If it ain't broke, don't fix it

Sure, there are some reasons to buy an electronic groupset instead of a mechanical groupset, but we’ve done alright without batteries, wires, and junction boxes for so long that why do we really need to change?

So if you’re considering buying a new bike and can’t decide between electronic or mechanical shifting, here are six reasons why you should stick with what you know.

1. There are no batteries to recharge

sram red etap battery

Now where did I put that charger?

A couple of months ago I got an old bike out of the back of the garage that was equipped with 20-year-old Campagnolo Veloce, and you know what, with a bit of lube it worked perfectly. If this had been an electronic groupset then the batteries would probably have been flat after only a few months in storage.

>>> Are electronic groupsets necessary?

If you’re forgetful/disorganised then this can also be a problem. Yes the charge should last 1,000-2,000km depending on the system and there are little lights to tell you how much charge is left, but frankly you just want to be able to jump on your bike and know that everything’s going to work. And you can bet your bottom dollar that the battery is going to go flat in the middle of a race too.

2. You can fix it yourself

Lezyne SV11 multi-tool

This should be enough to fix anything

What’s your knowledge like of e-tubes and wireless protocols? In need of a brush up? Then what are you going to do when you’re stuck in the middle of nowhere when something happens and you end up stuck in the 53×11?

>>> Seven essentials you need to take on every ride

Well, if you’re using a mechanical groupset then whatever has gone wrong will be able to be fixed with the sort of tools you’ll find on any decent multi-tool. With electronic groupsets, this might not be the case.

3. No wires to come unplugged

Neat new bracket holds junction box snugly beneath the stem.

Those wires are just asking for trouble

If it’s ultimate reliability that you’re after, then mechanical cannot be faulted. Peter Sagan was ruled out of contention in the 2015 edition of Paris-Roubaix when one of his Di2 cables became unplugged, and a similar tale of woe befell one of Cycling Weekly‘s tech writers (who wishes to remain anonymous) who travelled all the way to the super-fast V718 10 mile time trial course in Hull in search of a PB, only to find himself stuck in a massive gear thanks to a loose connection.

With mechanical gearing there’s no chance of this happening. The shifting might not be quite as good as it could be if you manage to mess up the cable routing, but then that’s your own fault, isn’t it.


Watch: Buyer’s guide to road bike groupsets


4. It looks better

Shimano Ultegra electric, London Bike Show 2012

My eyes!

The monstrosity that was the first generation Shimano Ultegra Di2 might be a thing of the past, but you still can’t say that electronic groupsets look as smart as their mechanical counterparts. as you’ve usually got to have an ugly box hanging underneath your stem and have limp wires hanging down everywhere.

>>> Top five worst cycling inventions

Compare that to mechanical with the elegant loop of the cable between emerging from the chainstay and joining up with the rear derailleur, and the much more minimalist appearance of both the front and rear derailleurs, and it’s no contest.

5. You’ve got more choice

Shimano Claris is a seven speed groupset

This isn’t going to be going electronic any time soon

Want electronic shifting? Well you’ve got six groupsets from three manufacturers to choose from? Decide to go mechanical? That number more than triples, and that’s even before you start getting into hybrid groupsets or move away from the big three.

>>> Buyer’s guide to road bike groupsets (video)

There are also choices to suit every budget. You can get road bikes with mechanical groupsets from just £200, but good luck picking up a bike with electronic shifting for less than two grand.

6. It’s much cheaper

tejay van garderen bmc timemachine shimano dura ace di2 rear derailleur

Is it really £1,000 better?

But even if you compare the costs of supposedly similar mechanical and electronic groupsets, then mechanical cannot be trumped. If you’re looking at RRPs, then Ultegra is about £550 cheaper than Ultegra Di2, and Dura-Ace is almost £1,000 less than Dura-Ace Di2. One thousand pounds!

>>> The best road bike upgrades

Yes the shifting of Dura-Ace Di2 might be that little bit better than plain old Dura-Ace, but £1,000 better? No way.

  • Jeff Brunton

    price is coming down….

    Planet X are selling a decent spec bike with Ultegra Di2 at 1599, so not too expensive

    the equivalent mechanical bike is some 1299, so the premium for electronic is around 300, maybe there are other differences but that seems to an indication of the premium for electronic over mechanical (and it is irrelevant if folks like the bike / Planet X or not, I just use that to show the difference)

    that said I do not want electronic at the moment, as you say I would rather put that money into something else

  • Richard Jones

    Feet off the pedals for downhill

  • Richard Jones

    Because Rohloffs are better…..?

  • Ryan

    My friend hit pot hole and front mech just stop working at all.

  • Joseph white

    I use a 25 year old Sturmey 3 Speed every day to get to work, whilst I like electronic gears. A Di2 mech will not be working as well as my Sturmey in 25 years time,

  • NitroFan

    I have ridden both I disagree with your generalisation that electric is better. Its different I will agree but better? on balance no.

