Tour Down Under Tech – Campy Electronic Shifting Debut and Shimano Di2 Improvements

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The Tour Down Under isn’t a race where companies typically showcase their new products and technology. I didn’t come to the TdU looking for anything out of the ordinary, however I did notice some new electronic shifting technology and improvements. Most notably, the new Campy electronic groupset.

The Campagnolo Electronic Shifting Device

The Movistar team was using the new Campy electronic groupset and it was the first time I had seen it in person. The mechanics didn’t speak English (or possibly didn’t admit to it) and couldn’t answer any questions about it when I asked.

Campy certainly took their time getting a prototype out there. The groupset looks to be temporarily named the “Campagnolo Electronic Shifting Device”.  It is 11-speed and the ergonomics look to be similar to Super Record with a few variations. I didn’t get the opportunity to ride it so I’m not in a position to comment on its feel or the functionality.

The one thing that would truly differentiate an electronic groupset from Di2 would be a wireless groupset. We saw Mavic’s attempt at this in the 90’s (called “Zap”, later re-engineered as “Mektronic”) and it didn’t work so well. However, wireless technology has come a long way and if it worked properly I could definitely see some tangible benefits to getting rid of the gear cables. I’m sure this will be coming in the future, however I’m guessing that battery life and power at each of the derailleur motors is the immediate problem.

The Campagnolo electric front derailleur

The Campagnolo electric rear derailleur

The Campagnolo electric battery. There has been talk of this relatively large enclosure encompassing a much smaller battery inside. Only Campy knows…

The cable runs for the shifters (apologies for the blurry photo)

Photo courtesy of Ben Koops

Battery life meter or remote shifting adjuster (I’m not 100% certain)

Inside downshift lever

upshift lever

A better look at the rear derailleur and 11-speed cassette

The only thing I can comment on with regards to the functionality of the Campy electronic groupset is my observations of the Movistar riders. Going up Checker Hill I noticed Angel Madrazo’s gears crossed over from his 53T to his 23T (or maybe 25T…whatever he had on the rear cassette). He was off-the-back pedalling at about 30rpm (for the first part of the hill – I think he got it into his 39T close to the top). I’m guessing he was having troubles with is front derailleur and couldn’t shift into the 39T (there’s no practical reason why he would be in such an awkward gear and getting dropped at the same time). I also saw 3 other incidents of Movistar riders’ chains falling off the front ring. That’s just my observation and might not not be related to the Campy electronic shifting.

It’s too soon to make any judgements on the Campy electronic groupset as it hasn’t been commercialised yet and is only in the testing phase. There’s there’s no doubt that it’s far from being complete. I’d be interested to hear your thoughts from what you saw of Campy’s new groupset at the Tour Down Under.

Shimano Di2

Shamano Di2 electronic shifting has been a glaring success. Nothing new to report here. At first it was brushed off as “the solution to a problem that didn’t exist”. However, I’ve tried it, I’ve spoken to dozens of people who own it, and have read many reviews that have only positive things to say about it. From what people say, it’s one of those things that is hard to justify making the leap, but once you use it you’ll never want to go back to mechanical shifting.

I don’t own Shimano Di2 (I wish I did), however I’ve heard a few small complaints about the front derailleur mis-shifting. I’ve seen a few instances of this happening as well. Perhaps it’s so magnificent that our expectations are too high and we want it to work flawlessly all the time. Most of the time it does work perfectly and Shimano did an excellent job at getting it right.

A few things I noticed about Di2 at the Tour Down Under:

BMC Impec and Trek-Leopard Team Edition Madone

The BMC Impec and the Trek Madone have the best Di2 battery integration I’ve seen. In fact, the batteries are so well hidden that I had an hard time getting a photo of it. It’s fixed underneath the downtube near the bottom bracket, behind the chainring. It seems like such an obvious place to put the battery, however most manufacturers place it on the inside of the frame near the bottle cages (most likely for accessibility).

Unfortunately the Impec is slightly delayed in making it to Australia (only because of some cosmetic adjustments being made), but I can’t wait to ride one again. I’d absolutely love to ride one of these TREK’s as well one day.

From this angle you can see the battery discreatly hidden underneath the bottom bracket of the Trek-Leopard Team Edition Madone. Also notice the Bontrager Duotrap speed and cadence ANT+ sensor on the rear stay and internal cabling.

Cavendish’s Di2 “Sprint Shifter”

Mark Cavendish used Di2 on a few occasions last season, but from what I understand he prefers the mechanical equivalent (Dura Ace 7900). There is a clearer definition between upshift and downshift on the 7900 and a sprinter does not want to get that mixed up at 70km/hr at the Tour de France.

Last week at the Tour Down Under we spotted Cavendish sporting the “sprint shifter” on the inside of the bars (as you can see in the photo below). The inside side button down-shifts the cassette, while the outside shifter on the levers shifts up. Shimano has branded this the SW-7972 and will be available next month.

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