Shimano XT Di2
Long Term Review
Words & Photos by Drew Rohde
Exactly three years ago I took my first ride aboard Shimano’s first mountain bike specific Di2 gruppo, their premier XTR line. We spent a few days riding the rugged desert mountains above Palms Springs, CA and stayed at a lush resort nestled amongst the cacti, golf courses and retirement homes. The electronic XTR group’s champagne and caviar feel suited the ritzy Palm Springs launch and all who rode the group agreed the performance was incredible and the neat-factor was equally impressive. Is it worth the price? For some it may be, but Shimano realizes that isn’t the case for most people. For that reason, Shimano has worked hard to offer a more attainable Di2 drivetrain. Available for roughly $1,300, which is more than half the price of XTR Di2, Shimano’s XT Di2 (M8050) drivetrain still shares many of the technological benefits of its XTR sibling.
Keeping in tune with the more affordable marketplace for the XT drivetrain, Shimano opted to skip the fancy media gathering for a more personal approach. I was asked to provide a frame and choose the specifications for my drivetrain of choice. After spending countless hours building an XTR Di2 bike just a couple monts earlier I was thrilled to not have to do that again! I selected and aluminum Trek Fuel EX frame as I felt it would align with the more affordable drivetrain motif.
Sadly not very many brands have jumped on the Di2 integration program as of yet, which led to some swearing on my end and a Shimano Pro cockpit being used. The Pro stem and handlebar are fully Di2 compatible and allow consumers with frames not designed for battery storage to maintain that stealthy, sano appearance. The Pro stem uses Shimano’s Headlock system rather than a traditional star nut to preload the headset bearings. This allows the steerer tube to remain uninterrupted for storage of the battery and wires. Wires destined for the display unit exit the stem and are plugged into the screen next to the stem. Another wire (or two if you run a 2x) runs inside the bar and exits from a dimpled cut-out just at the grip’s edge. It’s similar to the internally routed cable systems employed on some motorcycle bars.
Thanks to the Pro cockpit set up, my Trek Fuel looked incredibly slick with the internally stored battery and wires, despite the frame lacking Di2 integration. The downside to the Pro stem is the very tight tolerance of adjustability on the Headlock system. Steerer tube height must be within a very small range in order for the 32mm nut to work properly. Measure three times, cut once, or have some very small steerer tube spacers on hand! Aside from that my drivetrain was bone stock and ran like a charm until I bent the hanger pretty badly in a transport incident. A quick adjustment with the DAG (derailleur alignment gauge) and I was right as rain.
After spending way too many hours using foam, zip ties, masking tape and breaking a cheap drill bit I thought I’d share some input from my personal struggles for those who don’t want to run the Pro cockpit. First off, really plan out your build. Measure frame tubing lengths, measure cable lengths and familiarize yourself with the system before you start stuffing holes. In fact, I’d lay the frame on the ground and lay the battery, junction box and all wiring on the ground below the bike to replicate how the system will run throughout your frame. This will hopefully save you some aggravation, time and having to undo work just to repeat steps.
Plenty of information is out regarding the Di2 system already so we’ll spare you the boring details on how it all works. What’s new about the XT Di2 is it’s Bluetooth connectivity, which now allows you to access their program without having to hook up to a PC. The E-Tube program lets riders customize shifting, which is great since it’ll be a mandatory part of the set up. For some strange reason, the Di2 shifting is exactly opposite of Shimano’s traditional paddle shifters. Shimano, if you’re reading this, please stop doing that. We’ve all been conditioned to know which paddle shifts which direction, there’s no need to change it just for Di2. Another new feature for the super-techy is a different battery that has the ability to control other components, which I assume will mean dropper posts and suspension in the near future.
Both bikes shown here are built with 1x drivetrains, however Shimano does offer a 2x system for riders who live in very steep areas or love to have the extra range for long days in the saddle. If you’re European or ride with bar ends you’ll be happy to know that Shimano also offers a 3x XT crankset as well. Sorry, we couldn’t pass the low hanging fruit and yes, we know Shimano still sells a lot of triple chainring drivetrains – luckily they aren’t spec’d on the bikes we ride anymore.
I had a friend once say that if he was going to ride in a space ship built by a bicycle drivetrain company, he’d want it to be Shimano. Fast forward a decade and we’re now riding bikes with space-aged technology and servo motors that do the work for us. We’re still a long ways from from space ships but these machines are no longer just basic modes of transportation.
Technology on Shimano’s Di2 components has moved ahead, but the tactile feel and paddle position hasn’t, and we like that. In fact we may even like the textured and contoured paddles a bit more on the Di2 shifters than we do on their cable systems. Shifting the Di2 levers still offers the user an affirmative “click” feel that could be easily confused as a traditional shift if it wasn’t for the “bzzzt” sound coming from the derailleur floating down the cassette. The slim shifter body looks sleek and hardly adds any bulk to the handlebar. Our drivetrain shifted just as well under load as it did while lightly spinning, and that didn’t change from our first ride to our last. That’s the beauty of robots. So long as your hanger doesn’t get bent, you’ll never have to worry about cable stretch or crummy conditions affecting your shift. While precision and reliability were on point, the speed of shifting was a bit slower. With the E-Tube program users can control shift speed, however if you’re trying to grab fistfuls of gears you will notice a slight change in speed. If quick, abrupt changes in pitch aren’t in your daily ride routine then you probably won’t notice.
The Wolf’s Last Word
After our testers handed the bike back and we passed around the questionnaires, the mood slightly shifted from the honeymoon phase back to reality. Despite the massive reduction in price from its XTR predecessor, Shimano’s XT Di2 drivetrain is still a costly pill at roughly $1,300. It’s easy to say how great it is when it’s shipped to your door step, but when we have to sit back and think about pulling out the credit card it puts a few things in perspective.
Can we complain about anything in terms of performance or presentation? NO! Shimano absolutely nailed it, aside from their reversal of shifting roles at the paddles, which can be fixed in their E-Tube program. All of the testers loved the sound, feel, and ride that XT Di2 gave us. That being said, we’re all a bunch of dirt bags livin’ the high life on a low budget. The reality is, we just couldn’t afford to make Di2 a priority in our world when Shimano’s XT or even SLX group does the job just fine. If you’re a tech geek or if you’ve put yourself in a position where budget constraints aren’t so tight, then I can’t really see a reason why you wouldn’t want Di2 on your bike. We applaud Shimano for striving to create a more affordable Di2 system and hope that an SLX version is in the pipeline. Until then we’ll be forced to stick to freebies and cable actuation.
|Shimano XT Di2||Weight||Price|
|Display Unit||37 grams||$159.99|
|Wires / Junction Box||31 grams||$57.98|
Stealth Bar & Stem Cable Routing!
A Little Spendy
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