Electronic Shifting and the Archer D1x

TLDR: Electronic shifting from the little guys works. It’s probably not for everybody, but still pretty cool and I am sticking with it.

This is going to be a review of the Archer Components D1x electronic shifting system, but first I want to take a dive into MTB drivetrains and shifting in general, and explain my take on it. It’s long, so click here to jump ahead to the Archer D1x review (and updates).

Mountain biking is an equipment dependant sport, and the drivetrain has a significant influence on the overall riding experience. An influence that ideally goes unnoticed over all the fun you are having, we want the bike to just work and to disappear under the rider. Being able to easily keep the bike in the right gear at the right time is fundamental to this ideal. I would still be a dedicated mountain biker even if thumbies were the only shifters available to me, but I would miss precise, fast shifting. The drivetrain is the heart of the bike, and it’s also of interest to me as a complex mechanical solution to a difficult task because I am a gear geek. I do a lot of wrenching on bikes for myself and my friends and I experiment with various component combinations when something looks worth trying out.

The goal is always to find performance improvements, with the bonus that it’s an entertaining hobby for a frustrated cyclist that lives not quite close enough to the trails to ride as often as I would like. There are only so many ways to put together a drivetrain, but recent years have been more productive than usual with the shift from multiple chainrings to 1X and the availability of ever expanding cassettes and derailleurs capable of shifting them. As a companion to these changes and a general way to improve shifting, my inner geek has been intrigued by the prospect of MTB electronic shifting. Until recently there has not been an option that felt like a good fit for how I like to set up my bikes. Di2 is too complicated and expensive, although widely recognized as an excellent performing option. SRAM is openly developing an MTB system but has yet to release anything. And that was it.

My ideal system would be something like Di2, but wireless and cheaper. Maybe more modular and versatile where a servo could be attached to a regular derailleur. This is pretty close to what a couple of independent bicycle component makers have come up with.

The main reason behind why this seems like a good idea to me is simple. Fundamentally, bicycle drivetrains suck out loud. They are a dirty little bundle of compromise and disappointment. All of them. And we love riding so much and are so used to the limitations of our drivetrains that we happily accept them and even have our favorites that we promote and defend. But if you take a step back, a deep breath, and think about it, the bicycle drivetrain has a lot of room for improvement. It’s just a damn difficult mechanical problem to solve, it’s not like the bicycle engineers of the world are stupid or anything. If the best they can come up with is a mechanism that knocks a chain off a cog onto another cog, and the chain somewhat consistently follows a predetermined path over the cogs teeth to smooth out the process to only mildly jarring, then you know that improvements are both tough to come by and ripe for discovery.

The best innovations of the last decade are clutched derailleur cages, and narrow-wide chainrings. Clutched derailleurs improve chain control but they make shifting more difficult.  Narrow-wide improves chain retention by applying an old borrowed idea to make every other tooth extra wide on chainrings to more closely mesh with the chains profile. These were separately developed to achieve the glorious goals of keeping chains from slapping around and falling off on rear derailleur shifted bikes, without requiring chain guides or front derailleurs. And while gearbox bikes may seem like an obvious path for similar improvement, current technology has its own set of limitations that are mostly centered around cost and weight. If it is going to have good range and strength it is going to be both heavy and expensive, and still not integrate all that well into the typical modern mountain bike.

For me, I am generally a Shimano guy, and I like trigger shifters. Fairly ordinary. I was a big fan of Shimano’s poor bastard stepchild Rapid Rise rear derailleur, though. I rode it for over a decade, and loved every minute of it. I only gave it up for wide-range 1×10, and of course because Shimano had long since already abandoned it. My feelings about Rapid Rise, and how it impacted shifting, play into my interest in electronic shifting so I will give it a closer look here.

The thing I liked about Rapid Rise was, it really smoothed out downshifting into a larger cog. This is always the tougher path for the chain, and typical derailleurs rely on the rider to apply correct force to the shifter to allow the chain to follow the shift gates formed into the cassette for a smooth shift. Often the chain will miss the gate or be forced past it, resulting in a clunky shift. The rider has to devote some part of their concentration to this process or the shift is probably going to suck, which itself is a burden on focus. And guiding the bike requires focus, there is often little to spare when the trail gets sketchy and being in the correct gear is most important.

