Category Archives: Out of Hours

Cycling Tech – di2 shifting


After some years of scepticism I am a recent convert to electronic shifting.  My new bike came with the Ultegra 6870 Di2 group set

The best part about Di2 is that the gear changes are made electronically rather than manually.  Electric motors in the front and rear derailleurs do the shifting for you rather than shifting by manually pulling cables.  The cabling connection from the shifters to the derailleurs is purely to pass on power and the electric signals.

This means that each shift occurs with absolute precision and the gears require much less adjustment than manual gears do.  The system is powered by a battery and computer  that sits inside a junction box.  Connecting cables plug into that box and go into the front left and right shifters and also into the derailleurs at the front and rear of the system.  The whole thing is designed to be “plug and play” so all you have to do is connect the various parts to the junction box with Di2 cabling and the whole thing works.  No need for the hassle of adjusting cable tension etc.

The junction box is small enough to sit inside a seat post or a down tube so that it doesn’t have to sit mounted on the outside of the frame as earlier Di2 systems did.  It is still possible to fit the junction box to the outside of the frame as it is waterproof but it is much more aero if it can be shoved inside a seat post or a down tube.  Most bikes nowadays are designed to work with Di2 and even older bikes can be set up with a Di2 system by your local bike shop.

The cost of the system when buying a new bike is not that much greater than a mechanical group set.  It costs roughly an extra $500. The retail price of an Ultegra Di2 system is about AUD$2,000 but in reality you can buy them on-line for half that.  When looking around for a Di2 system when I bought my last bike six months ago you could buy a Di2 complete Ultegra system for about $900.  That is about the same price as a complete Durace mechanical system (not the new 9100).

So what’s it like to ride?  Well it’s fantastic.  The gear shifting is absolutely precise.  It’s quicker than a manual shift, the shift is instant. Unlike a manual system where you’ve got to throw the shifter lever a fair distance to make a shift and quite often the gears quickly get out of adjustment and the amount of pressure you have to apply changes, a Di2 system is always the same.  You just press the shifter, you click a button where the lever used to be and the shift occurs.

The battery life is really good.  In practice I found that I have never got close to having the battery running out of power.  I usually charge the battery once a week but if you read the literature Shimano claim the battery will last about 1800km on a single charge.  The exact battery life depends on how often you shift gears but I did read recently that a Shimano Di2 equipped bike in the Tour de France did the entire tour without a recharge of the battery without any problems.

The junction box has a light indicator on it to tell you how much charge is remaining.  It has a solid green light if the battery is 100-50% charged, a blinking green light if it is around 50%, a solid red light if it is around 25% and a blinking red light to indicate that it needs charging ASAP.  There are still 200 shifts available on the blinking red light and when the battery gets really low the front derailleur is disabled first so that there are still a couple of hundred shifts available on the rear cogs before the battery fails.

The only reason you should ever run out of battery on Di2 systems is if you neglect to charge it at all for months and you ignore the warning lights.

You can get an adaptor that allows the Di2 junction box to connect wirelessly with other devices via ANT+.  I have installed this.  It costs about $50 and it will talk to my Garmin bike computer and also my Garmin watch.  That allows the Garmin bike computer to give you a heap of data on the go.  This includes what gear you are in, your gear ratio (that is the mechanical advantage from front gear to the rear gear), the battery charge percentage, the number if shifts you have made on the front derailleur and the rear derailleur during the ride and a few other sort of useless bits of data that are entertaining to data nerds like me.

For example on a bunch ride to Mornington and back of ab

out 84km, I made eight shifts on the front derailleur for the whole ride and 844 shifts on the rear derailleur for the whole ride.  So that is 852 shifts over a three hour ride.  I’m not sure exactly what that means but that to me is pretty interesting that I would change gears 844 times in 180 minutes.

The newer Di2 systems in future will allow for more advanced gear shifting systems.  You can already program a Durace Di2 system to make combination gear shifts.  The same is available in the r8070 Ultegra system.  For example, press a function key and have the front derailleur change down and have the rear derailleur change three cogs up at the same time.  The technology allows for a semi-automatic or fully-automatic gear changing system that responds to the load that you put through the chain and select the appropriate gear.  You might imagine a system that automatically changes you down to the small ring on the front and drops you down a couple of gears on the back when you start climbing.  The current Di2 technology would work with that with some software adaption but future systems will do that straight out of the box.

A link to an automatic shifting system reviewed –



The Hell of the Alps – a barrister cycling the Peaks Challenge Falls Creek

On 13 March 2016 I woke at Falls Creek ready to take on one of Australia’s toughest single day bicycle rides, the Peaks Challenge Falls Creek, also known as the Three Peaks. Entrants are required to cover 235 km of road, climbing three peaks on the journey, in a time limit of 13 hours.

