Cycling with Shimano Ultegra Di2

2015 Roubaix SL4My local bike shop had a bike on display last year that had electronic shifting on it. I recall seeing the external battery pack on it and thought how cool to have. I knew of the benefits of the electronic shifting such as precise shifting all the time. Gone are the days of cable stretch and skipping shifting. I knew I wanted it but didn’t have the funds to buy it. It was not until recently that the same bike shop had another bike on display. What really struck me was the paint job on it! I loved it. I then noticed that it too had the electronic shifting system as well. Icing on the cake I felt. A few days later I had the bike in my home. The bike that I got was the Specialized Roubaix SL4 Comp Ultegra Di2 (see Bike Upgrades).

This being my first electronic shifting system I started to read up on it. The first thing I realized that the battery is internal (in the seat post) and that plug that I noticed on the unit was the charging port. Low and behold a thunderbolt struck me, I need to be able to recharge the batteries and I don’t have a charger. Checking Shimano’s Shimano Bike Website I found what I needed and check Amazon for the price. I could spend the money on the charger, but I got to thinking, shouldn’t the bike shop provide the charger? Would Specialized sell an electronic shifting bike and not include the charger for it? A phone call to the bike shop resolved the issue. They said I could come over and pick it up when ever I had the time and after quick drive during lunch time I had it in my hands. Problem solved.

Digging around the Shamano’s website I found the manuals for the entire system including the Dealer Manuals. It is from there that I figured out how to check the battery level, how to charge and how to upgrade the firmware using the same charger. The only issue I had with upgrading the firmware is that the software it needs runs on a Windows PC. I have a MAC at home. I’ll have to use Virtualbox to get this done.

Why would you want to update the firmware? Well, in short, extra features! Extra features such as support for the wireless unit (D-Fly), customize shifting speed, synchronized shifting, and custom shifting maps.

That battery charger is an important piece of gear. Not only do you need it to charge the battery but it’s also used to update the firmware, make adjustments to the front and rear derailleur, set the multi shift mode, and finally shifting switch function. These are all DIY types of functions, but you can always take it back to the dealer and have them do it for you. You use the software that Shimano provides to accomplish all of this. I’ll leave you to read the manual on the specific details and the software can be downloaded from the e-tubeproject.

Some other do dads that I can upgrade the system with is the D-Fly wireless unit. What this attachment provides is a wireless transmission of the battery indicator and what gear you are currently in. Fortunately, I have the Magellan Cyclo 505HC unit that can pair up with it and display the data. Checking the parts list I need only three things, 1) the D-Fly, 2) 150 mm e-Tube cable, and 3) the e-Tube tool. Amazon puts the kit slightly over $100. You can mount the wireless unit anywhere on the bike, you’ll just need to get the correct cable length.

From what I’ve read, battery life depends on how much you shift. Living in the flats of the Lower Rio Grande Valley, I really don’t shift all that much. Those that live in hilly terrain and shift a lot can expect shorter battery life. Battery life is not measured in hours but rather in miles. Bikeforums has a nice thread going on long distance cycling with the Di2 system that’s worth the read. My bike has the internal battery in the seat post so if the battery died on me, I could recharge it in the field with an external battery pack and charger or plug the charger into a wall jack and top it off. If all else fails make sure you’re in a good easy gear cause that’s all you will have to work with. According to the manual, the front derailleur will stop working and then the rear. This should give you ample time to switch gears.

UPDATING FIRMWARE

I’ve been working to get my MAC ready with some sort of virtualization to run Windows. Right now I’m using a trial version of VMWare with Windows 8.1 Professional that I purchased from the University where I work at. Less than $10, can’t beat that. I’ll later switch over to Virtualbox when I have the chance, bit for now, this will do.

