User Review: Shimano XTR Di2

Since posting my recent acquisition of the new Di2 XTR on another thread, there have been a number of calls for an honest "commoners" review. Hopefully I can do it justice. Here goes...
The price is big, very big. The "budget" version cost in the region of R35k. What is the budget version you may ask? It includes: new XTR 9500 rear cassette (11 speed, which I understand is Shimano's new standard); an XTR trail crank with 2x on the front; Di2 front derailleur for the 2x; Di2 rear derailleur for the 11 back; Di2 battery; Pro Tharsis XC seatpost specially designed to house the Di2 battery; junction box; Di2 XTR display unit; XTR 9500 compatible chain; Di2 battery charger; single Di2 shifter on the right (I elected not to take the left shifter for the chainring for reasons you will see later); and Di2 wireset. All of these components are advertised as being cutting edge in terms of technology and materials... which of course comes at a premium.

Shimano XTR Di2 display unit brain.JPG
Display unit/brain

My LBS installed the groupset for me, and did a great job I might add. It looks very clean given that most of the wiring is run internally on my Epic.

The night before picking my bike up from my LBS, with new groupset being installed, I loaded the Windows-based Shimano software and ran through the manual. The whole system looked completely customisable through the Shimano program and I wondered where I would start tinkering first.

I picked my bike up the next afternoon, trembling with excitement. Although it was late in the afternoon and bitterly cold in Jozi, nothing could keep me away from a short 5km test-run along the Spruit.

Shimano XTR Di2 right shifter.JPG
Right shifter for the rear derailleur.

Through the display unit (which is the brain of the groupset) 3 settings have been pre-programmed. There is the manual program where you shift the front derailleur yourself using the second shifter (which I decided not to install). The first synchronized setting is S1, which is setup for a faster, more aggressive ride. Basically, what this allows for, is the automated shifting between the large and small chainrings, depending on gear ratios. Mine has been setup to shift from the large to small chainring when trying to shift past the biggest gear on the cassette (gear 1). As the front derailleur shifts the large chainring to the small, it simultaneously shifts two gears up (smaller) on the cassette into 3rd gear. You then have 2 more gears on the small chainring as you move into granny gear. I was initially a little worried about the front and back shifting simultaneously, but it was entirely smooth.

As I picked up the pace, I shifted up the cassette with a simple click of the shifter. The shifter-click is electronic and virtually taps over rather than having to "push" as with mechanical shifting. It was so easy to shift that I sometimes double shifted, a hangover from the habit of mechanical gears. After I became more familiar with the shifter, this happened less and less. When I shifted to gear 7 or so, the S1 setting decided it was time to shift the front from the small to the large chainring. Again, a simultaneous shift between the back and front, and again, completely smooth. From there I simply tapped through to gear 11 as I screamed down a Delta park section.

The only way I could tell I was changing gears was through the display unit that "turns on" with every shift (and then "sleeps" 5 seconds later to save battery power); the clicking of the shifter; the occasional sci-fi "whrr" of the servo; and the change in power to the pedal stroke. The shifting of the chain between gears was inaudible and I couldn't feel it through the cranks, not in the slightest. Think of gear paddles on a high-end sports car. You tap paddles on the side of the steering wheel to shift up and down gears - the power ratio shifts, but everything else is seamless. You wouldn't know the difference except for the change in tone of the engine.

Shimano XTR Di2 front derailleur with XTR Trail crank.jpg
Front derailleur with 2x XTR trail crank

Synchronized setting S2 works similarly, but the gear change ratios are setup more for climbing environments. In other words, the shift down to the small chainring happens earlier in gear 3 or 4, and the shift up to the big chainring occurs later in gear 8 or 9. Of course, settings S1 and S2 are completely customisable, so you can decide when the shift between chainrings occurs depending on your riding style. You can also tap a button at the bottom of the display unit while riding, to move between the settings. I found no reason to move out of the S1 setting.

