The Pinkbike Podcast: Episode 18 - Are Electronics on Your Mountain Bike Good or Bad?

Aug 14, 2020
by Mike Levy  
Art by Taj Mihelich

No, we're not talking e-bikes today. On the long list of topics that we riders seem to have strong, heartfelt opinions about, electronic components probably sit closer to the top than the bottom. Heck, scroll through the comment feed under a Di2, AXS, or Fox Live Valve article and you're likely to find a bunch of people who seem to believe that microchips and copper wires pose an over-priced existential threat to the sport. And while we likely won't ever have to worry about artificial intelligence choosing our lines for us, there's no denying that high-tech comes with a high price that's hard to justify. Especially when that new battery-powered thingy costs four times as much as the battery-less thingy you already have that does the job just fine. Hhmm, so what's the point?

In what turned into a bit of a 'Mike VS Mike' podcast, I make a case for electronic components while Kazimer attempts to win me over by using common sense. I'm mostly impervious to common sense, though, and I'm also convinced that electronics can offer us tangible advantages on the trail, especially in the future. After all, this isn't only about today; it's about what's going to happen way down the road. Cable-operated drivetrains and analog suspension will continue to get better and won't even disappear, that's for sure, so why shouldn't brands investigate more advanced solutions?

Kazimer votes for steel cables and analog suspension, while I'm choosing a future that uses Bluetooth and batteries. Who do you agree with?

Available on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, Google Play, or wherever else you get your podcasts.

August 6th, 2020

Does anyone know where I left my charger?

Hosted by Mike Levy (usually) and featuring a rotating cast of the editorial team and other guests, the Pinkbike Podcast is a weekly update on all the latest stories from around the world of mountain biking, as well as some frank discussion about tech, racing, and everything in between.

Previous Pinkbike Podcasts
Episode 1 - Why Are Bikes So Expensive?
Episode 2 - Where the Hell is the Grim Donut?
Episode 3 - Pond Beaver Tech
Episode 4 - Why is Every Bike a Trail Bike?
Episode 5 - Can You Trust Bike Reviews?
Episode 6 - Over Biked Or Under Biked?
Episode 7 - Wild Project Bikes
Episode 8 - Do We Need an Even Larger Wheel Size?
Episode 9 - Why Are We Doing a Cross-Country Field Test?
Episode 10 - Getting Nerdy About Bike Setup
Episode 11 - Are We Going Racing This Year?
Episode 12 - What's the Future of Bike Shops?
Episode 13 - Are Bikes Too Regular Now?
Episode 14 - What Bikes Would Pinkbike Editors Buy?
Episode 15 - What's Holding Mountain Biking Back?
Episode 16 - Who's Your Mountain Biking Hero?
Episode 17 - XC Field Test Insider

Author Info:
mikelevy avatar

Member since Oct 18, 2005
2,032 articles

  • 38 3
 I've got AXS X01 shifting + the AXS Reverb. I'm a "shop employee" (IT guy) so I got it on discount. Even with that, I would say the value is poor, but I still like it because I'm a tech guy and it's neat. It shifts really well, never needs adjusting, and the dropper is honestly the best one I've ever used, even without the fact that it's wireless. I've never been burned by an uncharged battery but I have lots of spares because my road bike has the original Red eTap.

At full price, it's completely unjustifiable though.
  • 33 1
 mostly concerned about how Steve is holding up....does he get a break from all that f%$king?
  • 7 1
 Agree with this 100%... I'm not a shop guy but got my AXS setup at a really reasonable price way below MSRP and it's completely awesome, love everything about it and have zero complaints. Totally agree that the AXS Reverb is a cut above every other dropper and the wireless setup of drivetrain and dropper is the best thing ever for bike builds. But it's just so much more expensive that a traditional setup that it's impossible to really say it's "worth" the extra cost.

If you can swing the cost and don't care about spending the money, you'll love it... but if you're at all concerned about cost, you'll likely regret spending that much more for it as compared to X0 or XX.
  • 4 3
 Once China starts producing them at a tenth of the price everyone will have them.
  • 7 0
 @Treadly: Pretty sure, China is already making them.
  • 2 0
 “Never neeeds adjustment”???? Sound 10000000% worth it only by that.

