With the launch of Shimano 105 Di2 R7150high-end mechanical groupsets seems likely to join rim brakes as an outdated technology for performance racing bikes.
It’s been over three years since one of the three major manufacturers (Shimano, SRAM and Campagnolo) announced a new road mechanical groupset, while we’ve seen the introduction of four. electronic groups inbetween.
There are undoubtedly some obvious advantages to battery-operated gears on bicycles, especially those designed to go fast.
But with the cheapest electronic groupsets (105 Di2 R7150 and SRAM Rival eTap AXS) cost more than double what their mechanical predecessors did, I’m still not convinced they’re a wise investment for the performance-conscious rider on a budget.
Nice gears don’t make you faster
Electronic groupset can save some weight, the ergonomics might be nicer, and their advanced technology means other cyclists will admire your prized possession every time you take it out.
They also usually make setting up a bike easier and generally require less maintenance which is not something to rummage around the era of everything internally routed†
To get very specific I need to get the gear cables on my . uninstall (and reinstall later) time trial bike just trying another set of aero extensions is a hassle I’d love to get rid of.
For the most part, though, having an expensive, electronic drivetrain won’t make your bike any faster.
It is crucial that someone who Shimano 105 R7000† Ultegra R8000 or Dura Ace R9100 (the most recent – and possibly last – generation of high-performance road mechanical groups from Shimano) wouldn’t be appreciably disadvantaged in a race scenario compared to someone using their electronic equivalents, Ultegra Di2 R8070 or Dura Ace Di2 R9150†
Considering the price difference between the mechanical 105 R7020 and the new 105 Di2 R7150 is around £900, a cyclist with the 105 Di2 budget would have a significant amount left over to spend on things that could make a much bigger difference to performance ( such as aerodynamic bike kit, fast ties and aero wheels), by choosing the mechanical groupset.
It would be a shame if the option to spec a high-performance, budget-friendly road bike in this way isn’t a viable option for much longer.
After all, when I go to an event, I can stare longingly at the strange giant trinity or Trek Speed Conceptand feel my Planet X Exocet 2 is a minor handicap, but I never feel like my mechanical 105 R7000 rear derailleur is holding me back.
I’m not setting the time trial world on fire, of course, but we need look no further than the humble Rose X-Lite used by Tom Bell to win 2021 National Mountaineering Championships†
With its Shimano Ultegra R8000 rear derailleur and shifters, its drivetrain cost a fraction of an electronic equivalent, but the performance of those components was clearly good enough to compete at an extremely high level.
What are our options?
If 105 Di2 represents the end of the line for high-end mechanical road groups, what options does the budget-conscious cyclist have left?
For the time being, the stock of existing components will probably remain (within the limits of the current .) global supply chain crisis†
SRAM lists three mechanical groups (Force 22, Rival 22 and Apex) as part of the current lineup, although these groups are all a bit long in the tooth.
Likewise, they are possible manufacturers (or the big three, or smaller companies like Rotor) are working on new mechanical road groups that we haven’t heard of yet.
For example, Campagnolo showed its dedication to mechanical with the launch of its Ekar 13-speed gravel groupset in the year 2020.
Can we see functions from that groupset carried over to? the next road groupset from the Italian brand†
Campagnolo Chorus 12-speed might be an attractive option, but the suggested retail price of around £1,600 (for the disc brake version) is firmly in the range of electronic groupsets, so not really what we’re looking for here.
Alternatively, it may be worth recognizing that the mid-to-lower range mechanical groupsets offered by Shimano are also excellent.
Groups like Tiagra 4700 and Sora R3000 offer excellent value for money.
Would I be slower if I used one of those drivetrains on my road bike? Probably not. After all, nine- and ten-speed groupsets were once the pinnacle of road bike technology.
Will either of these find its way to my road bike? Probably not. Unfortunately, I’m too much of a snob.
However, you never know. Before using 105 R7000 I swore by Ultegra for my ‘race’ bikes. Times are changing.
Will I ever drive an electric car?
I won’t deny that 105 Di2 makes the appeal of an electronic groupset more appealing than ever.
As someone who loves new cycling technology, I am definitely the target audience and can fully understand why so many cyclists are already taking the plunge.
The price-performance ratio still feels hard to justify personally, but the gap is quickly narrowing and if the tech eventually becomes accessible at an even lower price (or BikeRadar’s head honchos really give yours an inflation-breaking pay raise), then I’ll no doubt be excited.
In the meantime, however, I’ll be cleaning my bike† waxing my necklaces and taking every last mile out of my mechanical drivetrains, hoping this isn’t their last hurrah.