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2014 Tech Innovation of the Year: Shimano XTR Di2

Shimano XTR Di2 is the 2014 Velo Tech Innovation of the Year. The Giro Synthe receives an honorable mention

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Editor’s note: This article was originally published in the December 2014 issue of Velo magazine, the annual awards issue.

Shimano XTR Di2 is an entirely new way to think about a bike transmission. The future has, quite literally, shifted.

It is not just a road group repurposed for the dirt. Shimano took the electronics a step further, creating a shifting platform that riders can customize more than they’ve ever been able to on the Di2 E-tube road drivetrains.

XTR Di2 is the first predictive shift system to hit the market. It auto-shifts the front derailleur based on the position of the rear derailleur. A double-chainring configuration can be ridden without a front shifter thanks to the Synchro software.

Riders can select and customize three different shift settings. The first is full manual — the system will only shift with the push of a button. The other two shift settings can be programmed by the rider by connecting to a PC. These settings are best for aggressive riding and racing, keeping the rider in the large ring more often, and only requiring a single shifter; the system shifts the front and rear derailleurs automatically to provide a perfect, linear gear range.

The semi-automatic nature of the gearbox is quick, seamless, and something we didn’t expect to appreciate as much as we did. And then we rode it.

The price tag may be astounding — $3,385 for a double-ring setup — but there’s nothing else on the market that is anywhere near as innovative or intuitive. XTR Di2 simply blew us away.

Honorable Mention: Giro Synthe

Giro’s crystal ball appears to be working well. The Synthe is technically phenomenal — aerodynamic while maintaining impressive comfort and cooling capabilities. But, more importantly, it has hit the reset button on helmet design. Gone are the aggressive lines popular over the last half-decade; the Synthe will set off a string of helmet redesigns focused on a simple, low-profile and thoroughly modern look. We’ll all look a bit less like cartoon characters, and that’s a development worth celebrating.