The jury is still out on Alfine and to a lesser extent Di2 so I’m pressing on with the experiment. If Alfine proves a bust, here are the options I see.
First some good news. Di2 is excellent—sealed from the elements, fast, precise, comfortable, quiet, and infinitely adjustable. Better than an equivalent mechanical system in every possible way but one: I’m still a little nervous about battery life. However I’m pretty certain it will be fine for both commuting and touring.
Alfine, not so sure. I’m hopeful for some sort of epiphany that will explain away my troubles and will post my experiences when I have a little more time on the hub, but I’m already thinking about how to cut my losses with this thing.
Some more good news, many of my current Di2 components and any custom wiring I do will work equally well with Alfine or any of the following options for life after Alfine. I’m nearly sold on Di2 and expect that it will be in my future one way or another.
Shimano first introduced Di2 in the incredibly expensive Dura Ace groupset but fortunately enough time has passed for the technology to trickle down to the much more affordable Ultegra group, as well as to undergo a couple of significant design iterations. If I have to settle for external gears in the rear, Ultegra is a good way to go. My battery, display, shifter, charger, and wiring are all compatible. The only down side is that the Ultegra Di2 derailleur maxes out at 11-32 teeth. Even so, range isn’t bad when coupled with a Schlumpf High Speed Drive. But with the low range in the rear cluster I’d probably be switching gears a lot on the Schlumpf which is not my preference.
Ultegra Di2 and Schlumpf High Speed Drive
In some ways a front triple is better—I could spend most of my time on the middle chain ring. It’s a little low, about the same as my HDQ without the Capreo hub, but I might be able to raise it up a couple of teeth in the front. Maybe. I’d already have the supporting components for adding a Di2 derailleur in front which would solve many of the problems I have with front derailleurs, but alas Ultegra Di2 only offers a front double. According to Shimano, mixing front/rear Di2 derailleurs between component groups isn’t allowed– as in the software prevents it. With a front triple I’m back to the crazy chain line, a long cage rear derailleur, mechanical shift, and marginal high end. No thanks.
Ultegra Di2 and external front triple
Shimano recently announced Di2 for mountain bikes and as with their road introduction started with the most expensive groupset, XTR. This is probably out of my price range (and isn’t even available yet) but it should provide a glimpse at what will likely be trickling down to the cheaper groups in a couple of years.
The RD-M9050 rear derailleur supports an 11-gear rear cluster with massive 11-40 tooth range. It provides decent range when paired with a Schlumpf Speed Drive and I should be able to live on the 1:1 gear in front for most of my commute.
XTR Di2 and Schlumpf Speed Drive
Even though the FD-M9050 Di2 front derailleur supports a wide triple, the range is shifted quite a bit too low for a 20” rear wheel. A few more teeth in front (if possible) would help but would still be on the low side.
XTR Di2 and external front triple
Given the above possibilities, my money is on a future XT equivalent of the XTR paired with a Schlumpf Speed Drive. If the Alfine will hold me until it trickles down. If not, Ultegra with Schlumpf High Speed Drive would do nicely enough. I can’t just wing this choice because it also dictates which of two different, incredibly expensive Schlumpf drives I need. Assuming I can stomach yet another experiment with an expensive internally geared hub.
Ok, this break down makes sense. If I decide to make the jump to DI-2, I think I would go with the Ultegra, and Schlumpf. Compared to the XTR, it has a slightly higher high, a slightly lower low, and should compare well enough to what I have now.
The range is actually a lot better than what you have now (ICE Q with 9-34 cassette)– about an extra gear’s worth with smaller steps between gears (road steps instead of mountain bike steps). This happens because the Schlumpf High Speed Drive is such a big jump that it almost eliminates gearing overlap. The only down side I see is that I probably can’t stay on the low 1:1 gear on the Schlumpf for an entire commute. I might consider shifting up 2 or 4 teeth on the front chain ring to help with this, I don’t need gearing down to 16 GI. The cool thing about a single chain ring in front is that it’s really easy to shift your range up and down to wherever you want it– no 20″ drive wheel penalty.
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