The method to the magic of Rapid Rise was that it allowed the spring in the derailleur to push the chain just hard enough to find the shift gate and smoothly ride up it into the next bigger cog. Pull the trigger, and let the derailleur do the work. It left the upshifting to the thumb lever, shifting into a smaller cog is always the easier shift and the riders thumb pressure would push the chain down to the next smaller cog. Shifting up for more speed is less often a critical “need it right now” thing than downshifting for a climb.

A drawback to Rapid Rise was losing the ability to just slam the chain up the stack multiple cogs at a time to quickly prepare for a sudden steep section, but this was manageable for me, and even snapping off a bunch of downshifts was smoother and not much slower than slamming through multiple gears and letting the chain sort itself out as it tried to settle onto the right cog. The miracle of effortless and smooth downshifts was well worth any loss in downshifting speed.

Probably the biggest reason it never caught on was that you had to relearn how to shift. Your trusty old shifter works backwards now! Rapid Rise reversed the shifting actions in the derailleur and thus shifting was reversed too. I didn’t think this was such a big deal, but plenty of riders hated it just for this reason. Then Shimano had the bright idea to pair it with Dual Control integrated brake/shift levers, this was the final nail in the coffin although even those horrid things had their fans and seemed to work well for them.

So ultimately, too many people refused to relearn how to shift, and not enough people saw the benefits. It hung on longer than expected, likely because there were some true believers at Shimano, but eventually Rapid Rise went the sad way of Biopace and Airlines.

Once the 1x revolution was upon us, I was not happy about the prospect of giving up my faithful Rapid Rise derailleurs, but I knew there was no way around it if I wanted all the other benefits of a modern drivetrain. And while I did quickly come to appreciate wide range 1×10, I also missed the easy downshifts. When I would think about what made them good, and with the advent of electronic shifting, it occured to me that a servo was the ideal solution to reproducing the smooth chain control of Rapid Rise in getting the chain up the cassette onto those bigger cogs. Maybe I just have two left thumbs, but I can’t get consistently smooth downshifts. Letting the electronics handle moving the chain would solve that problem, it could be guided with the correct speed and force to give it the best chance of following the shift gates as intended.

Shimano’s Di2 was the obvious answer. While I have never used it, all reports are that it shifts great and is consistent and reliable. I don’t doubt this, as Shimano generally gets those things right. Unfortunately as 1x was still over the horizon back when they were developing Di2, they ended up with an unwieldy, overkill solution. It was envisioned with both front and rear derailleurs in mind and it is expensive and overly complicated for anything less. Assuming they plan to release their system, SRAM will not make this mistake. They were the big push behind 1x and they have been developing their system for years. And as much as I am not a SRAM guy, based on early reports and photos I expect that their system will be very good.

So back in the realm of my riding, most recently I have been running two setups, both something of a hodge-podge of parts: on my trusty old hardtail, an 11-42 ten-speed setup, XTR 10 speed shifter, 11 speed XTR derailleur, and a 10 speed XT cassette with a sweet Garbaruk expander that replaces the top 3 cogs and carrier to get me to a 42t. And on my recently built up 29er mid-travel, a 10-46 11 speed, XTR 11 speed shifter and derailleur, Wolf Tooth Wolf Cage derailleur mod, and a SRAM X01 cassette with Wolf Tooth GCX 46t cog replacing the stock 42t. Both with XTR cranksets and Wolf Tooth chainrings. And both work great, light, smooth and accurate shifting, there is little to improve upon. Their range and spread suit my riding well. The only thing I have missed is Rapid-Rise shifting, and I haven’t quite been willing to buy into Di2.

A while ago, not long after I moved on from Rapid Rise, it occurred to me that some sort of automated shifter could control the derailleur with more of a switch input than actually moving the cable with my thumb. A way to recreate the primary benefit of RR. And that’s as far as it went, just an idle thought of a fantasy project. Then one day I saw the Kickstarter campaign for the Xshifter. It was what I had envisioned, but taken much further and greatly refined. It looked close to production ready, and was being developed by a guy with industry experience. I was definitely intrigued. The cost was reasonable, especially as a Kickstarter. On the downside, it was a damned Kickstarter. And it was kind of ugly. Why wouldn’t Shimano build something like this? But they haven’t, and never would, so I broke my pledge to avoid any more Kickstarters and signed up as a backer for a basic 1x system. If you have ever had anything to do with a nuts and bolts product on Kickstarter, especially a tech product, you probably know the routine- it will come in way, way late and maybe live up to expectations but possibly be obsolete by the time you get it. But hope springs eternal. I expect to get my Kickstarter portable MP3 music file playing device with 256kb internal storage any week now.

