Electronic Dura-Ace

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As a comment to yesterday’s post pointed out, I linked to pictures on Belgium Knee Warmers, but I did not specifically point out the shots of the electronic Dura-Ace shifting system that was seen on the bike of Gerolsteiner’s Fabian Wegmann. Shimano’s electronic Dura-Ace group has been in development for a while (check out this nearly 2 year old Cycling News tech article if you haven’t seen it). Still it is interesting to see the system being tested on a Pro bike in the Tour of California this year. From the looks of it, I would say that Shimano must be getting pretty close to releasing the group. If you are interested, you can read more about electronic Dura-Ace on a Cycling News tech post from yesterday.

Of course the bigger question this brings up is; do we really need electronic shifting? Mavic tried it a couple times in the 90’s, first with Zap and then with… whatever that other one was… yeah, Mektronic, that was it. Campy has been ahead of Shimano in their development of an electronic system as well (electronic Record has even showed up on bikes in the Tour de France a couple times), which probably explains why we are seeing such refined prototypes from Shimano at this point. I could go on and on with my thoughts on the benefits and disadvantages of electronic shifting, but I have the flu right now and I just don’t feel up to it. Instead, I’ll just get back to my coffee and cold medicine and leave the discussion up to you. What do you think? Are electronic shifting systems just an attempt to complicate a simple machine, or do they offer real advantages for racing bikes? What about beyond racing? Am I going to have to change the batteries on my commuter in a few years? Oh wait, it’s a single speed, probably not.

Photo credit: BKW

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27 Comments

  1. Patrick February 19, 2008 at 3:26 pm -  Reply

    Re: electronic shifting
    I guess my questions would be:

    What problem is this solving?
    How does this improve the cycling experience?

    I would assume that there has been some identified need in the market, either consumer or professional, for this product. If not then the point is really just the “gee whiz” factor.

    I would assume that adjustments would still need to be periodically made to the derailleurs and such.

    I suppose an extra battery, wire strippers and some electrical tape would then need to be added to the standard saddle pack. :)

  2. bikesgonewild February 19, 2008 at 5:04 pm -  Reply

    …good points all, patrick…

    …i know the pundits already justify it for the PRO racing cyclist, as it “always provides a positive shift” but how often is that a real world problem on a properly maintained bike…

    …& a lotta techno-geeks will embrace it because, well, they’re techno-geeks…

    …i’ve got a lotta excuses if i need ‘em, but it will be a cold day in hell before i havta tell someone “sorry, i can’t ride today, i forgot to plug my bike in last night”…sheesh…

    …james, hope you’re feeling better, sir…
    …btw, glad ya liked my old school bianchi townie…

  3. Anonymous February 19, 2008 at 5:22 pm -  Reply

    I’m still friction shifting on my downtubes.

    What I want is a friction brifter. Not more @#^^ng batteries

  4. Ron February 19, 2008 at 5:47 pm -  Reply

    These days, electronic gadgets are more in the realm of toys.

    I don’t think Shimano would even think of something like this unless they knew they’ll get a paying customer, and there’ll be plenty, just like friction shifters are obsolete nowadays.

  5. Anonymous February 19, 2008 at 5:58 pm -  Reply

    Yeah, they’ll get lots of customers … just like all the folks that buy the $149 full-susp’n, bikes for their kids to ride to their friends house down the street.

    Heavy-duty advertising, with plenty of techno-babble: that otta do it! As usual.

    Much better development is the American company (and as a Canadian, I’m proud to promote it) NuVinci with their continuously variable drive hub … that’ll do more for cycling (elders; kids) than any electro gadgetry. But it can’t be seen so it won’t get it’s due credit. [I haven’t experienced it, I must admit.)

  6. Anonymous February 19, 2008 at 7:32 pm -  Reply

    I could see some benefits to this: no cables, so would you need to ever adjust the derailleurs after initial setup? No sticky shifter cables. No shifter cables slapping the frame over bumps. This could be even cooler for mountain bikes than road bikes. Eventually someone will figure out how to pull data from the shifters into a training tool such as Powertap, giving these people even more data to look at. I could see how this could be used to build some really “clean” bikes with very little cabling visible. When I started out writing this, I planned to end by saying I would never buy it. However, I think I just talked myself into it once this new technology has been debugged :-)

  7. Fritz February 19, 2008 at 8:13 pm -  Reply

    James, I hope you get feeling better soon. My wife was down with the flu this past couple of days and was miserable.

