Friday, February 12, 2010

Di2 review

Review--Shimano Dura-Ace Di2

Di2 is cycling crack.  Do not touch it.  Do not take a Di2 equipped bike for a test ride.  This will just cost you either your self esteem or $5k.

The problem is, once you have tried Di2, your current really expensive gruppo suddenly becomes wholly inadequate.  Once you see what Di2 costs, your really expensive gruppo seems very reasonably priced; but, of course it is, because it is wholly inadequate.

Let's just stick to the sexy bits, shall we, and talk about the shifting.  The shifters look mostly like standard DA7900, disguising the fact that you are rolling with the cycling equivalent of hi def porn.  The most obvious giveaways are the large bulge on top of the front derailleur and the battery below the bottle cage.  The shift buttons require about 7mm of throw (even shorter than Red), about 1/3 of normal shifters, and then the magic happens.

Electrons pulse along the handlebar, down the downtube, and into the electronic brain incorporated into the top of the front derailleur.  The brain perks up and says "well, what have we here?".  "Oh, you want to go up a cog, eh?  Well, that is not what Cav would do, but I guess I can accommodate you, unworthy flesh sack.  Oh, look at that, you're cross chaining again because of your feeble wattage.  Why don't you just admit defeat and and go to the small ring?  In the meantime, let me trim the front derailleur for you, lardass."

And while this seems like a long conversation, it only takes a microsecond and the derailleurs start moving.  Rear shifts feel on par with DA7900.  The lever throw is a lot shorter, so the whole shift process is a bit quicker.  But once the derailleur is moving, the speed of the shift in the rear is really a matter of the ramps on the cogs, so the shift itself feels the same.  Up front, the shifts feel crisper.  The shift up to the big ring is especially satisfying.  The brain applies just the right amount of pressure, depending on where the rear derailleur is, with a slight overshift and then adjustment back, so that you get a fast shift.  I never noticed the shift effort on the front derailleur with my mechanical setups until I started riding Di2.  After shifting with a light touch of one finger, mechanical shifting feels like a lot of work and not very precise.  Yes, I know that is precious, but I no longer care what luddites think.

Is there any downside, other than cost?  Functionally, the only downside is a 60g weight penalty--spit twice before a big climb and you are even there.  The battery will last a month for mere mortals.  HTC Columbia and other Pro Tour teams are going almost entirely Di2 this year on their bikes, so it has passed the pro peleton sniff test.  So far, my only complaint is that the shift buttons are tougher to find with heavy gloves on than a big paddle (and Red is especially good in this regard).  Some people complaint about not being able to do multiple shifts in one throw, but I can hit the shifter 3 times in rapid succession just as quickly and get a more precise result than a long throw on a mechanical shifter.  Front derailleur adjustment needs to be carefully set to avoid throwing the chain, but that is true of mechanical setups as well.  Apart from the very few frames designed for Di2, you have to run the cables with Shimano-supplied tape that is fairly elegant.  But, you end up with your downtube shift bosses just hanging out there naked in the wind, with nothing to do.  Maybe I will mount some old downtube shift levers on them.

After speccing it on my "race bike", I then declined to race with it for fear I would go down and scuff a $900 derailleur (to be fair, also because crit courses are generally so bumpy that I chose to ride the softer Ti bike).  But, last weekend I finally took it out for some laps in anger, and it performed perfectly....much better shift precision than my Red-equipped bike when in serious oxygen deficit.  Of course, the circuit was mostly left hand turns, so the derailleurs were safe.

But wait, you say.  All this fancy gimmickry is unnecessary.  My bike shifts just fine with mechanical shifting.  Oh yeah?  Does your bike's front derailleur sound like a Star Wars laser cannon when it makes a shift?  No?  Wholly inadequate. Of course, there is always the risk with Di2 that your bike will become self aware and try to destroy you.  That would never happen with Record.

The future is here, my friends.  I, for one, welcome new my electronic master.  The SRM tells me how hard to pedal, Di2 does all the shifting.  The Garmin tells me when to turn.  I am now just a happy passenger, a feeble sack of flesh along for the ride.  If you are going to go through the effort and expense to spec out high end ride, Di2 should be a consideration.

Tuesday, February 9, 2010

1st Race of the Season

I did a criterium on Sunday...that is a short, fast twisty road course. This one was basically around an office park near Napa.

The first race of the year is always a crapshoot. Sure, I know that I have good general fitness because I have been riding a lot, but race fitness is very different. Plus, you have the chaos of a rusty pack jostling for space and doing stupid things.

I raced in the Category 4 (idiots) and Masters Category 4/5 (old idiots). I prefer to race in the masters groups (35+), because these are guys with families and jobs, and they generally are far more sensible than what you get in the open Cat 4 races.

Sure enough, there were 3 crashes in the Cat 4 race, which was first. I got a great start and was in the first 10 riders when the first crash happened on only our second lap of about 12. Somebody ahead of me overcooked it in a corner and took out a couple of other riders. Looked like someone broke their collarbone.

Towards the end of the race, I just went to the front and led the group around. Not the way to win a race, but the best way to avoid crashing as things get tense in the last laps. With one lap to go I could not hold on anymore and finished towards the back. Defeated, but upright.

The masters race was more fun. Lots of road jewelry for this one. It seemed like I was the only one without deep carbon wheels. Everyone was better behaved and there were no crashes. I tried to get away off the front at the end, but probably left it for too late in the race. So, like the earlier race, I led the group around for 2 laps, but hung on to sprint it out for the finish on the final lap. I finished around 15th. The lung I coughed up finished just behind me.