At some point after backing the Xshifter Kickstarter, I heard about the Archer Components guys. They were showing their prototype D1x system at a bike show somewhere and it got a little press. There was some online chatter that they were trying to rip off the Xshifter, mainly from the Xshifter guy, and they didn’t seem any closer to releasing a product. The race was on. Many boring months later, with updates from both here and there, they each seemed to be close to stumbling across the finish line. Ultimately both started shipping product at about the same time, but with a big difference- Archer would sell to anybody, promptly shipping from their shop in California, while Xshifter was only shipping to a very limited number of early Kickstarter backers from their home base in China, and to some orders made well after the Kickstarter campaign ended, pissing off early supporters while consistently reporting new problems getting production ramped up. This situation continues on through mid-2018, Archer is actively selling and supporting their product while Xshifter is stumbling along kicking the can and building up resentment from his early supporters while apparently trying to build some sort of global distribution network by selling to anybody willing to pay now while continuing to dribble product out to Kickstarter backers.

I don’t believe the Archer guys are ripping off Xshifter, unless they are mad skilled developers and they jumped all over the concept and just crushed it since they have been openly selling a well developed complete system to anybody with $400 of room on their Visa while Xshifter can’t even get a functional Android setup app released or deliver to a significant number of Kickstarter backers. So it remains to be seen how Xshifter will compare. I have yet to see much of anything in the way of detailed reviews of the shipped Xshifter systems, and there are only limited reviews out there of the Archer system. A few mediocre YouTube videos of each is about it, but again Archer has a better showing for current content.

So bringing this towards the point of the subject, while endlessly waiting for a shipping notification that my Xshifter system was on the boat from China, I was also following Archer and their take on this concept. And one day I found a decent enough deal on their D1x system to tempt me to give it a try too. I ordered direct from their website and 5 days later I was ready to boldly cross the threshold into shifting by magic. I still look forward to someday directly comparing the systems, but for now here is my take on what I actually have and ride with…

My thoughts on the Archer D1x system:

The Shifter/Remote- it seems like they refer to the servo as the shifter, but I still consider the thing on the bars that I select gears with to be the shifter. As a shifter, or a remote, it’s OK, maybe OK plus. It seems solidly built and the design is pretty good. It has a sturdy plastic housing with metal bits where they should be. There is a little blinky LED to tell you it’s alive and happy, but not be obnoxious about it. The battery cover securely screws down. The buttons are admirably stout and made of what appears to be anodized aluminum, with matching surrounds. The kit comes with little grip tape X stickers for them if you want a significantly grippier button experience. And as far as buttons go these are good ones, they have a nice feel and are properly responsive. I think they could be improved with some sort of click or tactile feedback upon a succesful shift input. But I am still getting used to them, and I may feel differently after a few more rides.

The positioning is not bad but not great, I have tried a couple of positions out of the 3 options on the SRAM MatchMaker style mount. It ships with a full SRAM bar mount hardware set, but I am using a Problem Solvers MisMatch 1.2 adapter with my Shimano I-Spec II BL-M9000 brake levers and it is a clean install. I just haven’t got my thumb fully trained yet and the action is not quite as natural to get on the right button as I want it to be. I have been using Shimano trigger shifters for decades so that may be the majority of the issue, the jury is still out. But overall I can shift this thing pretty well and the shifter is entirely acceptable and some people may really like it.

