THROWBACK THURSDAY, 2011: SHIMANO UNVEILS ULTEGRA DI2

Heading to the UCI headquarters Switzerland to ride the 2012 electronic drivetrain
The very first test bikes outfitted with Shimano Ultegra Di2 (outside Shimano’s walls), have been unveiled at UCI headquarters in Aigle, Switzerland. Keep reading for an exclusive first ride report and some technical details of Shimano’s latest example of trickle-down technology, which will be available at your local bike shop in the coming months.


THE ARRIVAL

After a sleepless, trans-Atlantic flight to Geneva, Switzerland, I, along with a American contingent of fellow cycling journalists boarded a train to the city of Aigle. Our destination was UCI headquarters, where Shimano was to finally and officially unveil their most talked-about product since Dura-Ace Di2 electronic shifting: a lower-priced, Ultegra-spec version of Di2. The above picturesque setting greeted us as we disembarked the train along the eastern shores of Lake Geneva.

 

After a short drive, we arrived at the epicenter of professional cycling, a towering and ornate structure whose metal facade gleamed in the afternoon sun. The UCI building’s unique shape is, in fact, more function than form. Notice the large, curved portion of the building’s right side? Inside those walls is a state-of-the-art velodrome that is, among other things, home base for a variety of junior development teams from such nations as New Zealand, South Korea and Qatar.

 

Outside UCI headquarters, Shimano employees had set up a stable of test bikes that we’d be riding over the coming days. Each bike was identical, save for size and wheel options. Some bikes were rolling on Shimano’s Dura-Ace aluminum hoops while others featured Ultegra wheelsets. Shimano has extended the bright yellow color motif on the bikes to clothing kits, dealer displays, and even Ultegra Di2-branded trinkets like wristwatches. It’s the official colorway of Ultegra Di2, so you should be seeing a lot of the highlighter imagery at your local bike shops in the coming months.

 

Each journalist from our ragtag bunch of Americans and a smattering of Brits received their own personalized bike to use over the coming days. Although the identification labels were a bit primitive, at least I was confident that I had found my ride, unlike at some previous press junkets.
 

THE BIKE

The test bikes were brand-new, 2012 Giant TCRs. My bike, like the one above, featured Ultegra wheels and a simple PRO computer, as well as Shimano’s latest Turnix saddle, and the newest carbon composite Ultegra pedals in a black colorway.

 

Ultegra Di2 levers are the very same design as Dura-Ace Di2 levers, including their ergonomic hoods and two-button, electronic interface. The levers also feature a reach adjustment to accommodate an incredibly wide array of hand sizes, and the pair of levers come in at 312 grams.

 

From an operating standpoint, Shimano reps say that the biggest difference between Dura-Ace Di2 and Ultegra Di2 is the wiring, and this includes the connector design. It has only two core wires, one coming from each lever, with the third exiting the connector into the frame en route to the derailleurs.
The crankset for Ultegra Di2 is the same found on mechanical Ultegra, which features an integrated bottom bracket, and Shimano’s Hyperdrive tooth technology and ramps to provide for smoother shifting between the chainrings. It’s available in three configurations: 52/39, 53/39, and 50/34. Our test bikes also came equipped with the newest Ultegra-spec SPD pedals in a carbon composite version. They weigh in at 265 grams for the pair while an aluminum Ultegra pedal set is also available and weighs 314 grams.

 

The front derailleur features an automatic trim function, which automatically adjusts the trim in the event that you become too cross-chained. At 166 grams, the Ultegra front derailleur features a “rigid construction” design intended to maximize its lifespan.

 

The power source for Ultegra Di2 is the same 7.4-volt battery found that’s found on Dura-Ace Di2 groups. It’s guaranteed to recharge at least 500 times during its lifespan. Battery life varies based on riding conditions and shifting frequency, but most electronic users recharge their battery once every 6 months to a year. A full charge only takes 90 minutes. My test bike had the battery mounted underneath the non-driveside chainstay, which we at RBA prefer to the more common placement on top of the downtube. Still, the cleanest looking electronic setups have come from companies like Calfee, who modify the battery pack to fit inside the seatpost.

