Sunday, February 10, 2013

Oh no! Shimano! - the beginnings of a long term ride review

First, I need to come clean in an act of full disclosure. I have NEVER ridden Shimano road components. EVER. I started off life as a little grommet riding Suntour Superbe Pro with downtube friction shifters on my Trek 760 in the late 80's. In the 90's, I saved up and got Campagnolo 10 speed Chorus Ergopower. When I moved to Lenoir, I finagled some Campagnolo Record 10 speed Ergopower. Then the early days of Luna Cycles coincided with the early days of SRAM and I started riding their first group, Rival and then added their second group, Force to the mix when it came out.

Thus, I have never ridden Shimano road components in my 27 years of cycling until now. I have once again taken a quantum leap in technology. While not quite as dramatic as the leap from downtube friction shifting to indexed shifting integrated on the brake hoods, it is a leap nonetheless. I have gone from mechanical shifting to electronic. I am now the proud, semi-gloating owner of a 2013 Fuji Gran Fondo 1.3 which comes equipped with Shimano Ultegra Di2 electronic shifting. No more cables, no more pushing a lever to physically move a derailleur. No kids, we're in the 21st century now. It's the bike Buck Rogers would have had.

I felt a little odd removing the battery charger from the parts box, but other than that little moment during the build, everything went swimmingly. It seemed nice with the bike in the stand, but the repair stand is a fickle mistress and can turn your head unless you know to watch out for her trickery. Bike behave very differently when their is a rider applying force to them and their wheels are touching the ground. So the real proof of this pudding had to come from an actual ride.

I headed out with the group ride on Saturday morning looking to do about 2 hours at a nice base pace. What I quickly discovered was that my shifting was effortless. I never realized how much you actually push that derailleur when you apply force to the cable, but when you just tap a button to send an electrical impulse, you realize just how much work goes into those mechanical shifts. I found myself shifting a lot more. I'm not sure if that will stick with me long term, but for this first ride I found myself using the shifters more to accomodate changes in terrain rather than standing up to apply more force to the pedals when the gear got a little tall.

Overall, I was really impressed. I plan to continue to share my thoughts and impressions on this bike as I put more time and intensity in to it.

I wasn't content to just ride such a modern drivetrain system as a way to evaluate Shimano components. I have also built up my Civia Prospect commuter bike with a Sora drivetrain with traditional STI style mechanical shift levers. I'm curious about how this low end drivetrain rides over the long term since it is so prevalent on entry level bicycles. My initial impressions of the Sora components are that they shift credibly well, but they lack a solid feel to them. The shift levers are plasticy and there is a lack of a solid "click" feeling when shifting up or down. It is easy to miss the gear or misshift due to this lack of feel. But the performance is still good, but definitely not of the level of the groups from Shimano and other manufacturers that are positioned above this low man on the totem pole.

And while I was at it, I decided to indulge a major bit of geekery on my part and custom make some light mounts for my bike with the new 3D printer we have at school. As a way of learning how to create a file for the 3D printer to read, and as a way to show students how to go from idea to prototype to redesign to second prototype, ad infinitum, I built some light mounts for the Civia, my daily commuter.
You can find my Down-lo bike light mount
Download it and make some of your own!
I like mounting my lights down on the braze on pannier mounts on the fork, to get them lower and they seem to cast more usable light. I had been using some old bits of cut off steerer tube and star fangled aheadset nuts, but this design lengthens the mount to help the light clear the fork and also increased the mount diameter to better resemble a modern handlebar. I know that not many people will find this useful or desirable, but the point is that I can make something I want for myself and then share it with others, free of charge. Just add a 3D printer or a 3D printing service and it's all yours! Now just imagine computer mounts and other bits and bobs for your bike...
The 3D printer in action.

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