The profile of the ride shows the difficulty of this beast:

3 peaks_ right side page

I lined up with Andy Turner of Foleys List at the start, together with a couple of other cycling mates Stu, Jarrod and Sean.

I was particularly on edge, having entered the event last year and being forced to pull out out with just 23 km to go because of crippling leg cramps.

Over 1600 riders entered, and it begs the question, “WHY?”.  What attracts someone to put themselves through such a ringer?  The stats on the entrants are interesting.  95% of riders in this year’s ride were male, and almost exclusively the age of the riders was late 30s through to mid 50s.  In other words, a MAMIL rich environment, mid life crisis central.  Not unlike the legal profession some might say….  To the organizer’s credit, and I suspect to aid their coffers going forward, they have begun a push to attract more women to the event in future by staging  women only training rides.

There was a briefing for riders at 6pm on the Saturday night before the ride.  I have never seen a greater collection of expensive carbon cycling machines and high priced fashion lycra gear before.


After a week of forecasts threatening 35 mm of rain and thunderstorms, we were very lucky to get a clear day, with no rain or much wind to speak of, for the start before dawn at 6:45 am.  The ride opens with a fast descent from Falls Creek ski resort, to Mt Beauty township.

We were part of a torrent of 1600 riders plummeting into the dark doing speeds of up to 60 km/h, with only bike lights to guide us.  I saw at least one rider who had overcooked it and run off the road’s edge into the trees.  I think he was OK.  We took about 45 minutes to cover the 30 or so kms to the valley floor at an average speed of 44 km/h.

The first proper climb is Tawonga gap, relatively easy at only 476 m ascending but still 8 km long at a 6% gradient.  It took me 43 minutes to knock off. Andy was waiting at the top with another two of our crew, Stu and Jarrod.

We rode in a company of 4 through to the next climb, Mt Hotham, 30 km of climbing and a massive 1303 m ascending.  This took us each about 2 hours and twenty minutes.  Whilst the overall gradient is only 4%, it is split into a first 10km section that averages about 8%, a middle that is virtually flat (about 2%) and then a top 9km which is about 9%.  It has some very steep ramps of in excess of 14% in places.

This is a fantastic climb and if anyone is thinking of heading to the alps to ride, I highly recommend it.  The views are stupendous:  once you reach about the 8km mark you emerge from a twisty forest climb to ride around the rim of a vast natural bowl, which gets high enough that the trees disappear to give way to Alpine scrub.  You can see the sun light shine off the Hotham ski village windows 20 kms across the bowl, the peak of Mt Feathertop and spectacular views plunging off the either side of the road in places.  It was extra special on this ride because the sun was glinting off helmets and bikes all around 15 km or so of the road as it winds around the rim.

Once we cleared the summit of Hotham it was a fast descent to Dinner Plain for a lunch stop, and then a long descent, giving way to rolling hills at Omeo, to reach the last climb back to Falls Creek.  This climb starts about 10 km from a tiny hamlet called Anglers Rest.  By the time we got there, we’d covered 200 km and had already ascended more than 3400m in altitude.  We were pretty buggered.

This is where the event really starts.  You face 23 kms and 980 m vertical of climbing to reach the Alpine plateau at the back of Falls Creek ski resort. Trouble is you have likely spent all your energy just to get here. The first section of the climb starts at WTF corner (pictured).  You make a 180 degree turn into a blind corner only to face a wall of bitumen:  it is a “f#@$ng” steep start, hence the name – 500 m at about 14% gradient.

The climb then grinds on relentlessly, with almost no corners to provide relief, for 9 km at an average of 9% with sections getting up to 15%.  It is brutal.

Its here where my legs gave up last year, and yet again this year I had some cramping half way up which I was able to overcome with some walking and stretches. Among the field, it was absolute carnage.  The temperature was 30 degrees and humid, lots of riders got off and walked, I even saw one rider fall off flat to the road in exhaustion.  The “SAG” wagon was about to help, bus to ferry you home, picking up those who had thrown in the towel.

I finally reached the top of the climb after an epic 2 hours and 54 minutes of suffering. From the top of that climb its a further 12 km flattish ride to the finish.   If you’ve been there in winter, this is where the cross country trails around the dam are located and where the lifts over the back the resort face toward.   I finally got a head of steam up toward the top of the climb, and powered across the line in 12:56.09, with 3:51 to spare before the cut off applied.  Andy and the crew had pushed on from WTF corner and finished about an hour ahead of me in about 11 hours 56 minutes.  Sean finished in the elite “sub 10 hour” bracket.  The winner  by the way finished in something like 7 and a half hours.

A great event, we came away swearing never again, but I am already thinking I could do better if I just had an other go…

[This post was written for publication in the Foley’s List newsletter]