You might have heard about a group of nerds who made a wireless gizmo to shift your derailleur for you. You might have also wondered who would ever want such a thing. I might have wondered that too. But I might have just spent six months riding with one, and you know what? I might have just liked it.
Archer Components emerged out of Santa Cruz, California, with a, "Well, why don't we just do this instead?" attitude toward the current status quo of mountain bike drivetrains. Its one and only product, the D1x wireless shifter, is designed to be simple and reliable. Although the words ‘simple’ and ‘reliable’ form a strong oxymoron when used with the words ‘wireless’ and ‘electronic,’ Archer upped the ante with their claim of near-universal compatibility. On its website FAQs Archer simply states: "Will this work on my _______ drivetrain?— Yes."
What's the point?
All current shifting systems, aside from Di2 and the few hydraulic systems, suffer from cable friction. Gunk gets in the housing and suddenly perfectly adjusted shifting is skipping and hesitating. Because D1x uses so little cable and housing to connect to the derailleur, it nearly eliminates friction issues, so even in the worst conditions shifting should remain crisp, nearly to the same level as true electronic shifting which uses servo-controlled derailleurs and no cables or housing.
On the topic of servo-controlled derailleurs, they are as expensive as they sound. Smash one on a rock and you’ll be out a pretty penny. The D1x can mate with any derailleur, so slap on the cheapest one you want, or a fancy top-shelf one. Or maybe one from the '90s you just pulled out of the garage. Or the only one the bike shop had left but your big Saturday ride is tomorrow and you need it fixed. Like, right now. As long as the chain fits around the pulley-wheels and the cage is long enough to accommodate your cassette, it’ll work with D1x.
There’s also the fact you’ll have one less cable cluttering your cockpit and rattling in your frame. And there’s something to be said about being different. Rolling up to a group ride with a Bluetooth shifter, an 11-speed derailleur and a 12-speed cassette will turn the head of the nerdiest of the nerds. Plus, it makes tiny servo/motor sounds when it shifts in a nonchalant just shifting my electronic shifting over here—nothing to see sort of way.
Setting up the D1x:
To begin with, let's go over what comprises the D1x. There are two parts: the shifter and the remote. This is a little counterintuitive, as the shifter is actually what goes on the back of the bike and the remote takes the place of the traditional shifter on the bars. The remote sends signals, via Bluetooth, back to the shifter to tell it how much cable to pull and when. The shifter holds the head of the shift cable, just like a traditional shifter does, and pulls tension or lets it out much in the same manner too—it just does it with an electric motor. Shifting up? Pull cable. Down? Let it out. Simple as that. There aren't any other fancy servo systems to move derailleur pivots. Cable pull ratios are mostly what differentiate between drivetrains, whether we're talking about the number of gears or which letters follow "S" in its logo. The D1x allows the user to specify the exact amount of cable that's pulled for each gear.
To actually set up the D1x, you need a smartphone or tablet. First, adjust the physical limits on the derailleur like you would for any other shifting set up. Then, starting with the highest gear, the Archer Components app lets you specify how much cable needs to be pulled for the chain to land correctly in each gear. One button (see image above) takes the place of a mechanical shift paddle to change through the gears. Another button acts like a barrel adjuster to fine tune the cable pull in each gear. So you’ll need some basic understanding of adjusting a traditional derailleur to set up D1x. Once that is done, take it for a test ride to ensure all works well (test while under load as well as spinning). If all is well, you're set to jet. If you're out on the trail and something starts to skip, there is a feature that allows for quick adjustments on the fly. Pressing and holding the power button on the shifter for three seconds enters Micro-Adjust mode, and each press on the remote will slightly adjust the cable pull for the current gear. Press the power button again to exit, and then keep on riding.
Of course, it’s not perfect
The ergonomics of the remote are much different than most shifters. The two buttons are right next to each other horizontally. While it wasn't really an issue, I did have to get used to my thumb's new homes. But the buttons are big and easy to find, even when wearing thick gloves.
