Wednesday, August 10, 2011

Shimano Ultegra Di2 Review by

Since we're not a news media company, we weren't able to participate in Shimano's Press demo on the new Ultegra Di2. However, this review by is thorough enough to get a great idea on the new Ultegra Di2 system.

With the retail pricing at around $1600 for just the electric components and roughly $2300 for the entire Ultegra group, this would definitely be the start of a new wave for electronic shifting. Here is the full article quoted from


Shimano invited us to the UCI headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland, to test ride the new Ultegra Di2 electronic shifting group. As expected, it worked amazingly well and, at half the price of it’s Dura-Ace brother, is set to change the landscape of bicycle drivetrains.

First, a primer. From start to finish, Shimano spent five years developing the Dura-Ace Di2 system. Three years of design followed by two years of real world testing under their sponsored pros. Why so long? Because as we all know, whenever such a high profile product is released, it needs to be perfect from day one lest it get panned by the press and have a massive uphill battle in the marketplace. At the risk of sounding like a Shimano fanboy, it pretty much was perfect.

Like all things electronic, though, technology changes, lessons are learned, Moore’s Law happens and things improve. The result is the new Ultegra Di2 group – a system that is better in many respects, performs just as well and cuts the cost in half. What that means for us is complete bikes on the showroom floor this fall with an electronic drivetrain in the $4,300 range. And you’re going to want one.

Price and weight. Technically performance, but unless you’ve been on Dura-Ace Di2 for a while, you’d be hard pressed to find any less performance coming from the Ultegra group. Here are the numbers:

Component Weights by Group (in grams)
Dura-Ace Di2Ultegra Di2Dura-Ace MechUltegra Mech
Rear Der.225270166189
Front Der.1241656789
*FD is braze-on. Cranks are 53/39 with BB. 11-23 cassette. 114 links in chain. All weights provided by Shimano. “Other” includes the wiring, battery & mount, junction box and control box for the electronic groups and shift cable & housing for the mechanical groups.

As for price, the Ultegra Di2 electronics parts ring up at $1,600 USD (individual component prices in this post). Compare that to $2,700 for the Dura-Ace Di2 bits. If you’re comparing the entire group with cranksets, bottom brackets, brakes and cassette, Ultegra is about half, coming in at about the same price you could be an entire Dura-Ace mechanical group for.

Cosmetically, the Ultegra housing is slightly larger where the servo motors are housed. This is because they use larger, less expensive servos than DA. In both derailleurs, the servo rotates lever arms (the silver and black ones on the top of the rear derailleur shown at left, above) that form part of the parallelogram. This is very different from the prototype Campagnolo electronic derailleur we’ve seen.

The brake levers are alloy rather than carbon
The battery indicator/control box is slimmer and has better inline cable routing. To check the battery’s charge level, simply press and hold any shift button.

The Ultegra Di2 wires are much thinner, and the “zip ties” snap on and off unlike the fixed ones on DA’s wire. Because they’re easily removable, custom frame builders will have a slightly easier time doing trick installs. For normal installations, the ties keep the wire pressed against the inside of the bike’s tubes to keep it from rattling about. The tool (top left) is used to safely push the wires into the ports on the junction box (rectangular thing), levers, battery and control box. The other end pulls them out. It’s designed to put the pressure on the plug rather than having you yank on the wire and possibly mess things up. After all, they’re about $30. Each.

There are two cable kits, one for internal wiring and one for external. The internal setup gets the small rectangular junction box. The external uses a junction box that mounts under the BB shell and has all wire plugs on one side.

Dura-Ace wires use a five-pin connector (left) that has specific mount points within the wiring schematic. The Ultregra Di2 wires are 2-core wires based on CANbus technology that allows networked devices using multiple controllers to communicate with each other. This lets frame manufactures make the holes smaller and the wires are lighter. Perhaps the biggest benefit of the new design is that it’s waterproof once it’s connected; it doesn’t need the heat shrink seals that the Dura-Ace version required. That means it’s more easily moved to a new bike in the future.

Another killer new feature is their diagnostic device. Dura-Ace has one, too, but it requires you to plug each component in separately and simply blinks lights to indicate a problem. This new one has a very, very nice GUI that loads on your PC (Mac version should be coming soon!) and only requires you to plug it into one shift lever to read the entire system:

If everything turns green, you’re good to go. If a part shows as red, you’ve found the problem. If everything looks green but it’s not working properly, chances are good that it’s a bad/damaged wire somewhere. Unfortunately, the only way to test that is either swap in a new part (hopefully your Local Bike Shop will stock them) or swap wires between components and see if the red part changes.

The software and device is only intended to locate the damaged part, not diagnose what’s wrong with it. However…

…it does let you customize the way the shifters work. You can pick which button shifts up and down or even swap it so the left shifter/lever controls the rear derailleur. This is a great feature because the system comes set up to operate similarly to the mechanical versions in that the inside lever on the right moves to harder gear on the cassette but moves the front derailleur down to the small ring. I found myself getting them mixed up, and being able to make the same button on both sides control up shifts or down shifts is pretty cool.

Alas, the unit is really intended as a shop tool, and at $200 to $300 expected retail, it’s probably not something most cyclists will have laying around. If you’re loaded, though, it can make for some pretty cool bike geek party tricks. With it plugged into your system, you can tune the shifting and have it simultaneously show you where the derailleur is on screen and move the derailleur on the bike. It borders on creepy making something move just by tapping a button on your computer, but it’s pretty darn cool.

Speaking of adjustments, Ultegra has 30 steps for each gear (versus 24 for Dura-Ace Di2). You don’t need this tool to setup/tune your shifting, it can be done from the bike, too: Simply press and hold the button on the control module until it stays red, then press the shifter to make micro adjustments on one cog. Once you’ve got it lined up perfectly for one cog, it should be adjusted properly for all gears.

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