Update- As I spent more time riding with the D1x since I originally wrote this review, my frustration with adapting to the stock button positions grew. I could usually make my shifts well, but when things started happening fast I was more likely to miss a button or hit the wrong one. Which is the worst time to have a mis-shift. I just couldn’t get past the button positions relative to my thumb, the buttons are arranged horizontally but my thumbs natural movements don’t quite work that way. I decided to try and improve this by modifying the mounting bracket that the shifter bolts to. I took my Dremel to it and reshaped the locating edges that force the shifter to remain close to parallel to the handlebar. This allowed me to put a clockwise twist on the mounting position and angle the buttons in a way that suits my thumb much better. The next ride I immediately noticed the improvement, I don’t believe I missed any shifts and it significantly enhanced the ergonomics of the shifter for me. I also reversed the button functions from stock, which is a simple setting in the setup app. After a couple of more minor adjustments to the position I have it pretty much dialed in now, and I am much happier with the ergonomics. I am also fine with the tactile feel of the buttons now. I have not noticed any other complaints about button position or shifter mounting in the limited reviews I have seen and from feedback from another owner on the MTBR forums. Maybe my gimpy thumb is more of a problem than the design from Archer, but I would still like to see the mounting positions opened up or some way to adjust the button positions without needing to bust out the Dremel.

The Servo- it’s an ugly little black box that hangs on the frame with a couple of fat zip-ties. At least, that’s what it looks like and I think they kind of screwed up here. Because it is a solid hunk of hardware and the mounting is stout, versatile and secure. The zip-ties are not zip-ties at all, but strong proprietary straps that cleanly lock into the body of the servo and then are secured with metal hardware. If you manage to rip this thing off the bike then you probably have bigger problems than a flopping servo, the derailleur is still the most vulnerable part of the drivetrain as it always will be. Maybe heel kicks or foot rub could be a problem in some installs, but it’s not an issue for me.

The power button could possibly be in a better spot or handled differently, the criticism of it in Pinkbike’s review surprised me but I can see how it could maybe be an issue on some bikes. It hasn’t been on either of my bikes. There is an appropriately useful little LED by the button. You hold down the button until the unit comes to life, and it turns itself off after a set delay. I set it so that ride pauses won’t usually be long enough to be a problem, and otherwise I don’t have to think about it. I have only ridden away in singlespeed mode twice so far. Once the servo is on the shifter turns on with a shorter press and pairs quickly. And cleverly turns itself off once it no longer sees the servo for several seconds. I know having to worry about turning on your drivetrain must seem insane to some people but it’s not a thing once you get used to it and Archer seems to have it well configured for minimum hassle.

The batteries live behind a sealed screw down battery compartment cover. Interestingly, there were multiple warning stickers about inserting the batteries backwards. Apparently there is no built in protection for this mistake. There should be.

Feeding in a cable is easy and handled cleverly, the silicone rubber seal that covers the port is also the mounting pad and it seems up to both tasks. It is slightly tough to reseat and that is probably a good thing because it is a robust interface. If moisture or dust intrusion becomes a problem, it won’t be from here. The entire device seems well sealed and apparently can’t be opened up. My hope is they chose to seal the case permanently to enhance durability, and because it is sturdily built and would be well worn out and not worth repairing after a long service life. Time will tell.

The servo is kind of noisy, like an angry mime Teddy Ruxpin. This is only a thing while on the work stand. On the trail, you can barely hear it at all. It moves the cable with authority, but without haste. This plays into keeping the shifts smooth and is also most likely a limitation of the hardware. There is no speed adjustment, and I expect that is because this thing is running flat out. Having to be able to work with any derailleur, and fighting against clutched cages and unknown cable runs, the internal gear train must be designed to give enough torque to make that happen, using a small motor that sips power. This happens at the cost of speed of transit. Fair enough, I think they struck a good compromise, but I would be interested to compare it to Di2 in these respects.

Overall the servo is a neat little device, I do wish they had figured out how to integrate charging, and I believe it could be a little cooler and sleeker looking. I won’t suggest how to fix this, it was probably difficult to get everything needed into the case, and the rectangular shape must work well for their design. But it just doesn’t look that good hanging down there like an awkward Minecraft dog’s bollocks. Having to universally fit any bike is a tough problem, and their mounting solution is pretty good. So I suppose I will get used to it, like we all have gotten used to looking at the freaky dangling robot arm that is a derailleur.