Since I have the internal battery version of the system, all I need is the battery charger and the software from the e-tubeproject. When you startup the program, it will check for any updates for all the possible firmware updates that you may need and proceed to download them. Each component of the system apparently has firmware such as the front and rear derailleurs. After the download you should do a connection test. What this does is scan your bike for all the components and identifies them. It then uses that information to do the firmware updates.

When you start the actual updates, you will get a warning that not to unplug or disturb the process until it is complete. An outline of a road bike appears and each section that is in the process of being updated turns a solid green. It takes a few minutes to cycle through all the different components (left/right shifters, junction box, front then rear derailleurs, and battery). Once complete you can disconnect the battery charger from the bike.

It’s a pretty simple process with nothing to do other than watch the diagram as it goes from one component to another. To me, doing firmware updates to any electronic device is a little nerve-wracking. If something goes wrong there is a potential to brick your device. After unplugging the charger I checked the functionality of the shifters and all seems okay.

CUSTOMIZING

One of the best features of electronic shifting is the customizing you can do. If you’re a lefty and want to use the left lever to control the rear derailleur, you can do program that. You think that it’s shifting too slow, you can adjust the speed of its gear changing. You can define how many down shifts to perform when you hold the lever button. You can switch over to synchronized shifting and define your own gear shifting pattern. It’s all pretty flexible and if you mess things up so bad you can always go back to factory defaults. Really not hard to do, just select the function that you want to do and then select from some drop down menu’s and that it. There is no hardcore command line lingo to wade through or config files to setup. It’s basically point-and-click.

UPGRADE OPTIONS

One of the best things about the Di2 system is the expansibility. You are not limited to using the shifters in the standard configuration. There are three additional locations you can place remote shifters depending if you have aero bars (Triathlon), sprinter or a climber. You will need to change the Junction A box to accommodate the additional ports needed to plug-in the remote shifters. Here is a rundown of the expansion options as of this writing:

  • SW-R671 – Remote Triathlon Shifter
  • SW-R600 – Remote Satellite Shifter (Climbing Shifter)
  • SW-R610 – Remote Sprinter Shifter
  • ST-6871 – Dual Control lever for TT/Triathlon
  • SM-EWW01 – Wireless Unit
  • SM-BTR1 – External battery
  • SM-BTR2 – Internal battery

The external battery will be good for those bikes that have the battery mounted on the frame. With that kind of a setup you can easily swap out the battery incase you got caught out on a ride with a dead battery. Highly unlikely, but it’s a good insurance policy.

BATTERY LIFE

I’ve waited until I’ve cycled 1000 miles on the new bike before reporting on the battery life. As of right now, I’ve cycled 1,121.2 miles and I checked my Cyclo 505 and it reports the Di2 System has a battery charge of 60%. So from June 20th till today is about 2.5 months of flat road riding. I’m happy with it. Although the terrain is flat there are a lot of intersections where I change gears to something easy. I suppose you can think of it in terms of city and country road cycling, where you can expect to be changing gears a lot within the city and not so much in the country roads. As far as I’m concerned, battery life is a non issue.

ON THE ROAD

With a little over 1k miles on the bike the shifting has been spot on and responsive to the clicks. Never once have I had to take it back to the bike shop for any adjustments other than new tires.

Ride quality is even better than my previous Roubaix that I sold to a friend of mine. With me still in the Clydesdale weight class, I haven’t had any issues with the wheels. No out of truing, bent or broken spokes. The only issue that I’ve been having are flats. Mostly from sidewall punctures. I’ve read that the 23mm are prone to the sidewall ripping from debris so I’ve made the switch to 25mm. Let’s see how these turn out. Hopefully longer than 800 miles that the other set provided.

Well there you have it. I’m loving my new bike and my friends like it too. Shifting is easy and accurate all the time and gone are the days of the gear slipping unexpectedly. Battery life is a non issue for me and it’s super easy to charge it up. I and get a new smooth ride that can tame the chip seal roads that we have around here. The bike is just fun to ride. Go out and get one!