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Unimpressed with Ultegra Di2...

Old 05-26-13, 06:39 PM
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Unimpressed with Ultegra Di2...

I spent last week in Maui, and decided to rent a bike from Maui Cyclery to have a go at the famous climb up Haleakala. I knew that making the summit was beyond the current abilities of me and my wife, but wanted to get into that beautiful scenery and see how far we could make it.

I rented a Felt Z3 equipped with Ultegra Di2. It's a beautiful light bike, comfortable ergos and it handled well.

I was very excited about having a chance to ride the Di2 setup. For reference, my current bike is a 1988 Gios Compact converted to use a Sturmey Archer XRF-5 5 speed hub, and before that I rode a Jamis Sputnik fixie for a few years - so other than ~1000km on a Sora-equipped BD cheapie 4 years ago, I haven't been dealing with derailleurs for about 5 years. I was very keen to see how such an advanced system would work, and was expecting to come away lusting after a new drivetrain.

Well, it didn't quite work out that way.

I had heard and read so much about how great this setup is, how you just pick the gear you want and keep pedalling and the computer takes care of everything... In a short ride of about 40 miles total, I experienced all of the following:

1. Chain dropped off chainring (inboard side). I was going very slow (~5mph), pulling over off the road and shifting from the big chainring to small. CLUNK! Dropped chain.

2. Chain dropped off cassette (outboard side). Going pretty quick for me (~30mph), holding the shifter to go up 2-3 gears on the cassette and got into some rough pavement. CLUNK! Chain wedged between the smallest cog and the dropout, had to really yank on it to get it out.

3. Missed shifts. Multiple times (about 5) I hit the shifter for the rear derailleur and nothing happened. To work around that, I started holding the shift button a bit longer and often ended up jumping 2.

4. Failed shift. I had heard that Di2 is good at dealing with crossed-up chainlines, so I didn't think anything of shifting from the small ring to the big one with the rear on the 2nd-biggest cog. The front derailleur moved and the chain made a lot of noise, but it wouldn't quite shift into the big ring. Chug-chug-chug-chug. So I shifted up 2-3 cogs thinking that would do it, but nope. I ended up pressing the other button to get the front derailleur back to the small ring, going up on the back, and trying again.

5. Rough/jarring shifts. Standing up and cranking at max effort at a relatively low cadence (<60rpm), holding the button to move 3-4 cogs at a time resulted in some really jarring shocks. Now, I'm a ****** at about 225 lbs and my max power is way less than a pro rider's, but my max torque would have to be significantly higher, which has to make harder work for the drivetrain. Even so, I expected the electronic magic in the Di2 system to manage the shifts in a smoother way. It felt like when shifting multiple gears under max effort, it would actually skip a gear and catch the next one, resulting in a momentary neutral and then very rough jarring when re-engaged.


It is possible that there were tune issues with the bike, although everything else looked really good on it, and the mechanic gave it a thorough going-over when I returned it. He chided me for the amount I had tightened up the brakes, which made me feel like he doesn't just pay attention, but he has an emotional attachment to having the bikes set up correctly, which for me is always a good sign.

And I have NO DOUBT that there was some amount of user error - with more experience with the setup I expect I would learn to use it better and avoid these mishaps.

But I thought that part of the point of the electronic wizardry was to factor out user error and give you perfect shifts every time. If it doesn't do that, I honestly think I'd prefer a good mechanical setup where you get a bit of feedback through the shifter about what's going on. I think that a Campy Ultrashift setup that lets you manage 3 up / 5 down shifts with finer control & greater feedback and also provides micro adjustments on the front for crossed-up chainlines would work at least as well for almost every use case.

I'm planning to upgrade from the current XRF-5 to either add a Schlumph Mountain Drive or possibly a Di2-shifted Alfine 11. I was apprehensive about the size and weight of the Alfine 11 (the hub alone is about 4 pounds - and it's not what I'd call pretty), but playing with what's supposed to be one of the more advanced derailleur setups has made me more fond of the IGH stuff rather than less.


So, what do you think? Was this more likely a matter of an inexperienced & ham-fisted user doing dumb stuff, improper tuning, or was it par for the course?
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Old 05-26-13, 06:44 PM
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Any shifting system will work terribly if it's set up incorrectly or damaged. DI2 needs to be properly adjusted to work the same way a mechanical set up does. There are limits to set, btrim to set and fine tuning of the derailleur (same as barrrel adjuster on mechanical).

