Cable Shifting Vs Electronic Shifting: (For Road Bikes)

Cable Shifting Vs Electronic Shifting: (For Road Bikes)

Cable Shifting Vs Electronic Shifting: (For Road Bikes)

Sometimes in life us cyclists have to make some difficult decisions!

Nowadays us cyclists have two basic coices when it comes to bike gear systems. We can either have a traditional cable gear system or a new fangled electronic gear system.

I’ve had both systems for a few years now and I have to say that there are advantages and disadvantages to both. Traditional cable derailleur systems work very well and are super reliable as long as they are well maintained. Many cyclists are a little intimidated by this but it is actually a very simple maintenance task and boils down to being able to adjust gear cable tension. Get this simple maintenance task done and the gears on your road bike will serve you will for many years to come.

Electronic gears on the other hand claim to be super reliable and virtually maintenance free. In my experience, this is pretty much true. My Shimano Ultegra Di2 gears have served me well and almost every shift that I have made has been crisp and accurate. It does still need some fairly basic maintenance and cleaning every now and again, though.

By contrast, each system has its own disadvantages. The main one for electronic systems being the relatively high price tag.

In this film I compare both a traditional cable gear system and an electronic gear system for road bikes.

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Readers Comments (50)

  1. Eoin Kelleher May 8, 2021 @ 12:28 am

    Looking for a new carbon framed bike with ultegra mechanical groupset at the moment. For me it is not the cost difference of 1000 euro typically which puts me off.I turned down a 6 month old disc braked Di2 ultegra for sale for the same money as a new mechanical ultegra. I rather the simplicity and weight saving (1kg approx) of mechanical with rim brakes over Di2 and disc.

  2. While I get around 95% precision on my 105 5700 mechanical, I still think I upgrade to electronic anytime soon except of course as a 2nd bike.
    With mechanical I can fix anything that goes wrong and get back home plus, if you ain’t racing, do you really need 100% precise shifting? and the 1000 dollar price difference is just not the best bang for the buck. You can get another bike with that.

  3. My bike came stock with ultegra 6800 and it ran great while it was newer. After 2500mi or so, I guess the cable stretched and I could not dial in proper gear shifts. At 4000mi the cable snapped in the shifter housing. Replaced it all with Ultegra 8050 Di2 and it runs as smooth as mechanical did new, perhaps better, but will never need adjustment, and a charge of the battery lasts 1000mi at my terrain type. Cost is the only reason not to get Di2, in all other ways it’s quantifiably better.

  4. Thanks for the video! I have to say…your point about the battery of your older Di2-system actually is the first very good reason to choose mechanical over electronical systems. I’m about to choose my first road bike and fancy the Di2 systems. However, your story about the older Di2 system is very similar to that of notebook-batteries. After 5 or 7 years you will have to change battery usually, and I guess it’s the same with Di2 systems. I find this point honestly annoying and at one point there won’t be any support anymore from the supplier and you won’t be able to get a replacement battery. Just like old notebooks with old windows systems become unusable once the support for older systems stop. I like the idea of a purist mechanical system therefore, but of course Di2 must really feel great as everyone says.

  5. stating the obvious

  6. ThePhoenixfromtheAsh May 8, 2021 @ 12:33 am

    Great video – but I must say that all of those batteries are simply a case around regular rechargeable batteries. Meaning that you can either replace them yourself which probably means you need to know how to solder or take them to someone who knows what he is doing. I am just saying that a dying battery is in general no need to replace the whole gear system. I don’t like that you’re putting that idea into people’s heads. Other than that, once again, great video 😉

  7. I ride both systems (Ultegra 6800 on both bikes) and although admittedly an extravagance, I love my Di2. The speed and accuracy of shifting is unbeatable and there are enough resources online that I can still do all my own maintenance. No , it does not make me a better rider but If i have a choice It’s DI2 everyday. Thank goodness for ebay. When the early adopters move up to the latest and greatest I get the benefit of big discounts.

  8. Good overview!

  9. I stick with mechanical only because I don’t want to worry about charging another thing in my life. But hey, that’s just me.

