As mentioned on This Very Blog at some point in the recent past, our Jamis rep abandoned a Xenith Team at Pedal. Though the weather has been cold and/or miserable, I’ve been anxious to ride this thing before he comes back to retrieve it.
Probably the most distinctive thing about the Xenith Team is its drivetrain, Shimano Di2. Di2? What? Di2 is Shimano’s top of the line Dura-Ace component group with the added benefit of electronic shifting. Instead of the derailleurs being actuated by cable tension and springs, all of the work is done by tiny servo motors, powered by a rechargeable onboard battery. The shifters have little pushbuttons instead of levers, and they’re super-light as a result of the lack of mechanical stuff going on in there. When you hit a button to shift, the derailleur sounds a little bit like Terminator (the mechanical Terminator, not the strange liquid metal thing) when it changes position. Pretty darn cool. A nice touch is that the Xenith Team frame is built for Di2, so the wires connecting the shifters, derailleurs and battery are cabled within the frame and the battery resides under the downtube for that smooth look.
For me, there’s a whole lot of new stuff going on with this bike:
- San Marco Aspide saddle
- American Classic 420 wheels
- Vittoria Diamante tires
- and of course the Di2 drivetrain
How’s it work? Really stinking awesometastic!
Let’s start with Di2, as it steals the show. I confess that I’d been skeptical of this fancy-pants high-dollar drivetrain up until now, but color me impressed. It’s like indexed shifting squared (Is that what Di2 stands for? Have I gone to marketing hell?). Never a half-shift. Never a nasty sound from the drivetrain. Never a thought of reaching for a cable adjuster. It’s great everywhere — a quick bzzzt from the derailleur and you are 100% in the gear of your choice — but the front shifting is from another planet. It just happens. Punch a button and the correct gear magically appears. I looked down at the crank from time to time, just to make sure it had actually shifted. Unreal.
Though the initial novelty and awesomeness of Di2 dwarfed most other aspects of the bike, the whole package worked well. In the harsh environment of Kalamazoo county roads with winter detritus everywhere and fresh potholes by the dozen, I thought the bike was stiff but super smooth. With no control data (the tires, saddle, wheels and frame were all new to me), it’s impossible to say what is super good and what isn’t, but the bike was an absolute pleasure to ride for 40+ miles.
It’s fair to ask, “Why is this guy writing so many words about this bike?” Frankly, Di2 is a very expensive drivetrain. Very, very expensive. Not everyone is going to have a chance to try it out and fewer still will actually own it. Is it worth the cost? Well, we all have different value judgements, and a $6800 bike seems reasonable to some folks and downright stupid to others. But I’ll tell you this: there’s nothing like Di2. Yes, other drivetrains shift smartly and crisply and all that, but they’re not Di2. Electronic shifting is serious stuff, and I very much look forward to the day when it isn’t reserved for folks with deep pockets or generous sponsors.