I would think rental bikes get abused and treated poorly and not adjusted very often.

Sounds like the derailleur hanger was bent and/or the bike was adjusted wrong. I can make a tiagra bike shift better than a poorly set up brand new dura ace setup, bike shifters/derailleurs are very finicky with adjustment.

I've never dropped the chain on my DI2 bike or missed a shift or done anything weird. It's awesome and I can do all sorts of shifts I would worry about on a mechanical bike. I did have to adjust the system after switching things around just like on any bike.
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Old 05-26-13, 06:52 PM
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Originally Posted by aramis
I've never dropped the chain on my DI2 bike or missed a shift or done anything weird. It's awesome and I can do all sorts of shifts I would worry about on a mechanical bike.
This is what I expected - this is the kind of feedback I've seen from everyone who has used Di2.
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Old 05-26-13, 07:00 PM
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that bike was not adjusted correctly plain and simple. the front derailer is 2 stage. when it goes down the the small ring it travels about 90% stops for a second then drops to the limit screw.
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Old 05-26-13, 08:17 PM
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Besides the possibility of a rental bike not being in a high state of tune I question why a skilled rider would expect any system to work flawlessly under "max effort". Add to this the stated recent experience, or lack of, with any der. system.

IMO the reason for an electric system is to eliminate the issues of cable controls. The few that we have sold and serviced have proved to be VERY reliable and VERY resistant to wear (chain/cassette excepting like with cable systems). Andy.
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Old 05-26-13, 08:29 PM
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Originally Posted by Andrew R Stewart
Besides the possibility of a rental bike not being in a high state of tune I question why a skilled rider would expect any system to work flawlessly under "max effort". Add to this the stated recent experience, or lack of, with any der. system.

IMO the reason for an electric system is to eliminate the issues of cable controls. The few that we have sold and serviced have proved to be VERY reliable and VERY resistant to wear (chain/cassette excepting like with cable systems). Andy.
yup i have found that they stay in adjustment very well. until the hanger gets bent or hit but that is the same whether it is electronic or not. not having to replace cables is a good benefit for some of our customers. also have some customers with limited hand strength especially shifting the fd
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Old 05-26-13, 09:06 PM
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Originally Posted by Andrew R Stewart
I question why a skilled rider would expect any system to work flawlessly under "max effort".
This review (and the comments below) explicitly refer to shifting flawlessly under full power.

This one makes similar claims, although with a couple of caveats.

My expectations were based on reading stuff like what I linked above. I also don't really lay claim to the title of "skilled rider"
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Old 05-27-13, 12:06 AM
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I had a few occasions of the chain dropping to the outside in 3000 miles, though the last two times were after I started messing with FD.

When I was getting used to it, occasionally it would not shift when I thought I was pressing the button. I had to learn to press harder and/or further down the lever. It's not feather light.

It will reliably switch in the rear under heavy sprinting (I'm talking 600-800 W) but some clunking noise is to be expected. If you're going to try to move 3 cogs at a time under these conditions, when the chain is under a lot of tension, the chain will necessarily be jerked and that has nothing to do with the shifter. Haven't tried to switch in front under this power output so I'm not sure how it would work.

Your other problems are not familiar to me and I'd say that your bike was probably not tuned correctly.
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Old 05-27-13, 03:28 AM
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+1 don't shift multiple cogs without pausing a couple of links per shift, or the chain might jump.

I've spent about 20 minutes on DA Di2, pretty sure it was reasonably well adjusted.

I found the awesome to be rather high grade, like 90% pure awesome. I was a little disappointed, but I expect the couple of minor niggles I had (subtle stuff I can't remember exactly) were down to the sort of relatively inescapable limitations in any system that your brain quickly finds workarounds to make invisible.

Suffice to say, with proper adjustment and a bit of familiarity, DA Di2 at least is the stuff of wet dreams. Ultegra may be another story with the off-the-shelf rather than bespoke solenoids.

A Di2-shifted IGH is an interesting thought, and makes me wonder why that isn't a 20 or 30 year old idea since it's so much easier than electric derailleurs.

But if you're looking at four pound hubs, why not the NuVinci 360? Only another pound and a half, and you'd have an infinitely variable ratio!

