Electronic gear failures in pro racing – are they worth it?

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  • Electronic gear failures in pro racing – are they worth it?
  • OK, so this mostly based on the sketchy evidence of stuff I have seen on TV, but I feel like I’ve seem a lot more ‘mechanicals’ caused by electronic gears in pro racing.

    Usually typified by riders grinding along in the highest gear (is this how e-gears fail?) and mechanics leaning out and fiddling with rear mech from car (cue commentators talking about mechanics ‘resetting’ gears).

    Watching Boom Superprestige, rider in third place had a failure, think there were at least two failures in the world champs (I saw a Colombian rider stuck in highest gear whilst kicking rear mech). Have hazy recollections of Sagan having issues also.

    I don’t remember seeing this many mechanicals due to mechanical shifting. Commentators seem non-plussed, I guess they won’t bad-mouth new tech, heard some muttering in the world champs commentary but the Rochelle just shrugged and said ‘it’s the way the industry is going’.

    What are the benefits to the pros?

    Premier Icon nickc
    Subscriber

    I don’t remember seeing this many mechanicals due to mechanical shifting

    I think you may be suffering conformation bias, there always has been a steady stream of riders going back to the car for a break from riding, sorry mechanical…I meant mechanical, not break…Obvs

    johnx2
    Member

    I meant mechanical, not break…Obvs

    The magic spanner and a sticky bottle…

    dovebiker
    Member

    The problem is that when electronics gears fail they often jam up, particularly the front mech whereas you can usually coax a mechanical gear back into life

    I think you may be suffering conformation bias

    Quite possibly, or maybe mechanical gear failures just aren’t as obvious? What could realistically fail on mechanical systems that couldn’t fail on an electric system – indexing and cable tension?

    Just seems to be introducing more modes of failure for what benefit?

    Premier Icon SaxonRider
    Subscriber

    OK, so this mostly based on the sketchy evidence of stuff I have seen on TV, but I feel like I’ve seem a lot more ‘mechanicals’ caused by electronic gears in pro racing.
    Usually typified by riders grinding along in the highest gear (is this how e-gears fail?) and mechanics leaning out and fiddling with rear mech from car (cue commentators talking about mechanics ‘resetting’ gears).

    Just seems to be introducing more modes of failure for what benefit?

    I’m totally with you, @13thfloormonk. Many will disagree, I’m sure, but to me, for all electronic gears might be silky smooth when they work, the introduction of grid-based tech just reduces cycling’s autonomy.

    dc1988
    Member

    Possibly because mechanical gears rarely fail, the only issues I’ve had with mechanical gears in 30 years of riding are Mtb abuse related. On a well prepped professional road bike you’re most likely to get your gears slightly out of adjustment, something a mechanic can easily remedy.

    Premier Icon nickc
    Subscriber

    Just seems to be introducing more modes of failure for what benefit?

    Weight, mostly I’ve have thought, and even if one rider has to go back to get them sorted out, or change a battery, that’s 8 other riders in the team no suffering any problems that you never notice just getting on with it. That and the mechanics saving huge amounts of time, not having to adjust, set up or faff about with cables and what not every night (probs made 10 times worse by internal cables).

    I’d have thought if you went back to the late 40s and 50’s there were just as many failures of “complex” gear systems that frustrated riders and mechanics alike, and yet they were persevered with for the obvious benefits they provide. Same here I’d have thought, if they weren’t better, you wouldn’t see them

    Premier Icon mattbee
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    You can self trim electronic gears from the shifter with a few button presses, although it would only need to be done if you knock the derailleur out of alignment as unlike mechanical systems once the shifting is set, that’s it.
    Anecdotally in the 2 years I ran Ultegra Di2 I never had to touch it and it always ran quietly and smoothly no matter how gritty the drivetrain got. Same with XT Di2 on my race hardtail.

    Premier Icon thisisnotaspoon
    Subscriber

    You’ve got a short memory, Schleck pretty much lost the TDF 2010 as a result of bad indexing (or a lack lf a chain keeper). Di2 in theory should stop the chain dropping (anecdotally a lot of people seem to have stopped running chain catchers) in reality its a lot better than mechanical groupset but not infallible.

    But yea, magic spanner. Its the only known cure for those days when several sticky bottles have already failed to stop your bike feeling slow and with the advent of disk brakes they cant adjust the callipers any more.

    munrobiker
    Member

    That’d be very unlikely on an electronic set up.

    Premier Icon cookeaa
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    What could realistically fail on mechanical systems that couldn’t fail on an electric system – indexing and cable tension?