  • NitroFan

    Makes me chuckle reading those that have “all the gear” trying to convince more sober heads the kit we have all been using for thirty years or so is old hat. The manufacturers must love em!

  • jackt70

    Sorry but having got a bike with UDi2 i can tell you that the cables do come unplugged! happened once when I hit a pothole, came out from the shifter, and now that one unplugs at the smallest bump, including in a race where i was left with only front shifting!

    And recharging isn’t a hassle no… until you have a nice few weeks and are out on the best bike a lot and not really looking at it after every ride and you get half way to a chaingang and find your out of juice! my fault but still… annoying

    Yes indexing is a doddle but it also cant handle any misalignment, so when i went down in a race and bent something somewhere (have had a few people who know what there talking about looking to no luck) and cant get it to stop skipping in the mid range in my case… so its a new rear mech, which isnt a cheap fix.

    and yes the shifting is better but having ridden the 11 speed 105 (granted only for a week) all my gripes with the 10 speed mech group has been addressed and while its not as good as the Di2 shifting… its pretty damn close now!

    I love the electronic groups but unfortunately the price hasnt come down in the way id hoped and the lack of flexibilty leaves me agreeing with much of this article!

  • RobTM

    Except they do… for instance Laurens Ten Dam got stuck in a silly gear on one training ride a few years back, for THIS EXACT reason!!

  • David Bassett

    Tarr. We all have our preferences, and that is good or those “Nice people at Shimano”, and others would not be offering us such a choice. I am sorry though that you might be worried about keeping the batteries charged, as a Grand Tour rider could get round one of the Tours with just one charge.
    I would say that if you have a friendly bike shop with a demo di2 bike ask to have a go. I am sure you will be well impressed. I am not saying you would go out and buy a group set though. Many years ago I got two bikes for David Harmon and Sean Kelly to try in some sportive and after a bit of tinkering to make sure they were set up correctly (another story) even “MR I don’t want to use clipless pedals” Sean thought it was good, and David Harmon wanted to keep the bike.
    All the best.
    David Bassett

  • Stevo

    I did not mean to be personal or rude, and I’m sorry if that’s how I came across. However, I disagree with you. Motorised might shift better. However, I find the idea of having to keep batteries charged unappealing, and I am unhappy with the idea of an essential part of the bike being motorised. For those and other reasons, cable-operated gears are better as far as I am concerned, and price has nothing to do with it. I know many others feel the same way.

  • David Bassett

    Why do you have to get so personal (and in fact rude). If you had ridden a bike with both mechanical and electric you would have to admit the electric is much better. Some people are going on about price. I know that the electric is much dearer and if you can afford it buy it. But if you cant don’t buy it.
    The article was
    “Six reasons why mechanical groupsets are better than electronic”.
    They are not better, they are cheaper, and that is all. So once again “Cycling” have used a title that is miss leading.

  • Chris

    Most people buying a new bike will have a fixed budget, that he / she or family members have helped set. Some of us can afford higher and some of us have limited cash. So how do you allot your budget? Take a figure of £2000 – £2500, which is where I would certainly be at.
    Frame = Probably the best quality carbon at that price break
    Wheels = High quality aluminium
    Group set = Mechanical Ultegra level
    Finishing kit = High quality Aluminium or Budget carbon
    If you want electronic gear sets or hydraulic disc brakes, which I consider luxuries at that price break, then sacrifices have to be made to the original spec.
    So all this talk about controversial items is to some degree academic, since the average Joe (me included) can’t afford them at the moment.

  • Matthew Whitmore

    That is the worst Article I’ve ever read. Very bias and one sided.

    1. Okay, you do have to charge the batteries, but this is every 4-7 months and the whole system works much better!

    2. Most people wouldn’t be able to fix mechanical themselves, and things are less likely to go wrong on electronic group sets (no gears to re-adjust with cable stretch..)

    3. You’d have to be an idiot if your wire came unplugged. And the same can go wrong with mechanical anyway, the cable could slip loose.

    4. That’s the oldest electronic derailleur they could find, of course it looks bad, however the new di2 looks amazing! If i were to find a first generation mechanical derailleur it would look terrible too!

    6. You’ve got the same choice at the top end, there just more entry level mechanical groupsets which people on this forum wouldn’t be buying any.
    There’s certainly pro’s and con’s for each and every person is different, but this article doesn’t look at the bigger list of pro’s!

  • David Bassett

    I did not say the whole site was rubbish. Old habits die hard. I can remember people complaining when the “Comic” went up to 1 shilling (5p). As a kid it was good to look through the results to see if you got a mention. Now it’s is good to just look at the results in general.

