First Ride: Shimano XTR Di2

By: Forest Dramis

This week I was able to ride Shimano XTR Di2 for the first time. While a couple hours isn't enough time to thoroughly explore the nuances of such a complex and capable system, I was able to get a good sense of what it's like to ride this gruppo. If you're looking for weights, battery specs and marketing copy....go here. If you're looking for an honest impression of what XTRi2 can and can't do, and what it's really like to ride with it, read on.

The test's Pivot Mach 4 came equipped with XTR Di2 and everyone was excited to take it out and see what it was like. Our test loop on this day consisted of a 25 minute climb up singletrack and a 15 minute descent, all on single track. The climb was varied with flat, smooth sections as well as rocky, steep sections. All in all, a great loop for testing with varied terrain and grades.

The Pivot was set up 2x and included both a left and right shifter. Because of XTRi2's sophistication, only one shifter is needed, and I would definitely suggest eliminating the left hand shifter. (Both triggers on both shifters are completely customizable and can activate any combination of front/rear shifting.) As set up, the shifters use beeps to indicate three different moments in the shift pattern. At the high and low end of gears the system beeped once. In the middle cogs it beeped twice to alert you that the next shift would also shift the front chainring. I found the beeps annoying and would turn them off. (Like almost everything with XTRi2, shift alerts are fully customizable and can be shut off.) The automatic front chain ring shift is great. One need only decided whether you want to shift harder or easier, the system then shifts both front and derailleur into the most efficient position to achieve your desired gear. It works perfectly. Every time. Unlike Di2 levers, which I find a little vague and hard to feel with gloves on, XTRi2 has a very definite "mechanical" feeling in the trigger shifter. There is an audible click, natural movement to the lever and no dead feeling. If all you could perceive is the tactile impression of your fingers, you couldn't tell the if they were mechanical or electronic shifters. 

Shifting was predictably immediate and flawless. Even under full pressure. The system easily shifted both front and rear even when I was out of the saddle on steep sections. I would say it was only marginally faster than with mechanical XTR, but the benefit as I see it is being able to shift under full power. Coming out of a creek crossing in the wrong gear? No problem. Out of the saddle, charging hard and wanting to shift? No problem. Cash weighing down your wallet and want a quick way to get rid of all of it? No problem!

Yeah, it's expensive. Really expensive. Like it's brother Dura Ace Di2, you don't need XTRi2. But when was the last time you bought something cycling related just because you needed it? Mountain biking was pretty darn fun on a 26" hard tail with 8-speed shifting. But technology moves on. Rest assured, riding won't be any more fun with XTRi2, though when the servos shift it does sound positively sci-fi. But if you like having the newest toys -- who doesn't --and money isn't an issue, you could do far worse than plopping down for the future of shifting.