After years of living a mundane spandex-clad existence hammering out road miles, Di2 is finally ready for some real fun. That’s right, XTR Di2 is here, or almost here. Shimano says it’ll be available this fall, and it’s designed to work with the recently announced XTR M9000 11-speed group. If this doesn’t excite you, perhaps you’ve never experienced the road stuff. It’s incredible. If electronic XTR offers the shifting speed, accuracy and reliability of the road groups, there’s definitely cause for ‘stoke’.
If you’re still not convinced, consider this: Di2 offers much more than futuristic robot noises. It opens up a whole new world of customized and personalized control. For instance, you can program a single shifter to operate both derailleurs. Shimano calls this Synchronized Shift, and it’s pretty cool. Nerdy, yet cool. Let’s say you’re running a double or even a triple and you’re going up a climb. The lactic acid is building and your legs are screaming at you to shift. All you need to do is hit your upshift button. This can be either of the two triggers on either the left or right–it’s up to you. When you run out of cogs on the back the system it will play an audible tone to warn you that the next time you hit the button the front derailleur will shift. A split second after the chain drops into the small ring, the rear derailleur will make one ‘make up shift,’ moving from the largest to second largest cog. Shimano’s philosophy is that a single shift should never be more than a 15 percent change in cadence, so when you drop into the granny, the rear derailleur automatically accommodates.
If you don’t like what Shimano recommends, you can simply change it. You can tell the system that you want it to shift the front derailleur when you get halfway up or down the cassette. Synchronized Shift mode is a pretty cool solution if you like the idea of running one shifter, but want the gear range that multiple chainrings offer. It’s not just designed to be run with a single shifter on the bike, it’s just an attempt to simplify the shifting experience. If you have the second shifter installed you can always override Synchro mode by manually shifting the front derailleur.
What’s more is that since the shifters aren’t constrained by the need to physically pull a cable, they can be designed more ergonomically. Really, they can take any shape. The XTR Di2 shifters have the familiarity of the mechanical ones, but the triggers are easier to reach. They even have a similar mechanical click built into them, unlike the buttons on the road side, which can be difficult to feel. You know how the upshift button on the mechanical shifters clicks twice, allowing for a double upshift? So does the button on the Di2 shifter. Shimano could have really botched this system by designing horrible shifters (remember Dual Control?), but it seems like they nailed it.
We were invited to Shimano’s US headquarters in Irvine, CA recently to get a sneak peek at the system, and even got to pedal a bike equipped with some prototype parts around their business park. I have to say that I was really skeptical about the whole Synchronized Shift thing, but it legitimately seems pretty rad. Shifting was incredibly smooth and accurate, and front derailleur would shift even when I was trying to stifle the thing. How it works in ‘oh shit’ shifting situations on actual trail is a whole other question that we’ll have to wait a while to answer. We’ll be waiting with bated breath until then. As for pricing, it hasn’t been released yet, but Shimano says that a full group will be roughly 40 percent more than an M9000 mechanical one.