  • Bikey McBikeface

    1 for uphill, 1 for the flat and 1 for downhill – who needs more than 3 – lol

  • Bikey McBikeface

    Yeah and why don’t we all go back to a good old fashioned 3 speed Sturmey Archer

  • David Bassett

    I am perfectly chilled. it is ilos25 that seems to be getting personal and heated.
    All I am saying is that it is all down to personal choice. And that both Shimano mechanical and Di2 work fine. And as I have worked professionally on both of them I think I am in a position to say so. As I do not like to get personal and start name calling that is as far as I will go.

  • lee

    1500 over how long ?

  • Iain Davidson

    Cost I agree, but charging time is no more than a phone and on average the battery last for well over 1500 mile of normal use. I did RAB (978 miles) and still had over half charge left in the battery. I charge mine about every 8 weeks.

  • jj

    You should probably chill out and read something else. This article lays out six reasons why mechanical is better than electronic, it doesn’t say don’t use electronic. If you’re happy with electronic then ride away! I personally feel no compulsion to switch to electronic, for many of the reasons laid out in this article.

  • David Bassett

    Your opinion. Name the riders who have gone back to mechanical from Shimano, as you getting personal I will not drop to your level.

  • ken wood

    You don’t get stuck in 53×11. EPS has a nifty way of moving into a get-you-home gear

  • lee

    Cost is a biggy for me’. Charging time and how long they last, another. Otherwise, I’d love it.

  • llos25

    The are awful and judging by the failures in the Giro with lots of riders reverting to mechanical gears.But I bet everybody laughs at you behind your back just listening to you shows what a wally you are..

  • MrHaematocrit

    Interesting that if you route cables incorrectly and get bad shifting its your fault, but their is no such statement regarding failing to plug your connectors in properly on electronic group sets.

  • David Bassett

    No. And they are not new. Shimano Di2 have been on the market for seven years, and being tested for a couple of yeas before that. And they have been proved to be successful.

  • Stevo

    I agree about penny-farthings, but for the rest, new does not necessarily mean better. Or have you got disc brakes, a single front ring and wireless shifting on your road bike? And a motor hidden in the down tube?

  • Wilson

    Why not find something good to read then?

  • James GBC

    Yes its a bad comparison Guess I don’t need my 2 carbon bikes way beyond my abilities but I can so why not. When I was earning a lot I would not even blink at the price, if people like it let them the cost saving in quantities cuts the price.

  • David Bassett

    “advancement in technology” should be embraced, why?
    Because I would not want second best. Or we could still ride bikes with a big front wheel and a little back one with solid tyres. To me that is why. But I am not a Cycling jurno telling people what they should use.

  • James GBC

    Your right, Just hope I never try them I might want them now.

  • David Bassett

    Maybe if you had read as much rubbish as I have then you would realise that I was being subtle. Even I would not put everything I thought on a web site.

  • David Bassett

    They will shift better for whoever is using them. The thing is you will buy whatever you can afford and what you think is appropriate for yourself. A pro rider would not have a battery go flat, as they have team mechanics to charge their batteries. And any one with the minimum common sense would charge them as necessary. We don’t need someone from Cycling telling us that we can’t have the best that we can afford.

  • llos25

    Not everything new is successful or reliable or do you buy everything because it is new .

  • The Awakening

    I am reminded of the Sinclair C5, with these new electric gear sets.

    Where would we be these days without the Sinclair C5? For instance there is now the Sinclair C5 Owners Club.

    What possibly could go wrong with these electric gears?

  • Stevo

    In the case of pneumatic vs solid tyres, the advantages of the former far outweigh the disadvantages for most riders. That isn’t true for motorised vs cable-operated shifting. Or is that what you were saying?

  • Tristan

    Luddite

  • James GBC

    And Dunlop tyres with air how long will they last? Guess the point is do they shift better for the non pro rider. Can a pro rider risk a battery failure.

  • Stevo

    “Advancement in technology”? What does that mean? And if you are suggesting “advancement in technology” should be embraced, why?

  • llos25

    Not with wireless the batteries are on the front and rear mech themselves as happened last weekend .

  • Wilson

    Subtlety not your strong point?

  • David Bassett

    Well in nearly 50 years of reading Cycling this has surpassed all the ridicules articles that got you the name of “The Comic”. We could go back to 1853 and tell Paul de Vivie that he should not bother with his Protean two-speed derailleur , “it will never take off. And I would just give up the will to live if I bothered with the other nine reasons not to embrace advancement in technology.

  • Huddo

    7. You won’t get looks jealousy from all the other riders when they hear your nifty electronic shifting.

  • If my battery flew off I’d be in trouble! It would mean I’d lost my seat post!

  • llos25

    The batteries do not fly off on cobbles and you cannot change gear for your competitors for them or them for you.