The last two years, I’ve attended Frostbike, QBP‘s trade show that they run. In 2008, most of my time was spent attending seminars of the shop operations variety. This year, I missed Saturday due to my housewarming party, and thus missed a lot of the meaty/useful stuff. So Sunday, I opted to really dig into the new products, attending seminars on those and really looking for the interesting stuff on the tradeshow floor.
Two things really caught my interest.
The first is Shimano’s new Di2 system. If you’ve been living under a rock, I’ll give you the short explanation: this is a variant of Shimano’s battle-tested Dura-Ace group, with electronic shifters and derailleurs.
I know, I know. You’re going to tell me exactly what I’ve been saying for the last two years. “But it solves a problem that didn’t exist!”
Call me a nuevo retro-grouch, but I did not see a place in the world for an electronic shifting package; especially after the stupidity of Mavic’s Zap and Mektronic packages.
So, more out of curiosity about the new Dura-Ace 7900 family than anything else, I attended the seminar. I figured that if anything at all came out of this, I’d have a chance to be a bit of a rabble-rouser and ask the one question that had been on my mind since I first heard about Di2, which was maybe two years ago. “DEAR GOD, WHY?!”
I sat in the second row — you should at least show respect if you’re going to start gunning for a tech rep who has little public speaking ability. As it turned out, however, I spent a majority of my time listening and watching, and becoming more and more of a convert.
After sitting through the presentation, unable to find anything to truly bash Di2 about, I hung around to take a look at the bike in the stand. I ran it through the gears and was incredibly pleased to see that it does function as-advertised. Shifting was crisp and neat, and watching the front derailleur auto-trim itself to prevent chain rub made me think that there might be something to this.
Being an Apple fanboy, however, I try to avoid version 1.0 of any new hardware. Other Apple fanboys will understand. I don’t like being a large company’s R&D department and spending hundreds or thousands of dollars to provide product testing. So, without a ride on it, I went ahead and asked the one question I could think of. “Has anyone tested Di2 under cyclocross conditions?”
The answer, as it turns out is “yes” and from what the rep said, it held up just fine. The auto-adjustment of gearing helps a great deal when your system is caked with mud. Obviously, I’d like to talk to a ‘cross rider that’s actually beat on the shit for a season, and the mechanic who had to keep the bike in working order (since I am both the rider and the mechanic for my personal fleet).
I figured, okay, novel experience, but without any real time on it, I couldn’t speak to it.
Then I went back to the show floor, and had a chance to spin it on a stationary trainer. My verdict is this: if Shimano isn’t stupid about supporting this product for long enough the concept to catch on and for it to start winning over the conservative rider, then they’ve just developed the future of high-performance shifting.
On the trainer, I ran it through the range and noodled around a bit. Then I did the evil — I dropped it into the 39-tooth in front and the 12 in the back, and started cranking up the cadence. I got out of the seat, leaned forward and started to crank. Then I upshifted the front.
And I had the moment of enlightenment. The heavens opened up, the light of angels shined down, and turned an atheist into a devout believer. At least where electronic shifting is concerned.
The chain jumped right to the big ring without complaint, stuttering or hesitation. It did not miss the shift. And right in that moment, I wanted this component group.
Not that I can afford it, mind you. I’d have to do a lot of work to switch to it, and I don’t have that sort of money right now. Call me after I hit the lottery on Wednesday night. (Pfft. Right.)
I walked away from that with a huge-assed Shimano sticker to put on my toolbox, a guide to the parts, and a set of Shimano-specific magnetic poetry words. I’ll mix the magnetic poetry with the more saucy stuff we have, so the side of the refrigerator will say things like, “I want to grind against your Di2 bike.”
It’s that good.
Now, the experience with Edge Composites was not as in-depth. They had a small booth, and by the time I talked to them on Sunday, they were out of printed material and schwag. But I took a look at their stuff and walked away with a bad case of gear lust.
These guys make carbon rims, among other things. And I couldn’t help but want a pair for the 29’er clincher rims for the Gunnar Ruffian I’m putting together — they’d look really good laced to the Chris King singlespeed hubs. The rims — across the line — are gorgeously crafted, insanely light, and some of them, like their low-profile tubular road rim will make you giggle with amazement. You could put together climbing wheels with those that would make Marco Pantani roll over in his grave.
Now, I haven’t actually ridden these rims, mind you, but I’ve spent enough time around bikes to know a well-researched, well-built product when I handle it. Edge Composites has produced a product that is truly lust-worthy.
If I can find money in my budget (doubtful) or if they can send me some rims to build up (even more doubtful), I’ll post a more-lengthy review of them here.