Since the introduction of the electronic shifting road group D12, people have been adapting it to put on mountain bikes as well. Now Shimano has launched the XTR M9050 Di2 group set and once again, they show why they are the best at electronic shifting.
I had the opportunity to ride the group set for several days over different terrain. It might be expensive at this point, about $2,000 retail for the entire group, wires batteries and accessories, but it is pretty amazing.
Without going into too much technical detail it’s simple to explain the attraction of the electronic option. First off, it works and it works well. There are no miss shifts as each shift is smooth, fast and accurate even under load. The shifters on the M9050 have the feel of a non electronic shifter, a very positive click and feedback so you know when you have made the shift. Having a soft touch button like on the road would lead to many more inadvertent shifts on the rougher confines of a mountain trail. Even with the click of the shifter, you get the slight electronic “zip” as the derail lures move. On the handlebar you have a display unit that shows what gear you are in but more importantly, what mode of shifting you are in and this is the true genius of the groupo.
There is a full manual mode where you shift at will to any and all gears, then there is Syncro mode. This mode just may make having a 1x11 obsolete. In Syncro mode the gear ratios can be set and as you move up the cassette, the front derailleur will shift so that you never have a cross chain and the gear ratios keep you from being in too easy or hard a gear. It’s sounds counter intuitive to what you would want but it gives you the larger gear ratio, without having to think about the front shift. If weight is something you are concerned about you can actually run this without the front shifter on the bars, yet still have the use of the front derailleur. I would not advise that though because there is so much you can do with the front shifter in terms of customizing the shift, adjusting the ratios, and of course having the manual mode option. Where the Synco mode shines is on a fast flowing trail like the McDowell Mountain Park where we rode one day. The minimal need to shift front rings made it the perfect place to let the Syncro decide where to be. I never once thought about shifting and always felt I was in the right gear.
The next day while on the Black Canyon Trail where it was more technical and involved a lot more shifting I found the manual mode more conducive to the ride. I started in Syncro but found I wound up in the wrong gear for the short steep pitches and quick transfers to rocky climbs. In manual the smooth shifts shine and I never felt like I was putting too much strain on the chain or got any of the harsh shifts even under load.
What is really amazing is all you can do with the system. Right now it is possible to get the electronic shock adjustment for Fox CTD and pair that to the electronic display and have electronic shifting and shock lock out at your fingertips. It is possible to link the Syncro mode to the shock as well so you are set up to auto lock out in certain gear ratios.
So you ask what is the down side? The price is still high as is to be expected but I would guess it would not be too long until we see a lower priced electronic group. The other semi negative at this point is the size and location of the battery. Most applications are attached to the down tube so there is the potential for some impact, but the covering appears to be rugged enough and of course it has been tested extensively so it must be ready for the masses.
Overall I was really impressed with the whole set up and as a fan of electronic road groups will definitely put this on my wish list.