Shimano XTR Di2 Images and First Thoughts

Well, if you have been to the shop in the past week, someone working likely called out the Black Inc Cannondale FSi equipped with Shimano XTR Di2.  Long awaited, with many preview photos and promises, the Di2 set up beautifully on the 29er and looked great.  Some of the wire routing might get a little refining in the near future, but looks sleek and operates flawlessly (when set up correctly).  The auto front shifting mode (Synchro) is creative and helps remove even more shifting error possibilities from the rider so they may enjoy the results more than the operation.  Even more attractive motor sounds (than road Di2) when the derailleurs shift is welcome and should be able to be heard quite well while riding.  I did neglect to have a pedal installed when rotating the crank arms, so my actions are not nearly as smooth in response to how it will shift while riding.  Hopefully, we will be able to experiment with merging both systems — like maybe a rear XTR Di2 derailleur with a large rear cassette on a road bike or gravel grinder or touring setup and a road front derailleur.  Seeing each component in the Di2 software will also be a great experiment for feedback.  I will be doing a follow up article regarding it soon.  For now, here are a few photos of the group (except the crank) and later (once processed), I have a video to post of front and rear Synchro shifting.

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Dura-Ace 9000 Front Derailleur Setup (with updates)

**** This article will have updates over time due to the popularity of viewing (thanks) and some good tips and setup methods that have been refined over time. Updates will be noted with a * at the beginning of the sentence and at the end.  Important updates will now be placed at the top.

*I am not a fan of the Ultegra/105 level polymer cables.  The individual circlets of polymer coating frayed even with precise installation and over time, clog cable housing (of all types including sheaths in the new Venge VIAS) badly and increase friction horribly.  I highly suggest you install the Dura-Ace polymer cables as they perform exponentially better since the polymer strands are a spiral and do not ever seem to clog the housing under proper installation and maintenance.*

*When installing the front derailleur cable, I wrap the extra length around in my hand (before anchoring it) and pull hard while actuating the shift lever to aid the housing in settling in.  At this same time, I like to use the dull edge of a 3-way hex wrench against the inside curve of the housing.  This creates a nice V oval shaped channel for the cable to run.  With the addition of SP41 grease during installation, that cable is the smoothest shift on the market.  I would even suggest using the cables and housing on other brand’s systems.*

*The loctite (and somehow grease?, which shouldn’t be used) on the support bolts for both Dura-Ace and Ultegra (and 105) front derailleurs is not nearly enough to support the high force pressure of the front derailleur over any decent length of time.  So, take the time and immediately remove this bolt, clean it, and apply blue loctite all over it.  It will help to ensure the front derailleur shifts exceptionally well over time.*

*Chainrings matter!!! Shimano rings work best, followed by in order of our shop experience: FSA, SWORKS, Cannondale SI spiders, ROTOR, SRAM (only Yaw rings, the regular ones do not perform well for racing conditions), Praxis, and then whatever other chainrings are out there including oval rings (I think personally – “You just chose the best shifting system on the market and now want to use it with chainrings that travel up and down under the front derailleur by almost 2cm?  Sure, that’ll work beautifully.?) Just saying that there are probably other options that save you those watts without destroying a great mechanical design.*

Also, please note that the new 6800 Ultegra and 5800 105 level front derailleurs from Shimano are also setup the same way except the Ultegra and 105 models use a slightly different converter tool and instead of a pivotal washer, the pin position that the cable passes before the anchor bolt can be removed and flipped for the recommended setting from the converter tool.*

So, I’ve just recently finished learning and training about the new drive-train group from Shimano, Dura-Ace 9000.  It is a more complex system than last model (7900) and requires some different tools and setup procedures that I’d like to discuss and bring to light.  In particular, the front derailleur is quite different and features extra trim functions (allowing there to be no chain rub) that the Dura-Ace 7900 doesn’t have as well as a great setup tool (TL-FD90) to account for the difference in frame shapes so the derailleur is set up with the same features in all applications.  The new front derailleur (FD-9000) sports a longer “arm” to which the cable attaches, providing a smaller swing of the shift lever, which both decreases rider fatigue and produces quicker and more accurate power.  Lastly, the feature that surprised me at first is the addition of a frame support bolt for the braze-on FD-9000.  It is part of the same design used on the 10-speed Dura-Ace Di2 front derailleur that stiffens the action and equates to a much more “positive” shift.  Onto the setup!

Dura-Ace 9000 Front Derailleur

The first thing you’ll want to examine, of course, is which front derailleur will work best on your frame.  I recommend always going with the braze-on type and using one of three adapter sizes (34.9mm, 31.8mm, and 31.8mm with a 28.6mm shim).  This way, you gain the advantage of having the support bolt as well as the option to use it on a different size frame.  Once you’ve selected the correct adapter, attach the derailleur to the adapter using the conical washer and bolt included and torque to the value of 5-7Nm.