    Well… Cables, they’re not completely fault free, they gum up, stretch and can break (rare these days).

    I think the main point of using Di2 is that a Bowden cable can go out of adjustment over the course of a few shifts, it might be great on the stand but 30Km into a 120km stage isn’t a good time to have skipping, jumping gears start on you…

    Leccy actuated Gears should stay in adjustment once set…

    Don’t get me wrong I would personally be happier dealing with a mechanical systems rather than some leccy stuff that I don’t fully understand, but I can see why a pro team would opt for Di2 it’s more “set and forget”, it works 100%, (until of course it fails 100%), where mechanical gears can fail by degrees and hence take more of a mechanics time to simply maintain.

    Out of interest, on a big tour how frequently would a pro’s bike with mechanical gears have the cables changed as normal preventative maintenance?

    Same here I’d have thought, if they weren’t better, you wouldn’t see them

    Well… that was sort of the crux of my question I guess, I’m not actually sure they ARE lighter, plus I thought weight was typically irrelevant for the pros due to the minimum weight limit. Which is why I wondered what the other benefits might be that are worth the possible e-mechanicals.

    Although mention of Schlek’s moment has reminded me of the number of chains off the front that I’ve seen on TV. I always thought it was just down to bad shifting technique in the heat of the moment (e.g. trying to shift at the wrong part of the pedal stroke when an attack goes off or something) or just going too hard over bumps and the chain jumping off. Can e-front mechs really prevent this? I’ve never dropped a chain off the front but that’s hardly a surprise at the sort of speeds I pootle around at.

    hols2
    Member

    I thought the idea of the Shimano arse-about-face deraillers was that it prevented mashing through multiple downshifts under power, with the spring applying the optimum force for a smooth shift to a larger cog. Electronic shifting should have the same benefit of preventing ham-fisted shifting under power, hence it should be more reliable. That’s the theory I understand, have never tried either system in practice.

    Premier Icon molgrips
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    Don’t forget that pros have different requirements. They get someone to tweak gears every day, however Di2 would give me the benefit of not having to do that basically ever because I have to do my own maintenance.

    Premier Icon thisisnotaspoon
    Subscriber

    Can e-front mechs really prevent this? I’ve never dropped a chain off the front but that’s hardly a surprise at the sort of speeds I pootle around at.

    As I understand it the Di2 front mech can shift to the correct position with much more force than a mechanical one. So when downshifting it doesn’t have to always bang into the limit stop which is probably further than it needs to be. It knows you’re still in the middle of the cassette so shifts to the middle of the small ring, ditto it continuously trims in the big ring rather than just having two positions.

    Well… that was sort of the crux of my question I guess, I’m not actually sure they ARE lighter

    Dura ace is lighter, ultegra is heavier than their mechanical equivalents.

    plus I thought weight was typically irrelevant for the pros due to the minimum weight limit.

    Most bikes are above the weight limit these days as aerodynamic designs have added weight to frames and wheels.

    Out of interest, on a big tour how frequently would a pro’s bike with mechanical gears have the cables changed as normal preventative maintenance?

    Surprisingly I don’t think they do much at all to the bikes between stages. Clean them, bit of lube and new bar tape each day and any changes for the next stage (change the cassette and wheels). I suppose you’re more likely to do more harm than good if you start swapping perfectly functional kit, the new cables spend the first day bedding in, new tyres need to lose the release agent, if it’s generally dry the drivechains aren’t getting trashed, so unless something is worn out or needs to look good for the camera (hence bar tape which they apply the wrong way round to save time) it gets left as it is.

    footflaps
    Member

    new bar tape each day

    My least favourite job!

    Premier Icon thisisnotaspoon
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    As mentioned in another thread I appear to have sandpaper for hands and have quite a head down position so get through it pretty sharpish! I can probably get new tape on quicker than I can get the expanding hope plugs out of my mtb’s bars!

    ads678
    Member

    My least favourite job!

    I find it quite therapeutic.

    Premier Icon ampthill
    Subscriber

    I thought pro teams gear choice was financial at least in part. I’m sure Shimano are keen to make di2’cost effective for pro teams

    stevious
    Member

    Can’t remember who I heard interviewed about this recently (either a WorldTour rider or mechanic) and they said that the occasional failure of electronic shifting is far outweighed by the day-to-day reliability.

    I guess when you’re putting 20-30 hours a week into a bike, the cables will need replacing a lot.

    Premier Icon thisisnotaspoon
    Subscriber

    I’m sure Shimano are keen to make di2’cost effective for pro teams

    I suspect Shimano are paying six or seven figure sums to have it on their bikes!