Seriously, that makes Di2 look like rearranging deckchairs. Cable shift need only apply, BTW... a Campy Ergo modded to friction shift would be sweet.
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Old 05-27-13, 04:47 AM
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Forget all that, how far'd you make it up Haleakala?
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Old 05-27-13, 09:22 AM
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Originally Posted by Kimmo
A Di2-shifted IGH is an interesting thought, and makes me wonder why that isn't a 20 or 30 year old idea since it's so much easier than electric derailleurs.
There was supposedly such a groupset in parts of Europe in the 90's - it even used a dynamo front hub to provide the power for shifting the IGH. I can't find the info on it now, sorry.

But if you're looking at four pound hubs, why not the NuVinci 360? Only another pound and a half, and you'd have an infinitely variable ratio!
There are a couple of reasons:

1. Because I care more about total range than the step between gears. The NuVinci's 360% range is less than my current setup + Schlumph or an Alfine 11.

2. From what I can tell reading reviews & impressions, power transmission is less efficient than a good IGH.

3. Everyone has a line that divides "big & ugly" and "unacceptably monstrous", and for me that line falls somewhere between the Alfine 11 and N360.

With all that said, I am definitely interested in the N360 - it's neat tech. This comparison suggests that it has some real advantages against the A11 for a rider like me.
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Old 05-27-13, 09:37 AM
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Originally Posted by IthaDan
Forget all that, how far'd you make it up Haleakala?
NOT far enough to brag about!

We went half a mile into the sky. I think that this is more romantic than saying "about 10 miles".

I've been spending a lot of time on my bike for the last 6-7 weeks, doing about half a dozen rides between 50-100 miles in that time. Unfortunately, my wife actually has a job and wasn't able to spend as much time in the saddle as I did. While she kills me on power to weight and can outclimb me on any given hill, she wasn't as prepared for the sustained effort as I was and she ended up having some cramping in her legs and she became a bit dizzy too. So we took a longer break, recharged, and turned back when I was confident that she was OK to handle a bike at 30-40 mph on the way back down.

I would have really liked to get a mile up, but it wasn't in the cards this time.
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Old 05-27-13, 09:38 AM
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Wonder if the demands were too ambitious , like shifting while putting a strain on the chain, climbing ...

always a problem with derailleurs, in my experience, .. easier functionally, spinning on the flats,
and getting ahead of the gear , so lighter strain, to let the chain come off the chain-wheel to go to the next.

Planetary shifts need an instant of slack too. but chain doesn't have to be moving..
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Old 05-27-13, 02:08 PM
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Originally Posted by Syscrush
This review (and the comments below) explicitly refer to shifting flawlessly under full power.

This one makes similar claims, although with a couple of caveats.

My expectations were based on reading stuff like what I linked above. I also don't really lay claim to the title of "skilled rider"
Both reviews are not the manufacturer's statements. Although both review sources do have vested interest in promoting a certain image. Also i wasn't referring to you as the skilled rider. I thought my comment about your lack of riding a der system bike recently made that clear. Sorry for any confusion. Andy.
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Old 05-28-13, 08:10 AM
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Originally Posted by Syscrush
I spent last week in Maui, and decided to rent a bike from Maui Cyclery to have a go at the famous climb up Haleakala. I knew that making the summit was beyond the current abilities of me and my wife, but wanted to get into that beautiful scenery and see how far we could make it.

I rented a Felt Z3 equipped with Ultegra Di2. It's a beautiful light bike, comfortable ergos and it handled well.

I was very excited about having a chance to ride the Di2 setup. For reference, my current bike is a 1988 Gios Compact converted to use a Sturmey Archer XRF-5 5 speed hub, and before that I rode a Jamis Sputnik fixie for a few years - so other than ~1000km on a Sora-equipped BD cheapie 4 years ago, I haven't been dealing with derailleurs for about 5 years. I was very keen to see how such an advanced system would work, and was expecting to come away lusting after a new drivetrain.

Well, it didn't quite work out that way.

I had heard and read so much about how great this setup is, how you just pick the gear you want and keep pedalling and the computer takes care of everything... In a short ride of about 40 miles total, I experienced all of the following:

1. Chain dropped off chainring (inboard side). I was going very slow (~5mph), pulling over off the road and shifting from the big chainring to small. CLUNK! Dropped chain.

2. Chain dropped off cassette (outboard side). Going pretty quick for me (~30mph), holding the shifter to go up 2-3 gears on the cassette and got into some rough pavement. CLUNK! Chain wedged between the smallest cog and the dropout, had to really yank on it to get it out.

