Electronic Vs Mechanical Shifting: What's Better?
When it comes to cycling of any kind, there are advances that are going to come along that don't pan out or ones that people just don't want to try. There will also be great ones that really make a difference. In the shifting realm the debate still rages between Electronic and Mechanical. There are purists who stick with only mechanical and refuse to try electronic. There are electronic users who will never go back to mechanical and there are those that use both.
Is there really one that is better? Is it the difference say, like between a payphone and a smartphone? Would you ever want to still use a payphone instead of the convenience of a smartphone? Mechanical is being compared to antiquated technology (payphone) and electronic as the wave of the future (smartphone). Is this a fair comparison? To make an informed decision, you need to know a bit about the pros and cons of each and in which areas one out performs the other.
- Easier, faster shifting over uneven terrain
- Sleek, uncluttered, cable free appearance
- Two shift points on a triathlon bike
- Excellent shift guiding
- Battery recharge once every 3 months (approximately 2000 km's)
- No jumping gears and less adjustment needed
- Expensive – the low end models start above $2000 and head upwards of $4000
- No at home maintenance. Must be shop checked.
- Replacement parts are costly
- If something goes wrong, it won't work – no running on a different gear or manual fixing – you are out of luck.
- Will need financial reserve to replace broken parts at a moment's notice
- Heavier than mechanical (although this area is gray since newer models are lighter)
You can view our Electronic Shifting range here.
- A lot less expensive –even replacing old with new keeps easily under the grand mark
- Lighter than the electronic models – average mechanical weighs in at about 1900g.
- Cheap to fix and you can do it yourself
- Makes you engage with the bike – the sound, the feel, is all part of the experience that people have stated they like.
- "Gear-heads" like the mechanical because they can do it themselves.
- Replacement parts are cheap
- If a part isn't working, chances are you can still mess with it enough to limp home
- Manufacturers are still upgrading and improving the mechanical systems
- Its old school – still involves manual working
- gears jump and you run into problems with that in sometimes awkward situations.
- Cable replacement needed almost yearly to maintain integrity
- Cables and wires still exposed on bike, unless made for inner routing, which leave cables vulnerable to water, dirt and mud
- Needs constant adjustment
You may have other pros and cons in mind but these are the most often mentioned. So, that is the popular opinion on both, but what about performance, reliability, upgrade ability, compatibility, and ease of maintenance? These are important to consider more in-depth before making the switch or staying the course. ("E" = Electronic and "M" = Manual)
E – Computer controlled servo motors result in smooth shifting as well as the ability to shift the drivetrain without stopping and without damaging it.
M- Shifting far from the smoothness of electronic and there is no shifting the drivetrain without stopping.
Electronic gets the win.
E and M – Issues arise with any old bike, as some were made for electronic and some for mechanical. Most bikes today are built for compatibility either way – upgrading is still possible. Issues arise with body frame, etc. with mechanical and electronic – some things will work some won't. It is best to check thoroughly as to how much work it will be to make a certain bike compatible to what is out now and what is out in the future. Word is, though, that the next big thing is completely wireless so we may be back to the good news that any frame will do.
No clear winner on this subject.
Price and Maintenance
E – Very expensive. Parts to replace broken or damaged parts are very expensive. Chances of having to replace those are slim unless it gets smashed or you crash. To fix broken or damaged parts, you must take it to a professional tech – this is not a system you can tinker with at home.
M – Prices are able to meet the common man. Replacement parts are affordable and most of them you can do yourself. Regular adjustments are necessary.
Mechanical wins the price war.
M- Upgrading may mean replacing a lot of different parts to mesh with your new shifters. This is still most likely a lot less expensive than the electronic unit itself, but, it involves more time and effort.
E- Upgrading is as simple as plugging it into your computer. Possible issues would be system crashes or an upgrade that you don't like as much as the original (happens all the time with computer programs).
It's a tie on this one – both have their ups and downs.
Really, as with a lot of areas of cycling equipment, it comes down to a matter of taste and what each individual is comfortable with. Electronic shifters are the future – no doubt about it – but it does not mean that mechanical are out to pasture yet. There are plenty of riders who will always seek out the newest, latest and greatest advances – and with good reason – they are amazing. 75 years or so ago, give or take a few years, there was a bike with two gears. Back then, it was a crazy contraption – really, who needs gears and shifters on a bike? Look at it now – incredible advancements. As with all new electronic devices, the first are usually the most expensive and you will quickly see upgrades and price drops over the next year or two. It is suspected that electronic, especially if it has wireless capabilities, will seek to replace mechanical altogether. Maybe so, but there will always be those who stick with what they like and what they feel most comfortable with.
The debate will rage on until people just get tired of talking about it and will realize that each person's cycle is as individual as they are – and that makes either choice neither right nor wrong.