As to the charging thing, everybody is used to plugging in a little cable for charging and that would have been nice for this application, to include a hinged and sealed screw down battery door can’t have been any easier than adding a charging port would have been. But maybe the associated circuitry was a bridge too far. Changing the little AA sized but definitely not AA batteries is not difficult, but not particularly convenient either. Overall their battery system works fine, the battery life seems to be decent, and this is far from a deal breaker. And these battery thoughts are pretty much identical for the shifter.

Update- OK, maybe I was a little harsh when I said it was an ugly pixelated dog’s ballsack. As predicted, after several weeks I am already used to it and it looks fairly normal to me now. Also, I have since relocated it from a thin graceful Reynolds 853 chainstay to a fat aluminum squareish profile chainstay with an integrated rubber chainslap protector. It practically disappears with that camouflage. It continues to function flawlessly, get good battery life, and require no special attention other than turning it on while unloading the bike.

Installation-  It’s an easy install. You feed a cable into the servo and strap it to the chainstay. (or really anywhere you want but the chainstay is the simple and obvious choice for most bikes) Then cut an appropriate length of housing and hook it up. Mount the shifter/remote.  You need to get the batteries in and pair it and whatnot but it’s nothing complicated and I’m not writing a tutorial, Archer has that covered. The most tedious part is dialing in the shift points, and at some point you will think the servo has gone berserk because it doesn’t like seeing zero cable tension. There is no barrel adjuster so you have to get the cable snug before you tighten it down to the derailleur, I used the limit screw to assist with this. Your limit screws should be pretty close before you start. The app is easily the best electronic shifter servo setup app I have ever used, and the first. It’s nice, once you figure out how the buttons work to trim the derailleur it goes pretty quick and I had very little adjusting to do after my first run through. And after the initial setup it has needed no further tweaking. The few options are easy to configure, and I like that you can adjust how quickly the long press feature takes to activate.

Update- Upon moving it to a second bike, the setup went even easier and required less fine tuning once off the stand even though it went onto a full suspension bike with an extra gear. Once dialed, it stays dialed. There is not enough cable to stretch a significant amount. I believe the setup app had a minor update, which is another testament to just how much Archer has their shit together, some apps are a trainwreck and update frequently. This is not one of those apps. Kudos, Archer Components.

Performance- It is very good at shifting the derailleur. That is the primary task for this thing, and it is on point. You push the button, it makes the shift. Accurately, smoothly and consistently. And quietly, when actually riding. Not blazing fast, but fast enough. No adjustments have been needed since my original setup was dialed in. The install was simple and I put no special effort into it. It is at least as good at shifting as I am with a Shimano XTR shifter if I am thinking about getting it right. And compared to when I am just slapping the paddle trying to grab a much bigger cog, it’s definitely better.

Most upshifts would fall into the smooth, sometimes barely perceptible category of good bicycle shifting. Because the derailleur spring is the driving force no matter the shifter. Most downshifts, where the shifter is more directly controlling the chain movement, are the good ones where the chain takes the easy path up a shift gate and cleanly finds the next cog. Bliss.

Using the multi-shift long press feature works well and it is tunable via the app for response speed and number of gears to jump, anybody should be able to find a setup they like. I have it set for a fairly quick response, 3 gear jump on downshifts, basically like a full sweep of a traditional thumb lever. Two gears on upshifts like a Shimano double-click. You can repeat a few quick long presses and keep the chain scooting up the stack for that big climb monster downshift and it works out well every time. This is a better experience to me than having to think more through the process with a traditional shifter while trying to find a good line starting up a nasty climb. The servo just cleanly guides the chain to the biggest cog and that’s that.

I know it’s not that big a deal making your shifts on a modern bike, but it is often a better experience letting this little gizmo worry about the finer points. And for all the cost and complexity, that is the significant benefit for this system to me. I am not running a particularly unorthodox setup, and my XTR shifters worked well, so it is hard to make a strong case for going with this sort of system over old reliable. It is not for everybody, and while the drivetrain versatility both Archer and Xshifter push as a selling point is neat, with the current wide variety of options on the market it is really not that big a deal or a cost effective primary motivator.

There are some specific user profiles that this would be a great system for. Recumbents. Hand cycles. People with some physical problem working traditional shift levers. And geeks that like to get weird. Getting rid of the cables is cool, but a minor grade of cool. If the shifter really meshed with me perfectly ergonomically I could get more excited. Maybe it will as I get more used to it. I will put the regular shifter back on at some point, once I am well and truly used to the D1X system, to see how much I miss robo-shifting. That will be the moment of truth.

