Digital as opposed to mechanical shifting: The execs and negatives

There’s a rising development amongst general performance road bikes of hiding cables for a smooth glance. Some models have managed to come across a way to squeeze both equally brake hoses and equipment housings by means of limited bends, when many others simplicity the course of action by generating their bikes suitable with digital gears only (e.g. Shimano Di2 or SRAM eTap). 

And it’s specifically this development that had us keen to communicate by some of the bigger factors in the debate of electronic versus mechanical shifting when getting a new bicycle. No longer is it a basic case of which a single shifts better, more rapidly or necessitates significantly less upkeep – the subject matter has develop into broader than that. 

And so even though sitting in the middle of an apple orchard within just Victoria’s Substantial Nation, we resolved to do what everyone else in our condition would: talk about the key professionals and drawbacks of derailleur-centered digital gearing for street and gravel riders. Take into account this a beginner’s guide to the subject. 

A mechanical relationship versus an electric powered zap 

Cable-operated derailleurs day back some 70 many years, and due to the fact then we have found a gradual evolution of the technological know-how, which includes the introduction of indexed gears, the shifting of the shifter to the handlebar, and typical refinement of the program. However, what has remained unchanged is the steel Bowden cable connecting the shifter to the derailleur. 

That changed in the early ’90s when Mavic confirmed that electronic, motor-driven derailleurs had been a risk and that probably there was yet another way to transfer a derailleur. But it was not until eventually much more than a ten years later on that Shimano’s Di2 (and to a significantly lesser extent Campagnolo’s EPS) produced the plan a achievement. Now it’s a uncommon sight to see a mechanical groupset raced at the sport’s best-amount, and it is also becoming progressively tricky to obtain a top-conclude bike off-the-shelf with cable-operated gearing. 

Electronic gears rule the roost when it comes to racing.

The early revenue pitch for electronic gearing was that it provided an easy and speedy gear change with out you acquiring to mechanically leverage the derailleur yourself. Digital gears ended up also meant to be set-and-fail to remember, and small of the battery working out of juice or a knock to the derailleur, the method would continue to function exactly how it was to begin with established up (at minimum in principle). 

These identical benefits go on by means of to these days, but the most up-to-date efficiency bikes have launched even more positives for digital gearing. And so devoid of having also significantly into the weeds, here’s a brief glimpse at the professionals and drawbacks of modern electronic derailleur-primarily based drivetrains. 

The pros 

Small-hard work shifting

Urgent a button and listening to a derailleur go “bzzzzzt” is certainly less difficult than pushing on a mechanical lever right until it hits an index position. Really don’t get me erroneous, modern-day mechanical shifting is awesome, but there is just no beating a small servo motor accomplishing the do the job for you. This is specially accurate for entrance shifting and similarly applies to rear shifting with the advent of clutched derailleurs (for greater chain stability) and elaborate cable paths. 

Intuitive usage

If you are new to cycling, points can get a tiny complicated on a bike that has gears at the crank and rear wheel. Bear in mind how weird it was that the entrance shifter buttons went in the reverse route to the rear derailleur? By distinction, digital gearing can be established up to be intuitive. 

Going a action further, a range of electronic drivetrains can be made use of in a sequential method that signifies the front shifting is proficiently taken treatment of for you. This may possibly not be an appealing aspect for the experienced bicycle owner, but it can be a game-changer for these new to the sport. 

Multiple change points 

Ordinarily a mechanical shifting process would have a derailleur related to the shifter through the cable, and the spot of your shifter would be the only spot you could shift from. 

Digital shifting modified that by allowing for optional change points to be additional. As a final result, it is now prevalent to see sprinters with a 2nd set of shifters in their drops, climbers with buttons in the vicinity of their stem, and time-trialists with shifters at both of those accessible hand positions. 

A modern-day mechanical-shifting bike only permits you to shift at the brake levers. Digital drivetrains provide a new entire world of possibility.


Talk to any bike mechanic and they’ll inform you the biggest benefit to digital drivetrains is that there is no mechanical cable or housing to compress, crack, contaminate, rust, or fray. And this gain surely becomes a even larger get on modern-day bikes that have concealed cabling paths. 

Except something has gone genuinely awry on an electronic procedure, it’s pretty a lot set and neglect. At the time established up correctly, an digital technique must only at any time have to have adjustment if the derailleur has taken a knock or if the gearing sizes becoming utilised are adjusted. And that simplicity is positive to aid with much easier servicing around the existence of the bike. Just be sure to preserve that battery billed. 


In recent yrs we have seen bikes turn out to be more and more much more built-in, aerodynamic, and clean up-looking. A portion of that has been the hiding of cables and the most recent integrated road (and gravel) bikes are now going to fantastic lengths to hide cables entirely within of the bicycle.

These concealed cable paths search terrific but they present significant troubles for mechanical derailleur techniques. The cable paths are now extended and extra convoluted than at any time right before, and that right outcomes in much more cable friction and therefore poorer shifting. Also, servicing those people cables is now a significantly extra sophisticated procedure.