At first I thought that the manual setting would allow me to change the chainrings from the same shifter that controls the back gears. I understand that this is not the case. If you want the ability to change the front chainrings manually, I am told that you will need the left shifter. I can't see myself wanting to shift from the automated synchronised settings to manual, and a left shifter will only be a waste of space on the handlebar and money. I can always have a left shifter installed at a later stage if I change my mind, but that would be like installing a manual gearbox in a car next to an automatic gear box... there just in case I felt that an automatic gearbox wasn't giving me what I needed. Having said that, I am told that some of the pros riding Di2 on the XC World Cup circuit have opted to install the left shifter for that added control. I am not a pro, I don't need it and don't want it at this stage.

I returned home after my maiden Di2 voyage and plugged the charger unit into the display unit. On the other end was my laptop with the Shimano software. It took me a bit of time to recognise what component codes relate to what items installed on my bike, until I figured out that the recognition software actually tells you what it picks up. I am not sure why they do not just refer to the components by their commonly known names rather than by codes. I am not sure why it needs my input in the first place, if it can pick up what is there automatically. Anyway, after figuring the components out, I clicked on the customisable features and tinkered with the derailleur settings, as one would with a barrel adjustor, or when setting the high low screws on a derailleur. Although you can do this "in the bush" through the display unit if necessary, it is easier to do with a laptop. After playing around, I returned the settings to the LBS settings that had been set for me. I was satisfied that I could quite easily adjust the derailleurs for perfect settings with the click of a button or two.

The only change that I did make, due to a personal preference, was to reverse the paddles on the shifter, so that the bottom paddle changed up the gears (from large to small cog), and the top paddle changed down the gears (from small to large cog). This too, was as easy a two clicks on the laptop screen.

Shimano XTR Di2 rear derailleur with 11 speed cassette.jpg
Rear derailleur with x11 cassette

The Shimano software will also detect whether the components' firmware needs to be updated, and automatically update the software when connected to the internet. Pretty similar to how your app store identifies and then updates apps on your iPhone. Quick and painless. I believe that future updates of firmware will allow for greater features to be added to the Di2 system. It already has the option for the electric Fox shock system connection - controlling lockout etc from the display unit. It won't be long before the shock system will read which gear you are in and adjust the lockout accordingly.

So far, other than the steep price, it's all extremely positive. Beyond my expectations. But wait, the real clincher for me is yet to be revealed. You know that feeling when you have just bought a new bike, with a great new groupset. Those gears shift so smoothly. Jump forward a year and some long tough rides later with a fall here and there - the cables gather dirt, sometimes crimp, stretch a little with time and use. You can fiddle with the derailleur settings all you want, but you can't quite replicate the smooth gear changes you experienced when the groupset was new. Move forward another year and you develop a bit of chainrub here and there. The "solution" is often a cleaning or replacement of the cables. But let's be honest, how many of us want that effort. We often clank along until it becomes unbearable and then deliver our bikes to our LBS with a strict instruction to "make it like new again". In my experience, and no matter what the LBS does, it is never as clean and smooth as it was when it was new. If the Di2 myth is to be believed, that disappointment is a thing of the past.

Shimano XTR Di2 seat post housing battery.jpg
Pro Tharsis XC seatpost which houses the battery

Because the gears are shifted through a servo, rather than cables that suffer from dirt and fatigue, the system is designed to stay as smooth and crisp as when it was first installed. Only time will tell if this is true, but if it is, that in itself justifies the price tag for me. Oh, and on that chainrub thing, another little trick with the Di2 is autotrim, allowing the front derailleur to shift ever so slightly as you get closer to the outside gears of the cassette, cleverly designed to avoid any chainrub issue that may develop down the line on a mechanical system. It does this automatically, secretly directed from the brain/display, to the front derailleur servo.

For those of you that are weight sensitive, the Di2 XTR is reported to be fractionally lighter than the mechanical version, despite the inclusion of a display unit, junction box and battery. This is achieved through the use of only one shifter, and the fact that the electronic wires are much lighter than the cable equivalents of the mechanical version.