Update- Well, the shifter does mesh much better with me ergonomically now that I have tinkered enough with the mounting position, and I am pretty close to a full convert. Riding opportunities have been thinner than usual lately with wet weather and trail conditions, so I have not tried going without the D1x yet, but I still plan to. But I am enjoying its use enough that I don’t particularly look forward to riding without it. It does take some getting used to, primarily the fact that it has one shifting speed, and there is no way to get around it. Fast sloppy panic downshifts are no longer an option. I don’t see this as much of a drawback, since the actual shifting speed difference is probably not as dramatic as it seems. There is no waiting for the drivetrain to settle after slapping the chain across the cassette, and it handles shifting under power very well if you need to go there. The system does have just a touch of subtle latency, and it has not gone entirely unnoticed, but it isn’t bothering me either. You just have to adjust your style a bit. I was used to XTR shifters and they are pretty much the pinnacle of mechanical shifters, so I consider all of this to be high praise. I still don’t think this system will be for everybody, I expect there are people whose style won’t mesh with the smooth but relaxed shifting of the D1x, or would be unwilling to adapt to it. Similar to how there was no shortage of Rapid Rise haters back in the day. And of course some people will just find it a pointless expense, and for them they are not wrong.

Reliability and maintenance- I can’t really comment on this yet with authority, but I do have many rides on the system and it has been flawless and needed no attention. No observed glitches of any type. No battery issues, and recharges are rare. I do wonder about the long-term durability of the servo mechanicals. This seems like the potential weak link, and is still an unknown. Traditional shifters are pretty damn reliable, and so are modern electronics. I carry a ridiculously complex little device in my pocket and another one on my wrist every day, and both are entirely reliable. My mechanical shifters are fairly complicated little gizmos full of small parts, and they very rarely fail. The D1X has a lot to live up to, and only time will tell. So far it is looking good, it will be interesting to see what the service life of these systems is.

I would like to see Archer give more of a technical breakdown of their inner workings, Xshifter has been pretty good about this during their development, sharing technical challenges and solutions. Maybe too good, since they are usually a new justification for delays and broken promises. But that is totally a Kickstarter thing. I believe Archer was unable to meet their early timeframe projections too, but they didn’t have a bunch of prepaid backers clamoring for product to pacify. Unfortunately as time goes on the heat is going to continue to build for Xshifter and there is only one good way to put out that fire.

The XShifter- I am supposed to be getting my XShifter setup someday, eventually, hopefully. The comparison will be interesting. There are aspects of each that I prefer from just looking at the basics. The XShifter servo may be better, it seems to have a good battery setup and more mounting options, but I don’t see how it could be more solidly mounted than the D1x. It’s no beauty either, and while I am not sure there is a way to make the servo a particularly appealing part of the bike, it may look better mounted. It appears intended to be mounted more behind the stay than hanging beneath it. Hard to say much more without having one to try.

The shifter/remote looks atrocious, however. I expect it to suck, and if it does somehow work well, it will still look cheap and awful. I will be ashamed to have something that poochy looking on my bars. They claim to be working on other shifter options, including an MTB specific one, and they need to be. It is obvious that the Archer guys have a better handle on what MTB riders want in a shifter than the XShifter designer. It will remain to be seen who the better engineers are. It would be great if the XShifter works as well as the Archer D1x, and then something will definitely need to be done about that shifter. Did I mention it looks horrible?

Wireless magic- Why go wireless at all? Shimano took the safe route with Di2. Archer, Xshifter and SRAM did not. I see both approaches, wireless adds a whole additional layer of complexity and potential failures. And an extra battery to worry about. I don’t care, if it’s possible to get rid of cables and wires and still have a workable system, I am all for it. Cables suck and eliminating the longest run on the bike is a swell idea. And running little sealed electrical cables all over and through a bike from shifter to derailleur with components and junctions in between is far from ideal. Looking at you, Shimano. Some things will always need cables or hoses, primarily brakes and probably droppers, despite that ridiculous Magura Vyron post.

