Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Shimano Dura-Ace Di2 Shifting eReviewed

So there have been rumors flying around for years, and pictures dropping for almost that long, but it seems as if Shimano's electronic shifting for road bikes is finally here. You can find pics of the new system anywhere on the net, there are a decent reviews, and even some videos that show the system in all of its chirping glory. Word on the street even has it that Tucson correspondent Patrick even got to ride a Di2-equipped bike and said it was totally radtastic (his wording may have varied).

By far the best review out there is the one provided by CyclingNews, which goes into great detail about the system, but also makes it a point to compare it to other similarly priced groups. If you're interested you should definitely read the article, but if you're pressed for time I'll summarize it for you:

Di2 is the bizzomb. It's smoother than a roadie's legs after a nice long shower, faster than pro cyclist's doping denial, more reliable than hipster's fixie, and as regular as a peloton's nature break. In short, it is without peer or rival, and all the cool kids should rush out and get it. Think I'm exaggerating? Here are two quotes from the article:

"Calling all skeptics... electronic shifting is the real deal!"

"After our initial sampling last summer in Japan and now two solid months of near-continuous use on a proper test group, we can confidently say that shifting-by-wire doesn't just work; it's flat-out awesome." --James Huang

OK, so I believe them: it sounds pretty cool. And any of the kinks of the system -- batteries, interference, weight, reliability, serviceability -- seem to be well accounted for. Kudos Shimano.

But that got me thinking: can it really be that great? How much greater is it, really? For the sake of comparison, I decided to do a little pricing. I went to the Colorado Cyclist catalogue (currently my only bike porn) and did a little back-of-the-envelope figuring. Here's a price comparison for the similar components for standard Dura-Ace and Di2:

Rear Derailleur: ...899.99
F/D Braze-on: ...749.99
STI Levers: ...929.99
Battery: ...99.99
Battery Charger: ...119.99
Charger Cable: ...7.99
Front Wire Kit: ...169.99
Rear Wire Kit: ...279.99
[Not included: System Checker, 356.99]
Total: ...$3,257.92

Rear Derailleur: ...299.99
F/D Braze-on: ...149.99
STI Levers: ...699.99
Shift cable set: ...21.99
Total: ...$1,171.96
Difference: ...$2,085.96

This means that all other things being equal (cranks, cassette, brakes, etc.), the Di2 system is almost three times more expensive than a standard Dura-Ace system (2.78 times, to be exact).

My point is not that Di2 is expensive (though obviously it is) or that it is or isn't a good system (having not ridden it, I can't say), but to question whether or not it is three times better regular Dura-Ace, a component system that had so many reviewers drooling? And this is my issue with the (otherwise good) CyclingNews review: you've done a good comparison, but since most people other than bike magazine guys and pros will be buying this system, should price be something that's at least discussed? And if so, can you honestly say that as "flat-out awesome" as this system may be, that it's three times better than standard cable-actuated systems? Really?

Color me skeptical. At least CyclingNews' gushing is a bit more restrained than some others, I suppose. (Uh, when would you want to shift the front derailleur while sprinting, my Competitive Cyclist friend?)

I'm sorry to get my rant on this morning, and I hope my retro-grouch isn't showing, but it seems to be that things have gotten a little out of hand here. Granted, I'll never ride Di2, and probably not even standard Dura-Ace for that matter (I'm still rocking a 9-speed 105/Ultegra groupo), so my opinion might not mean much, but at some point enough has to be enough, and I'm drawing the line at groupos that cost over $3k: it is my Waterloo.

There it is, my eReview: Di2 just isn't worth the cost. I say this without every having ridden it, of course, but there you have it: imparted wisdom based on no evidence whatsoever.

Ride on!


curveship said...

Prices are getting high enough that it may be cheaper just to have someone ride along next to you on a moped and do the shifting for you. Shift-by-Butler beats even Shift-by-wire. "Up, James!" "Brake, James!" "That'll do, James!"

DukePirate said...

I love it! But my butler-shifter will be named "Jeeves," thank you very much!

co2cycle said...

i'll send you my resume.

co2cycle said...

yeah, manufacturers have their priorities all messed up. they can shave off a few grams, claim greater stiffness, and charge an extra grand, but they can't make a reliable, inexpensive groupo. why hasn't any company cornered the "good $750 bicycle market"?

jd said...

The price is ridiculous but this is the case for any big jump in technological development. Competition will jump in, research dollars will be recouped, and the technology will eventually be affordable. I wouldn't buy it for $100 but I just don't like battery powered anything.

DukePirate said...

You're right JD, part of the reason that this doesn't appeal to me is that I'd rather not have something electronic to depend on when it comes to my bike. I realize that this is a gray line -- I've certainly ridden with a cycling computer before, though I don't now -- but I'd rather ere on the side of simplicity.

The reason that I didn't mention this in the post is that I wanted to stay focus on the price-to-performance ratio, and not the metaphysical aspects of my dislike. You're right, though, it could be a quarter of the price and I still think I'd go for the old clickers.

Dechert said...

nice share...keep it up...

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