Arizona Road Cyclist News

Welcome to the first issue of Arizona Road Cyclist News for 2009. Luckily, the news at the beginning of the year has been slow for the cycling community. I write luckily, because the bloody Tour de Tucson and unfortunate death of cyclist Gerry Hickman in late 2008 were not pleasant topics. We are excited about one of the products we review in this issue, Shimano’s new Di2 electronic shifting system.

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Arizona Road Cyclist News is a bi-weekly publication that attempts to cover topics of interest to cyclists who ride the streets and roads of Arizona, be they racers, club riders, or commuters.

In this issue:
                The Shimano D12 Electronic Shifting System
                The Arizona Bicycle Club (ABC)
                Upcoming Races

The Shimano Di2 Electronic Shifting System:

This month is supposed to be the month that Shimano begins selling its new Dura Ace electronic shifting system, dubbed the Di2, and according to those who have had a chance to try it, the new shifting system is a real honey. It has no mechanical linkage between the shift levers and the derailleur. Mechanical levers have been replaced by solid-state switches, and that connect through wires to electrically-activated front and rear shifters. The Di2 system is said to deliver perfect shifts every time. In fact, a tester for the magazine VeloNews wrote that shifting is so smooth that he could shift from the small to the large chainring while standing up, pedaling full force uphill. Not only is shifting perfect, but there are fewer mechanical parts to gunk up, wear out, and go out of adjustment. All this at almost no weight penalty. According to reports, the Di2 system weighs 67 grams less than the current Dura Ace 7800 system and is only 68 grams heavier than the new 7900 mechanical system.

Although the battery and servo motors add weight to the system, Shimano managed to compensate by eliminating parts in the derailleurs, shift levers and, of course, by eliminating the mechanical shifting cables and housing. For example, by eliminating the complex mechanical system inside the shift levers and by using carbon fiber brake levers, Shimano made the new ST-7970 brake & shift levers 155 grams lighter than the mechanical version. The new levers are slimmer and reportedly therefore more comfortable. The reach of the brake lever is adjustable in the new model, which will be a welcome innovation to those with smaller hands. Braking modulation is also improved by a revised brake-lever pivot location.

Whenever discussion of the Di2 system comes up on ride, the two questions that arise are: “What happens if the battery goes dead?” and “What does it cost?” Apparently, battery life will not be a problem, at least not for those riders who take reasonable care of their bikes. The battery is rated to last 1,000 kilometers (600 miles) between recharging, and it can be fully recharged in 1.5 hours. Unofficially, Shimano says the battery is good for 2000 miles or a few months of cycling for many of us. You could probably charge the battery once and ride the Tour de France before recharging.

The system also shuts down gracefully as the battery discharges. An LED under the handlebar acts as a battery indicator. When the LED emits a steady green light, the battery is close to fully charged. A flashing green light means a 75% charge, a steady red light indicates a 50% charge, and a flashing red light indicates a 25% charge or less. If the battery is about to go dead, the system first shuts down the front derailleur, which stays in the last chainring selected, and the real derailleur continues to work. When the battery completely dies, the rear derailleur also shuts down, and the bike becomes a single speed machine. Anyone who charges the battery at least once every few weeks should not have a problem, but for those who do, a spare charged battery in the saddle pack weighs little more than a candy bar. The 7.4-volt lithium-ion battery mounts on the frame below the water bottle cages, where it is out of the way during riding. It is rated at 600 to 700 charges.

The cost? Probably in excess of $4,000. The Di2 is being marketed as an upgrade to the new 7900 mechanical group, which itself lists for $2,600. My guess is that upgrading to electronic shifting will add another $2,000 to the cost. Most of us will probably not be shifting electronically anytime soon. However, once the development costs are recouped, there is no reason why an electronic shifting system should not someday be cheaper than the complex mechanical system that it replaces. The upgrade consists of replacing the group's brake-and-shift levers with the electronic version and replacing the spring-loaded front and real derailleurs with versions that are driven by a servo motor.

