Back in May, Felt Bicycles brought their demo van to Carson City, and one of their demo bikes was equipped with Shimano’s electronic shifting. Although I had heard of electronic shifting for a while, this was the first time I got to actually see it in person and try it out. This is by no means a full review of the product, simply the initial impressions I got while riding a couple laps around the parking lot.
Getting used to the hand controls took no time at all, since the lever/button are basically the same (although with less movement than on a mechanical system). The same levers you’re used to on your mechanical system make the shifting go the same direction. The only real difference is that you’re sending electronic signals rather than pulling on a cable. While the rear shifting didn’t feel much different than that of a cable driven system, the front shifting action was definitely noticeable. Rather than ratcheting the chain up through the front chain rings with multiple clicks, you simply hold down the button. I think this was the feature that most made me think, “Hey…this is kind of cool.”.
The front derailleur is what Shimano calls the brains of the system. Not only is the CPU located here, but it works in tandem with the rear derailleur. As the chain moves across the cogs in the rear, the front derailleur automatically trims for a constant perfect chain line. No manual trimming with the front shifter or rubbing on the front chain guide.
The rechargeable battery is mounted down below the front derailleur. The Felt rep told me that in the event of battery failure, the system shifts down into a middle range gear before dying, so you’re not stuck in one extreme. This could be good or bad depending on what terrain you’re stuck on. A small battery life indicator/fine tuner mounts to the cables below the bars.
While the battery and brain add a little weight to the system, weight is saved up on the bar shifters since there are less mechanical things happening up there. The overall system adds only a small net increase to the total weight (about 68 grams according to one Shimano document). Shimano also notes the possibilities of adding “remote” shifters at other locations on the bars. This may be kind of nice, since there are multiple hand positions on drop bars, and it would eliminate moving your hand back to the hood area just to grab a different gear.
So what was wrong with high end road bike shifting that warranted an all new electrical system? Nothing really. A modern, well-tuned cable shifting system works pretty awesome, and is good for most of us. Although electronic shifting is definitely not for me, it does seem to work rather well. It also seemed to be the perfect match for the bike that it was on, making the feather-weight, full-carbon bike seem even sportier.
What are your thoughts on electronic shifting? Have you tried it? Is this something you think you’d want on your bike?
More info on the electronic shifting system on the Shimano site HERE.