Tuesday, January 29, 2013

Journey of the Boardwalk: Part 28 - Programming Ultegra Di2

Some updates on the Shimano Ultegra Di2 system on my Dahon Boardwalk folding bike! I have been riding the bike for about a week, and I am very pleased with the shifting performance. It is hard to describe the actual feeling of pressing a button instead of pushing a lever to shift gears. Perhaps it is necessary to try the actual bike in order to know how it feels.

On a recent cycling field test, I rode the bike up Kent Ridge, and also along the flyovers along Jalan Buroh. One of the things I really like is that for front shifting, I can leave the shifting till really late, before pressing a button to drop the gear effortlessly and accurately. Also, it makes it easier to change gears when you are tired, such as when you are halfway up the Kent Ridge slope.

Another advantage that I noticed is how easy it is to change gears when in the drops. Previously on a mechanical shifter, it is not possible for me to shift the front derailleur when in the drops, as I cannot apply strength to shift the front shifter lever. As for the rear derailleur, it is difficult to shift, as it takes quite a bit of finger stretching to reach the road shifter levers while holding the drops. Now, with the electronic Di2 shifters, it is easy to change gears any time you like! Even when in the drops, I am able to change gears by using just one finger, with very little effort needed. One way to describe it is to imagine clicking a mouse button.

Some wise people have said that if you do not want to be poisoned by electronic shifting, do not try a Di2 bike! If not it will be very difficult to shake off the poison...

The Ultegra Di2 components that I have is not the latest stock to come out from Shimano Japan, and thus the firmware in the components is not the latest version. One of the key feature of the Ultegra Di2 infrastructure is that the components can be reprogrammed through a firmware update, and also allows customization of certain functions. In order to update the firmware, we first need to download the E-tube program from the Shimano website. This is easily done. Next, we need to link the Di2 system on the bike to the computer. To do this, we need the Shimano PC Linkage Device, or SM-PCE01. For me, this is a pretty much one-time-use device, thus I just borrowed it from a friend instead of buying it, as it can be quite expensive!

What you will see below is the PC Linkage Device, and the Shimano program, called E-tube project.

The electronic box used to link up the Di2 system on the bike to the PC

Comes with the necessary wires to connect one end to the PC and the other end to the bike

Now, you may wonder where on the bike can I connect the wire? For this Di2 system, the wire can be connected to either the left or right shifters. Each shifter has 2 ports, one of them is for linking to Junction A, the other is left empty. The empty port can then be used to connect an auxillary shifter (such as SW-R600 that I am using), or be used to link to the PC. Since both the ports on my right shifter are already taken up, I connected the wire to the unused port on the left shifter (sorry no pictures here). From there, the whole Di2 system can be updated since they are all linked up! Each component (shifter, RD, FD, etc) has its own firmware version.

Upon starting up the program, you can choose which type of bike you are connected to. For now, only road (Ultegra & Dura-Ace Di2) and comfort (Alfine Di2) have electronic components. From here, we can see that in the future there will be MTB Di2!

Upon first connection, the program will check the Di2 system for its firmware version.

It has detected that the firmware version can be updated from version 1 to version 2

Firmware updating in progress...

Firmware update complete! All components now have the latest firmware

Updating the firmware has many advantages. First, it sorts out the programming bugs that may have been discovered in the earlier versions (not that I detected any). Next, it may enable (unlock?) new features that were not previously available! For firmware version 2, one major update is the ability to multi-shift just by pressing and holding a shifter button. Previously one click means only one gear shift, holding on to the button does nothing (except show the battery life on Junction A). With this update, holding onto the button can continue to initiate gear shifts!

As you can see below, there is an option to enable or disable this multi-shift feature. Of course I would want to enable it. There is a setting to customize the gear shifting interval. What this means is how fast it shifts across the gears during multi-shifting. There are 5 different levels; Very Slow, Slow, Normal, Fast and Very Fast. Setting it to slow means that holding on to the button will activate multiple gear shifts, slowly across the cassette. On the other hand, setting it to Fast will initiate quick multiple gear shifts. Basically this is set according to personal preference. I set it to Fast as it seems right for me.

The other setting is the number of gears it can shift during multi shifting. You can limit it to two or three, or set no limit. No limit means that pressing and holding the shifter button will shift gears all the way across the cassette, till the RD stops at either the low or the top gear. This is the setting that I am using.

