Shimano's revolutionary Dura-Ace Di2 electronic drivetrain has been highly – and rightfully – touted in racing circles for its remarkable shift performance but it's also been readily accepted among the mostly non-racing oriented handbuilt crowd here at the North American Handmade Bicycle Show – and not just because Shimano is now the show's title sponsor (technically making the official acronym now 'SNAHBS', not 'NAHBS').
Though a bit more complex to set up in some ways, Di2's more flexible wiring options as compared to conventional mechanical drivetrains otherwise has allowed builders to be more creative in routing those connections without the usual constraints of housing stops and smooth, large-radius cable runs. While some builders such as Vanilla Bicycles and Yipsan have stuck with more straightforward external setups, others such as Japanese builder Cherubim, California-based SyCip and Dave Wages of Ellis Cycles have opted for more elaborate internal routing – thus removing some of the usual mechanical distractions and leaving more of the observer's attention towards the frame itself.
"Some people will walk through here and see all of these really unusual and unique kinds of bikes and then there's Shimano, which seems like such a mainstream thing," said Shimano American press officer Devin Walton. "Interestingly enough, [our presence here] has actually created a really deep relationship in the sense that we're bringing technology to the table that's allowing these people that are really craftsmen and artisans to be creative with what they're doing – especially when you look at things like Dura-Ace electronic and the ability it gives them to integrate cables and hide things and really streamline a bike."
Wages' Di2-equipped Ellis was a study in elegant simplicity with the single control wire entering the frame through a sealed and brazed-on port on the down tube. The battery affixed to a dedicated mount on the non-driveside chain stay and its cable was fed through a large opening in the bottom bracket shell (which serves double duty as a drain port). Another exit point was positioned just below the front derailleur. Wages ran the rear derailleur wire through the normally sealed chain stay with an extra brazed-on loop on the dropout for support and the finished package overall was exceptionally clean.
SyCip's Di2-equipped creation used a similar routing configuration to the Ellis but instead of tucking the battery underneath the chain stay, Jeremy Sycip instead chose to highlight its location atop the bottom bracket area with a custom leather cover branded with the SyCip logo – making it an addition to the craftsmanship rather than something that might distract from it. Similar branding was also found on the custom stitched leather handlebar wrap and saddle.
Cherubim's Di2 installation was notably more elaborate with the brazed-on cable entry and exit points being more ornate both in terms of shape and coloring and a chain stay-mounted rear brake allowing for a more symmetrical internal routing arrangement overall.
Though each of the builders using Di2 at SNAHBS came up with their own routing solution, Shimano itself is also helping facilitate the creative process with specific installation kits.
"We have internal-specific cable kits right now with the biggest difference being they don't have the same kind of junction under the bottom bracket as far as the wiring goes and then they're also set up so that they don't clank around inside of the frame," Walton continued. "There have definitely been inquiries from builders about the ability to just plug something into the frame. It's a neat thought and obviously we listen to that sort of thing. It's just that we just have to see if there's enough uniformity to be able to move that way in the future."