 

 

The Ultegra Di2 rear derailleur weighs in at 272 grams, and Shimano claims that it will never drop out of alignment. It features a “crash save” function that will automatically reposition the rear derailleur in the event of a fall – thankfully, I wasn’t able to test the “crash save” feature during our rides. It will accommodate cassettes with up to a 28-tooth largest cog.

 

 

Ultegra-spec brakes are new and improved to provide additional, “controllable” stopping power. Shimano reps noted that for a brake to function properly, it must provide adequate stopping power but not so much that modulation and the rider’s feel are inhibited. The new brakes also feature an improved pad compound, which offers a 100% increase in braking performance in wet conditions over the previous pad compound.

 

 

If you didn’t recognize the Giant TCR’s silhouette underneath the loud yellow paint scheme, your only indication about its make was the rubber grommets in the headtube, sealing off the holes normally used for interal routing of mechanical cables.

 

 

Then again, the prominent Giant logo on the seatpost was a dead giveaway also. Our test bikes were also fitted with custom-colored versions of the Pro Turnix saddle.

THE RIDES

UCI headquarters sits nestled in a valley in western Switzerland, with the valley leading to the eastern shores of Lake Geneva. Every which way you look, you see absolutely stunning mountains towering over you, with many of them sporting narrow, switchback roads up to their summits. Along with an impressive network of paved bike paths dotting the valley floor, it’s easy to understand why UCI opted for breaking ground in Aigle.

 

 

Our first ride day consisted of a 1.5-hour loop in the area immediately surrounding UCI headquarters. This included a bit of bike path fun, but mostly involved a spirited pace up a series of short-and-steep climbs and twisting descents along narrow village roads. As one would guess, Aigle is very much a bike-friendly area, and the motorists we encountered were some of the most patient, considerate and, dare I say, encouraging as I’ve ever come across. While it took me a bit of time to become comfortable with the new ride, the Ultegra Di2 drivetrain and its controls felt very intuitive. I’ve spent a fair bit of time this year enjoying the incredible performance of Dura-Ace Di2, and I should note that the ergonomic hood design of Di2 levers provides a pleasant contrast to the wider and more box-like feel of mechanical Dura-Ace and Ultegra hoods.

 

 

Our second day’s ride took us from UCI headquarters to the ski town of Champery, home to an annual round of the cross-country mountain bike world cup series. It was, quite simply, one of the best rides of my life. Several other journalists I spoke with during and after the rides had never tried Dura-Ace Di2, and their impressions of Ultegra Di2 were, on the whole, very positive. “Shifting between the big and small chainrings felt effortless,” exclaimed one fellow journo. Another was experiencing a definite “wow factor” and said that “it’s like you don’t have to think about the shift. You just press a button and everything’s handled for you.”

 

Shimano mechanics made sure each and every bike was working properly before each of our rides. Several reps confirmed that the total weight for Ultegra Di2 comes in at 2482 grams (this includes brakes and all other parts, such as a battery mount and wiring). Retail pricing is forthcoming, but based on some information RBA’s gathered about 2012 model bikes, a bike outfitted with Ultegra Di2 will run you around $800-1000 less than the same bike equipped with non-electronic SRAM Red, and around $1000-1200 less the one outfitted with mechanical Dura-Ace. For comparison’s sake, mechanical Ultegra weighs 2402 grams, a Dura-Ace Di2 group weighs 2219 grams, and mechanical Dura-Ace weighs in at 2149 grams. The lower-cost mechanical 105 weighs in at 2609 grams.

 

Ultegra Di2 is, in my opinion, a major leap forward for cycling. Most everyone who has ridden Dura-Ace Di2 will agree that its shifting performance and consistency is top notch. Now, Shimano has brought that technology to a lower price point. Speaking of the future, several journalists joked that 105 Di2 won’t be far off. But for now, Ultegra Di2 offers the same shifting experience found on Dura-Ace Di2. It comes with a weight penalty, and shifts feel mere milliseconds slower than Shimano’s flagship electronic drivetrain. but for the price, Ultegra Di2’s greatest strength may not be performance, but perceived value. Be sure to check back soon for an exclusive look inside UCI headquarters, including such sights as their indoor Olympic-caliber velodrome, an impressive collection of Cycling photography, and some of the wildest cycling-related sports you’ve ever seen.

For more info: Shimano’s Ultegra Di2

 

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