Dirt Rag Magazine

First Look: Shimano XT Di2 and SLX 11 speed


XTR M8050

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In not altogether unexpected news, Shimano trickles-down electronic shifting to XT level with a new M8050 group. Before you get all excited, this stuff isn’t hitting the shelves until September 2016, so you might still be pulling cable and not pushing electrons to shift for a while longer.

The new XT group gets most of the features of the XTR M9050, but adds Bluetooth and ANT compatibility, and optional control of Fox electronic suspension lockouts. Now XT can communicate with tablets and cellphones, previously XTR Di2 only communicated with Windows machines. An app allows easy control of the many fine tuning options, including using a single shifter to control front and rear shifting and shift speed when holding down a shift button for multiple shifts.

Riders with XTR Di2 can upgrade to Bluetooth tech with the purchase of a new battery and head unit. Future XTR groups will receive a running change to the new Bluetooth tech.

While it was announced previously, there will be an 11-46 cassette, which is a great option for single-ring drivetrains. Doubles can use either the 11-40 or 11-42. The Di2 drivetrain shares nonelectronic parts (crank, cassette, chain, brakes, wheels) with the mechanical XT M8000 group.

Pricing is substantially lower than XTR Di2, but obviously, still not cheap.

Front derailleur –  $189
Rear derailleur – $293
Digital Display Unit – $150.00
Shift lever (right or left) – $220.00
3x E-Tube wires 70.00
Battery 150.00
Junction Box 29.00

SLX M7000

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Also new, but also expected, SLX moves to 11 speed. We don’t have pricing, and haven’t even seen this stuff in person, but we do know you should be able to buy it by July 2016. The entire group is new, with many features seen on the 11-speed XTR and XT groups.

There are single, double and triple crank options, paired with an 11-40 or 11-42 cassette. The rear derailleur can shift up to a 46 tooth cog, so riders looking for more range can swap in the 11-46 XT cassette. Brakes are lighter and utilize the Servo-Wave linkage for more power and control.

More info as we get it.

 

 

 

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First Impression: Pivot Mach 429SL


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The new carbon Mach 429SL from Pivot Cycles shaves half a pound off the previous frame to come in at a very respectable 5.3 pounds. Match that to 100 mm of potent dw-link controlled suspension and this venerable favorite becomes even more attractive. New hollow-core carbon technology from Pivot not only reduces weight but also increases overall stiffness.

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The Mach 429SL is the second ever production bike released with full Shimano XTR Di2 integration (the Mach 4 Carbon was the first) with an easily accessible internal battery compartment near the bottom bracket as well as internal ports with dedicated caps for wires or traditional cables and housing. The frame is also RockShox Reverb stealth dropper post compatible or in our case, the cable and housing from the Fox DOSS dropper routes internally in the top tube.

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Our bike is built up with a complete XTR Di2 group, including Race level brakes and wheels as well as Shimano’s Pro line Tharsis XC Flat Di2 specific stem and carbon handlebar with internal wire routing. By using these the wiring system is almost completely hidden in the frame and totally out of view at the cockpit.

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The frame comes standard with a Fox Float Kashima Factory shock with Pivot’s simple to use sag indicator. It also has a 120 mm travel Fox 32 CTD Factory Kashima coated fork but the geometry is designed to work with a 100 mm travel fork as well. As shown, our bike weighs 25.15 pounds without pedals but depending on some specific parts could be built to less than 24 pounds.

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With a head angle measuring in at 69.3 degrees, Pivot is utilizing a fairly common number for its cross-country specific Mach. That’s matched to 17.65-inch chainstays to keep the bike quick and nimble. So far its 100mm of rear travel has been highly impressive, often giving the illusion of having more travel at higher speeds. Climbing, the Mach is consistently active but excellent anti-squat from the dw-link design keeps the bike feeling fresh and spunky when putting power to the pedals on smooth sections without giving up compliancy and traction on technical climbs

The Mach 429 SL Carbon frameset retails for $2,999 and various complete bikes are offered. The Shimano XTR Di2 bike retails for $10,400 with a few slight differences from ours including Reynolds carbon wheels, a Pivot branded Phoenix Carbon seat post and handlebar, and Team stem. For first impressions of XTR Di2 click here and here.

