Electronic shifting for road bikes has existed in various forms dating all the way back to the 1990s, but it's a much newer concept in the mountain bike world. After all, it was only four years ago that Shimano's XTR Di2 gruppo was announced, and although there have been rumors and photos floating around of an off-road version of SRAM's wireless eTap system, nothing's official yet. That means there's currently room in the marketplace for small upstarts looking to make their mark, and that's exactly what Archer Components are hoping to do with their D1x wireless electronic shifting system.
Archer D1x Shifter Details
• Matchmaker compatible remote shifter
• App-based setup via Bluetooth
• 1-year warranty
• Weight (shifter and remote): 235 grams
• Rechargeable Li-ion batteries (two in shifter, one in remote)
• MSRP: $389 USD
Roughly the size of a TV remote, the device eliminates the need for almost all cable and housing, except for the short length that runs from the unit to the rear derailleur. Other than that, it's fully wireless, communicating with the small thumb shifter via Bluetooth. Total weight of the shifter and remote, including batteries, is 235 grams, and it retails for $389 USD. Installation
Installation of the D1x is fairly straightforward, and while it does require a few extra steps compared to setting up a traditional cable and housing setup, it's simpler than getting a Shimano Di2 system up and running. Archer's instructions are clearly written, and the app is easy to use – even riders with only basic mechanical experience should be able to get everything functioning properly without too much hassle.
The first step is to remove that analog shifter and all the cable and housing attached to it – it's time to go (mostly) wireless. The next part of the process is to install the batteries, which is slightly annoying due to the fact that a 1.5mm Allen wrench is required to access them – a larger bolt or some sort of slide-on cover would be more convenient. The remote takes a rechargeable lithium-ion 10440 battery, and the shifting unit takes two 14500 lithium-ion batteries. Although the shifter batteries are the same size as regular alkaline AA batteries, Archer says that the amount of voltage is different between the two, and using AA batteries is strongly discouraged. Run time is claimed to be 30-hours in the normal mode, and 50+ in the low-power mode. That's not nearly as long as what you'll get with Shimano's Di2 system, but there's plenty of juice for multiple really long rides in a row, and it's easy to check the battery levels, either via the app or by clicking the power button on the shifter to see what color light is displayed (solid green = 50-100%, flashing green = 30-50%, solid red 15-30% and flashing red is less than 15%).
Once the batteries are in place, and the cable is installed into the shift unit, the remote and shifter are mounted to the frame. The remote is Matchmaker compatible, which allowed it to easily attach underneath the SRAM brake lever I was running. The shift unit sits underneath the chainstay, where it's attached by two plastic P-straps. With those straps snugged down the device felt secure, but I still used an additional thick zip-tie for a little extra security – the last thing I wanted was to somehow kick the whole unit into my spokes and end up with all sorts of issues to deal with. I also ended up putting a section of electrical tape over the on/off button – again, to prevent it from getting pulled out of place by my heel, something I discovered was a possibility during my first test ride.
Archer's app makes it possible to pick which gear the system with revert to if the battery dies, as well as select how many gears will be changed when the shift button is held down.
It's after the remote and shifter are tightened down and the cable is routed through the derailleur that Archer's app comes into play. The app is the final step, the part of the process where the number of speeds and the distance between each cog is fine-tuned to ensure consistent shifting with each button push.
The app has a number of clever features that help take care of some of the concerns that accompany running a battery-powered drivetrain. The question that comes up most often is, “What happens if the batteries die in the middle of a ride? During the setup process it's possible to pick which gear the shifter will shift to before giving up the ghost; that way you can pick a gear somewhere towards the easier side of the cassette and not need to push all the way home.
Got juice? There are indicators for the battery level of both the shifter and remote.
The app allows users to set exactly how much the derailleur moves between each gear.
It's also possible to adjust what happens when you hold the shift button down; it can be set to move the derailleur up to five cogs in either direction with a single extended push.
The fact the amount the derailleur moves between cogs can be customized opens up options that aren't possible with a traditional shifter. Theoretically, you could have a custom cassette with a super-tight cluster at the bottom, and much bigger jumps towards the larger climbing gears. The shifter is compatible with up to a 12-speed cassette, but if someone decides to create a 13-speed cassette Archer say they could easily update the app to accommodate that. Mixing-and-matching components from various manufacturers is also easier – the brand of derailleur and cassette isn't a factor with this system.
The communication between the handlebar-mounted remote and the shifter is wireless, but there is still a short piece of cable that's used to move the derailleur.
Once I had everything dialed in on the stand (I installed the device on a SRAM X01 drivetrain, with a 12-speed, 10-50 tooth cassette) it was time for some real-world testing. I tossed a couple spare batteries in my pack, just in case, and proceeded to start putting in the miles on the Archer-equipped drivetrain. On my very first ride I stopped part way through to do some fine-tuning, and had to laugh at myself when I pulled out my phone in order to adjust the shifting. I definitely prefer barrel adjusters to tapping on a touchscreen, but the adjustment didn't take long, and after that little trail side tweak the shifting was spot on.
It's also possible to perform micro-adjustments without a phone - a three second push of the shifter's power button will put it into adjustment mode, and then the remote can be used to set where the derailleur should sit. On the topic of analog vs. electronic, I also never really got used to needing to turn on the shifter before beginning a ride. More than once I started to pedal off, and then realized, "Crap, I forgot to turn on my shifter..."
It didn't take me too long to get used to the ergonomics of the remote, but shifting never felt quite as comfortable and intuitive as it does with SRAM or Shimano's current shifters. That's likely due in part to all the years I've spent using a different shifter shape, but having two identical buttons situated right next to each other did require more brain power to remember which one did what. Once the correct button was depressed, though, the derailleur shifted exactly the amount that I'd instructed it to during the setup process every single time.
Up and down shifts were quick and accurate, accompanied by the 'bzzzt' of the motor pulling on the cable, although the shift speed didn't feel quite as rapid as a fully cable-actuated setup. It's not a dramatic difference, and I never missed a shift or found myself in the wrong gear because of the delay, but for super fast shifting in either direction the old-school way still reigns supreme.
The shifter saw plenty of wet conditions during testing, but it survived all of the puddle dunkings and mud baths that I put it through. As I mentioned earlier, I did kick the rubber on/off switch cover off with my heel, and ended up putting electrical tape over it to help prevent that from happening again. Ideally, that button would be in a different location, preferably further towards the rear of the device. Pinkbike's Take