The options available for multi shifting.

Besides updating the firmware, using the E-tube program also allows customization of the various buttons. Possible settings include the swapping the functions of the main and release buttons, or other unusual setups such as using the left shifter to shift the rear derailleur. This is all possible by reprogramming the buttons. Trying out these programming settings actually reminds me of setting up the controls on an Xbox console game!

I did not change the settings for the road shifter buttons, as I want it to remain similar to the mechanical road shifters. However, I swapped the functions for the satellite shifter. Now, the left button moves to a lower gear (towards left side of cassette) and the right button shifts to a higher gear (towards right side of cassette). The default setting was the other way round which often confused me.

 Reprogramming the individual shifter buttons is possible!

This programming ability of the Di2 system really allows the user to customize the system to exactly the way you like it. If you don't like the default button controls, you can reprogram the buttons to suit your needs. Also, it allows the firmware to be updated which can enable certain new features such as multi shifting. Who knows what additional features may be enabled in the future?

Wednesday, January 23, 2013

Journey of the Boardwalk: Part 27 - Ultegra Di2 (Part 3)

Here is the final part of the Ultegra Di2 upgrade! First ever Dahon Boardwalk folding bike with the Shimano Ultegra Di2 system. Read more about the Di2 system in Part 1 and 2 here.

Ultegra Di2 Part 1: System Components
Ultegra Di2 Part 2: Connecting up the circuit

For my Boardwalk, the most tricky part of the installation is the placement of the battery. For full sized road bikes, the bottle cage mounts can be used to hold the battery mount. However, since my Boardwalk needs to fold, I cannot use the bottle cage holes to mount the battery. Thus I had to try out other ways to fix the battery to the frame.

It is necessary to fix the battery tightly to the frame, so that it does not jiggle around and drop off while riding. Using cable ties is not really possible as the battery mount has nowhere for the cable tie to loop through.

One day, the idea to use the FD adaptor clamp to fix the battery mount suddenly occurred to me. Using 2 adaptor clamps, there would be 2 X M4 holes for me to thread a bolt into. Since the external (short) battery mount uses M4 bolts to fix the battery mount, this solution is perfect!

Extra LitePro FD adaptor clamps that I have lying around. Once the "ear" for the FD is removed, I have a M4 threaded hole at the side of the clamp.

From what I see, there are only 2 suitable positions to fix the battery mount. One is to fix it on the rear of the seat tube. The other is to mount it on the top of the frame top tube. In the end the decision was to mount it on the top of the frame.

Mount behind seat tube? Difficult as the original FD clamp is in the way.

Using the 2 clamps on the top tube. The diameter of the top tube (~38mm) is slightly smaller than the seat tube (40mm external), thus 2 thin rubber strips were needed to make the clamp secure. Frames with non-cylindrical top tubes cannot use this mounting method.

Estimating the approximate positions for the clamps, using the battery mount.

Secure the clamps, and bolt on the battery mount!

Once the battery mount is settled, the most tricky part of the installation has been settled. Now it is time to fix on the other components.

The RD goes on with no issues. Standard RD hanger mounting.

FD is installed onto the previous FD adaptor. The crankset had already been changed to Ultegra previously, so the colour scheme matches well.

 The metal tab that is provided together with the FD. As the FD has an extra screw to help support the FD during shifting, this tab is to be pasted onto the frame to prevent damage to the frame.

 From the back, you can see the little screw sticking out from the FD, and it rests against the metal tab that is pasted on the frame.

The next thing to install would be the shifters. This involves a bit more work as the bar tape has to be removed, along with the existing shifters and the inner cables.

 Quick comparison of the Shimano 105 shifters and the Ultegra Di2 shifters.

The Ultegra Di2 shifters are smaller in girth and width as there is no internal shifting mechanism. This allows the hand to wrap around more of the shifter hood and give a better grip.

Installed the right shifter. The outer casing on top is the brake cable. The 2 wires (one leading to Junction A, the other coming in from the satellite shifter) will be neatly hidden under the bar tape.

The left shifter with only one electrical wire, as there is no satellite shifter.

The satellite shifter mounted on the flat part of the handlebar with cable ties.

Junction A clipped onto the rear brake housing with cable ties.

 Quite a clean look as there are only 2 brake housings coming out from the handlebar. No more shifter cable housings!

