Seven months after I last replaced my frayed rear shift cable, it’s happened again: that old familiar feeling of just nothing happening as I summoned an upshift. In such conditions, I’m effectively riding on just half my cassette, the smaller cogs sealed away until the shift cable finally snaps in two and dumps me on top gear.
Shimano’s 105 5700 STI levers are infamous for fraying their shift cables around the head area, which I can confirm with my own experience. I’ve already written about the challenge of replacing shift cable on Hyro, which usually results in me lying on the floor, looking at the bike up its bottom bracket shell, while trying to coax rear shift cable correctly into its routing hole in the drive-side chainstay. Ah well, such is the reality of wrenching on a TCX.
Not too long ago, “AngryAsian” James Huang wrote about his appreciation of good old mechanical shifting with cables in an age where electronic shifting is the bee’s knees. For those like me, who ride on frames that have challenging internal cable routing, something electronic like Shimano’s Di2 would be perfect – install the battery, E-tube cables and junction boxes one time, and in theory, you should never have to maintain or replace them. Shifts will always be perfectly indexed once set, and Shimano have even thrown in automatic trimming and Synchro Shift of the front derailleur. Indeed, Di2 has found fans in cyclocross competition, where the maintenance-free nature of the E-tube cables and the increase in frames with internal routing make for a minimum of fuss compared to the punishment the rest of the bike suffers from.
Even simpler still would be SRAM Red eTap HRD, where the control levers and derailleurs talk to each other purely through wireless communication. Sure, you have more batteries with smaller capacity to deal with compared to Di2, but all you’d have to worry about afterward are the hydraulic brake hoses.
The main barrier to entry for electronic shifting, despite all its merits, is cost. Unless you’re looking at the top tier of groupsets and components, electronic shifting is usually not an option. If you were to go with the most affordable route, Shimano Ultegra Di2, you’re still looking at roughly the same cost of mechanical Shimano Dura-Ace, the Japanese juggernaut’s top-tier road bike groupset. This is why many believe that Di2 should be made available at more affordable third-tier Shimano 105 for proper mass-market adoption to increase.
Until then, dealing with replacing cables and fishing them through the frame roughly twice a year is a reality of maintenance. At least I have no battery to deal with, though.