Electronic change moving forward

Bike showing electronic front derailleur and battery pack on the down tube

Batteries included: electronic gear shifting is reputedly faster and smoother.

The electronic age has such a strong hold on the control of mechanisation where a micro chip can operate almost anything that opens and shuts or need meticulous timing. It stands to reason that it was not going to be long before the two largest cycling group- set makers, Shimano and Campagnolo would have electronic gear shifters.

Researching the progression of electronic gear shift mechanisms it was back in 1992 a French manufacturer Mavic (an acronym of “Manufacture d’Articles Vélocipédiques Idoux et Chanel,”) a well known bicycle wheel maker introduced the “ZAP” at the Tour de France.  Being a proto type it achieved neither technical success nor commercial application at that time. In 1994 Sachs introduced another development in electronic gear shifting with Speedtronic by SRAM another cycling component company that is getting to be a force in the stronghold of Shimano and Campagnolo in the market place. Continuing on the development trail in 1997 Chris Boardman won the prologue at the Tour de France which was fitting as Boardman’s nickname is the Professor, for his meticulous attention to detail in preparation and training, and his technical know-how. In 1999 Mavic introduced their second attempt that failed to make a commercial application called the “Mektronic” which must have prompted Shimano and Campagnolo to get serious in making electronic gear shifters a reality as right through the 2000’s both companies experimented at many professional cycle races.

In essence an electronic gear-shifting system enables the rider instead of using conventional control level manually operated to press an electronic switch that can be connected either with wires or wireless via a battery pack and a small electronic motor that drives the front and rear derailleur making the change of the chain from cog to cog. The shift is quoted as being faster and more positive as the smarts of the system can calibrate itself to maintain its speed and accuracy in shifting.

2009 saw the first commercial application of road bikes being fitted with an electronic gear-shift system by Shimano in their Durace component group set. To accommodate the application of the new devices a number of frame makers making allowances for their frames to have mounting stops and cabling specific routings incorporated in the frame. The system called Di2 was used by a number of professional cycling teams across the UCI cycling calendar of that year.  The power pack of the system is a 7.4 volt lithium-ion battery pack supplying power to both front and rear derailleur’s reported to be reliable up to 1,000 kilometres (620 mi) per charging.  The system does have a LED light to give pre warning of the need for a re-charge.

There is little advancement in the methodology of the rear derailleur, and some could argue that they have lost gear selection as only one gear can be advanced at a time as with manual operation there is opportunity to change more than one. The front derailleur is where there is the greatest change has been incorporated in a 30% faster operation and less chance of the problematic chain rub and the risk of losing the chain off the chain rings when under tension making the vertical jump. The electronic system has overcome this with calibration and control on the shifting speed and overall is believed to assist in the reduction of wear and tear and need for maintenance.

Weight is always a premium and this has been given high consideration in the commercial viability. Campagnolo is advancing and the 2011 Santos Tour Down Under was another testing ground for their components to become reliable and user accepted prior to making the jump to commercial reality. While some of us are puritans or just old fashioned there are some advantages that need to be considered.  The electronic system will make gear changing easier for riders that may have problems with the flexibility of their hands co-ordination the sideways pushing of the conventional levers. The riders had do not need to change hand position to press the solid state switches. There is also a great delivery of speed and reliability in each gear selection being changed without any trim or cable stretch. The main downfall could well be having a back manual override if a failure occurs, which is really no different if your cable broke of shifter was damaged there is no assured manner to being able to select gears. The question in the uncertainty of reliability? Time will be the testimony.

Looking forward to seeing you on the road soon God willing


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