    Premier Icon mikeyp
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    I think a fair few ‘failures’ are down to the di2 crash mode which docks the mech after a perceived knock. Can be troublesome on cobbles etc. It has to be reset.

    FunkyDunc
    Member

    Chris Boardman talked extensively about this during the world champs. He said electric was definitely the way forward in pro racing, but also alluded to the fact that when it goes wrong it goes wrong and it often means a bike swap, which is ok when you are in a pro team and have access to a second bike

    Obviously when you are not in a pro team and 80miles from home you can’t really ring the wife and ask her to rush out with your spare bike.

    Indeed, that would give the game away. Better to ask a friendly neighbour to bring it.

    steve_b77
    Member

    Possibly because mechanical gears rarely fail,

    Seriously? I’ve seen and suffered (in part) from on a road bike; front mechs & rear that won’t shift, snapped cables, rear mechs ripped off, shifters stop working….. so basically all the parts of a mechanical system, not including snapped chains.

    The electronic failures may seem more prevalent, maybe it’s down to better tv coverage than in yesteryear

    Premier Icon dudeofdoom
    Subscriber

    Anecdotally in the 2 years I ran Ultegra Di2 I never had to touch it and it always ran quietly and smoothly no matter how gritty the drivetrain got. Same with XT Di2 on my race hardtail.

    I run XT Di2 rear on my daily commuter and I’m amazed how little issue it’s giving, I was sceptical but tbh it’s crazily good and I wish I’d had it years ago.

    Obviously when you are not in a pro team and 80miles from home you can’t really ring the wife and ask her to rush out with your spare bIke

    tbh you could accidentally rip the rear mech off on mechanical if your chain caught.

    Premier Icon DaveP
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    As already mentioned I believe it is likely to be where the rear mech goes into crash protection mode. You can reset this by unplugged it (the mech) from the battery.

    For me, my di2 makes little difference (fat old bloke).

    But my son races and has raced using di2 and mechanical and his opinion is that di2 allows you to change under power much better than mechanical. This for him seals the deal. Also, the current mechanical ultegra eats gear cables ALL the time. The bend on the cable in the shifter is the issue apparently. They have had them fail many times in the last year.

    di2 is great as long as you:

    a) dont touch it
    or
    b) have a complete set of spares that you can swap in and out to debug which bit is going wrong

    But my son races and has raced using di2 and mechanical and his opinion is that di2 allows you to change under power much better than mechanical. This for him seals the deal. Also, the current mechanical ultegra eats gear cables ALL the time. The bend on the cable in the shifter is the issue apparently. They have had them fail many times in the last year.

    Interesting, having not used Di2 I guess that’s why I have such a hard time comprehending the benefits! Surprised you can shift better under power, is that because the motor is stronger than a human hand, or is it a clever synchronisation thing?

    Also I’ve never had issues with cables on my 105 or Ultegra bikes, but then my biggest year to date has been 5000km (although I was on for double that this year until I herniated a disc!), spread over 4 bikes, so yeah, each bike experiences in a year what a pro’s bike might experience in a week!

    Premier Icon jamiep
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    I had Di2 go into crash mode recently when ‘just riding along’, setting off from lights. I thought it was a loose wire; I didn’t then know but it can be reset by pedalling and changing fully up and fully down the shifter

    avdave2
    Member

    I have such a hard time comprehending the benefits

    That’s because you already have something that is very very good and when you have something that does what you want and it does very reliably it’s very hard to imagine how anything could be better.

    I’ve not tried Di2 but for me it has two potential advantages as a non racer. The first is i rather like the idea of the syncro shift and the second is with that in play the ability to get away with thicker & warmer gloves in winter.

    Premier Icon njee20
    Subscriber

    Surprised you can shift better under power, is that because the motor is stronger than a human hand, or is it a clever synchronisation thing?

    Both. It has far more torque, but it can also time the shifts. It is really seamless. I don’t tend to do it, because I just don’t like it, but you can shift comfortably whilst still out of the saddle and it’s far, far less “crunchy” than a mechanical set up.

    I’ve had mechs seize (both front and rear), springs go sloppy, shifters seize, cables brake (there were some faulty Shimano cables a few years ago where the nipple could pull off the end – mine did, ruined a Dura Ace shifter too!), not to mention more dropped chains, stiff or just generally sub optimal shifts, convoluted cable runs etc etc. By comparison on di2 (2 bikes – one Dura Ace, one Ultegra, about 12,000 miles combined) I’ve had one flat battery because I forgot to charge it and ignored the warning on my Garmin. Not a single dropped chain, missed shift, or component replaced. It just works every single time, flawlessly.