"How long will the battery last?" is a common question. I am told that it is good for at least 300kms, which is more than any stage race I have ridden. If I need more mileage, I simply plug it in to recharge as I would my iPhone. In the unlikely event that I forget to monitor the battery status bar on the display unit and lose battery-life mid-ride, well, people at Shimano far smarter than me have thought about that as well. When the battery runs low, a warning beep will sound that signals enough power for a final shift of the front derailleur. You have about an hour more battery-life left before a second warning beep sounds to signal enough power for a shift of the rear derailleur. And then its single speed baby, until a recharge. If you were worried about not being able to recharge the battery overnight during a multi-stage event, it is easy enough to buy a second battery and slip it into the seatpost. I can't see that I will need to do this and will probably take a powermonkey rechargeable powersupply with me for an overnight recharge of the Di2 system, just as a precaution.

The verdict


If you can justify spending R35k on a hobby/sport, it is a no-brainer. If you can't afford that pricetag, wait for the trickle down to XT. From what I have read, that may be as far away as 5 years time, and I personally am not prepared to wait that long. Now that I have it, I would want it more if I didn't have it, if that makes sense. This is the future, this is bigger than the fad move from 26er to 29er, from tubes to tubeless, from 2/3x10 to 1x11, from seatpost to dropper. In my view, this is the single greatest advance in the sport that I have seen during my time riding. I was way behind the times when it came to the 29er shift, I want to be at the cutting edge of this move.


106 Comments

amasendeinja, Jun 10 2015 04:48

Nice first review grant. I think I saw your bike being fitted out with it actually, don't think too many people have it yet, so probably was yours.

I remain a bit sceptical, price tag aside, and that from an electrical engineer too. No real reason I can pin my skepticism down to, perhaps just not a bleeding edge kinda guy.

Enjoy it though, always nice to have new bike stuff to spend loads of cash on...I can certainly relate!

GrantRH, Jun 10 2015 05:09

Nice first review grant. I think I saw your bike being fitted out with it actually, don't think too many people have it yet, so probably was yours.

I remain a bit sceptical, price tag aside, and that from an electrical engineer too. No real reason I can pin my skepticism down to, perhaps just not a bleeding edge kinda guy.

Enjoy it though, always nice to have new bike stuff to spend loads of cash on...I can certainly relate!


I hear you! I was initially thinking that I would give it a year for any teething issues to be sorted out. I then read up on other reviews and realised - shimano have taken +-5 years since the Di2 dura ace to release the XTR version. When it was finally released, they released it on the world stage at a World Cup event. Since then the pros have adopted it (yes, I get it that they are paid to use it). There is far too much invested for Shimano to get this wrong. So I took comfort from all of that and took the leap of faith sooner than I expected.

But it is still early days. I will post update reviews over the course of the year and after testing events. I would appreciate any other comments, good or bad, from others with the Di2.

Christie, Jun 10 2015 06:08

Cudos for the review, many happy miles.

Re the price, at least there is some value behind it: the advanced technology, the ease of shifting and maintenance etc. A lot of money gets spent by cyclists on things with less value - like price premiums on frames from traditional manufacturers that is now made in China, shades with plastic lenses and plastic frames etc.

Prince Albert Cycles, Jun 10 2015 06:14

You write well .

NotSoBigBen, Jun 10 2015 06:16

Saw diagnostics and setup being done from a computer today, very impressive but quite intricate .....

Man I love new technology even though I'll probably not afford it in my lifetime.

Nice review, thanks.

uploadfromtaptalk1433952960674.jpg

Ryno., Jun 10 2015 06:34

Great review, but that price tag :eek:  more than all 3 my bikes together. 

amasendeinja, Jun 10 2015 06:48

Saw diagnostics and setup being done from a computer today, very impressive but quite intricate .....

Man I love new technology even though I'll probably not afford it in my lifetime.

Nice review, thanks.



IMG-20150610-WA0001.jpg


Ben, you're an IT oke bru, if it's intricate for you then how the hell would I understand it!?

Patchelicious, Jun 10 2015 06:58

Fantastic review, very comprehensive.

I want this!

Slowbee, Jun 10 2015 07:04

300kms?

 

Well that rules out using this on a 36one cycle tour that takes, about 34 hours (for some of us)

GrantRH, Jun 10 2015 07:33

300kms?

