Is electronic shifting really that magical? (2023)

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Electronic shifting has been hailed as a breakthrough in mountain bike drivetrain technology, but is it really what it's being touted to be?

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Electronic shifting is one of those things that seems to have some divide, especially among mountain bikers. We're really a fickle bunch. We love anything new and exciting as long as it roughly fits our normal and acceptable standards. We also like to complain about new "standards" and anything that adds extra complexity to our rides. I don't reject new ideas or standards out of the box, but prefer to engage in proper skepticism and criticism before making a decision. After all, some of these ideas could turn out to be pretty greatā€”remember when dropper posts started to become commonplace? Some ideas also fail completely. Remember plus size tires?

So what about electronic shifting? Well, this is apparently fairly new in the mountain bike world, and it does introduce some additional complexity to the relatively simple derailleurs of years past. The truth is, derailleurs have become more complex in recent years, even without integrating any electronics, so why not keep going down that path, right? Anyone who remembers how easy a Shimano 9-speed rear derailleur was to set up and adjust might disagree, and I'm not sure I do.

(Video) Electronic shifting on a budget - Archer Components D1x Trail Gen1 Wireless Shifter w/ Paddle Review

Perhaps in order to solve this problem, we need to look at the problem that electronic shifting is trying to solve. It eliminates the need for shift cables, which means two things. It makes the bike easier to build, and the drivetrain easier to install, since it doesn't take time to run cables through the frame, at least with SRAM's AXS groupset. It does reduce installation time, but not by a lot, and if that's the main problem, why don't we just use externally routed cables? Don't get me wrong wireless shifting makes perfect sense for aero road bikes and probably explains a lot of why we see more SRAM wireless groupsets on road bikes as we see more integration - But don't forget that SRAM's eTap wireless line groups have been around for quite some time. More integration is starting to trickle down to mountain biking too, and if there isn't a physically good way to route mechanical cables, then going wireless also makes sense.

The electronic drivetrain means no loss of shift quality due to corrosion/wear on the cables, which is great if you're the type of person who likes their bikes with minimal maintenance. That said, if the goal is to make the home mechanic's job easier, it doesn't make much sense to me since most home mechanics will probably work on their own bikes because they don't want to pay someone else Do the work they can do to be themselves. Any budget-conscious rider is unlikely to choose an AXS drivetrain. That way people can just take their bikes to the shop, and changing shifting cables isn't a hard or expensive job unless you own an aero road bike.

So, what problem are we trying to solve here? Complicated/messy? I admit the view of the two tubes from the cockpit of a SRAM AXS equipped bike is pretty good, especially compared to the mess on some bikes where the manufacturer still insists on fork and shock lockouts, but it's A rant for another day. If our goal is to make life easier for the majority of riders, the SRAM Wireless AXS Reverb makes sense; not only does that mean super easy to install, no wiring, easy to maintain, it also means that it can be easily mounted on the bike if necessary between replacements. But best of all, it means you can easily adjust the seat height without having to push and pull cables that might kink or mess up the tension. This makes sense, and I agree.

The thing is, I'm still trying to accept electronic shifting. SRAM's AXS Eagle does have a nice, crisp shift with every shift, but it lacks the tactile feedback I'm used to from shifters. It's something I'll probably get used to, and most people who use EVs do. It does make installation and maintenance easier, but not noticeably. It's still susceptible to many of the same problems that plague mechanical derailleurs: bent hangers, bent cages, worn pulleys, sloppy pivots and allotherThere are still mechanical issues. In my experience, the gearshifts seem to hold up well a little longer than the mechanicals.

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I haven't talked about the actual electronic aspects of the e-drivetrain yet. Did you know you can update the firmware on your AXS derailleurs wirelessly from your phone? but wait a minute you know whatno wayNeed to update the firmware on your mechanical derailleur? That's right, never! You also don't need to charge the battery in the mechanical derailleur, or replace the coin cell in the mechanical shifter. Very convenient, right? Your mechanical derailleur will never stop being a derailleur without giving you a good reason - usually it's blown to countless pieces. It's not uncommon for them to refuse to move no matter how you convince them. However, I've seen at least a few times what the AXS derailleur does.

Batteries on mountain bikes are also a bit of a bother for me personally, as I'm an impulsive rider, I tend to ride as I please, and I'm definitely one of those riders who forget to charge my Garmin or Garmin . my lamp. I don't want to think about "did I charge my phone, Garmin, lights, seatpost, derailleur, shifter, power meter, etc?" There's still something to be said for just grabbing a bike and riding it . That's the beauty of cycling. We're increasingly connected to technology, and cycling is a great way to get out of it. Granted, I don't usually ride without a Garmin, and I know that makes me a bit of a hypocrite, but I can ride without a Garmin if I have to. If you forget to charge your derailleur and dropper post and only have a spare battery, it's game over. Worse, imagine your battery dies in the middle of a ride and you don't have a spare.

You may notice that in this article, I'm mostly talking about SRAM's AXS groupset, due to the relatively wide acceptance it has gained in a short time. In contrast, Shimano's XT Di2 groupset has been around for years but is rarely seen on the track. Admittedly, it's a lot more complicated to set up than an AXS group, as you need to run the cabling and find space for the junction box and battery, but it solves some of the same issues as the SRAM AXS groupset, such as reliable shifting, and lacks some things like needing frequent battery Charging and the lack of a wired port for troubleshooting.

(Video) Beginner's guide to Di2 and electronic shifting | How it works, tips, and is it worth the upgrade?

Personally, I've always found the XT Di2's shifting to be very effective, and it retains the tactile feedback associated with the mechanical system. I've always suspected that Shimano never marketed XT Di2 well enough, but maybe it was a little too ahead of its time. Regardless, if their latest 12-speed DuraAce and Ultegra drivetrains are anything to go by, we may finally see Shimano's system offering the best of both worlds - reliable shifting, easy setup and infrequent charging.

So what do I really think about electronic shifting? Personally, it's a "icing on the cake" kind of thing. If you can afford it, like having the latest and greatest tech, are the kind of person who has neatly organized charging stations in a bike dungeon, and can't stand seeing more cables than you need, then of course electronic shifting might be right for you It makes sense to you. For me, it's probably the last thing I'd upgrade on a bike, and even then I'd much rather have a reliable and user-friendly mechanical kit that I don't need to think about, like the XO1 Eagle. I just don't fully understand the problem SRAM and Shimano are trying to solve. I might even go so far as to say that they approached the problem from the completely wrong angle, and that the derailleur as we know it should die shortly after the clutch, replaced by a gearbox drivetrain. I will say though, that I'm always happy to be proven wrong, and as the bike industry evolves over the next few years, who knows, maybe e-mountain bike drivetrains will make more sense soon. Or maybe electronically variable gearbox e-bikes will be the next big thing?

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