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Dirt Rag’s first test-ride on Shimano’s electronic XTR Di2: Part 2


Di2 sideshot 1

This is Part 2 of my first real shakedown rides with the new Shimano XTR Di2 group. Read Part 1 here.

In the span of just a few days since receiving the goods I was able to put almost 150 off-road miles on Shimano’s exciting new XTR Di2 electronic components. Here’s a rundown of how it went in the California and Arizona desert.

Synchro Shifting

Yes indeed, automatic shifting and double chainrings, that’s what XTR Di2 is all about. At first mention it’s also perhaps becoming one of the most polarizing features in mountain bike drivetrain history—until you try it. Many riders initial reaction upon hearing about Synchro Shifting is concern over a loss of control over gear selection resulting in unwanted shifts and/or being in the wrong gear at the wrong time. I can tell you that over all those miles I mentioned earlier that never happened. Not once. The truth is as a rider you still have plenty of control over gear selections and the system actually enhances control and certainly increases the speed of gear selection and shifting

Shimano Di2 Camp

Synchro Shift is controlled by the handlebar mounted display unit that serves as the brain. There are three settings: S1 for race style riding, S2 for “trail” riding and manual, which turns off Synchro Shift (a setting I couldn’t use because I didn’t have a front derailleur shifter plugged in.) Besides controlling shift settings the unit displays current rear gear by number, shows battery life, and serves as the recharge and computer port. It can also display and control suspension mode if you have Fox’s electronic iCD suspension plugged in. The battery is the same as Di2 on the road and is mountable in various positions depending on bike frame. In the case of the Di2 specific Pivot Mach 429 SL, it’s integrated and hidden in the frame, as are all the wires.

Plug and play

As I mentioned in my first report, the dynamics of performance can be easily altered via a downloadable computer program. When the display until is plugged into a computer the entire system shows up on the screen with all your options including yes or no for the front shifter, suspension, gear ratios related to when it auto shifts and shift speed.

My changes, besides reversing which button up and down shifted to match the mechanical version, were essentially beefing up the stock S1 and S2 with S1 being based around racing with more time in the big ring and S2 being based around trail riding with more time in the inner ring (both of which, according to the Shimano tech that came up with the custom mapping, makes it feel like 13 gears in the back rather than 11.) I also increased rear derailleur shift speed when holding down the shift button (hold it down and the chain can dance across the entire cassette quicker than you can blink.) The cool thing is because it’s so easy to program you can search for your own settings or just leave it stock which ultimately works amazing—the tinkerer in me just had to be able to say I changed it a bit I guess.

Shimano Di2 Camp

Because it’s so programmable, you can customize deeper by running both shifters and having both control rear shifting, or make one side all upshift and the other all downshift. If you choose to go with Fox’s iCD suspension rather than using the stock Fox button you could program the front shifter to control the fork and shock lockout. Or, set it to manual, leave both shifters on and just enjoy great shifting that way. The one fly in the soup is that thus far Shimano is resisting to make it Mac compatible. Also, making it mobile Android and iOS compatible would be a great thing.

Battery life is less than the road version mainly due to the rear derailleur having to push inward against the clutch mechanism. Expect to get about 20 hours based on how much you shift and temperatures–Shimano Skunk riders did the entire seven day BC Bike Race on one charge. If the battery did begin to die on the trail you’ll lose front shifting ability first followed by rear with it staying in whatever gear you were in when it finally puckers out.

On the trail

Since using XTR Di2 I can say I’ve never used a front shifter with the system and I never will, Synchro Shift is that good. My initial concerns of suddenly being in the wrong gear or getting frustrated with auto shift simply never materialized. As you shift through the cassette you’ll hear a double beep to signal on the next rear shift that the front will be auto shifting and the rear will be dropping up or down a few gears to compensate.

It worked perfectly every time and after just a few miles I was able to anticipate the shift and adjust cadence like I would if I was doing the shift manually except if you tried shifting both front and rear in the same fashion with a cable system you’re risking a jammed or derailed chain—something that has never happened yet with XTR Di2 no matter how sloppy my shift and pedaling form became. I was also always in the right gear at the right time. In fact, I’ve begun to ride (and think) like it’s a single ring in front, the performance of the double ring auto shift is that spot on, intuitive and seamless.

