Tech Talk

I have been shopping for a new bike, and it seems that nearly everything above $3500 is coming with electronic shifters. Are cables going away like rim brakes?

In all honesty, I’d say yes for the majority. Cables will still remain on the entry-level models, but electronic shifters offer many benefits over cables. Touring bikes might be the last holdout, but that has more to do with remote repairs and access to repair parts and less about performance. The funny part about it is, Shimano’s Di2 (Digital Integrated Intelligence) was originally launched in 2001 as a set of touring/ trekking components that included electronic shifting and automatic adaption of front and rear suspension to riding speed.

The old-school cable and housing combo works fairly well, but it inherently has friction, and as it wears this increases and precision is lost. This results in degraded shifting and potential failure. Electronic systems eliminate this in exchange for the need for a battery. Electronic systems are now getting to a point where the trickle-down effect will be available across most of the drivetrain offerings.

If we look back, the Shimano Di2 system was first seen on pro riders’ road bikes in 2005 with it officially hitting the market in 2009. That means we have over 12 years of it being available to the normal consumer. To put that in perspective, that was also around the time the second iPhone was launched, and if you count the years of testing in the pro ranks (2005–2009), then it’s actually older than the first iPhone. Now think, how much has the iPhone changed in that time? Check out our review of the Shimano’s latest updates to the Di2 system.

To be honest, I am surprised that we are not already to the point where all bikes above $1500 are electronic. In my opinion, if this was any other industry, we would have surpassed that years ago.

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