There's more reason than ever to switch from cables to wires

They may only have been around for that long, but electronic groupsets are now pretty much ubiquitous in the professional peloton. Shimano Dura-Ace Di2, Campagnolo Super Record EPS, and SRAM Red eTap sit at the top of the electronic tree, but there is now a growing array of cheaper electronic groupsets out there for you to choose from.

But should you choose electronic over a standard mechanical groupset? Well, there are plenty of reasons to stick with mechanical, but here’s the argument to take the plunge and choose wires instead cables.

1. The shifting is better

simon gerrans scott foil shimano dura-ace di2 front derailleur

Putting a motor in the front derailleur means more powerful shifting

The main thing you look for from any groupset is sharp and precise shifting, and it’s hard to argue that electronic groupsets offer anything other than that. Yes, the top of the range mechanical groupsets have gone through years of evolution to get to their current level of performance, but in just a few years electronic groupsets have taken things to the next level.

>>> Are electronic groupsets necessary?

Putting a motor in the front derailleur means it has more power, so it can shift better under heavy load, requiring only the tap of a button rather than the shove of a lever to shift. The difference isn’t quite as big with the rear derailleur, but this is still incredibly quick and very precise.

2. You can shift through multiple gears

sram red etap rear derailleur 3

Multi-shift is a function found on all electronic groupsets

Ok, so the top few tiers of the Campagnolo mechanical groupset ladder can also shift through multiple gears with one prod of the lever, but this feature is now standard on electronic groupsets in a way that it isn’t with mechanical.

>>> Six things no one ever told you about Shimano Di2

While you’re not going to be going straight from the 28 to the 11 all that often, it is still a really nice feeling to be able to skip through two or three gears when opening up an attack or when cresting the brow of a hill, while the extra power of the rear derailleur means you can do this under load too.

3. You can put shifters everywhere

shimano di2 sprint shifter lampre-merida

Once you’ve used sprint shifters you won’t be going back

With mechanical groupsets you can only have one set of shifters placed in the normal position, but with electronic groupsets you can have lots more shifters to allow you to change gear easily wherever your hands are on the handlebars.

>>> SRAM eTap vs Di2: which is better?

Shimano Di2 is probably the best for this, allowing you to put up to three sets of shifters on your bike. That means that as well as the standard shifters you can have sprint shifters on the inside of the drops so you can change up and down with the rear derailleur when riding with your hands low in the drops, and climbing shifters on the back of the bars by the stem so you can shift when climbing with your hands on the tops.


Watch: SRAM Red eTap review


4. They’re great for time trials

shimano di2 time trial shifters

Putting shifters by you TT brake levers makes life a lot easier

All those remote shifters mean that electronic groupsets are the perfect choice when it comes to time trialling, particularly if you’re riding a particularly technical or hilly course, as you can put shifters by the brakes as well as at the end of the aero bars, letting you shift down when coming into corners or when climbing out of the saddle.

>>> Review: Shimano Ultegra Di2 (video)

Probably the ultimate endorsement for the use electronic gears in time trials comes from Fabian Cancellara, the four-time world time trial champion, who has switched to using electronic gears on his time trial bike, while steadfastly sticking with mechanical gears on his road bike.

5. They’re less susceptible to the elements

Rain

You don’t need to be scared about using electronic groupsets in the wet

Ok, in their early days, electronic groupsets didn’t cope too well in wet conditions, with the first version of Campagnolo EPS in particular struggling when the rain began to fall. However since then things have got a lot better, to the point where electronic groupsets are probably better than mechanical groupsets.

>>> Are you using your bike’s gears efficiently?

That’s because all the cables are sealed (or in the case of SRAM Red eTap, they’re not there at all), while the cables of mechanical gears are left open to the elements, meaning that they can wear out over time.

6. You can connect them to your Garmin

garmin edge 520 campagnolo eps gears

You’ll never have to look between your legs to see which gear you’re in

If you’re going to have gadgets galore on your bike, then you might as well have them all talking to each. That means that you can connect your electronic groupset to your Garmin, so you’ll be able to see on the screen what gear you’re in and how much battery life you’ve got left, while if you’re using Shimano Di2, you can even switch between screens on your Garmin using the secret buttons on the top of the hoods. Genius.

Add in to that the fact that you can also connect your Di2 or EPS groupset to your computer (or smartphone using the MyCampy app) letting you play around with things such as the speed of shifting and button configuration, so you can have your groupset set up in whatever way you desire.