As to the comments I have seen worrying about hackers blocking wireless shifting and getting into rider information through the app, get real. Nobody cares. Modern BLE being what it is, I don’t expect that some MTB hacker shifting your bike for you or selling your gear combos to the Russian Mob will ever be an issue. My experience with the D1x has been one of the most reliable and consistent wireless connections ever out of the probably hundreds of similar connections between various devices I have experience with. I have a Gloworm light set I run on my helmet with a wireless remote, it also works very well, and between it and the speed/cadence, heart rate, and temperature sensors talking to my Garmin watch, there is a cloud of wireless chatter following me around in the woods and I have observed zero problems with interference or connectivity dropouts.

Battery musings- The D1x comes with 3 batteries and one little charger that will seem odd to some people. It’s like a mini version of the chargers I use for my flashlight and bike light 18650s and other various rechargeables. I didn’t even take it out of the package since I already have too many chargers. I am sure it works fine.

The important thing to remember is, these batteries ain’t what they look like. They are sized like common alkalines (2 AA sized and one AAA) but they are going to wreck anything you put them in that isn’t the D1x. Because they are almost triple the voltage of an alkaline cell when fully charged, giving the D1x servo 8.4v from the pair on a fresh charge. Probably a decent choice for the application, although I noticed the Xshifter guy used it as an excuse to again attack the Archer guys. Basically saying the batteries will burn down your house and give your dog rabies. Which is ridiculous, just keep them in the D1x when not charging them and don’t let them mingle with any other batteries around the house. They should last a long time.

Apparently Xshifter went with a very different battery solution, building a little proprietary 12.5v LiPo battery module. Nobody has ever seen one of those burn or explode, right? They designed a waterproof housing to snap on to the servo, and an integrated charging circuit with micro usb port. And if I ever get my hands on it I may very well prefer it, but I can live with the little lithium ion cells in the D1x.

And yes, having to charge more batteries is a minor nuisance. But so far it is pretty low on the bike maintenance pain scale since I have needed all of one recharge. I like night riding and I build my own battery packs so this is pretty close to nothing for me.

Update – The D1x batteries remain a non-issue. Solid battery life and a minor hassle for those rare recharges. Xshifter however is currently blaming many of their woes on their battery supplier and LiPo cell shipping requirements. And is apparently no closer to filling my reward.

Future- I have no idea if these things will catch on enough to keep Archer and Xshifter in the game. Or if they will inspire one of the big boys to pursue something similar and less proprietary than Di2 or Eagle eTap. If the performance advantage gets to where everybody wants something like this, it raises some questions. What will be the prefered style and location for mounting the servo? The stays are easy and close to the rear derailleur but a case can be made for keeping the weight off of the swingarm on a full suspension bike. Down the road the servo could be integrated into the frame, but where does that standard come from? It is yet another potential source of compatibility conflicts. Which would seem to make integrated servo-derailleurs the long-term preferred solution, but this favors proprietary drivetrain combinations.

Conclusion- I remain excited about electronic shifting as a concept. It may be that nobody ever makes exactly what I want, I am particular about my gear. As it is now, the D1x is a quite solid option. I could get closer to the ideal if I could cherry pick all the best features of existing systems. Maybe SRAMs electronic MTB group will be the bombshell that brings me over to the dark side, an impressive feat since I generally avoid running SRAM derailleurs and shifters if at all possible. Their shifter design looks very promising from early photos of race bikes. Or maybe one of these universal systems will be just fine for me once I spend more time riding with them. The unknown dark horse is the future version of Di2. The new XTR M9100 group looks excellent and is getting rave early reviews. When they release the next generation of Di2, and if they go wireless, I may be unable to resist breaking open the piggy bank and going all in. There is certainly the potential for an amazing system, but Shimano works in mysterious ways and it is a while out at best.

It may seem like I am addicted to tinkering with my drivetrain, but I went a solid decade with minimal changes on my 8 speed XTR Rapid Rise setup. It took that long before there was anything I felt was worth changing for. I have never been impressed with upping the cog count just to have something new. Wide range 1X was worth making big changes for, something electronic that significantly improves the shifting experience is too. That systems like this are already a viable alternative will hopefully lead to better options in the future.

Author: Langhorne

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