The last part that needs to be fixed to the bike would be Junction B. This is the part that connects up everything (Junction A, battery, RD, FD). This is usually located around the BB area.

I got the internal type Junction B (originally designed to be located inside the frame), as it is small and easy to install anywhere. I found that the best location to put Junction B would be at the back of the seat tube. It would be protected from road spray (the system is waterproof anyway) and is relatively well hidden.

I used strong mounting tape to stick Junction B to the seat tube, and then used a cable tie to hold it against the frame. As long as the cable tie doesn't break, Junction B will not slip downwards. Even if the cable tie breaks, the mounting tape will hold it there (it is really sticky!). And if the mounting tape peels off from the frame, Junction B will not be going anywhere as it is held in place by the 4 wires connected to it.

How Junction B is fixed onto the frame

Using the sticker covers to align and hold the wires against the frame. 

 An overall view of the Junction B setup.

The wire length from the FD to Junction B (300mm) is about right, so there is no excessive slack. The wire from the RD to Junction B (500mm) is slightly too long, so I coiled the wire around the chainstay to take up the slack. The wire from the battery mount to Junction B (300mm) is slightly too long, thus I coiled the excess wire around the seat tube before connecting it. The wire length from Junction A to B (1200mm) is just nice.

Once everything has been fixed in place, we can start tuning the RD and FD. There must not be slack wires hanging around as it will get snagged on the drivetrain.

Tuning this Ultegra Di2 RD is new to me. Unlike conventional mechanical RD, the limit screws are not set first. Rather, the indexing is done first. Start by shifting the RD to the 5th gear. At this point the RD guide pulley may not be aligned to the cassette's 5th gear at all. Press the button on Junction A to enter RD adjustment mode. Then, use the 2 buttons on the shifter to make minute movements to the RD. The aim is to line up the guide pulley with the 5th sprocket on the cassette. Once done, the indexing is set! The RD will shift to all 10 positions accurately. Lastly, tighten the low and high limit screws. These screws do not actually index the RD at the high or low limit, it just acts as a safeguard against overshifting in case the RD acts up.

 Setting up the RD

Setting the FD is also quite easy. Basically just set the low and high limit screws as per normal FD, the servo motor will know how much to shift the chain guide between the chainrings.

Setting up the FD

Once the RD and FD are both set, you are good to go! More pictures of the complete bike below.

The battery and battery mount nicely installed on the frame

Ultegra Di2 RD. Remember to leave some slack for the wire at the RD area as the RD will rotate about the axle in different gears.

 Can't really see the wires that are running down the back of the seat tube. The wire linking Junction A to B also runs neatly along the rear brake housing.

Overall view of the electronic shifting components

 By default, the left button shifts to a higher gear, and the right button shifts to a lower gear. I plan to reprogram it to work the other way round.

Neat routing of the electrical cable, from Junction A (handlebar) to Junction B (behind seat tube)

Overall view of the Dahon Boardwalk with Ultegra Di2

Some people may want to know about the weight of this Di2 system. Compared to a conventional shifting system, would it be heavier because of the extra battery? To answer that question, I had weighed all the parts individually (even the wires) in order to do a weight comparison.

Weight comparison between mechanical and electronic (Ultegra Di2) shifting system:
 Not a totally fair weight comparison, as the components are from a different series (105 vs Ultegra). But it indicates the weight difference for this upgrade for my bike.

In summary, we can see that although there are extra parts in the Di2 system such as the battery, battery mount, and the junctions, this weight increase is mostly offset by the lighter Di2 shifter and elimination of the shifter cable housings. In fact the weight difference is purely caused by the inclusion of the two FD adaptor clamps!

Battery Life?
Some people are worried that relying on battery power for shifting can give you problems if you run out of juice while out on a ride. However, the reality is that this is unlikely to happen unless you purposely choose to. First, the mileage on a single full battery is probably 1000 miles on average (number from other people's review), which will probably last me a few months. It also depends on how frequent you shift. Next, there are multiple warnings for battery life. Even if you let the battery run all the way down to zero, it is said to be able to shift 150 more times before it completely dies. So, you can only run out of battery power if you deliberately choose to ignore all the battery indicator warnings. Surely it is not difficult to charge it once every few months, when the battery life hits 50%?