3. Missed shifts. Multiple times (about 5) I hit the shifter for the rear derailleur and nothing happened. To work around that, I started holding the shift button a bit longer and often ended up jumping 2.

4. Failed shift. I had heard that Di2 is good at dealing with crossed-up chainlines, so I didn't think anything of shifting from the small ring to the big one with the rear on the 2nd-biggest cog. The front derailleur moved and the chain made a lot of noise, but it wouldn't quite shift into the big ring. Chug-chug-chug-chug. So I shifted up 2-3 cogs thinking that would do it, but nope. I ended up pressing the other button to get the front derailleur back to the small ring, going up on the back, and trying again.

5. Rough/jarring shifts. Standing up and cranking at max effort at a relatively low cadence (<60rpm), holding the button to move 3-4 cogs at a time resulted in some really jarring shocks. Now, I'm a ****** at about 225 lbs and my max power is way less than a pro rider's, but my max torque would have to be significantly higher, which has to make harder work for the drivetrain. Even so, I expected the electronic magic in the Di2 system to manage the shifts in a smoother way. It felt like when shifting multiple gears under max effort, it would actually skip a gear and catch the next one, resulting in a momentary neutral and then very rough jarring when re-engaged.


It is possible that there were tune issues with the bike, although everything else looked really good on it, and the mechanic gave it a thorough going-over when I returned it. He chided me for the amount I had tightened up the brakes, which made me feel like he doesn't just pay attention, but he has an emotional attachment to having the bikes set up correctly, which for me is always a good sign.

And I have NO DOUBT that there was some amount of user error - with more experience with the setup I expect I would learn to use it better and avoid these mishaps.

But I thought that part of the point of the electronic wizardry was to factor out user error and give you perfect shifts every time. If it doesn't do that, I honestly think I'd prefer a good mechanical setup where you get a bit of feedback through the shifter about what's going on. I think that a Campy Ultrashift setup that lets you manage 3 up / 5 down shifts with finer control & greater feedback and also provides micro adjustments on the front for crossed-up chainlines would work at least as well for almost every use case.

I'm planning to upgrade from the current XRF-5 to either add a Schlumph Mountain Drive or possibly a Di2-shifted Alfine 11. I was apprehensive about the size and weight of the Alfine 11 (the hub alone is about 4 pounds - and it's not what I'd call pretty), but playing with what's supposed to be one of the more advanced derailleur setups has made me more fond of the IGH stuff rather than less.


So, what do you think? Was this more likely a matter of an inexperienced & ham-fisted user doing dumb stuff, improper tuning, or was it par for the course?
It was a rental, 'nuff said.
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Old 05-28-13, 08:53 AM
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Two thoughts;

1) Agree with other posts that the specific rental was likely not setup well.
2) (added) What idiot shop would put up a costly wizard bike as a rental...that is asking for trouble and high costs.
3) The OP, as stated, is just borderline slightly above the experience level of a 5-spd IGH. Had the bike been setup well and working correctly, he would have been wowed for sure. Anyone would. But given the lack of experience with the previous generation of high end groupo's and lack of racing experience, his ability to assess the Di would not be qualitatively or quantitatively useful...beyond "wowser, it sure was cool." Not ping on OP intended.

/K
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Old 05-28-13, 08:59 AM
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Better title might have been : Unimpressed with Rental Bike.
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Old 05-28-13, 09:04 AM
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Originally Posted by ksisler
2) (added) What idiot shop would put up a costly wizard bike as a rental...that is asking for trouble and high costs.

I have a friend who rents bikes here in Sacramento......between the credit card charge
he pulls and the loss statement the renters sign prior to riding off, he says he hopes they
ride off with his bikes and never return. He figures he'll make money.

Maintenance is another issue, though, which is apparently solved by doing little if any.
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Old 05-28-13, 11:38 AM
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Originally Posted by ksisler
2) (added) What idiot shop would put up a costly wizard bike as a rental...that is asking for trouble and high costs.
Maybe they figure that the remote location (and hence the pain associated with shipping a bike there & back) plus the fact that it's a global destination for cycling justifies offering the higher-end bikes. Or maybe it's an ill-considered ripoff. I had a good overall experience with the shop, but when we go again my wife and I will be bringing our own bikes.