  • 26 0
 Electronics on a bike seem counter intuitive to the idea of human powered vehicles. But whatever floats your boat! Or turns your wheel, or drops your seat post, or whatever I guess!
  • 7 0
 I agree, I like that bicycles are pretty simple And I'd only support something that complicated it, if the benefits were truly amazing
  • 8 1
 or lights your path
  • 8 1
 @slovenian6474: haha I use my phone..but I get your point. I don't feel lights interfere with the simplicity of a bike though..unlike adding electronics to components that work well without
  • 4 0
 @nordland071285: Smile Just playing devil's advocate. I have no personal beef with electronics on bikes but don't run any since it's all too expensive.
  • 6 0
 The engineering that makes conventional suspension work well is far from simple. A normal damper vs. Live Valve are both essentially black boxes to me, so I'm not really bothered whether that black box includes electronics.
  • 20 4
 Rode with someone with electronic shifting for the first time the other day, non-stop stream of espousing it's superiority...right up till the battery died half way up the climb.

Oh the sweet sweet taste of irony hahahaha :'D
  • 10 1
 @DirkMcClerkin: That's Single Speed Mode. It's a feature.
  • 4 11
flag onlyDH (Aug 14, 2020 at 13:04) (Below Threshold)
 How do you feel about air springs, coils, and campers providing non human support for your bike?
  • 21 0
 @onlyDH: Springs only store mechanical energy that is provided by human work. Dampers don't support anything, they resist motion. Campers on the other hand often provide beer at the end of rides so they're cool.
  • 8 4

Well, that person is a dumb ass, since batteries last weeks to months in between charges.
  • 7 1
 @nordland071285: I'm using SRAM AXS drivetrain and dropper for exactly that reason. To make it simpler. No cables, no maintenance. Just charge the batteries every three weeks (riding 400+ miles / month). Bike is easier to clean as well. The shifting is super crisp and smooth. The dropper is great.
  • 4 0
 @hllclmbr: that's exactly the problem. The longer the interval between charges, the easier it is to forget the whole thing. And I sometimes even forget to charge my phone...
  • 2 2
 @DirkMcClerkin: Cool story brah!
  • 2 4
 @hllclmbr: Likely a dumbass that never actually existed. ;-)
  • 3 1
 @onlyDH: how do you feel about a bicycle being a machine that isn't just walking with your legs? Great point you've got there.
  • 3 0
 @Mac1987: don't worry, the interval will come down as the battery degrades
  • 21 1
 Do you have two or more people with axs in your riding group? Switch the shifters when they're not looking. So when buddy A hits the button on his bars it actuates the derailleur on buddy B's bike!
  • 2 0
 Pretty sure it is even funnier to switch cable operated controls.
  • 33 14
 Mountain biking is bad enough for the environment already. Adding in carbon parts that can’t be recycled at the end of their life, batteries that use toxic materials and don’t hold a charge after a few years, and motors that are not user serviceable all only make it worse. I like parts that are simple, user serviceable, durable, and recyclable at the end of their life.
  • 26 22
 If you aren’t barefoot running, whatever you do outside is “bad” for the environment.

Do you ever drive to the trailhead?
  • 36 1
 @hllclmbr: hey. Just cause you make a footprint doesn’t mean you can’t try making a smaller one
  • 1 7
flag Chuckolicious (Aug 15, 2020 at 8:35) (Below Threshold)
 Laudable ideal, but not the actual universe we inhabit.
  • 4 0
 @bulletbassman: That's why I ride a bike to work all year long. Sometimes it's zero F with ice on the roads, but 365, I still ride. I use a helmet mounted light most months.

Is my footprint bigger or smaller because of that light?
  • 2 0
 @hllclmbr: bigger than if you used dynamo power? Good on you for riding to work all weathers
  • 2 0
 @hllclmbr: Depends on the context. In the context of offsetting vehicle use, yes, the light allows you to do that even more, therefore reducing your footprint.