  10. Monty Richardson May 8, 2021 @ 12:38 am

    HI Leonard, love your videos. I have the 1st Gen Di2 on one of my bikes and do about 3k a year on that bike. I only have to charge about a once a year and the battery, after, several years of this , is still fine. Great to have somebody presenting who is just a regular cyclist.

  11. Nose gunk is distracting

  12. Alan Mitchell May 8, 2021 @ 12:44 am

    Good vid! I watched your others on Di2 before buying a new Canyon with it on. Good a great deal. Gone from 105 to new ultergra di2 and love it. I wasn’t sure what to expect but I’m we’ll impressed. Best improvement for me is the front durailier shifting. Crisp and so easy! It blew my mind the first few times.
    Taking your advice ‘re the charging and have reminder set in my phone to pop the wire in when needed so all good 👍

  13. why does this guy looks like de james hatfield?

  14. Froze Rekmeyata May 8, 2021 @ 12:46 am

    I’ve never had a cable stretch just sitting the garage over winter, and I have 7 bikes with various forms of cable shifters, friction, index and STI, and I’ve had these bikes from as little as 6 years to as many as 35 years; a cable should NEVER break if your keeping an eye on your bike, in 40 year of riding I’ve never snapped a cable, this would be similar to a dead battery while riding, it should never die on a ride if you regularly keep it charged. Also if you do break down on the road there are a lot of ways you can keep going with a mechanical system, not so much for electronic. I can’t figure out why I need to know what gear I’m in, I just shift according to what my cadence is doing, so having that information on my phone would be useless for me. I agree with your maintenance opinion; Shimano did say that the battery is only designed to last 2 years. I have 7 bikes some with friction, some with index, and one with STI, my last bike I bought I decided against electronic for all the reason you gave. And I would stay far away from wireless electronic shifting, I’ve wasted a lot of money on 6 or 7 different wireless computers and they all failed within 3 years of ownership, and all due to the sending unit failing. What’s really weird is that my index bikes shift as fast as my friends electronic shifter! That little fact was also acknowledged by my friend who thought that no way index would be that fast. I know from owning both index and sti that index is hands down faster and a bit more accurate than sti, sti is on par with friction in terms of speed (assuming with friction you hit the gear right on the button), index is also very accurate as long as you hit the clicks right and the thing is adjusted correctly, some say STI is accurate, except I flubbed STI shifts by not pushing or pulling the lever far enough and get a partial shift which I then have to correct by pushing or pulling the lever again; so sti is not infallible; electronic is the most accurate when it’s dialed in. So which of the three, friction, index or sti do I like the best? I like STI only because of the convenience of the shifter being on the brake levers. The only derailleur system that I would remotely consider switching over to would be hydraulic shifting that Rotor is working on, but that would depend on how well it progresses and is accepted and what are the pros and cons. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gDa6FmeeKM8

  15. I don’t know… there are certain things that have to be electronic obviously, like the computer I use. On the other hand I prefer certain things to be all mechanic. In my opinion mixing in electronics takes away a bit of the essence of the bike to be an ingenious, yet straightforward machine, that can be completely maintained in the garage at home. Just my view, others may feel different.

  16. JanitorIsBack May 8, 2021 @ 12:46 am

    I thought bike riding was suppose to help people lose weight?

  17. get the cable ones, Electronics are rubbish

  18. might sound dumb and insignificant but cable clutter and esthetics are a consideration or am I wrong ?

  19. I am still using the 1st gen Durace DI2. It is still extremely reliable like day 1. I solve the battery issue by "uncleating" it after each ride so that it can last several months after each charge. But i do have a spare battery just in case.

  20. Jumpin Carrot May 8, 2021 @ 12:49 am

    1:05 you’re going to kill your knees

  21. Autistic Rebel May 8, 2021 @ 12:50 am

    I favourite gear box is the 3 speed Sturmey- archer gears because they are reliable, do need much maintenance. They are also enclosed and are not effected by the elements. they have worked well since 1902. The gear box on my bike is from August 1975 (44 years old and turning 45 in August this year) and it works beautifully. I recommend them to anyone who wants gear box that is largely maintenance free. The do need a bit of oiling and adjusting every now and again.

