The 2016 Sea Otter Classic Festival and Expo is just getting under way, but there's already news from Shimano about a new Deore Di2 mountain bike group, greater options for Di2 configurations for drop bar riders as well as improved connectivity for all Di2 groups with Bluetooth capabilities.
Although the just-announced Deore XT m8050 Di2 drivetrain components aren't really offering anything revolutionary over the existing XTR Di2 options, the new group brings electronic off-road components with wide-range gearing options to a price point that more gravel, cyclocross and adventure cyclists will be able to appreciate. Not that many of us have Dura-Ace or XTR on our road, cyclocross or mountain bikes, so the trickle-down of Di2 technology on the off-road side of things gives more riders a new affordable electronic option.
The new Deore XT will have an 11-46 cassette for a 1x setup, and an 11-42 and 11-40 that can be used for 1x or 2x setups. Double cranksets will come with 24/34, 26/36, and 28/38 chainrings. If you're a gravel grinder who loves all-day climbing affairs, the double chainring option presents some amazingly low gear options that could be useful for even some loaded touring or bike packing.
Single ring cyclocross and gravel enthusiasts can imagine the possibilities using either Shimano's single-ring crankset chainring options such as their XT offering or any number of other options on the market from Wolf Tooth, Absolute Black or even SRAM to optimize for the right top and low gear. And if the 11-42 is too wide come cyclocross race season? We'll bet money it would work pretty well with an 11-32 or 11-36 11-speed cassette, even if Shimano isn't making one for XT or XTR.
The biggest innovation from Shimano that we saw last night, and officially released this morning, is the new Low Energy Bluetooth connectivity battery and transmitters. These are not Deore XT m8050 specific, but rather will eventually replace the Di2 battery on all groups, and can be purchased as a plug-and-play upgrade for existing XTR m9050, Dura-Ace 9070 Di2 and Ultegra 6870/R785 Di2 owners. The new battery and Bluetooth transmitters, the System Information Display or the Wireless Unit, now simplify the process of updating and configuring the Di2 setup. A smart phone or tablet can be used rather than a laptop or desktop computer making the whole process easier.
The new battery has a bigger capacity, but more importantly, as Shimano puts it, "a bigger brain." This new battery, when paired with either the new wired gearing and battery status display or the new Bluetooth transmitter, will allow riders to use third-party head units like Garmin, Cateye or Wahoo to show gearing data and battery life and pair the bike with a tablet or smart phone to change the configuration and adjust setup. That means riders will be able to more easily swap between 1x or 2x pre-sets, configure how the shift buttons operate, including multi-shift delay or synchro-shift, and will also be able to control third-party components, like Fox Suspension offerings, change the adjustment setting, which is useful when swapping wheels, or if you tweak your hanger in a crash, update firmware and download data.
In its official presentation unveiling the components, Shimano acknowledged that the Deore XT 8050 Di2 components will work with Ultegra 6870 and Dura-Ace 9070 Di2 e-Tube components, as well as the XTR m9050 components. That the road and mountain components are compatible isn't news per se, but it's a slight shift in the Japanese component company's typical official party line of not endorsing a mix-and-match approach.
The official word is that you can use the Deore XT front and rear derailleurs with the R785 hydraulic/Di2 STI levers, or the Ultegra and Dura-Ace Di2 STI levers, you just can't mix and match road and mountain bike derailleurs. So if you want the wide-range gearing options and clutch-based rear derailleur of the new Deore XT Di2 (or existing XTR 9050 Di2), you can run a double ring setup with both mountain bike derailleurs, or a single ring setup with just the rear derailleur, but can't pair the mountain rear derailleur with the road derailleur. We saw set-ups like this at this year's NAHBS. You could also run the new Deore or existing XTR shifters on a flat bar with the existing Di2 road derailleurs. Those options are also offiicially talked about now too.
Stay tuned for more news from Shimano as well as more updates from Sea Otter.