Install the adapter onto the frame and lightly tighten the bolt so that you can slide and move the derailleur into position.  Line the bottom edge outer plate of the derailleur cage within 1-3mm of the large chainring and position the tail of the derailleur cage 0.5-1mm inward from being lined up with the chainring.  This will give you a little room to use the support bolt, which will conveniently and accurately line the cage up parallel to the large chainring.

Using a 2mm allen key, turn the support bolt (located right above the top of the cage) clockwise until it just touches the frame.  *Always remove this support bolt and apply blue loctite.  The support bolts have been found to move over time when settling in and as the derailleur ages. The loctite already on the bolt is not sufficient to keep the bolt in place.*  Then, you’ll remove the derailleur in order to adhere the little metal plate that comes with the component.  It comes with two plates.  One is curved and one is flat.  Use whichever seems to fit better to the frame and make sure the adhesive part is not positioned behind the support bolt.  Using isopropyl alcohol, wipe the area where the support bolt touched the frame earlier so the adhesive patch on the plate has a good clean surface to stick to.  Once this is done, reinstall the derailleur as mentioned in the prior paragraph and turn the support bolt counterclockwise until the outer plate of the cage lines back up with the large chainring.

It’s on the bike! However, that was the easy part.  the next part is critical to setting it up right and making sure all the advantages of the new design are tuned and accurate.  Like I mentioned earlier, the FD-9000 features 4 positions (two normal positions and two trim positions – one for each ring) called “low-trim” position, “low” position, “top-trim” position, and “top” position.  The start of the adjustments begins with the low-trim position.  The anchor bolt for the cable has two different routes that the cable can pass through and the tool mentioned earlier (TL-FD90) will allow you to see which route to choose for the washer (The cable routes the exact same in both cases, but the washer will either be positioned to the left or right).   First, remove the anchor bolt from the derailleur and insert the TL-FD90 into the same hole the anchor bolt was in.  Route the cable into the slot on the tool and observe if the cable is to the left of the indicator line on the tool or the right.  If it is on the left, the anchor plate washer will point towards the left side (off position) and if the cable runs to the right of the indicator line, the plate should be turned to the right (converter or “on” position).  The washer behind the anchor bolt is the only piece that changes position based on the converter tool setup.  This setup allows the shifting performance is be at its best for each frame design.  *I have found, over time, that there is almost no possible way to correctly hold enough tension on the cable when anchoring it to the derailleur.  Hold as much tension on the cable as possible (usually best with small pliers) and be sure an inline barrel adjuster is installed in the cable routing by the handlebars or a frame barrel adjuster is set completely in.*  While all of this probably sounds pretty confusing, the tool shows a small diagram on each side (on or off) in which to position the anchor bolt washer correctly.

Dura-Ace 9000 Front Derailleur “Converter” Tool, TL-FD90

Onto the adjustments!  Once the cable has been torqued to 5-7Nm, we’re ready to get tuning.  Ensure that the derailleur is in the low-trim position and shift the rear derailleur to the low gear (the biggest cog).  Use the downtube barrel adjuster or inline barrel adjuster and turn counterclockwise until the inner plate of the derailleur cage is within 0-0.5mm of the inside edge of the chain. Then, turn the Low limit screw clockwise until it begins to move the chain and then back it off by an eighth of a turn.  Now, we’ll adjust the cable tension by shifting the derailleur into the top-trim position (Shift to the large chainring and then click once on the shifter and notice the derailleur shift back by a small degree).  While in the top-trim position and the chain still in the low (11) cog in the rear, use the barrel adjuster to bring the inner plate of the derailleur cage to 0-0.5mm of the inside edge of the chain.  Once this is done, shift the front derailleur into the low position.  Shift the rear derailleur into the 5th, 6th, and 7th gears to check for rubbing on the inner skid plate of the cage.  If there is no rubbing in these three gears, shift to the 4th and 8th cogs and turn the barrel adjuster counterclockwise or clockwise 1/2 turn, respectively to finish the tension adjustment.  If there still is no rubbing on the 5th, 6th, and 7th cogs, change the converter position of the washer to the opposite position and repeat the setup.  Last thing is the top adjustment.  Shift the rear derailleur into the top gear (1) and turn the top limit screw until the outer plate is within 0-0.5mm of the outside edge of the chain.  Then, shift through all the gears and check your work.

It’s a lot more complex than derailleurs of the past, but I feel like every adjustment will be what makes this the best front derailleur by Shimano yet (of course, except the Dura-Ace Di2 9070).  All of these steps help to ensure against dropping the chain, missed shifts, and less chain rub.

Since that was all a bit dry and technical, renew your flavor for the group by watching this video…

If you are a local cyclist to the area of Northern Virginia, stop by the shop and ask questions.  If you’re abroad, comment or email me for clarification or questions.

– SNC