  22. Mario Raneses May 8, 2021 @ 12:52 am

    I’m sorry but something seems wrong with the picture of a heavy set guy giving advice in road biking…Maybe its just me.

  23. It is not blue, it is green !!!

  24. I had di2 on a trek domane and the shifting was impressive, dead accurate every time. My new bike is a Trek Emonda, almost 2 kilos lighter, and uses Sram red mechanical, which was responsible for some of the weight saving. It performs just fine with fast accurate shifting. I don’t think electronics are worth the added cost

  25. Darin Steele May 8, 2021 @ 1:00 am

    I don’t know much about cycling, but pro racers SHOULD use electronic shift, It’s obviously faster

    This enables the cyclist to focus more on his riding, you wouldn’t think pressing harder on the shifter makes a difference but when you’re trying to focus and also not get killed then simply pressing a button is mentally easier on the rider also.

    The elite cyclists should use electronic, if i was a professional I wouldn’t want mechanical.

  26. Fabricio Luna May 8, 2021 @ 1:01 am

    Electronics are great !!! …. Until they fail. Mechanics are way better but requires maintenance. Cheers.

  27. Gerard van Reekum May 8, 2021 @ 1:02 am

    Great educational video, thanks. I have no knowledge of or experience with electronic shifting other than from what I heard and read, but this video seems to sum up all the aspects to be considered for a well-informed decision. Personally, after processing your overview, I rather stick with mechanical as I don’t feel the extra expense is adding sufficient value. I’m a recreational cyclist and can do without more numbers on my Wahoo’s little screen. For my road bike, I prioritize spending money on things that more directly contribute to my rides’ comfort and performance. But hey, if you fancy playing professional, don’t let anyone keep you from knocking yourself out.

  28. While electronic shifting has benefit for professional racers, it’s totally unnecessary for ordinary riders. For almost everyone, electronic shifting is a solution looking for a problem…much like disc brakes.

  29. Nigel Stanley May 8, 2021 @ 1:06 am

    Shimano 105’s came with the Specialised Roubaix. Seems okay, but I’m relatively new. The idea of electric gear shift is appealing but I’m happy to plod in until my cycling warrants an upgrade!! Thanks again for a very informative vlog!!

  30. Pascale Haug May 8, 2021 @ 1:06 am

    Leo, how did you get those shots of you biking? Great video! Can’t wait to get out and ride with you <( -___- )>

  31. As a electronic dude like me.. the battery modification is not a big deal

  32. Arnold Layne May 8, 2021 @ 1:06 am

    I use mechanical with pre-stretched slick polished inners and compressionless housing. I’ve found the £30 ones are well worth the expense.

  33. Carlos Yael Guzmán May 8, 2021 @ 1:06 am

    Great video! Thanks

  34. Trey Quattro May 8, 2021 @ 1:08 am

    I need electronic shifting, if only to see what gear I’m in without guessing or looking at the cassette. The number of times I cross-chain just to find out if I really was in 2nd or 2nd-to-last gear after all!

  35. Christopher Roe-Bullion May 8, 2021 @ 1:10 am

    Ultegra 6800 cable groupset. Never had a problem. Precise, quick changing, and a joy to use. I’m riding a Moda Vivo dream build, it’s a lovely bike, and I rarely see another out on the road.

  36. Leonardmlee,
    One can probably find a battery dealer who can rebuild your old battery. I do this for my surveying instruments that are no longer supported by the manufacturer. Most batteries are a series of smaller rechargeable cells that are packaged in the housing you use. Sometimes one has to damage the housing to rebuild the battery system. Thank goodness epoxy usually can repair and weather proof the original case. Then you are good to go. Also, most battery dealers will perform this service, no guarantee on their part, but cheaper than one can buy a replacement from the manufacturer. Cheers!