Electronic shifting may possibly be the lead to of this issue, but it is the remedy however. 

An expanding range of functionality bikes are relocating to internal methods that are normally digital-only (such as what’s demonstrated).

Easy setup, uncomplicated design and style

This intently ties in with the points previously mentioned and is most applicable to SRAM’s eTap wireless systems or perhaps even FSA’s WE team. A standard deficiency of wires is inevitably easier to established up and set up than one particular that needs cutting cables or measuring wires. In SRAM’s scenario, you pretty pretty much bolt on a pair of derailleurs and wirelessly pair them to the shifters – it is like connecting new Bluetooth headphones to a cellular phone.

Similarly, SRAM’s wireless program has allowed a selection of lesser body makers to all but overlook cable routing and go with clear, uncomplicated, and elegant models. Even in which cables are not concealed via the handlebar or stem, a wireless method is undoubtedly nicer looking. 

The drawbacks


Digital gearing stays a premium function. The most affordable selections are nevertheless noticeably extra expensive than Shimano Ultegra mechanical or equivalent, and so electronic is just out of get to for people searching to purchase an entry-stage or even mid-tier bike.

Are you searching at a bicycle with Shimano 105, Tiagra or even Claris shifting? Sorry, digital shifting is not for you.

The fact is that the extensive production costs are tied up in the derailleur servo motors and the rechargeable batteries that operate them, and there is no effortless way of bringing that tech down to a definitely small-cost amount. 

For now, Shimano gives its Di2 electronic gearing at Ultegra and Dura-Ace amounts (or GRX 810 if you’re searching at gravel), even though SRAM also only presents electronic shifting in its two best-tier drivetrains. 

You have to cost your gears 

Mechanical gearing techniques may well demand occasional tweaking or cable replacements, but you under no circumstances have to stress about the charge level of a battery. Holding a test on the battery degree is a widespread draw back across all electronic drivetrain techniques, and a failure to do so will sooner or later lead to a demanding trip and an embarrassing tale. 

The great information is that most digital drivetrains have extended-long lasting batteries. Several Shimano Di2 or SRAM eTap people can go months without the need of charging, and it’s uncomplicated to check when it is time to top rated up the juice. 


Usually digital drivetrains increase body weight above mechanical devices. The absence of metal cables and elaborate shifting mechanisms inside of the brake levers may conserve excess weight, but the electrical motors and batteries included usually include that bodyweight back again in, and then some. The gap is closing, and depending on the bicycle and gearing setup you would like to use, digital can be lighter in some conditions.

In the case of Shimano, the bodyweight penalty for digital gearing is now beneath 100 grams.

SRAM’s wireless process is actually heavier than the company’s equivalent mechanical group.

Much less chance of dilemma-solving 

Mechanical shifting techniques are fairly very simple points, and that means you can normally deal with problems with some primary information and equipment. Contrast that with electronic units which, when even less difficult to set up, are not so quick to troubleshoot if matters go improper. 

Gear cables and gear housing can be procured at any bike keep. It is not confirmed that your regional bike keep will have alternative parts for an electronic drivetrain.

Split a equipment cable although on a cycling holiday getaway? Odds are you can discover a alternative and get rolling again. Pinch an electronic wire on that similar vacation? Nicely, that may perhaps be more durable to get out of. 

Buttons can absence tactile suggestions or command

Specialist cyclists race on electronic drivetrains through the season, but the moment or twice a yr you will see some of them swap again to mechanical gearing for the cobbled classics (e.g. Paris-Roubaix). This switch is due to the actuality that mechanical shifting techniques even now give a bigger tactile really feel and shifting regulate than pressing an electric button.

Even more to this place, it’s fairly common for these who stay in chilly climates and normally use thick winter season gloves to choose mechanical units. This is since the buttons on Shimano Di2 are found shut alongside one another and it can be hard to strike the button you want. SRAM’s eTap or Campagnolo’s EPS really do not experience this situation, but then nor does any mechanical shifting set up. 

Shimano Di2 places the two change buttons close jointly. This can be a dilemma in some predicaments.

And as a ultimate point on this, mechanical shifting affords the consumer some direct suggestions when actuating a change. Professional cyclists will frequently speak about timing the shift at the lever with their pedal stroke, and even feeling the change through their arms. In this feeling, mechanical shifting is like driving a handbook motor vehicle, whilst electronic is much more akin to a semi-automatic with paddle shifters.  

The field is trending away from mechanical

If you abide by the CyclingTips workforce you are going to know that quite a few of us have a individual choice for mechanical devices. The tactile come to feel, the ease of repair, the benefit for income – all of this retains us on clickety gears. But our particular bikes also do not have extremely intricate cable routing paths and lots of of us grew up spinning spanners in bike retailers and are comfy shifting cables at the first sign of a sluggish shift. 

The actuality nowadays is that digital geared programs are the less difficult alternative for most. They are extra probably to do the job without the need of intervention and allow you concentrate on the ride. And it’s for these good reasons that the most significant gamers in the market see digital shifting as the upcoming. Just really do not forget that those batteries require a charge every single once in a even though.