XTR electronic SYNCHRO shifting: God help us when our bikes become sentient

Shimano officially announces M9050, an electronic shift system for their flagship offroad component group, XTR M9000. In many ways, this is one of the least surprising announcements since SRAM went to 11-speed for the new Red group a couple years ago. Shimano’s Di2 concept has been highly successful in the company’s road offerings, so of course they’d like to bring that to the dirty demographic. One tip-off I noticed was when I downloaded the PC program for the Di2 diagnostic tool for customizing Di2 road systems, and the menu options included road bike, city bike (for the Di2 Alfine internally geared hub system), and mountainbike….hmmmmmmm. But even if we knew it was coming, XTR Di2 could have even greater potential than electronic shifting on the road. Let’s cut to the chase: what’s most impressive about M9050 is the option of using just one shifter to handle 2x11 or 3x11 drivetrains. You shift up or down on the buttons, and the SYNCHRO SHIFT system automatically shifts a sequential pattern.

When using a single shifter in either a 2x11 or 3x11 drivetrain, Synchro Shift will shift front and back derailleurs in order to give you a sequential progression of gearing. You don’t have to think about it, it just does it for you. This could only work because Shimano’s electronic front derailleur and chainring designs are indisputably the best, such that front shifts occur with practically the same speed and conviction as the rear. Still, it’s not hard to imagine a situation on a trail when an unexpected front shift might upset your groove. Synchro Shift incorporates an audible signal that indicates that a front shift is imminent, but it also offers on-the-fly choice of two presets for the sequence of chainring/cog combinations (what Shimano refers to as a shifting “map”) to suit your riding style or the immediate terrain. The presets are can be reprogrammed with Shimano’s Di2 diagnostic tool. You can even program the drivetrain to skip specific combinations, such as a big ring/big cog combo, which would be a good if, for example, your long travel rear threatens to exceed the capacity of your derailleur.

The idea of sequential shifting has been around for a while, and in fact some people have already hacked road Di2 systems to the same effect. However, I can’t see road racers en masse leaping on that idea in the near future. That’s because despite all the carbon frames, additional cogs, and threat of disc brakes, for road bikes wheel size, frame geometry, and the roads themselves haven’t changed much in 50 to 60 years of road racing. When old school racers talk about attacking in a 53 x 12, the younger generations understand. Meanwhile for mountainbikes the past 15 years have been a maelstrom of crank and wheel size developments; plus different genres of offroad riding keep cropping up (eg, enduro). So for road racers, ring/cog combinations are automatically referenced through the conventions of road bike tech and long hours in the saddle, whereas mtn bikers have no traditions for equipment configuration and their riding styles are characteristically dynamic. Why not just ride and let the microprocessors do the thinking for you? Shimano’s design focus is on the rider’s “flow”, via components that allow the rider to ride the trail instead of riding a bike on a trail. Of course, if turning over the destiny of your gear selections to an electronic intelligence fills you with apprehension, you can breathe easy knowing that you can switch to full manual shifting if you have installed two shifters (or just the one if you are running 1x11).

Rando Blowing Up Like a MuthaFuk

35 lbs dry

As it was said to me, upon seeing this bike…

The rando/wanna-be rando scene is blowing the f up yo. Every other bike has a front rack and a bag. Word.

Spec’d with Campy 10sp shifters, sram drivetrain. SON hub with Schmidt Edelux light front, color matched King r45 disc rear. Wheels built by Ben @ Back Alley Bike Repair. Grand Bois Hetre tires. Haulin Colin porteur rack with basket from Goodwill. Selle Anatomica X saddle. Tangle frame bag by Revelate Designs.

Curb weight with fenders is ~35lb.

This is Josh’s Rawland dSogn and he works with me on Clip-n-Seals and our Internet Famous Tool Roll.


Currently on my mind, as I’m editing Issue 13 of our magazine


Danny Did Some Bike Tricks

When we finally land on Mars, Danny Macaskill should do some bike tricks on it, like a back flip off the Rover. Before that, in a Hazmat suit, ride the pipes of Chernobyl with a geiger counter ticking off the soundtrack beats from a caffeinated sugar water commercial.

