Electronic or mechanical shifting, which do you prefer?

Wires or cables, pick your poison

The advent of electronic drivetrains has changed the bike industry and how we approach shifting gears.

We’ve got electronic road groupsets from Shimano, SRAM and Campy, and we’re even beginning to see other big component brands dip their toe into battery-powered shifting.

Heck, you can even get electronic shifting for your mountain bike nowadays.

Not only do electronic groupsets shift faster and more consistently with less maintenance, they eliminate the need for gear cables and housing, and more importantly the need to replace them.

Even still, I prefer the analog method of changing gears.

Now I’m not saying I’d rather have down tube shifters, but I’ve spent plenty of time riding Di2, EPS and eTap and I'm still not totally sold.

Yes, sprint shifters/blips are nifty, the front shifting of every electronic groupset is exponentially better than their cable driven cousins and a whole laundry list of facets where mechanical shifting can fall short, but for me, there are two big problems with electronic shifting, the feel and the battery.

There is nothing like the tactile feel of a Campy Ergopower shifter when you dump a few gears with the big push of the shifter paddle; bellissimo. Same with the violent click that comes with an upshift of SRAM’s Doubletap shifters, for which I am also a fan.

With the electronic version of these shifters the feedback is vague and lacks that connection of working with your machine. Electronic shifts are almost more akin to using an XBox controller or typing on a keyboard than shifting gears on a bike. There are varying degrees of tactile feedback depending on the brand, but they just don't do it for me.

While it’s less of an issue for Campy and SRAM due to the arrangement of the shift buttons, to this day if I have thick gloves on I will mis-shift a Di2 bike at least 20 times an hour.

We need more power!

Then there is the battery.

I have a well-documented problem with keeping my electronics charged. From my phone to my computer, lights and everything else, my gadgets are always dead, and this includes electronic drivetrains.

Over the years I have had plenty of bikes with drivetrains that need to be charged and I still have a perfect batting average when it comes to losing shifting out on a ride due to a flat battery — for me eTap's double battery system is a recipe for disaster.

Although I absolutely prefer cables and springs to batteries and motors for shifting, with the advent of bikes such as the new Madone and Venge ViAS, and their fully hidden cables, I can see the utility of only having to change brake cables and housing, but I digress.

What about you, do you prefer electronic shifting or are you old school like me? Have you ever had a battery die out on a ride?  Let us know your thoughts in the comments below. That reminds me, I need to go charge my bike.

Colin Levitch

Staff Writer, Australia
Originally from Denver, Colorado, Colin now resides in Sydney, Australia. Holding a media degree, Colin is focused on the adventure sport media world. Coming from a ski background, his former European pro father convinced him to try collegiate crit racing. Although his bright socks say full roadie, he enjoys the occasional mountain bike ride, too.
  • Discipline: Road, mountain
  • Preferred Terrain: Tarmac mountain climbs into snow-covered hills
  • Current Bikes: BMC TeamMachine SLR01, Trek Top Fuel 9
  • Dream Bike: Mosaic Cycles RT-1
  • Beer of Choice: New Belgium La Folie
  • Location: Sydney, Australia

Related Articles

Back to top