Advantages of Ultegra Di2 over mechanical shifting system:
1) Effortless, no friction shifting. Pushing a button is so much easier than pushing the levers, especially when shifting gears frequently.
2) Multiple shifting positions possible with the use of satellite shifters.
3) No frequent adjustments required for FD and RD, as there is no inner cable stretch.
4) Smooth and fast gear engagement for both front and rear shifting.
5) Automatic front derailleur trimming, based on position of rear derailleur.
6) Weatherproof, as the system is fully sealed against water, and there are no moving cables that can be jammed up by dirt.

Of course, not everyone may like an electronic shifting system. Some may prefer the clicky feel of a mechanical drivetrain, whereas others may not even need to shift as they ride a fixie or single speed. But for someone who rides a multi-speed bike, having the Ultegra Di2 system is really fun and useful as it makes shifting so effortless that there is no thinking required. Just concentrate on the ride!

The next part of the Ultegra Di2 series is now up! Read up on how Ultegra Di2 can be reprogrammed and customized to suit your needs, and what new features it has after a firmware update.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Journey of the Boardwalk: Part 26 - Ultegra Di2 (Part 2)

This is part 2 of the Ultegra Di2 upgrade for my Dahon Boardwalk! In part 1, I posted about the components required for this project. In this second part, I will show you exactly how everything is wired up.

Most people would not know what are the full components required for the Di2 system, and how to connect everything together. This is understandable as electronic shifting is a relatively new technology, and most people would not even have tried it before. At first, I was also not sure how the entire system works. I only knew roughly what are the components, but had no idea how everything is supposed to go together. There isn't much help or info available online, as most articles about Di2 only talks about the usage and how it works. Shimano does have its own installation manual for Di2, but even then it may be challenging without proper guidance or hands-on experience.

I asked for advice from more experienced and knowledgeable people, and finally I understood how everything is supposed to work together. It is actually quite simple, with a simpler circuit than Dura-Ace Di2 7970 series.

Let's start with the wiring of the shifters.

The pair of Ultegra 6770 shifters. It has 2 buttons in place of the usual shifter levers. Better ergonomics is possible as there are no internal mechanisms to bulk up the hood.

The handlebar wires. Also called Junction A. Purpose is to link up the two sides of the shifters, and also acts as a battery indicator.

The satellite shifters, SW-R600. Put this anywhere for an auxillary shifting position.

 The special tool for inserting and removing wires from the ports. This is to prevent damage to the wires, as they need to be inserted tightly. The left forked end is for removing wires from the ports, while the enclosed end on the right is for inserting the wires. This tool comes with the shifters.

 Inserting one side of the handlebar wire plus the satellite shifter wire into the right shifter. The satellite shifter is connected to the system by running through the road shifter.

How it looks when the rubber hood covers up the ports

Basic handlebar wiring. This whole section will be mounted entirely on the handlebar.

Once the shifters are hooked up to Junction A, the next step would be to hook up Junction A with Junction B. Junction B is the part that links up all the components, namely the shifters (through Junction A), battery, RD and FD. This distance from Junction A to B varies a lot from bike to bike. For me, I measured the length required if I run it along the rear brake housing, and it is about 1200mm.

The long 1200mm wire. This connects up Junction A to Junction B.

Junction B. It has 4 ports for the 4 wires. Plug into any of the ports as it doesn't matter.

How it looks like when Junction A is connected to Junction B. The other wire is from the battery.

The battery on the battery mount. Connect the wire to the battery mount. I used the 300mm wire for this.

So far, we have connected the battery and the shifters (through Junction A) to Junction B. The other 2 ports are for the RD and FD.

Connecting up the wires to the FD and the RD. I used the 300mm wire for the FD and the 500mm wire for the RD. Note that all wires are interchangeable, use a length which is long enough but not excessively long.

How Junction B looks like when all the components are connected to it.

 Testing out the whole system before installing it onto the bike. It works!

Once you know how the Di2 system is wired up, it only takes you a few minutes to connect everything together. It is always a good idea to test out the whole system before installing the components onto the bike.

It seems easy to set up the Ultegra Di2 system, right? However, the challenging part is to put the whole system onto the bike! Especially for a bike that is not specially designed for a Di2 system, and even more so for a folding bike with non-conventional frame dimensions! In the next part of the article you can see how everything goes onto the bike, and what are the workarounds I had to use to fit the battery and Junction B onto the bike.

Part 3 of the Ultegra Di2 upgrade is now up! Click here to continue reading.