Shimano Ultegra Di2 for TT and Tri
article & images by Nick Salazar
Aug 25, 2012
Shimano's Di2 is without a doubt my favorite component system for triathlon. I said as much in our video review of the Di2 system. It's primary drawback has been the price - it's an expensive system, to be sure. A full Dura-Ace Di2 TT system can run close to $4000, before you ever add a frame, saddle, wheels, or aerobars.Back in June, Shimano announced its availability at the Ultegra level, which cut the price in half, but didn't include TT components, leaving triathletes out in the cold. Furthermore, the new E-tube system in Ultegra's Di2 components, which comes with some great improvements like smaller, waterproof connectors, are far harder to 'hack' than their predecessors. It's not nearly as easy to customize the shifters this time around, meaning you have to cannibalize an existing set of shifters in order to make your own. A couple people around the web did exactly that, and have been riding a hacked Ultegra Di2 TT system for a couple months.
But now, Shimano has launched its next generation of Di2 componentry, and it's beautiful.
Before we continue, I want to make the component designations clear, because I'm going to talk back and forth about them a bit. The original Dura-Ace Di2 was 7970. The next one released, Ultegra Di2, is 6770. The upcoming revamp of Dura-Ace is going to be 9070. Got it?
The awesome news is that the two NEWER systems, 6770 and 9070, are cross-compatible. That means you can use Ultegra shifters with Dura-Ace derailleurs, vice-versa, etc. The new TT shifters come in two flavors. One is just like the previous Di2 TT shifters: one side gets two buttons that control the front derailleur, the other hand has two buttons to shift the rear derailleur. The other type is more like the Di2 Sprint shifters we've seen before: each hand gets only one button to push, shifting up or down on the rear derailleur only. The funny part is, the two-buttons-per-side version is actually designated SW-R671, neither Ultegra nor Dura-Ace, but meant to be used with both groupsets when on a TT or tri bike. But the designation doesn't really matter, as they're made of the same high-quality materials as before, they're are very light, and they should work perfectly well. They appear to shave a little bit of length from the previous pods, which is my biggest gripe about the old pods, as it can be challenging to find just the right extensions to use with such long shifting hardware.
But all that fuss I made about part designations can be largely ignored. ALL the new TT hardware is E-tube compatible, meaning it'll work with both 9070 AND 6070. This makes a whole lot of sense, since there isn't much room to make separate products for each level. The TT shifters are basically just tact switches in a housing, with a compression plug to put them into your extensions. Of course, the shifters also contain a little chip which converts the switch signal into the new E-tube language - this is the part that makes the system difficult to hack. Without that chip, you can't send a shift signal to the derailleurs. With the previous system, all you had to send was a short from the tact switches - I've personally tinkered around with some custom Dura-Ace Di2 TT shifters from 7970, and it's incredibly simple. The 9070 will be a bit harder to do, since you have to gut an existing shifter to get the necessary chip. That means we'll probably see FAR fewer custom bits this time around.
However, this hack-proof drawback actually comes with a silver lining. With a closed, proprietary system, Shimano is much more likely to KEEP using the E-tube system for years to come. In fact, they've promised that this is THE platform that they will use going forward, and they have no plans to ever abandon it for the foreseeable future. Quite the opposite - Shimano has an internal roadmap of firmware upgrades that will be available to every E-tube system ever sold.
Those firmware changes, as well as tweaks to the system, can all be controlled by a computer hookup that is super easy to use - just buy the computer adapter, plug one end into a USB port and another end into an available port on your front junction. This connection allows you to flash the E-tube firmware, as well as tweak the system settings (which button does what, whether your shifters are 10 or 11 speed, etc). That's an AWESOME feature, and I'll be very excited to see how it pans out over the years. I asked Shimano point blank if sequential shifting was on the menu, and they suggested that it was a possibility, but probably not for a couple years.
Moreover, remember how I said all E-tube gear is cross-compatible? That applies to EVERYTHING. Shimano is bring E-tube to its internal hub Alfine group, and even its electric assist bikes. That means that the crazy tinkerer would be able, for example, to build up a city cruiser bike with power assist and TT shifting. Or build up a road bike with an internal gear hub. Or whatever combination you can dream up. It may not all be immediately useful, but the potential for hacks is actually really cool.
The new system is all plug-and-play. The front junction box has a number of ports for attaching any of the shift hardware Shimano makes. The idea is to allow you to attach every single shifter type in the system, without running out of ports. This makes things MUCH simpler than they were last time around. With 7970, you had to pick the precise front-end wiring harness you needed for your particular front-end setup. Now, you can just plug and unplug shifters at will, creating whatever kind of cockpit you want.
Perhaps the coolest part of the original Di2 system for triathletes was the brake lever shifters that gave you shifting control while out on the base bar. Those shifters expanded the possibilities of the tri bike – it made it a better climber, a better group-ride machine, and much more viable as your all-around ride. And as of right now, they aren't any E-tube brake lever shifters. They ARE coming, but won't be available until next year. The rest of the Ultegra Di2 system is already available, and the TT shifters come out at the beginning of October. Ultegra Di2 TT is finally here - so if you're in the market for a new rig, I highly recommend giving it a look. Ultegra Di2 will bring all the advantages of its older brother, at Ultegra pricing. It's a bummer that the brake lever shifters (designated ST-9071) won't be available until next year, but with the plug-and-play system, you can just get an Ultegra Di2 bike now, and literally plug in the new stuff once it arrives. It's a cinch. The Di2 trickle-down has finally reached triathletes, and it's beautiful. I can't wait to get mine.