    The Ultegra is on my winter/commuter bike, which rarely gets cleaned. With mechanical the shifting would degrade quite quickly, I’ve literally never tweaked Di2.

    Edit: actually I bent the mech hanger on my ‘nice’ bike, and I tweaked the alignment of the Di2 whilst riding along, to trim out the slight hesitation at the bottom of the block. That’s the only adjustment I’ve ever done. A mechanical set up would have been far more frustrating.

    philjunior
    Member

    Obviously when you are not in a pro team and 80miles from home you can’t really ring the wife and ask her to rush out with your spare bike.

    It’s funny you should say that, as 2 weeks ago or so I had a bit of a bike issue and got my girlfriend to bring another bike 60 miles to meet me.

    She was already going there to ride herself though.

    Premier Icon scaredypants
    Subscriber

    I think a fair few ‘failures’ are down to the di2 crash mode which docks the mech after a perceived knock. Can be troublesome on cobbles etc. It has to be reset.

    A nice button that you don’t have pull some weird reach-round manoeuvre and hold for 5 seconds whilst unable to see the LED would see them right, I guess

    whitestone
    Member

    @avdave2 – synchro-shift is one of those USPs that sounds nice. Riders I know who’ve tried it have subsequently turned it off as it’s a bit jarring/crunchy. It may be expectations and/or user error, I don’t know. Comments from those on this thread who do use it would be useful.

    I’ve rented bikes with Di2 and for me it wasn’t that much of an improvement over mechanical that I wanted to replace my existing drivetrain or get a bike with it already installed. That was comparing relatively new Ultegra mechanical with Ultegra Di2. Equally, I wouldn’t dismiss a bike purchase because it had Di2.

    If you really don’t like tinkering with/maintaining your bike then I can see the point – I’ve a mate who is (very, very) cash rich, time poor and I suspect next to useless with any spanner or screwdriver who has it on all his bikes. My road bike has been on the stand to have the gears indexed twice in five years. That may be too much for some.

    Premier Icon w00dster
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    My Di2 seems to be faultless over the years I’ve had it. The only time it wasn’t was after a crash and I damaged the rear mech. It still changed gear for the full duration of the ride but on climbs in the big ring it would change on its own accord when in the second to last gear.
    In the groups I’ve ridden with over the years I’ve only encountered one issue with mechanical gears as well – snapped gear cable leaving the rider stuck in a single gear for the rest of the ride.
    I’d say they’re both very reliable, but I prefer Di2 on the road bike. Bauke Mollema doesn’t seem to be a fan of SRAM electical shifting though.

    avdave2
    Member

    @avdave2 – synchro-shift is one of those USPs that sounds nice. Riders I know who’ve tried it have subsequently turned it off as it’s a bit jarring/crunchy

    That’s interesting, I too would like to hear other peoples take on it. If it’s not such a good option then I might well be more inclined to look at Etap in future. I do think it is a much better option for installing and the ability to remove the batteries for charging seems much better.

    TiRed
    Member

    You are of course all familiar with the new **** sRAM groupset?

    Bauke is not a fan #fuckingsram

    Bauke Mollema with a mechanical issue from peloton

    philjunior
    Member

    Re the maintenance issue, I’m pretty mechanically competent, and the only problems I’ve had with gears on the commuter over tens of thousands of mile have been pivot wear, the upper pivot seizing in salty conditions, and one bike that came with in line barrel adjusters that were useless and kept moving the gears out of adjustment (in the end I resorted to fine tuning with careful cable clamping on the front mech – suggestions for better in line adjusters welcome).

    I think I’ve indexed my gears once on the commuter over the past year and a half since I changed frames, and never since initial setup on the lesser used nice weather bike (probably only about 1500 miles on that bike though). I can’t see for me that it would be a maintenance reduction compared with charging batteries. (I’m absolutely not against electronic shifting though). That said, I’m not racing either of these bikes, and thus the bikes don’t get dropped as much as one in a road race might, and the MTBs have needed more TLC by far. I guess what I’m saying is that I doubt maintenance/reliability is much of a factor either way, but some of the features on Di2 (being able to make adjustments on the fly) might be useful for the pros.

    Has anyone tried the Di2 2x XTR that you can run on one shifter? I’d be interested in that…

    Bauke Mollema doesn’t seem to be a fan of SRAM electical shifting though.

    Ah yes, another of the little incidents that prompted this thread! 😁

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