  37. Leo_inter_Hyaenaem May 8, 2021 @ 1:13 am

    I’ve mechanicals on all of My bikes, but have recently procured a SRAM Force eTap AXS groupset, planning to install it onto My beautiful Salsa WarBird 2019: I’ve had enough of the endless misshifts on My 3x Cannondale Caffeine F1 with XT front & rear mech and XTR shifters. Mishifts, shifts bouncing back, slow shifting… Had the shifters "tuned" by a mechanic, but to no avail.
    Additionally, I’d like to reserve the internal cable guides for something different, like a dropper post or a rear lamp cables.
    And, finally, the potential issue of cable slaps and squeaking cables. Easy to resolve with an electric groupset.

  38. With each advancement in bicycles, cars and motorcycles we lose the connection between man and machine.

  39. Clockwork Chaos May 8, 2021 @ 1:14 am

    Cable— mainly driven by financial reasons and assurance that I *can* mostly fix it out on the road in case something goes awry.

    I upgraded to R8000 over the winter… pleased with it so far, and more affordable than Dura-Ace

  40. Trey Quattro May 8, 2021 @ 1:14 am

    you have a bike with a 110-tooth chainring?! 😮

  41. Temple Under Construction May 8, 2021 @ 1:14 am

    Thanks for the insights

  42. Mauri Tuomisto May 8, 2021 @ 1:17 am

    My garage: One road bike, one mountain bike, one commuter bike and three folding bikes.

  43. Interesting and well made vlog, but cool though the electric shifting is such modern gizmos is well above my needs not to mention pay grade lol,  my steeds are from 5 – 20 years old all mechanical mid range and with a bit of fettling serve me well.  Took my 15 year old Trek mtb out along the mucky lanes yesterday without a pre-check and couldn’t change to the big ring ‘but fortunately didn’t need it in the hills, so as you mentioned cable adjustment needed. Your blue Trek is very handsome.

  44. I chose Ultegra Di2 for my 70th-birthday self-indulgent custom Ti bike by Seven – just loving everything about the bike including hydraulic disk brakes and Di2.
    Good presentation of pros / cons of Di2:
    – In my case I ‘justified’ extra $$$ by saying I was ‘future-proofing’ my bike against onset of arthritis (not at all sure that is realistic, but if it ends up I get no arthritis then extra cost is well worth it!)
    – I would also add that with certain additional parts (at usual excessive Shimano prices) there is capability to:
    ~ display Di2 information on my Garmin Edge unit (to eliminate need for separate display unit);
    ~ connect to downloadable app to facilitate making adjustments / diagnostics and thereby reduce likelihood of visit to local bike store

  45. I use cable ultegra, simply because that is what my machine was equipped with. to be honest, it is so good, I can’t see any need for an electronic system. but I could find a use for one!

  46. Yorkshire Man 66 May 8, 2021 @ 1:20 am

    At the moment i don’t us any gear system because i don’t ride a bike but i use to have a wire system for my old road bike I’m seriously thinking of getting Di 2 but the bikes are out of my price range so might have to go back to wired system

  47. How easy is it to just clip open the battery and replace the cells? They might be just 18650 or another common size, you never know.

  48. Peterforever2 May 8, 2021 @ 1:24 am

    A lot of cycle components seem stupidly overpriced. I appreciate r&d has gone into them but a bike is not a complex thing, even DI2. The idea of paying several thousand pounds for a groupset is crazy to me, but maybe those marginal gains make a difference if you’re a serious racer. Bring electronic shifting to a sub £1500 bike though and i’m in…

  49. Zygfryd Homonto May 8, 2021 @ 1:24 am

    I am quite sure that for leaving a bike on the lowest cog and lowest chainring in front your cables would not stretch as properly adjusted derailleur on lowest cog has no tension, right?

  50. Have over 7.5k miles (including 5-6hr rides) on Ultegra Di2 (2 different generations on 2 different bikes) w/o any of the problems mentioned. One Update – Both SRAM & Shimano have Apps that allow users to do a number of tasks (software updates, adjustments, changing functions, etc) that in the past would require taking it to the LBS. Campy might have it too I’m just not familiar with their system. Both electronic & cable work well, just a matter of choice / preference. Just keep riding!

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