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This article compares electronic and mechanical shifting and highlights their pros and cons based on personal experience and feedback from other riders.
Once you finish reading, you will know if electronic shifting is worth the additional cost or if you should stick with mechanical shifting.
So, without any further ado, let’s dive in.
Abbreviations used: FD – front derailleur, RD – rear derailleur, Di2 – digital integrated intelligence
What Is Electronic Shifting?
Electronic shifting uses battery-powered servo motors to change the position of the front and rear derailleurs, while mechanical shifting uses steel cables that mechanically pull the front and rear derailleurs.
We can distinguish 3 basic types of electronic shifting:
- Fully wireless (SRAM eTap) doesn’t require routing any cables because FD, RD, and the shifters are charged via batteries.
- Semi-wireless (Shimano Di2 [2021 and later]) requires routing cables from a battery to FD and RD.
- Wired (Shimano Di2 [before 2021]) requires routing cables from shifters to FD and RD, and to/from a battery.
The following table shows the current road bike groupsets from popular manufacturers and their types.
105 12 spd
105 12 spd Di2¹
Rival eTap AXS¹
|Pro||Ultegra Di2||Force eTap AXS||Chorus EPS||Electronic|
|Pro||Dura-Ace Di2||RED eTap AXS||Super Record EPS||Electronic|
¹Shimano 105 Di2 and Rival eTap AXS are electronic groupsets.
What Are the Pros & Cons of Electronic vs. Mechanical Shifting?
I summarized the main pros & cons of mechanical vs. electronic shifting in the following table. You will learn more about them below.
|Mechanical||• More affordable|
• Doesn't require recharging
• Lower weight
• No need for recharging
• Easier to troubleshoot
|• Not as smooth
• Manual front derailleur adjustment
• No multiple shift points
• Require routing of multiple cables
• Not customizable
|Electronic||• Effortless and fast shifting|
• Automatic front derailleur adjustment
• Multiple shift points
• Cleaner look (fewer cables needed)
|• More expensive
• Needs to be recharged
• Higher weight
• More difficult to troubleshoot eventual issues
Sources: cyclistshub.com, theproscloset.com, cyclingtips.com
Pros of Electronic Shifting
Let’s take a closer look at the benefits of electronic shifting.
Effortless and Fast Shifting
Unlike mechanical shifting, where you have to apply more force to actually pull the RD or FD cable, electronic shifting changes the gears with a click of a button.
This may sound silly, but it improves the riding experience because it’s more convenient.
Electronic shifting is also much faster and more precise than mechanical. Feel free to watch the following videos for illustration.
Automatic Front Derailleur Adjustments
The front derailleurs of electronic groupsets can automatically adjust themselves based on the gear in the rear.
This means that you don’t have to think about adjusting its position and performing maintenance as often.
Depending on the shifting mode of the groupset, it may not allow you to shift certain gear combinations to avoid cross-chaining.
Multiple Shift Points
One of the features I love most about my Shimano Ultegra Di2 is the hidden button on the top of the hoods.
You can customize it via software to control your FD, RD, bike computer, etc.
I prefer this button to control my rear derailleur, as it is easy to press when riding in an aero position with my elbows at a 90-degree angle. But you can customize every button to your preference.
In addition, you can purchase satellite shifters to make shifting easier when holding the handlebar on the tops.
You can also customize how the shifting will behave. For example, Shimano Di2 offers synchronized, semi-synchronized, and manual modes. (Source)
Watch the following video, where Shane Miller explains their differences.
Wireless and semi-wireless groupsets require fewer cables, resulting in a cleaner look.
As integrated cockpits become more popular, this is a practical feature that many riders appreciate when building or buying a bike.
Mechanical groupsets are not suitable for internal cable routing due to sharp angles, which can cause poor controllability.
The cables and Bowden cables also need to be replaced more frequently, making thin electrical cables (or no cables at all) a better option.
Also available at performancebike.com
Cons of Electronic Shifting
Electronic shifting is not about benefits, though. Here are some of its disadvantages.
Like all battery-powered devices, electronic shifting requires regular recharging. Neglecting to do so can result in being stranded with no gears in the middle of nowhere.
Fortunately, many bike computers allow you to set reminders based on the distance ridden or time to remind you when it’s time to recharge. You can also use your smartphone for this purpose.
I don’t mind recharging my Di2 every two to three months, but I have forgotten to do it a few times already.
The biggest downside of electronic groupsets is their high cost.
Even though Shimano has released an ‘entry-level’ 105 Di2 in 2022, and SRAM has Rival eTap AXS, both of these groupsets still cost over $1000. By the way, I recommend checking out this Shimano vs. SRAM comparison for more details.
This price range is often too expensive for beginners who are just starting with road cycling, as it can be equivalent to the cost of an entire bike.
It remains to be seen if electronic groupsets will become more affordable, but for now, you still have to pay a premium for them.
Surprisingly, electronic shifting is typically heavier than mechanical shifting. This is due to the addition of batteries and servo motors, even though it requires fewer cables and Bowdens.
However, the weight difference is not significant, typically only a few hundred grams.
More Difficult to Troubleshoot
My friend always says: ‘Mechanical things are easier to fix than electronic ones.’
This claim applies to shifting as well. If your mechanical shifter stops working, you can usually identify the problem, such as a broken cable. But with electronic shifting, it can be difficult to determine the issue.
Additionally, it may be easier to find a replacement steel cable for a mechanical groupset compared to an electronic cable for an electronic groupset.
Electronic vs. Mechanical Shifting FAQ
Conclusion: Is Electronic Shifting Worth Paying More?
I have used both types of shifting, and, to be honest with you, once I tried electronic shifting, I never looked back. It’s so convenient!
I especially appreciate its customizability, hidden Shimano Di2 buttons, and maintenance-free operation.
However, mechanical shifting also works fine, and there’s nothing wrong with it. It’s the perfect choice for beginners because of its affordability.
Which type of shifting do you prefer? And do you think mechanical shifting will soon be phased out of the market like rim brakes? Let me know in the comments below.
Also available at performancebike.com