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Sunday, December 26, 2010

Shimano Di2 Electric Boogaloo Ultegra: Do Cyclists Dream of Electric Shifts?

On the tech side of things it appears Shimano is looking to increase its lead over industry rivals in the realm of gruppo gadgetry. Last year Shimano successfully unveiled and tested its Di2 electronic shifting system for their flagship Dura Ace component set.

Aside from some very core philosophical prohibitions, the ride-by-wire system is also prohibitively expensive. The gruppo costs about $4000 USD, which is pretty steep to simply replace some very good systems for manual shifting. Review

Now comes word that Shimano is preparing its second wave against Campagnolo, which had been ready to push the innovation envelope to 11, with its Super Record 11 Speed gruppo.

Shimano is preparing to launch the Di2 Ultegra gruppo, which seems to be priced more reasonably at around MSRP $2700 USD.

This recent move would seem to put pressure on SRAM, which has seen a meteoric rise in popularity over the past few years with its "Double-Tap" system, marketing strategy and light components.

Campy had been caught a little off guard and is now hurrying to get their own electric group set to market. So far they are in advanced prototype testing, but have nothing ready for the market.

My question remains.... What do I need electric shifting for?

Would I use it if it fell into my lap...? Probably...


I couldn't help thinking about this a little more.

Although I hate to construct false dichotomies drawn along narrow and essentialist lines... but it seems there are amateur/recreational cyclists out there who are always looking for technology to give them a "boost" in performance.

For these cyclists, the manufacturers, and the newest technology they offer, will always be the elusive ticket to better cycling... and "elevating" their performance "above" their amateur skills. The key to better cycling is in the gear. Lighter and more aero composite frames, lateral stiffness matched to vertical compliance... a gram here and a gram there... and of course... electric shifting. In this case the margin for improvement is imagined to be greatly increased by the degree of new technology used on the bike. The technology in the bicycle makes the ride. There is often a bit of fantasy or a placebo effect going on, in which the rider will imagine greater gains when using the newest technology. The Di2 system is definitely for them.

On the other end of the spectrum is the person who takes a rider centered focus and views performance in terms of the human output, shifting the values from the technology to the rider. All but a handful of human beings have the training and genetics to become a professional rider where the new technology might actually mean a millisecond in a race where a place on the podium may mean the difference between a an ice bath and sponsorship deal and simply an ice bath. Riders who focus on the human aspect come to terms with the fact that they are human beings who, after a certain age, begin to slowly degrade until our bodies fail us and therefore have to make the most of the body and brain to keep in top form. There is not the misplaced belief that a manufacturer out there has all the answers to better riding and only a monetary sacrifice on the altar of free enterprise can bring about the desired results.

For the people who do not feel the ride is in the technology, the Di2 system is just another system trying to sell the faithful a little Harry Potter magic and pixie dust from the wings of a flying unicorn.

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