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:

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!



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