Posted by Editoress on 11/28/11
Cyclo-cross racer Peter Morse has been testing Shimano's new Ultegra-level electronic shifting system on the Ontario 'Cross circuit, culminating with the National Championships. Peter wrote an introductory article on installing the system, and first impressions prior to the start of the racing season (see Canadian Cyclist Reviews - Shimano Ultegra Di2 Test - First Impressions), and has now provided a detailed follow up on his experience with, and impressions of, Ultegra Di2.
After a two month season of cyclo-cross racing, I can say that the shifting of Shimano’s electric groups is superior to mechanical ones. Di2 is smoother and more reliable. There are no missed shifts and no degradation of cables or performance.
The first ride left me thinking the Ultegra group was not as smooth at shifting as the perfectly shifting Dura Ace Di2. However, after reading the instructions on Shimano’s website I found the opposite to be true. For fine tuning, Ultegra has 30 adjustment positions of the rear derailleur compared with Dura Ace’s 24. The shifting action of the front derailleur is equal to Dura Ace. Once I adjusted the system, with the easy to use set button, it was shifting precisely. My advice would be to check Shimano’s website for instructions. You’ll also see a link for something called “E-Tube Project”. It’s a PC based software that allows customization of shifting button preferences, diagnostic tools and future reprogramming and software updates.
Racing cyclo-cross with Di2 was an absolute pleasure and a natural use for this product. Cold, wet, and gritty conditions did not effect the system’s performance. I rode through mud and sand without the problems you’d experience with mechanical cable contamination. The shifters only took a couple of rides to get used to.
Peter Morse at Nationals
I was actually worried I’d make mistakes with it in my first race, but I was fine with shifting under the nervous pressure of competition. The buttons are positioned in a similar way to the controls on the mechanical groups, so the transition was easy. The Ultegra Di2 shifting performance is equal to Dura Ace Di2, only the difference in weight is noticeable. The electric shifting is effortless. In racing this means there is no chance of the sloppy or missed shifts due to fatigue. I really noticed the extra effort needed to shift when switching back to mechanical shifting.
Battery installed on the seat-tube
At the end of the season I removed the group from the Focus Mares frame (supplied by LaBicicletta) I was using. Impressively, the tape that held the cables to the frame was fully intact. It had not peeled off, even after repeated washings. There was some dirt collected under the bottom bracket mounted wiring harness, but that did not cause a problem. All the terminal junctions were spotless when the wires were removed, proving that Ultegra’s improved sealed connectors work, (with Dura Ace Di2 the wires need to be sealed with shrink hose). The derailleurs still look new. Shifters were not rattling or loose.
Peter Morse at Nationals
The battery needed charging twice during the two months. For cross I shifted a lot more than I would on the road, so the battery lost charge faster. On one training ride I ran the battery down to the point where the front derailleur automatically stopped working for charge preservation. It was good to be still able to shift the rear derailleur on the way home, (it will last another 50 kilometres or so until dead). The Ultegra Di2 build quality is very high. In my opinion, the ultimate set-up would be to route cables inside the frame with Shimano’s internal wiring option. This last feature will undoubtedly please custom builders.
The cyclo-cross specific parts from Shimano were put to good use. The compact crank was welcome with its low 36 - 46 ratio for a variety of terrain, especially when mated with the 11-28 cassette. The chainrings showed little wear and the cranks just had the usual heel-scuff marks on the arms. The brakes are impressive. They are very strong and the new road pads from Shimano add to the great stopping power. The pads were still good after two months! I also liked the simple adjustability of the brakes and pad alignment. The Ultegra wheels had very little wear on the brake track after many muddy training rides. They remained true and round with no service needed.
Value of the Ultegra Di2 is hard to challenge. It can be had for around the cost of a mechanical Dura Ace group and half the price of Dura Ace Di2. The shifting performance is equal to Dura Ace Di2. The Ultegra group overall is slightly heavier. The performance and lack of cable maintenance is sure to make it a highly functional and sought after component group. It will be spec’d on a lot of 2012 bikes. Shimano is going all-out with electric groups and development is sure to continue. Parts will be readily available, wires are made in lengths for any size frame, Shimano is even making a lighter “race day” battery that holds less charge but saves weight. Overall, Shimano’s Ultegra Di2 is more than a significant technical advancement in cycling. It is simply the best shifting you can get.
Thanks to Shimano Canada, Canadian Cyclist, OCTTO Components and LaBicicletta for providing the opportunity and equipment to make this review possible.
Our thanks to Peter Morse for participating in this extended project. Shimano Canada has asked us to continue our long-term testing of Ultegra Di2, and we will now be installing it on a road bike for further riding and analysis of the system.
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