Had the bike been setup well and working correctly, he would have been wowed for sure. Anyone would. But given the lack of experience with the previous generation of high end groupo's and lack of racing experience, his ability to assess the Di would not be qualitatively or quantitatively useful...beyond "wowser, it sure was cool."
That's really all I was hoping for. And, frankly, what I was expecting.

Not ping on OP intended.
None taken.

I was really shocked to see Nibali dropping a chain in Stage 10 of this year's Giro. I guess it shows that even with the best prep / maintenance and expert rider, stuff can still happen.

I'm not down on derailleur setups generally - my wife is super happy with her Campy Veloce groupset and from the couple of times I've taken it for a spin I can sure see why.
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Old 05-30-13, 07:01 AM
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Originally Posted by Syscrush
There was supposedly such a groupset in parts of Europe in the 90's - it even used a dynamo front hub to provide the power for shifting the IGH. I can't find the info on it now, sorry.
Wow, cool. Any idea who made it?

There are a couple of reasons:

1. Because I care more about total range than the step between gears. The NuVinci's 360% range is less than my current setup + Schlumph or an Alfine 11.

2. From what I can tell reading reviews & impressions, power transmission is less efficient than a good IGH.

3. Everyone has a line that divides "big & ugly" and "unacceptably monstrous", and for me that line falls somewhere between the Alfine 11 and N360.
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Old 05-30-13, 09:42 AM
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Originally Posted by Kimmo
Wow, cool. Any idea who made it?
I think that it was Shimano. I could have sworn that I read about it in this thread, but skimming it the other day, I couldn't find it. If you give it a careful read you might turn something up. My google fu is failing miserably on this.
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Old 05-30-13, 11:37 AM
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Yea, I think it came and went in the 1st year, another attempt to make a bike for people
that couldnt drive a car with a clutch pedal , and a manual shifted transmission, either..
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Old 05-30-13, 04:10 PM
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Thanks for this interesting read!

Although it seems like you were unlucky with a maladjusted Di2 setup, I would never shell out that much cash. Although I would definitely consider trying it out on a rental -- and now when I travel I will have the new idea to check for cycle rentals!

So Haleakalaa -- awesome idea to rent a bike and try to get up it! I certainly don't blame you for not making it. Too bad you weren't on a supported ride that could have driven you the rest of the way up so you could enjoy the whole ride down.

When I was in Maui with my wife, the bike tour down the mountain was the highlight of the whole trip! (That and snorkeling with sea turtles) There were a few outfits offering a package where a guy in a van drives 8 people and 9 bikes to the peak, lets them look around a bit, and leads them all the way back down, with a stop somewhere for an included lunch. As I recall, it seemed to be a franchise type of thing where each guide owned and was responsible for maintenance of his own van and bikes. Ours was reassuring us by telling us about all the regular maintenance he did on his bikes, and how they had overbuilt brakes (perhaps motorcycle brakes?). Unfortunately I wasn't deep into biking back then so I can't remember specific details of the bikes, but I did dig up this picture...

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Old 05-30-13, 04:29 PM
  #24  
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Did test riding last year on a new 'in the seatpost' battery system for DA Di-2 on our tandem.
Indeed very impressed for the first 1,600 miles with Di-2; recharged battery and then shifting went bonkers for the next 300-so miles;\
Issues: the idiot lights indicating when to recharge the system never worked properly. Only knew it was time to recharge system when front der. quit working. While climbing a 6%grade DA Di-2 system shut down without any warning; neither front or rear derailleurs would move. Pedaled our tandem home as a single speed instead of 20-speed hi-tech marvel.
Fortunately we did not shell our $3,600 . . . being test dummies does have adavantages!
Nice to have a go at it, but went back to bar-end shifters on the tandem . . .
Just our input/experience.
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Old 05-30-13, 04:43 PM
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There are issues with DI2 and just because it's the latest, doesn't mean it's perfect or without issues.
Having it on a rental is the perfect way to assess the durability of the group.
As for the logic of having high-end bike rentals, it's a popular idea and I've used such a service while travelling overseas because I don't want to ride a crap bike.

There is also a strong rental market for high end bikes. Some shops around town do this (more common now) and they do well with it.

I have reservations about electric groups but no doubt that when it's working, it's so amazing.

zonatandem, I have a feeling the aftermarket battery caused some problems but I've heard of similar issues using the Shimano battery as well.
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