Although Shimano’s XTR Di2 groupset was first launched in 2014, electronic shifting still feels kinda fresh and different. But while there’s been a solid take up of battery-powered shifting on the road, mountain bikers have been a little slower to adopt Shimano’s Di2 groupsets, even after Shimano launched the significantly cheaper XT Di2 groupset last year.
There are of course many benefits to electronic shifting – accuracy and weather sealing being the main two – but the cost and initial setup complexity are likely why many mountain bikers have chosen to stick with cables for the time being.
Looking to offer a new solution for electronic shifting is a rather innovative product from a Swiss crew called Zirbel. And it could change a few riders minds about going electric.
We’d not heard of Zirbel until we received an email from the company this week. Based in Biel in Switzerland (the same area as DT Swiss and others), Zirbel has just come out with a new cockpit under the Wisent name. The Wisent handlebar is made from unidirectional carbon fibre, and is available in both flat and riser versions, and either a 680mm or 750mm width. Claimed weight for the 750mm wide riser bar is just 176 grams.
That’s neat, but where the bar gets interesting however, is in its rotary shifter ring. Using the power of magnets, the little plastic twist shifter can be connected up to a Shimano Di2 groupset to replace the standard Shimano Di2 shifter pods. You use the shifter like a throttle, by rotating it forward or backwards to change gears.
Straight away, you can tell just how much neater and more compact the Zirbel Twist Shifter is compared to a standard Shimano Di2 pod. Not all riders will prefer the twist shift method compared to a more conventional trigger shifter, but Zirbel claims its Twist Shifter is more ergonomic due to the fact that you never have to move your thumb just to change gears. It’s an intriguing concept, so we got in touch with Zirbel to find some more information about how it all works.
ST: Fascinating design Stefan! So how does the shifter work?
Zirbal: The Twist Shifter is based on “Magnetic Click Technology”. The basic idea is quite simple. There are two small magnets. One magnet is fixed and the other magnet is implement into the Shifter Ring. At the starting position the Shifter Ring is well fixed, due to the magnetic attraction of the magnets. If you twist the Shifter Ring, the magnetic force reduces quite fast. This behaviour gives an excellent tactile effect. At maximum deflection of the Shifter Ring the magnet of the Shifter Ring closes a reed switch and start the shifting process. If you release the Shifter Ring the magnetic attraction of the fixed magnet pulls the Shifter Ring back to the starting position and the reed switch closes.
ST: What are the advantages over Shimano’s regular Di2 shifter?
Zirbal: There are several advantages over other technologies. Compared to springs the magnetic attraction at starting position has maximum force. The Shifter Ring is well fixed and there is no chattering of moving parts. Reed switches and magnets are simple parts and not sensitive to water or dirt. Due to the simple technology, the Twist Shifters are very robust and works for ever.
ST: Why do you need to use the Wisent handlebar with the Twist Shifter?
The electronics incl. reed switches are located in a small tube which is placed inside the handlebar. In order to cut the handlebar in different length, the inside diameter of the handlebar has to have a certain diameter and has to be constant. The Wisent handlebar has the right and constant inside diameter and we can guarantee the the Twist Shifters works well always.
The Shifter Ring has to be round and the magnet has to be placed at a certain position. Beside this you can create your own design of the Shifter Ring. There are no limits. If you require special design, profile or color we can 3D print your special Shifter Ring. It will not cost much money.
ST: Can you use a single Twist Shifter for a 2×11 setup in Synchro mode?
For 2×11 you can use two Twist Shifters or one Twist Shifter with Synchro mode. You have the choice to select via e-Tube.
The Wisent handlebar is the base bar for the Wisent Cockpit. We intend to release Twisters in order to switch other electronics, like action camera or seat posts and suspensions.
And there you have it – a very slick-looking hack for Shimano’s Di2 drivetrain. The price of the Wisent Cockpit depends on whether you run one or two Twist Shifters. For €250, you can get a Wisent handlebar fitted with one Twist Shifter to suit a Shimano XT Di2 1×11 drivetrain. And for your reference, the Twist Shifter weighs just 17 grams, compared with 93 grams for an XT Di2 shifter.
Want to know more about the Zirbel Wisent cockpit and Twist Shifter? Get in touch with Stefan @ zirbel.ch