Full Frame, Suspension, and Thoughtfulness in Sedona

Chad observes the fire

Observing the fires on the horizon

The Sony A7R is a thoughtful camera and one I took with me for a weekend in Sedona. Where I rode, visited a stupa, tasted wine, beer, and Scotch. It’s not even Summer yet and the livin’ was easy…’cept for the fires that wrapped the area in a haze.


Wine tasting in Jerome at Maynard’s winery

From the worst lighting conditions imaginable – smoke and harsh midday sun – I took these photos and why our photo editor David Schloss said, “this ain’t your Father’s camera.”

Nope, no it ain’t or your Mothers, and what I want to share is that my quest for the “perfect street camera,” is nearly complete with the Sony. I had a full-frame, compact camera in my Camelbak on the MTB rides and in a Niko around town.

There was never a time when I thought, “so sick of carrying this camera and lenses like I did with SLR gear,” or, “wish I’d got a better photo.” As David wrote for us about the A7R, “the SLR is dead,” or more apropos for me, this is what I thought I could do with an m43. I could, but the image quality was what you’d expect from a small sensor.

The thoughtfulness comes from composing the shot, getting it focused (the A7R uses contrast instead of phase detect focus, read more about that topic here), reducing or increasing the exposure, holding the camera steady, and snap with the loud scheelunk sound. 36 megapixels is a lot of sensor to fill and the light captured had me very excited at times. Like the “red-rock” shot of the trip, taken by @mzsitka outside the rental car window while driving into town.


Courthouse Rock

Pokey and Rocky

The riding in Sedona was technical and rocky. I’d never ridden rocks like that and it was a bit nerve wracking with no flow. Just rocks. On a double-black descent, I decided by a committee of myself to walk the 17 drops in a row and was ok with it. The terrain was pokey too. Everything you touch, bump, or brush in Sedona is sharp, like a dry pokey needle. Stay on the trail, I learned, with elbows in tight, eyes ahead to the next obstacle.

Scott Spark 910

Scott 910

Cross-Country MTB

The Scott Spark 910 is one of the lightest, and most adaptable full suspension frames on the market. I asked Phil, who publishes Switchback Magazine, what he thought of the bike I was riding and he replied

I like the Scott Spark so much, I’m actually building one up as my race bike for Leadville and few other endurance races. Hoping to get it under 20 lbs.

That’s doable and the demo I rode had just enough travel for the terrain with XT and at 24 lbs. Because of the fires and smoke, we didn’t do the epic rides Sedona is known for like Highline or Hangover. Staying low out of the smoke was better on the lungs and we still had lots of fun near Bell Rock and in the trees of the Coconino National Forest.

We stayed at the Amara resort where Kimpton has bikes you can ride in the city. They’re waiting for you in a town with a bike lane on every street, as well as the single track trails. The shops in town like Bike and Bean or Absolute Bikes rent bikes too.

Some routes we rode aren’t even mapped yet and I want to ride them again. Get some rock-riding skills and take more photos. We didn’t find any vortexes, even after hearing there are luxury and economy versions. We blamed the smoke. It diffuses the energy.

For more photos from this trip see a storied version, the full gallery, and a shooters review of the Sony A7R by our own David Schloss for Image Resource.

The A7 was named by other media the camera of the year in 2013, so there are hundreds of reviews. The most relevant of those I read before writing my take include

David’s review included this line

This sort of technological jump is massive because the amount of fun had on a bike ride is inversely proportional to the weight of camera gear transported by the rider.

During a 4-hour MTB ride in Sedona with a full-frame, pro camera in a Camelbak, I didn’t even notice the weight. Instead, I considered the next photo, clearing a rock garden, and how Sedona is about to blow up for second homes, pre-retirement, and good riding.

Also the Spark didn’t get in my way either, just confidently took me to the next location, like this dry creek bed.

in a dry creek bed

Chad, the local Scott Bikes Rep showed me around and loaned me a demo

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