As the rolling test lab that is the Tour de France peloton concludes its journey around France, the very top level of professional cycling may seem far removed from the equipment that most average cyclists use. However, the input and testing of top professionals drives what the rest of us ride. While the bikes and equipment that the pros utilize may seem out of reach, the technology that is pioneered every year is the same technology that eventually makes its way to the public at large. Cycling manufacturers rely heavily on professional riders to develop product and, once perfected, that same technology trickles down through other levels in the product line. From framesets to drivetrain components, what is unobtainable today will be trickled down to a more affordable price point tomorrow.
One of the most exciting examples of trickle down for 2012 is the release of Shimano’s electronic shifting components in its second tier Ultegra group. For the past few seasons, the electronic shifting option in the top end Dura Ace line brought a new standard in shifting performance to road bikes. Instantaneous shifts under heavy loads in all conditions made the Di2 group the benchmark for shifting but an exorbitant price tag kept the technology out of most cyclists’ hands. With the release of Ui2, there will be an option more readily accessible to more riders.
Functionally, Ui2 works much the same as its pricier sibling. Lever ergonomics remain the same and the derailers operate in the same fashion to Di2. The bulk of the economic savings comes from the use of less exotic materials. Aluminum brake lever blades replace carbon fiber and steel replaces titanium for the fasteners. Beyond hardware changes, Ui2 gets a new, slimmer wiring system that simplifies production over the existing wiring setup of its big brother. No performance is lost in the change and a bit of weight is shed in the process. This means that in all likelihood, the new wiring kit with in fact trickle up to Di2 in future versions of the group.
Pricing is not yet set for Ultegra’s electronic offering, but it is expected it to be in line with mechanical Dura-Ace. While not exactly in the realm of budget componentry, the new Ui2 group will certainly be more obtainable for many cyclists and will be featured as stock equipment on a number of road bikes for the 2012 model year. With nearly identical performance as its more exotic sibling, Shimano’s Ultegra electronic shifting defines the trickle down benefits brought on by constant technological changes at the top end of the sport. For those of us without professional contracts, the availability of such improvements will see higher and higher levels of quality across all spectrums of bicycle price points.