Well that rules out using this on a 36one cycle tour that takes, about 34 hours (for some of us)


Unless you are prepared to exchange batteries mid-race then the Di2 is not for the 36one. It is also a problem if you are thinking about the Freedom Challenge.

Bear in mind that Shimano is not targeting those elite events. It is targeting the Epic crowd who can handle dropping R60k on a race, or +R100k on a bike. Once Shimano recovers the R&D costs of the Di2 XTR, I think we will then see the trickle down to XT.

But do yourselves a favour, if one of your mates offers you a test ride with Di2, grab the chance. Even if it is 2 minutes around the parking lot, amplify that by 5 hours in a saddle over tough terrain. That price tag becomes digestible quite quickly.

Ryanpmb, Jun 10 2015 07:36

Saw diagnostics and setup being done from a computer today, very impressive but quite intricate .....

Man I love new technology even though I'll probably not afford it in my lifetime.

Nice review, thanks.

attachicon.gifIMG-20150610-WA0001.jpg

 

I would hope not? Otherwise its a backwards step IMO... One of the biggest draw cards for me would be the ease of user interaction, including setup etc...

GrantRH, Jun 10 2015 07:39

I would hope not? Otherwise its a backwards step IMO... One of the biggest draw cards for me would be the ease of user interaction, including setup etc...


My LBS set the settings. I simply played with the software because I can. You don't have to go near the software settings if you don't want to. I just like exploring and tinkering.

But if you want to, you can change everything from shifting speed to volume of the display beep. It is up to the user.

NotSoBigBen, Jun 10 2015 07:41

Sorry guys I meant intricate in so far as the software controlling the group set, from an 'operator' point of view it looks pretty simple ..... fault finding, fine tuning, firmware updates etc.

Ryanpmb, Jun 10 2015 07:47

Sorry guys I meant intricate in so far as the software controlling the group set, from an 'operator' point of view it looks pretty simple ..... fault finding, fine tuning, firmware updates etc.

 

Yes. Sounds better.  :thumbup: .

 

Now I just need to hook it up to a solar panel on my back for the Freedom Trail...

MrFine, Jun 10 2015 07:48

I'am slavering now.I think shimano will pay you for a review like this.Enjoy all those miles.........

Christie, Jun 10 2015 08:18

I had first generation DuraAce Di2 on my last road bike. The battery lasted 8 months per charge, riding 5 times a week.

_C50_, Jun 10 2015 08:24

[quote name="GrantRH" post="2640701" timestamp="1433946900
How long will the battery last is a common question. I am told that it is good for at least 300kms, which is more than any stag race I have ridden.
........
 This is the future, this is bigger than the fad move from 26er to 29er, from tubes to tubeless, from 2/3x10 to 1x11, from seatpost to dropper. In my view, this is the single greatest advance in the sport that I have seen during my time riding. I was way behind the times when it came to the 29er shift, I want to be at the cutting edge of this move.[/quote]

I think that 300km's needs to be translated to hours. 36ONE won't be the only race out of this groupset's reach, for many that would include events like TransBaviaans, TransKaroo, etc...

A bigger advance than tubeless? So you would rather have your "electro grouppo" before running tubeless? In Europe maybe, in SA, definitely not.

I suspect that most of the gravity/enduro crowd would disagree with you regarding the dropper post also.

Electronic shifting, at that price point? A solution to a problem that doesn't really exist, IMO.

And while I still have a thumb that hasn't gone to "soft" to actually change a gear on my mechanical groupset, I will definitely stick to it, thank you very much.

Captain Fastbastard Mayhem, Jun 10 2015 08:29

I think that 300km's needs to be translated to hours. 36ONE won't be the only race out of this groupset's reach, for many that would include events like TransBaviaans, TransKaroo, etc...

A bigger advance than tubeless? So you would rather have your "electro grouppo" before running tubeless? In Europe maybe, in SA, definitely not.

I suspect that most of the gravity/enduro crowd would disagree with you regarding the dropper post also.

Electronic shifting, at that price point? A solution to a problem that doesn't really exist, IMO.

And while I still have a thumb that hasn't gone to "soft" to actually change a gear on my mechanical groupset, I will definitely stick to it, thank you very much.