    I have no problem envisioning the application of this on racing bikes — just bump a little button to shift and shazam you’re in the next gear without hardly thinking about it. There’s perhaps less real “need” for this gizmo at the enthusiast level, but a lot of cyclists have a bad case of keeping up with the Jones so of course Shimano can make money with this.

  8. Jon February 19, 2008 at 9:29 pm -  Reply

    I think it takes a way from the human powered machine.

  9. Nato February 19, 2008 at 10:14 pm -  Reply

    I agree that the NuVinci is freaking amazing.

    I think the continuously variable drive is the next logical step. it just needs to get lighter and better. I don’t think it’d be so hard to make the whole system lighter and better than a traditional gruppo.

    Derailers have been around since what, 1904? I think we’re beating a dead horse at this point, and have been since 9-speed was trumped by 10.

    How much further can you really take the derailer/cassette system? 11 speeds? 11 speeds + fancy electro servers to shift the gears? How about a little servo in the BB that turns the pedals for you?

    I would rather have hydraulic shifters, if anything. I know shimano has a patent for them.

  10. Anonymous February 19, 2008 at 10:20 pm -  Reply

    First, get well soon, as a father of two young ones, I know what I felt like as a kid all too often lately.

    Regarding electronic shifting, the usefulness I think is not the servos, but in the control, plan a percentage change, both front an or rear changers do the thinking, just select the gain or reduction, or combined with a powermeter, the unit can optimize the gear to maximize velocity, could be pretty useful in time trials. Later regenerative braking, so batteries could get quite light. Cyclo-computers integrated with all the gears could be quite useful, train the course, then race the memory, the computer memory.

    So, don’t sell this stuff short YET. Adds complexity? No question. Just think Ferrari Formula 1 and launch control.

  11. patrick February 20, 2008 at 3:20 pm -  Reply

    For me, there is this weird area where technology and “improvements” in sports equipment sometimes starts to go from “helpful” to “aren’t you not really doing the sport anymore?”

    I see a lot of ads for stuff like golf clubs and balls that allow you to hit further. Shouldn’t you just concentrate on becoming a better golfer so THEN you could hit further on your own?

    With bikes, the full suspension thing used to bug me because to me the challenge of offroad riding was being able to handle the bike over difficult terrain, not to just be able to ride over anything and not feel it. I certainly understand why it is useful in some instances but I’m still puzzled by the concept of making offroad riding as smooth as onroad riding, cause if you wanted a smooth ride wouldn’t you just ride on the road?

    I wonder how fragile those electric shifting components are relative to a traditional counterpart. Probably not a real concern for a road bike but certainly for anything offroad. You don’t want that actuator stuck in some bad position in the middle of nowhere.

    I do like the NuVinci concept quite a bit as well.

  12. Jimmy Livengood February 20, 2008 at 5:42 pm -  Reply

    With a weight limit on pro bikes, it’s nice to see how some of that weight can be used, now that overall weight reduction isn’t such a huge focus.

    One advantage for pros might also be the quietness of the system, as your rivals no longer hear your shifter clicking just before you shift and accelerate away. I thinks the system might require fewer adjustments, as cable stretch and gunking up aren’t a concern.

    Also, it could be set up with half-step gearing, but so that the user only has to move one shift lever(or button, or whatever) at a time.

    Oh- and don’t forget multiple shifter buttons located anywhere on the bike -or in your gloves so all you have to do is squeeze a certain way or touch thumb to forefinger to shift.

    It’s said that the front derailleur action takes quite a bit of power, I’m curious to see if some new type of front derailleur might be developed for electric shifting, now that accomodating a pulling cable/opposing spring isn’t needed. I could see a big chainring with sliding pins in it. When you turn on an electromagnet mounted to the seat tube, the pins slide out, neatly lifting the chain from the small to the big cog…that’s one idea anyhows.

    It also seems (considering the weight limit) that a dynamo hub could recover power when coasting downhill.

    @ Patrick RE: mountain bikes. There are many other reasons than just the challenge of it why people ride places that aren’t paved, just as there are reasons other than a smooth ride why they do.