  • Mike H.

    Sorry, but no electronic for me for the foreseeable future. Sure, multiple shifter locations would be nice, but with my mechanical group I don’t have batteries to fail/run out (saw this first hand on a 500 km company bike trip in the Rockies), connections to short (seen that too), interference to deal with (wireless…heard of it, haven’t seen the SRAM electronic yet). Plus, I LIKE tactile response…all the e-shift systems I’ve tried feel dead and don’t give you a good tactile feedback. Don’t even get me started on price…sure, it’s getting better, but it’s still in another league for most riders.

  • llos25

    On a training run yesterday the two Sram electronic wireless users one lost his batteries over cobbles and they are both able to change each other’s gears .Back to mechanical today for both of them test conclusion- RUBBISH.

  • The Awakening

    #8: ‘Electronic Gear Doping’ will be the next development, with the jockey wheels assisting the chain flow, as an advanced gimmick version 2.

  • Economist2011

    Mechanical versions may throw chains if shifted wrongly. The electronic ones don’t.

  • Douglas Vlad

    # 1) I thought we were getting away from front derailers

  • model94

    My eyes, shockingly, tell me the same thing. And sometimes, I just know.

  • model94

    #7: Component mfgs hit the wall with 11 speed hubs and need the next gimmick.

  • Dan

    I think the Pros may disagree when a sprint comes down to a tyre’s breadth or the entire result of a tour is based on an attack on one mountain. But I generally agree with your sentiment.

  • Serious Starsider

    YEah but can you connect them to your Vivax Assist system?

  • Stevo

    You don’t need this stuff for racing full stop, irrespective of the category.

  • MarkW

    Giving the front mech a motor so it has more power to shift under a heavy load is not necessarily a good thing. Forcing the chain to swap rings surely increases the likelihood of damage to the chain or chainrings. I’ve heard some frightening noises coming from DI2-equipped bikes as riders abuse their transmissions.

  • tecnocato

    Number 6 needs correction: 6.You can connect them to your Wahoo ELEMNT. I am #GarminFree and the ELEMNT screen is simply amazing. A “climbing” page shows you, among other things, your front and rear gear selection.

  • Dan

    Once again a cycling weekly article that acts as if we are all out riding cat 3 races every weekend. I don’t need (and I’d suggest most readers don’t need) these features.

  • MD

    It has 🙂 get an old style Ultegra DI2 on eBay. Will still work just as well as when new and cost a lot less. As nice as my mechanical is, and as much as I feel it’s all I need, a single ride on my DI2 bike reminds me each time how much slicker the DI2 feels.

  • MD

    DI2 doesn’t work that way I think. When you check the chattery level it shows a steady light for OK and flashing for low(ish). The normal operational mode has no light at all. I don’t know whether they thought of people like you but I don’t think the way DI2 operates would be a problem for you.

  • anon

    see (3), garmin isn’t charged…

  • Bigape

    it would have to come way, way down in price before I would even consider buying it…

  • Kelvin Morrison

    Us ordinary guys who pay for our own gear really don’t need this crap, a flick of a finger here and there is just fine. 11 speed mechanical is far more than most of us will ever need or justify!

  • Stevo

    What’s a Garmin? Will my bike work without one?

  • Frank Martinez

    When hooked up to your garmin it will show you battery, without using colors. Just FYI.

  • Morten Reippuert Knudsen

    6) you can fix mechanical on route with one allan-key or a a flat screwdriver (or even a coin).
    7) mechanical is ligther
    8) mechanical is simpler
    9) mechanical is cheaper.

  • llos25

    I have ridden countless TTs probably changed gear 10 times in total and like Kev I do not need batteries or electricity.

  • Kev

    I only need one reason why mechanical groupsets are better.

    1) No need to charge the battery.

    Before anyone tells me they have little flashy lights or something to tell me to charge it don’t bother.

    1) They probably flash green to say its charged and red to say charge me, I’m colour blind they are the same colour.
    2) My lights flash the same colour to tell me they are charged and need charging, I have no idea what it’s trying to tell me, I charge it when it doesn’t work if I remember.
    3) My Garmin tells me how much battery that it has without using the same colour so I know exactly what is going on but I still forget to charge it.
    4) My phone beeps at me politely to say please charge me and eventually gets upset and turns off because I forget to charge it.
    5) I can remember what I was talking about, I have a bad memory.