However, in the context of just riding, where you could still ride without it and all it does is make the ride more enjoyable or whatever, then your footprint is bigger.

And then, like Nord mentioned, you can get crazy granular and address the generation fuel source. Coal? Gas? Nuke? Renewable?

But forget all that nonsense. Good on you for riding 365!
  • 19 2
 I am more then happy for people to spend that kind of unnecessary money to help support the bike industry and the shops. But even more excited about its potential cost decrease impact to archaic cable actuated droppers and shifters. I would never run electronic shift or dropper even if it was the same price as mechanical, mainly because disposable electronics is an environment issue we need to consider, and I have a huge appreciation for mechanical things that just fucking work.
  • 18 0
 Dude I don't even wash my bike. How the heck am I going to remember to charge a battery?
  • 6 0
 Reality? You won't. At some point in the middle of nowhere it will just die and you'll say "crap".
  • 10 0
 On one of Nate Hills episode we filmed this spring, we realized he had 12 batteries on him and his bike!
Tire wizz (2) AXS derailer and post (4) garmin (1) 2 go pro (2) iPhone (1) gimble (1)

That s a bit much! But, I m all for AXS. It is luxury, but it is the next level shifting, durability headache free set up.
  • 12 4
 At that point you need to stop, look at yourself and ask "WTF am i doing here"?
  • 8 1
 @nyhc00: remember, that is is full time job to film those videos...
  • 2 3
 @alexptdmg: so you need a tire wizz, AXS derailleur & post and Garmin to film videos?
  • 4 1
 @nyhc00: no, but he’s sponsored to ride that stuff so he’s going to ride it.
  • 2 8
flag nyhc00 (Aug 14, 2020 at 17:03) (Below Threshold)
 @sdurant12: let’s not all play dumb here, you know full well if you went out riding with a buddy geared up like Ironman either you’d call him out or ride solo.
  • 5 1
 Thanks for the content. Nate Hills and Follow am Friday are awesome!
  • 9 0
 Nothing wrong with it but I prefer not worry about battery charging and such, I guess I'm old school.
  • 5 2
 Old school and sensible.. Batteries are a pain in the butt I'd like to see more work going into dynamo type things.. imo powering something from your pedaling without the need for a batteries is way cooler I'm still looking for an affordable way to charge my phone using a bottle the moment the only options are expensive
  • 1 0
There is some pretty clean dynamo integration on the touring side of cycling especially with integrated fork dropouts on the schmidt sl. Someone will need to rework it for thru axles though.

Honestly most mountain bike electronic things, excepting lighting, could be powered through inductance at the front and rear wheels and a reduced weight relative to a touring dynamo.

philosophically I don't like bikes that require an outside source of power to operate properly.
  • 1 0
 @Deanargh: thanks for the info dude, is the schmidt sl a hub dynamo?
It looks like that's easier to rig up electronics to, whereas bottle dynamos have fewer options

The thing is, I want to use bottle dynamo so that I can use my existing hub
  • 2 5
 Me too, That's why I only chat with my friends via carrier pigeon or tin can and strings. I don't want to be tied down by batteries.
  • 5 0
 Love AXS on MTB, Di2 on road, won’t be buying a cable derailleur system again now. Love the ease and consistency of shifting plus zero maintenance, and the integration of gears and dropper controllers with AXS, allowing different buttons to do different things.