Shimano Di2 Camp

Other performance notes include a nice tactile feel at the shifter. Rather than just being buttons the triggers move just enough to give you a solid feel of shifting. This also prevents accidental shifts. I would like to see more lever position adjustability. At times they seemed to close together and I’d occasionally over extend my thumb and push the wrong trigger. I’ve moved the shifter perch farther inward on the bar as a fix.

Because the 11-40 cassette is designed around double (36/26 chainrings) and even triple setups rather than a single ring (though that is an option) the steps between gear ratios is noticeably tighter than that of SRAM’s 11-speed cassette and as such I found myself shifting a lot more and staying right in the gearing sweet spot everywhere on the trail

Final thoughts

Undeniably Shimano has hit a home run with electronic mountain bike shifting. It’s also essentially the same weight as mechanical XTR—a feat Shimano says it achieved because the electronic wires are so much lighter than cables and housing. Price is, as you’d expect: about $3,300 to $3,500 for the complete group including brakes. But as with the Di2 systems for the road you can expect to see it trickle down to at least XT level in the future for a substantial cost savings.

Kudos to Shimano for setting up ride sessions in the tough, rocky terrain of Palm Springs to showcase durability. There were many times squeezing though rock sections at speed where I expected to snag or bang the rear derailleur but it never happened. I left with a few small scrapes on my cranks as a reminder of how unforgiving the desert can be but ultimately there were zero failures or broken parts. As you may have noticed, I haven’t got much to complain about yet.

Now it’s on to long-term east coast testing. Keep an eye on dirtragmag.com for more!

 

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Dirt Rag’s first test-ride on Shimano’s electronic XTR Di2: Part 1


XTR side 1

Shimano unveiled its fleet of long-term test bikes for its revolutionary electronic XTR mountain bike shifting in sunny Palm Springs, California. My bike is the potent Pivot Mach 429 Carbon, which is one of the first available to be designed specifically for all internal Di2 wire routing as well as battery storage. After a few shake down rides here in Palm Springs I’ll be going directly to 24 Hours in the Old Pueblo as a solo racer to get more time on the product before taking it home to the east coast.

Since XTR Di2 has had plenty of media coverage already but little actual ride reviews I’ll break this down into multi part reports. First, I’ll begin with my setup choices.

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Because this this is going to be a cross-country race bike I was able to secure the 160 gram Pro Tharsis XC Flat Di2 bar and 145 gram stem. These two pieces are designed to run the Di2 wires internally, through the fork’s steerer, out the stem and inside the bar where a small port near the lever mount is located to bring out the wire. Additionally, Shimano mechanics added a little something special: In addition to the wire junction in the frame they added another one inside the stem. Everything is plug and play and it was ultimately pretty easy to do thanks to a multitude of wire lengths available. Doing this made what I did next very simple.

Right off the bat I wanted the full experience of a double ring set up without a front shifter so I had it removed even before riding the bike. In this case, imply remove the handlebar, pull out the junction box hidden in the stem and unplug the front shifter.

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Next up was programming. Out of the box the shifters felt reversed from the traditional cable triggers (the upshift and downshift buttons were backwards) so I had the mapping changed to match that for which button up and downshifted. Anyone with a PC (no Mac compatibility yet and it’s not certain when) can adjust the performance in a nearly unlimited way.

XTR rear 1

 

Want to have right and left shifters that both control the rear derailleur? Sure. How about make the right side all upshift and the left all downshift for the rear? No problem. Of course you can also leave them stock and have traditional front and rear shifting. The basic S1 and S2 setting worked fine (there’s also manual which eliminates auto front shifting) but I went deeper with a custom program that one of the on-site Shimano techs created to better suit my riding style.

XTR crank 1

The new S1 map is based around riding in the big ring longer while S2 is based around staying in the inner ring longer. Both setting also increased the how many gears the rear derailleur automatically moves as well as when the front shift happens. I also increased the speed in when the derailleur moves across the cassette. As you can see, there is a lot of customization available.

The first two short rides were incredible. The performance of XTR Di2 is amazing and so far is delivering as promised. Stay tuned for more reports on how it works after more miles are packed on. This is just the beginning of our long term testing.

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