One milllllllion percent

Ryanpmb, Jun 10 2015 08:50

This is the future, this is bigger than the fad move from 26er to 29er, from tubes to tubeless, from 2/3x10 to 1x11, from seatpost to dropper. In my view, this is the single greatest advance in the sport that I have seen during my time riding. I was way behind the times when it came to the 29er shift, I want to be at the cutting edge of this move.

 

Eish I've just fallen off the knife edge going 27.5...

Spoke101, Jun 10 2015 08:53

Thought I would wade in on the conversation. :)

 

To start XT Di2 might be as close a the end of the year according to a little birdie I know.

 

Secondly battery life is not determined by the number of hours you ride but rather by the number of gear shifts you make. This is due the system going to sleep after each shift.

 

I have had Di2 for the last 3 years and my battery lasts for about 4 months of 10-15hr / 300-400km weeks. I have never had any issues and that includes running the battery down on purpose during a ride to see what happens (limp home mode works), riding in the pouring rain for 160kms, crashing at 45km/h on the derailleur side and it taking a big knock, fiddling with the software and customizing it (very very easy).  

JXV, Jun 10 2015 09:12

Thought I would wade in on the conversation. :)

To start XT Di2 might be as close a the end of the year according to a little birdie I know.

Secondly battery life is not determined by the number of hours you ride but rather by the number of gear shifts you make. This is due the system going to sleep after each shift.

I have had Di2 for the last 3 years and my battery lasts for about 4 months of 10-15hr / 300-400km weeks. I have never had any issues and that includes running the battery down on purpose during a ride to see what happens (limp home mode works), riding in the pouring rain for 160kms, crashing at 45km/h on the derailleur side and it taking a big knock, fiddling with the software and customizing it (very very easy).

I think I heard the same little birdie. Got a Whatsapp saying Di2 announcement for XT groupset was expected in July.....availability sometime after that...

Btw Grant..... nice review.

Re battery.....if it charges via USB as I suspect then surely you can hook up a bar mounted Powermonkey or othet small USB solar charger and charge while you ride. I foresee a future of freehub mounted generators with 5V regulators that can recharge your Di2 on the overrun when you are coasting during a ride....

TALUS, Jun 10 2015 09:32

Nice review. Nice product. I have two bikes with Di2 (road)-I won't go back to cables. Di2 is already prevalent in the Roadie peloton. I expect this will become more common quickly in MTB too.

GrantRH, Jun 10 2015 10:32

I think that 300km's needs to be translated to hours. 36ONE won't be the only race out of this groupset's reach, for many that would include events like TransBaviaans, TransKaroo, etc...

A bigger advance than tubeless? So you would rather have your "electro grouppo" before running tubeless? In Europe maybe, in SA, definitely not.

I suspect that most of the gravity/enduro crowd would disagree with you regarding the dropper post also.

Electronic shifting, at that price point? A solution to a problem that doesn't really exist, IMO.

And while I still have a thumb that hasn't gone to "soft" to actually change a gear on my mechanical groupset, I will definitely stick to it, thank you very much.


Hey, it's not for everyone, I get that.

I am not enduro, I focus on multi-stage races. I am not a pro, but I can just crack A group on some races.

I can ride rigid, do I have to? No, I like full sus. Do I need padding in my cycling shorts? No, but it's much more comfortable. Could I survive changing punctures on tubes? Yeah, but what a hassle. Can I cycle mechanical rather than electric? Hell yeh, I have done so since I've started. Do I want to go back to mechanical after tasting electric? Not if you paid me. Does that mean I have a soft thumb? Maybe, but it goes well with my soft @ss.

Why make life harder when it could be made easier. Embrace advancement, why fight it?

V12man, Jun 10 2015 11:03

Yes. Sounds better. :thumbup: .

Now I just need to hook it up to a solar panel on my back for the Freedom Trail...


Hub generator. ... provided it works when being charged.

GrantRH, Jun 10 2015 11:20

I think I heard the same little birdie. Got a Whatsapp saying Di2 announcement for XT groupset was expected in July.....availability sometime


I heard about a recent XT release but thought it was this...

https://www.bikehub....option-unveiled