What was more difficult to get used to was the shifting speed. The D1x actually pulls cable slightly slower than a mechanical shifter. For one or two shifts, it's hardly noticeable, but for dumping several gears at once, it seems to take a long time to make the shift. Coming to a steep hill abruptly and trying to change through half the cassette at once will leave your drivetrain crying in pain. You’ll have to be more aware on the trail of where you need to shift. Changing earlier nearly eliminates the issue, but riders who regularly dump a lot of gears at once should take note. Archer is working on this, with a faster motor slated for release next year, so we'll play wait and see on this one.
During my months with D1X, I only once experienced a loss of connection between the remote and shifter. After speaking with Archer Components, it appears the connection loss is a known issue that happens due to some Bluetooth and programming faults that go way beyond my level of comprehension. However, the issue occurs so rarely that Archer Components hasn't been able to figure out what causes it exactly. The remedy is a simple one, though—remove the battery and perform the classic turn it off and on again.
It should be noted that all correspondence with Archer Components has happened as they would if I were a normal customer. Responses have been nearly immediate and with an obvious sincerity to fix the issue at hand.
Performance on the trail:
Aside from the slightly slower-than-normal shifting speed, the D1x does exactly what it's supposed to. Over nearly six months of hard use (read: three completely worn-out drivetrains), I had to re-adjust the D1x once. Once. I'll say it a third time. Once. And that was after I switched it between bikes and failed to get the initial set up dialed in the first time. The reliability of the D1x has been truly second-to-none—the thing just works. Even caked in mud and grit shifting is precise and true.
I've used the D1x with a Shimano 1×11 SLX derailleur on an e*thirteen TRS cassette (which I've had issues with while using traditional shifting), SRAM NX derailleur 1×11 and GX 10×42 cassette and a SRAM GX Eagle 1×12 group. Regardless of what the D1x has been mated to, it's performed flawlessly, minus the few issues described above. There's simply not much more to say on this—and that's a good thing.
I haven't fully submerged the D1x, and don't plan to, but I've taken it through enough stream crossings and high-pressure bike washes to feel confident that water isn't going to work its way in and cause a short.
Even on my Rocky Mountain Instinct, which has very wide chainstays, the D1x shifter never contacted my heel. It also didn’t ever contact the spokes. The P-straps Archer uses do their duty well as long as they're properly tightened. Even after mounting the D1x to my hardtail, the shifter never rotated or moved on the chainstay.
Luckily, you'll probably never have battery issues with the D1x. First, the battery in the shifter lasts for freaking ever. I'm talking months here. Even riding an hour or two every day, it took over a month to completely deplete the charge. And that wasn't even in the power-saving mode, which I have yet to see a need for.
Also, the D1X batteries are easily replaceable. They look like normal AA cells, but are actually a souped-up relative. An extra set will only cost you $14, and that includes an extra for the remote too—and a nifty case to store them in. If you're on a long trip and worried the shifter might die, just pack an extra set or make a quick swap. But even if you totally space, the D1x has a get-me-home feature that shifts into a pre-selected gear with the last dying breath of the shifter.
The Archer Components app that's used to initially set up the D1x has quite a few additional features to customize the behavior of the remote and shifter. A long press on one of the shifter buttons can trigger a multi-shift. How long the long press is can be adjusted, as with how many gears will be changed. You can also reverse the button position, toggle the low power mode, set your get-me-home gear and auto-power off time. The latter is most important if you're someone that likes to chat on the trail—the power button is on the shifter, so it's nearly impossible to hit while riding. If it powers off and then you drop in, you're stuck without shifting until you stop and turn it back on. Luckily, simply having things on and connected hardly draws power so a lengthy auto-off time isn't an issue.
Cockpit set up is clean and easy. The remote hangs in a similar location to most shifter pods, and the buttons are in a similar location to the large shift paddle on Shimano shifters. There are three positions to move the remote horizontally on the bar to get everything just where you like it.
The D1x isn't perfect. And at $389, it isn't exactly cheap either. But no drivetrain is perfect. And no electric shifting method allows you to use whatever inexpensive, disposable derailleur you want. Archer Components is one of those down-to-earth small companies that actually backs-up its claims with the performance of its parts, and that counts for a lot. Archer may be the underdog in the ring, but it's switched things up with a southpaw style that might open the door in the future to a change in the status quo.
Learn more about Archer Components and D1x here, along with in-depth install videos.