A Biased Review – Shimano GRX Di2 1x

Shimano North America is our site sponsor. This makes writing about their products nettlesome, because readers might reasonably think I have been compensated to say good things about them. The truth is that Shimano has put no conditions on their sponsorship and has not requested that we write or talk about their stuff in any way. In fact, since they agreed to sponsor us, we haven’t talked. I’m lonely, guys. Holler at me.

Having pre-ambled, let’s get to it.

My primary bike is a gravel bike set up with their GRX Di2 1x drivetrain, and I have thoughts about it, and that’s why you’re reading these words. My thoughts, in brief, are: wow, cool, hey, what the?, and dope. It is easy to say that Di2 is great. The shifting is responsive, fast, and accurate. You can shift under load. It is far superior to even the best mechanical shifting, and I have virtually mind-melded with my Di2 setup, so that gear changes happen almost without me thinking about it.

But it costs money. It costs more money than a mechanical drivetrain, so is it worth it?

I think you know which way I’m leaning on this, but here’s a wrinkle you maybe didn’t expect. I believe, unquestionably, that Di2 gives me a better off-road riding experience, but on the road, I think the advantages are less telling. It’s not that it’s not better, but I’m of the opinion that it’s not worth the extra investment on a road bike, unless you’re racing.

I’m just in a lot fewer under-stress-shifting-situations (USSS) on the road, where reading terrain is less fraught and generally you can afford to roll over a few pedal strokes between gear changes. Again, if you often find yourself in a paceline or a crit, then maybe you ought to consider Di2, but I’ll stick to its value off-road. To me, that’s where it really shines.

This just in. Shimano now offers 105 Di2 for the road. Check it.

There are other things to discuss here. The ergonomics of the GRX Di2 levers are amazing, a big upgrade over previous generations. Also, the battery life is stellar. For a slacker like me, this turns out to be pretty important. Finally, I’ve made the possibly odd choice to go 1x on my gravel bike, and I love that too. The lack of complexity suits my style and my mental capacities. If you live in a particularly hilly area, nay, even mountainous, then you’re going to want to consider a 2x setup just to get those merciful little gears that can mean the difference between a successful day on the bike and helicopter rescue.

Have you ridden this stuff? Did I fail to address some key issue? Chime in, in the comments.

Like our friends at Shimano, No22 Bicycles is also a sponsor of The Cycling Independent.

Join the conversation
  1. jlaudolff says

    I don’t have di2 but I love the grx ergonomics. I haven’t seen any benefit for the derailleur clutch and think it only makes shifts slower and less precise. Probably not an issue for di2.

    One interesting thing I have found is wheels are harder to get off (with the clutch switched off) compared to other road systems. The derailleur doesn’t seem to naturally get out of the way.

    My ti bikes aren’t drilled for di2 so I probably won’t ride di2 for awhile if ever.

  2. mattdwyerva says

    I still wish for lower end gears. Does this make me old, weak and fat? No. I was already that. Gears are fine if I don’t plan crazy adventures into the mist, but mmm…. That is what I dream about

  3. Bruce Pierce says

    Re: what you’ve omitted (by choice or not): I guess it wasn’t your gravel bike but remember the time you had an inadvertent single-speed due to lack of electrons in the anode?

    1. Emlyn Lewis says

      @Bruce, I try to filter user-error out of my reviews. Regular readers will know that this user makes many errors. Also, you don’t have to rub it in, but I appreciate that you did.

  4. Dan Murphy says

    My bike is 6-years-old now and I am planning on upgrading to Di2…..sometime. I didn’t do Di2 when I bought the bike because I was already spending waaaaaay too much money on the bike and the added cost of Di2 was hard to swallow. I was really tempted when I had my fitting with Rob and he put me on a Di2 bike for the fit. Like holding the puppy.
    Two things:
    – Just try finding GRX Di2 right now
    – My ti frame isn’t Di2-ready

  5. Balky says

    OK, here is the curmudgeon’s perspective.

    I haven’t tried any electronic shifting system and have no interest in doing so. Why? Primarily because the idea of relying on an electrically powered system to keep a machine that claims to be human powered functioning is absurd to me. That’s not the same situation as the one with e-bikes, btw. They make no claim of being fully human powered. I also have one of those and love it.

    I also have no interest in Di2 et al because even if the shifting is better, to me it doesn’t need to get better than what is provided by mechanical groups especially for the cost. I have a large variety of Shimano and Sram groups for road and off road across my (too) many bikes and I’ve never caught myself thinking “gee, I wish the shifting on this thing was crisper or snappier”. It all works really, really well from the Ultegra on my road bike to the Altus on my cargo bike and if it goes out of tune, I turn a barrel adjuster or tweak a cable and it just keeps going.

    And maybe that was the problem for the industry (not just Shimano) – it all worked just a little too well and there was nothing new to sell anymore. I mean you can only add so many more cogs to rear clusters as an upgrade, right. Kind of the same story as the migration to disc brakes on road bikes.

    Look, I get it – I understand that people love technology and progress and that’s fine and I’m sure it’s all helping to keep the industry going but I love simplicity, purity and attainable cost so my hope is that Shimano and others keep catering to these needs as well as those at the other end of the spectrum.

    Now that even 105 has gotten past the bouncer and is partying in the country club where I’m not allowed in, I plan to look at Tiagra and mechanical GRX as my highest end groups though a lot of the time, I think I’ll end up below those. And I’ll be happy about it because they’re probably better than the older higher end mech groups anyway.

    1. Emlyn Lewis says

      @Balky – I don’t think that’s curmudgeonly. It sounds incredibly practical to me. The gains we get from new technology are marginal, and just how marginal is pretty subjective. It’s worth saying, you don’t need any of this stuff to love riding your bike.

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