(Cinq innovations are the German company making triggers for gearboxes. Nothing electronic yet though but I’ll be first in line when they do.)
  • 1 0
 +1! in 10 years axs will be at the nx price range. Everyone who wants it at a cheap price needs to realize that you need people who pay the novelty (research) tax and market the shit out of it Smile
  • 2 0
 @pycior: I don’t think it will. Etap was first released 5 years ago, and it’s only just made it to MTB, and the second tier in road, which still isn’t cheap. The issue is that the shift function will be the same, all the way down the range, so there would be no real incentive to buy the expensive stuff, even if the cheap electric mechs and shifters were double the weight, it wouldn’t add much to the bike total, so why bother with expensive stuff?
  • 1 0
 @tomhoward379: Well from a manufacturing perspective it's awesome to drop a technology - every operation becomes cheeper - in the end you'll have a homogenous product software/sensor-locked in lower tiers - it seems many industries are going that way.
  • 9 4
 Like to or not, it is the future. The technology will continue to get better and the prices will go down. Us analog users will continue to get old and die and the young newbies to the sport will be raised on integrated bike electronics. Looks at the the automobile, it used to not have electric starting...
  • 8 0
 Where the Hell is the Grim Donut?
  • 2 0
 Out picking up all the toys from the blast radius of the PB comments section’s pram.
  • 3 0
  • 1 0
 Yoann is testing it, posted some insta.
  • 6 3
 Ya’ll enjoy the debate. I absolutely love mine. I would sell my first born to have no cables (I almost had to) but that’s just me. It’s survived a Pacific Northwest brutal winter and spring and already 10 long smashy days in the bike park and still running flawlessly.
  • 2 4
 Why though?
  • 7 1
 @nordland071285: why not? Axs has undeniable benefits the only points against it are cost and the possibilities of having a battery die on you. But it’s not like cables can’t snap and I’d definitely rather swap a battery on trail then have to deal with broken cables. Plus I’d actually bring an extra battery with me but I’d never bring extra cables. Also, some frames are a bad time with the setup of the internal routing. Plus imagine never having to deal with cable stretch again in your life.
  • 12 0
 @nordland071285: hadn’t replaced my drive train in 4-5 years and needed all new stuff. Was curious to try. I’m also a grown up with a job and can afford it.
  • 3 1
 @Daledenton: fair enough, I've just never had a cable snap, so I didnt consider it a real drawback..
But I appreciate why electronic would be preferable if you've had cables snap on you
  • 2 0
 @Daledenton: Really? I always carry a spare derailleur cable. It cost and weighs almost nothing. I have replaced broken cables many times out on the trail. Never on my own bike though. Having said that, I don't think I would be faster or have more fun if I had electronic shifting!
  • 6 1
 @nordland071285: Have you ever had to adjust a derailleur? Have you ever had to route internal cables? Ever had to route internal hydro lines for a dropper? Ever had to replace derailleur cables? Ever wished you could switch the function of your shift levers so they worked opposite of the way they came? Ever wondered how often you're shifting or if you're really using all your gears? Ever wanted to go from one end of the cassette to the other with a single lever press instead of a few?

There's literally no drawbacks at all to AXS except cost. It's not a matter of people breaking cables and wanting a solution, it's a matter of it doing everything mechanical groups do but doing it all better and also doing a number of things that mechanical never will. It really is pretty great.

That having been said, it's really not "worth" the extra cost objectively. If you can afford it and aren't worried about the cost, you won't regret it. If you have other things you'd like to upgrade on your bike you'd be far better off buying regular X0 and a new fork or whatever it is that you'd like to upgrade with your budget... but as that 'last thing I haven't maxed out' kind of upgrade, it's pretty sweet.
  • 1 0
 @badbadleroybrown: I have done most of those things, but not a dropper I must admit
Its not something I find needs doing very often so I guess it's not that important in my life to have it made easier, even if the price was lower.
The other drawback (other than cost) is batteries, isn't it?
  • 2 0
 @nordland071285: I guess you could say they're a consideration but I wouldn't really call it a drawback... they don't need charging that often and the whole "forgot to charge my battery" thing isn't something I've ever had to deal with. It's easy to see when you get low on charge and easy to charge them, the coin cell batteries in the levers rarely need replacing. I think at this point, we're used to enough electronic devices in our lives that need charging that they integrate pretty easily into your routine.
  • 1 0
 @badbadleroybrown: I dont mind recharging schedules, I just avoid batteries where I can
  • 8 2
 No thanks, I'm acoustic for life.
  • 2 0
 Neutral towards electronics on a bike. At no point has it ever crossed my mind while riding. Never have been like, "ooh it would be nice to have a wireless shifter or dropper."