  13. bikesgonewild February 20, 2008 at 5:59 pm -  Reply

    …anon 10:20pm…i don’t wanna get too deep into this, but F1 rules for ’08 have severely limited many of the electronic ‘enablers’ of the past included ‘launch’ control…

    …traction control may come back in the future, but in correlation to the new ‘greener’ footprint that is being mandated for the next 3 to 6 years…bio-fuel, cvt’s, longer race engine life…

    …anyway, there is obviously a huge gap in the advantage offered by electronics between human power & that of motor vehicles, but i thought i should point out that fact…F1 was becoming extremely boring because the driver’s skill was being factored out…

    …clearly that would never be the case in cycling…

  14. JM February 21, 2008 at 1:12 am -  Reply

    It seems silly to recess the electronic display in the hood like that.

    Water will pool up in them and (I would think) eventually seep past the seals and into the electronics.

  15. collideous February 21, 2008 at 5:05 am -  Reply

    The biggest disadvantage of electronic shifting is that it requires electricity. I’m the kinda guy who never manages to keep his cell phone charged. A dead cell phone isn’t a big deal when you head out for a ride, but a dead shifter battery means you’ll be staying home.

    Another interesting shifting concept is hydraulic shifting.

  16. James February 21, 2008 at 1:14 pm -  Reply

    Great comment everyone. First, thanks to all of you who passed on get well wishes to me. I am starting to feel much better today.

    My thoughts about electronic shifting are similar you several of you. I don’t think it is a good idea for most bikes, but that is not really what is being developed for. Several of the same cons that I would point out have been already been listed here, but I would still be happy to try it on my good road bike (of course, I have 9 bikes, so if the battery died I could always just take a different one out to ride). I think the fact that this technology is being developed at the Dura Ace/Record level indicates that it is intented for racing and fast recreational riding. I bet we will see more electronic shifting systems in the peloton soon, but I doubt that it will trickle down to mid/ low range bikes anytime soon.

    As mentioned, NuVinci’s variable drive hub seems great, but it is really geared at a different segment of the market. As that hub becomes lighter though, I can see it being a more viable solution for fast recreational riding. I have only read about it, but the NuVinci CVPsystem is something else I would love to try.

    And collideous, thanks for bring up hydraulic shifting. That subject is probably worth its own post.

  17. Bradley February 21, 2008 at 2:23 pm -  Reply

    This will go great with my carbon pump, Bento Baox and matching paint-job/jeresy combo!
    Woo-Hoo!

  18. James February 21, 2008 at 2:42 pm -  Reply

    Bradley, you deleted the comment, but I’ll ask anyway. Why the fascination with friction shifting. Can you enlighten me? I rode with friction downtube shifters just like everyone else in 80s before SIS came out. Yeah, friction is foolproof, but you have to admit that indexed shifting works well and makes shifting easier. I have absolutely no desire to ever go back to friction. I agree that not all advances are necessarily good ones, but how is indexed shifting a bad thing?

  19. Anonymous February 23, 2008 at 1:35 am -  Reply

    As the majority of my bikes are friction shift, I will venture a comment, when SIS (Shimano’s initial pro level index) came out we called it sissy shifting, it lowered the skill level to control a bike. Bad? No, but probably a similar view of the cambio corsa guys when good cable controls arrived.

    Index is better, I can shift well with friction, but if I was racing, give me the latest and greatest.

    As an aside, an employee of mine who commutes took my advice and got a disc braked road bike, (cable control, not hydraulic) I have had a few friends constantly buy the newest, and just too much maint. yet. This fellow loves the bike with discs, it has transformed his view of control in the wet, I test rode it, and must agree, darn nice.

    The long way leading to the point is, humans adapt very fast, so mastery of a level of technology is good enough, but “new” tech needs to be evaluated for its place and utility.

    Not all bikes need the latest, but in general applications that allow more to ride with pleasure is a good thing. There is a creeping market of anti tech though, I put the “fixie” crowd in that marketing box. I used to ride a true track bike on the street out of necessity, just not as brave/foolish today.

  20. B. Nicholson February 24, 2008 at 5:38 pm -  Reply

    Hi, I’m a genius, let me help:

    Gotta put the gear indicator on the cyclo-computer with GPS mapping, setting way points with each shift, then letting the system remember the course and shift for you automatically during the race. Make refinements, optimize for speed, pedal effort, integrate with electric assist, optimized for delta s delta t, signals to rider, etc. Fantastic.
    No cable mess, do it for brakes, too, add electronic stability control. Put the generator on the disk brakes/shocks when possible.

  21. Curtis Corlew February 25, 2008 at 1:20 am -  Reply

    This has great possibilities for adaptive solutions. I have a hard time with a left shifter. I’d love a button.Even more if it actually worked.
    But in general, as a thing we all need, I think not….

