weigh a low 135g.

Pro Tharsis Di2 9
Count the lack of cables.
Pro Tharsis Di2 4
Note the top cap, the Shimano Di2 battery is hidden inside the fork steer tube in place of a traditional headset star nut.

 

 

Pro Tharsis Di2 33
The 720mm wide Flat Top bar.
Pro Tharsis Di2 5
The wire doubles back on itself and travels inside the bar.
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A threaded ring on the underside of the stem threads outwards, applying the pressure to the headset bearings to keep everything snug and tight.
Pro Tharsis Di2 2
The XTR Di2 shifter, super-minimal.

The next time we see the Shimano XTR Di2 stuff will be fitted to our own test bike, so stay tuned for our first ride impressions of Shimano’s future mid-October.