I would probably classify these types of electronics as nice to have, but unnecessary; or as we call them in online gaming, "vanity items". I would not classify them as good or bad as they are not strongly correlated with positive performance of the bike when on the trail.
  • 2 0
 The podcast talked a bunch about wireless drivetrains/droppers but not gps/power meter/shock/tire wiz. Stuff that’s cool to have (well, maybe) but doesn’t affect you if any of it stops working. How do you feel about that?
  • 2 1
 I honestly don't see the issue with pushing the boundaries with electronics. Just like some can't afford or just don't see the value in 6k - 9k bikes I'm sure glad they are made. All the advances trickle down to more affordable options. Soon Bluetooth stuff may not cost anymore than so-called "analog" equipment. I say bring on the future!

Also, if you've ever used any of the AXS stuff then you know there's value there. The cost is abhorrently high though, so no, it's not necessary to own but it sure is a treat to use (AXS mixed with Shimano is the cats pajamas). Especially the dropper, I bought one and use it on three different bikes using shims. It takes me 5 minutes to switch. I don't know if it saved me money or if it's more practical than just owning three droppers but I like it.
  • 4 1
 I'm all for these sorts of gizmos on bikes as long as they don't become the normal and analog goes away. I have enough nonsense i need to keep charged.
  • 2 2
 I saw a brand new Penny Farthing on the back of a...wait for it...Prius, yesterday while driving home from the park. Something tells me you'll be fine.
  • 1 0
 Has anyone ever had an issue with AXS while riding near high tension electrical lines???
A few times I've run into EMF's (Electromagnetic Fields) around them so intense that my wireless cycling computer stops reading the transmitter on the fork. As soon as I got away from the lines it started working again.
  • 1 0
 Got Di2 on my road and gravel bike. Wouldn't go back for that, there's nothing worse than being a long way from home, bonking and your shifting is slightly off, but you're struggling too hard to do anything about it. On my mtb, I haven't felt the need so much. It also cost way more, esp used.
  • 1 0
 Wish I lived in Squamish so I could justify buying a 160mm enduro bike ;-) The risk:reward ratio on my local trails doesn't make sense though.

Also, an AXS dropper was going to be my next post but will probably stick with my trusty KS Dropzone post (which has been flawless for 4 years) for another year and hope the price falls a little. More travel would be good too (5'11 and 420mm sest tube).
  • 1 0
 Cant afford axs or di2 on my mountain bike, but my cx bike has di2 on it, and I LOVE it. built the bike and set it up about 2 years ago now, and I haven't had to adjust, tweak or do anything to it, and its worked flawlessly. The battery lasts insanely long, and plugging it in once every 2 or so weeks really isnt that much of a hassle. It also is just great to ride. I commute on that bike quite a bit, and downshifting to by big ring while slow pedaling as i approach a junction feels so cool. Just grab a handful of left button, and you're all the way up the cassette in no time. Cant help but feel like my next enduro bike should have electronic shifting.
  • 1 0
 So I keep wondering why there isn’t a reverse lockout on enduro bikes? Similar to the old Marzocchi where it would lock you underneath a certain point. This would make your steering considerable better because on theses long travel endure bike it would greatly reduce your reach. You also would be in a better climbing position since you would be better positioned to put the power into your rear tire. It it was a simple switch you just lock it out at the bottom of a crappy fire road climb, and unlock it at the top. Thoughts?
  • 1 0
 Eagle AXS came on my bike. I love the dropper post but the Eagle AXS I have had problems with.... forgetting to charge or at least it mysteriously ran out of power soon after. At leat I have the battery on the dropper i can swap out. Also the thing seems need indexing quite often so we it is not faultless by any means. The worse thing by far is banging the rear derailleur and breaking it! I was going to replace it with mechanical XO1 which works well on the other bike but there was a backorder on the XO1 mechanical I was too impatient $$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$$
  • 1 0
 I like them, but I'm not in a rush to go electronic on my trail bike (E29). I carry a spare cable, but as I replace mine annually and I live in SoCal, they rarely break. On my XC bike I would love it, but I already have the new XTR so I don't see the value of replacing something that works well.

