In the shed – Ultegra Di2 retrofit

The joys and advantages of the Shimano Di2 electronic shifting are pretty well understood by now, as the technology has been around for a few years and is fitted to many mid to top end road bikes.  Shimano Di2’s many advantages include perfect, quick and slick shifts along with a gear system that does not go out of adjustment once properly set up.

One of our riding group has a lovely Specialized S-Works Venge , which already had the excellent Ultegra 6800 group-set installed on the bike, she had inquired on the costs of getting Di2 fitted by one of the dealers here in Dubai and was quoted 7000aed.  I won’t comment on what kind of value that is, but as my time is free and overheads are zero, I offered to do the install for the cost of the parts from Merlin Cycles in the UK.  More importantly I was curious to see what was involved in fitting and whether a competent (sic) home mechanic could do this themselves.

Venge in the shed
Venge in the shed

So after the usual parcel delivery firm muppetry, Dubai import tax and fees, the Di2 conversion kit arrived in just over a week.  The kit was incredibly well put together, with all the necessary parts, including a Shimano Di2 Cable tool and grommets.  The only other part I required was a Venge specific, internal battery seat post mount, that was 30aed from the Specialized dealer here in Dubai.

Di2 front and rear derailleurs
Di2 front and rear derailleurs
Di2 cables and tool
Di2 cables and tool
Internal seat post battery and charger
Internal seat post battery and charger
Control and junction box
Control and junction box
Di2 STI levers
Di2 STI levers

The bike was duly dropped off with me after a spin round NAS, with the promise that I should have it finished by the next afternoon.  With a coffee in hand and a degree of anticipation and trepidation the install was started the next morning.  First order of the day was to strip off the mechanical shifting bits, including derailleurs, cables and STI levers.

Ultegra 6800
Ultegra 6800
Ultegra mech
Ultegra mech

The first part of the install and arguably the fiddliest was routing the Di2 cables through the frame, handlebars and rear chainstay.  A lot of reading on the internet made this out to be quite difficult, especially getting the cable from the junction box that would be hidden beside the bottom bracket up through the chain stay to the rear derailleur.  In practice this was nowhere as bad as I thought it would be, mostly it involved using a spare brake cable pushed along the relative frame part and a magnetic probe to pull the end out the bottom bracket cable orifice.  Once the brake cable was through, the Di2 cable was taped to it with masking tape and then pulled back through.

Cable installing
Cable installing
BB, cable installing
BB, cable installing

The handlebar cable routing was again relatively easy, the hardest bit of this being re-wrapping the bar tape to look the same as before.  Installation of the STI levers and the derailleurs was a simple matter of bolting on the parts and pushing the relevant cable connections in.  Once all the parts and cabling were completed, the battery was attached and (to the fanfare of Roman trumpets) the STI shift buttons were pushed for the first time.  And yes, barely audible over the trumpets, the lovely Di2 electric motor shifting squeak played it’s tune.

Di2 rear derailleur
Di2 rear derailleur
Di2 rear derailleur
Di2 rear derailleur

Out of the box, just bolted on everything worked pretty well, if a bit catchy on the front derailleur shift to the big ring.  The Shimano Di2 install manual has a quite simple guide to perfecting the adjustments, so for a change I actually followed a procedure step by step.  In a matter of a couple of minutes all the stops, tensions and micro-adjustments had been made and the shifting was now slicker than a car salesman’s patter.  Duly delivered on time, the feedback from the owner after a couple of laps at Meydan, was that the Di2 was way better than she could have imagined and that she loved her bike even more!

So in summary, if you have a bike stand, a few good tools and a reasonable grasp of working with oily bits, the Di2 conversion is well within the capabilities of a home mechanic.  However arguably the Venge was relatively easy, as it was already designed to be Di2 ready, older bikes may take a bit more fiddling with cable routing etc.  Total cost of conversion 3500aed, don’t you love half price in Dubai?