  22. tr March 4, 2008 at 7:45 pm -  Reply

    unlike many people who chime in on the subject of electronic shifting, i actually use electronic shifting on my daily ride, and have been for a few years now. shifting is fast, and precise, literally button click fast. i hardly have to move any part of my hand, just extend my finger a bit (when in drops/hoods, or move my thumb when on the tops). also, i loved the fact when installing it, that i didn’t have to deal with cables. basically, i mounted the rear derailleur, put the chain in, adjusted it so pulleys line up, done.

    i liken electronic shifting to its automotive counterpart, dual-clutch transmissions. there will always be people who want a manual. but if i can get something that shifts just like a manual, and is faster at shifting than any human will ever be, why not? and i feel the same way for bikes. most of road cyclists out there have frames made out of the most exotic, modern, and technologically advanced materials. so why not put the most technologically advanced shifting systems on there too, instead of some 19th century developed system?

    but, to each his own. i know that i thoroughly enjoy riding, and switching gears lightning fast at the touch of a button.

  23. Q April 14, 2008 at 11:39 am -  Reply

    A dude on our local rides is missing some fingers on his right hand. He built his own shifter setup which includes both front and rear levers that he manipulates with his left thumb when his hand is on the hood. His left brake lever pulls the cable for front and rear brake pads. It’s genius imho, but I bet he would jump at the chance to get an electronic shifter. As for me, I don’t have those needs so even though I am a racer I think that properly maintained mechanical shifting is fine with me. It’s bad enough that I have a speedometer on the bike!

  24. Anonymous April 30, 2008 at 9:02 pm -  Reply

    I’m not jiving with the perception that dual suspension makes mountain biking smooth.

    Suspension is for one thing primarily: CONTROL

    It has nothing to do with comfort or making the ride smooth. While those are by products of suspension it primarily

    has everything to do with being able to control a bike blasting over rough terrain at full cry without losing control of the bike.

    Taking que from Formula one. The suspension and technology there have nothing to do with comfort. An F1 Car will beat the $&#& otta of it’s occupant with g-forces alone. The suspension settings are anything but comfortable.

    Electronics is Shimanos way of making a pre-emptive strike against the introduction of the NuVinci in the market place. Like alluded to earlier slap a computer on it and you have launch control. Optimal Gearing for the amount of watts a particular rider is generating. So on.

    Should Nu Vinci get ahead of Shimi with a lighter and more refined design…all they’ll need to do is outsource or higher a few engineers to slap some electronic gagetry on board.

    However my guess is that the Nu Vinci idea will probably be sooner developed by someone interested in using it someplace financially more profitable…like the auto industry.

    But here’s another possibility with Electronics. Shimano could make their unit alter the amount of cable pulled with each shift.

    Theoretically an e-shifter could calibrate itself to a campy cassette, or a 7,8,9, or 10 speed cassette.

  25. Anonymous July 11, 2008 at 11:16 pm -  Reply

    I think anything furthering the sport of cycling is a good thing, wether or not it is actually needed. People probably scoffed at the idea of a multi-speed bike when they first came around, and i’m sure even more scoffed at disc-brakes, and furthermore hydraulic discs.

    As far as the actual system goes, I think it creates just as many new problems as it solves.

    One thing that shimano has a patent for that I hope they do someday produce is a 14-speed cassette. You could run a 9-22 strait block. how sick would that be?

  26. Anonymous July 24, 2008 at 9:26 am -  Reply

    Think of this as a multi-phase technology implementation (big words i know)

    e-shifting today as others have stated serves no real purpose except for the “techie or gadget factor”. But I think as another stated integrate them with other components such as cadence/powermeters/HRM, etc…and you could have a very viable system that could take the sport into another level. Whether it will be good or bad is yet to been seen. However, things such as this will be limited in racing as there are alot of F1 technologies that are not available in their consumer counterparts.

    I can envision a smart transmission that can automatically adjust based on the riders current condition (power/cadence/grade/HR/etc).

  27. Anonymous July 27, 2008 at 11:25 pm -  Reply

    the only “problem” i can think i can think of that this could possibly solve would be the deterioration of shifter cables. electric wiring would very rarely, if ever, need to be replaced. its a can of worms though, as the servo and battery required to make it shift would surely add quite a bit of weight, although electronic shifters would be much lighter than mechanical, as it needs nothing more than a multi-position switch. its also quite possible that the electronic shifting system is quicker than a mechanical one, which could yield some real benefits for rapidly shifting inclines or quick accelerations.

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