My road bike has all external cables. When I replace that bike, I will probably go electronic. Probably.
  • 1 0
 GPS based suspension would be an innovation for mtb. Would be great to see in races with laps or even enduro and DH. Something similar to what MotoGP and wsbk used for corner based traction control. The only thing with mtb though is you would have to get the weights down to be more reasonable.
  • 1 0
 I would love to hear you guys discuss fork sag and how much sag you like to run on different types of forks. Does anyone actually run Fox’s recommended 20% sag on their trail and enduro forks? Am I the only one that thinks they ride harsh and horrible at 20%? Love to hear you guys discuss.
  • 1 0
 I had the xt/xtr di2 for a year and loved it, but it wasn't a longlasting product and it broke way too much. So now i'm back on a normal xt setutp. For mountainbiking i prefer a mechanical setup. For roadbiking however i love the di2. It has worked there for mans years without issues. I don't like the magura vyron at all, the lag is way too long. Anyhow, rohloff does offer a electronic shifter for its electronic gearhub. So it should be possible to do the same for gearboxes. Also, Shimano and Enviolo both offer automatic shifting for their ebike offerings.
  • 1 0
 One of the reasons I ride mountain bike and other activities is to get away from electronics. Not necessarily avoiding technology but electronics. Not sure why but I prefer something a bit more old school. I prefer hiking, bow hunting and until recently, hardtails all to avoid progression. Now that I think about it, not sure it is the best way but it is my way.
  • 1 0
 the answer is, pick whatever you want both are valid options and in general good for consumers even if you prefer just one over the other if i could afford it i would definitely go for electronics, i just like it im a geek
  • 3 2
 After having AXS X01 for 6 months I will say no, it is not worth the money. The only part I like about it is having the gear readout running on my garmin 830.

And the shifter (controller) is horrible
  • 1 0
 I find it hard to switch back to analog xo1 shifter. The paddle on axs is perfectly placed, and I have a wrist injury that makes the shifter so much better.
  • 1 1
 Got an AXS 2 months ago, out of curiosity. Won't go back to classic. It is just better. Simple. Sturdy. Precise. Quiet. Price? Who cares. You cannot judge everything through objective value. I rarely do. And I never regret.
  • 2 0
 Ahh I love listening to your podcast! I thinks it’s the best one going right now for mtb content. Wish they were a little longer tho
  • 1 0
 Value is relative too, a lot of people don't think twice about specc'ing a car with way more expensive options and some people would get more pleasure spending the unnecessary luxury money on their bikes.
  • 2 1
 There’s no going back, electronics are here to stay. I’m sure my 2025 bicycle will have as many electronics on it as my Ducati race bike. You cant improve performance without data.
  • 1 0
 Topic for discussion. NY times wrote an article has to how and why bike shorts are now a fashion statement. Thoughts? The article is very detailed and traces the origins of bike short fashion to princess Diana.
  • 1 0
 @mikelevy I'd like to offer the feedback that not every PB commenter is male. When you read the comments in the podcast, it's always "he says" and "this guy." It's a small thing but an easy one to fix. Thanks.
  • 4 1
 Electronics on bikes good or bad? Probably good, likely inevitable.
  • 2 1
 If it works better than the mechanical version (and isnt an ebike motor), then its totally worth it.
  • 1 1
 I have bent 2 GX eagle rear derailleurs in 2 years, next time I am going Shimano, definitely not spending $1000 on something that will meet the same fate.
  • 1 1
 Di not go shimano.
  • 1 0
 Agreed, dont want something that can run out of charge. Conversely, a cable can break......
  • 1 0
 Been using the Archer kit, no complaints.
  • 1 0
 Looks like they have abandoned electronics on their newer versions...
  • 1 0
 Why no epic evo review this week!!!
  • 3 2
 NO Electronics
  • 2 1
 Someone said it. I didn't want to be the guy.
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