Assuming one can afford the Di2 system, it does offer advantages over a mechanical system. The shift levers are mere switches, so satellite shift buttons can be placed anywhere that the rider wants them. For example, no longer must time trial riders move a hand from the brake levers to the end of aero bars to shift. Shift buttons can be placed in both locations. The two derailleurs are synchronized, so the front derailleur automatically adjusts to prevent chain rub when the real derailleur is shifted. Good-bye chain rub, over-shifts, dropped chains, and other front derailleur problems. Hello perfect shifting!

The RD-7970 rear derailleur looks much like any other Dura Ace rear derailleur. Like the new 7900 mechanical derailleur, the 7970 includes a new carbon-fiber pulley cage and accommodates a wider range of cogs than the older 7800 model. An 11-28-tooth cog can be combined with a compact crankset for those who want low gears for cranking up Arizona's hills without having to put up with the shifting problems of a triple crankset. An 11-27 is the widest range recommended for use with conventional chainrings. Innovative technology acts to protect the rear derailleur in case of a crash, causing the derailleur to move inward under impact to reduce the potential for damage. To return the derailleur to normal position, the rider must cycle through the gears a few times to re-synchronize the derailleur to the shifters.

The new SC-7900 Flight Deck computer that complements the system includes a heart rate monitor, an altimeter, and inclinometer, estimated caloric consumption, gear position, battery life, and the ability to download this data to your computer over a wireless link after your ride. The system is also waterproof. You can supposedly hose down your bike with the system in place and not cause it any damage.

Shimano is not the first company to introduce electric shifting, but it may be the first to make it a success. Mavic introduced a microprocessor-controlled rear derailleur called ZAP in 1994 and a wireless system dubbed Mektronic in 2000, but both proved to be flops, and both systems used a traditional mechanical front derailleur. Campagnolo has also been working on and testing an electronic shifting system, although it has been strangely quiet about it lately. It is a pretty good bet that both Shimano's and Campagnolo's systems have been well thought out and will be reliable, because unlike Mavic, both companies have a reputation for quality.

The Arizona Bicycle Club (ABC):

To the best of my knowledge, the Arizona Bicycle Club (ABC) is Arizona’s oldest non-racing bicycle club. (The Phoenix Consumer Cycling Club is the oldest racing club in the USA.) ABC was founded by the late Eugene (Gene) Berlatsky in 1964. Gene was also the founder and executive director of the Kivel Geriatic Center and the main proponent of Phoenix’s Sonoran Bikeway, whose signs still bear his name.

The ABC was once a part of the Phoenix Chapter of the American Youth Hostels (AYH, today know as HI-AYH or Hostels International, American Youth Hostels), whose other main activity was hiking. The ABC was the heart of the Phoenix chapter of AYH, and when ABC split off from its parent organization several decades ago, the Phoenix chapter of the AYH went into decline and later disappeared altogether.

The ABC’s best-know activity is the breakfast ride, which most chapters conduct on Sunday morning. Riders meet at a designated spot, ride to breakfast at a pre-arranged restaurant, then ride back to the starting point. The original breakfast ride groups were the Granada Park Chapter, which still meets every Sunday morning at Grenada Park at 20th Street and Maryland in Phoenix, and the Scottsdale Chapter, which originally met at the Civic Center in downtown Scottsdale. The Central Scottsdale chapter has since also disappeared, but today the ABC has nine local chapters including two in North Scottsdale, all located in the Greater Phoenix area, many of which have weekly rides. The ABC also usually sponsors two century rides a year, one on the West Side and the other on the East Side, and it also sponsors several weekend rides with overnight stops including the popular Grand Canyon campout and ride. The club’s next big event is the Wickenburg Overnight on the weekend of February 21 and 22nd.

Gene and Sylvia Berlatsky were the main force behind the ABC in its early days. Gene passed on at the age of 83 in 2002, but Sylvia, although she no longer bikes, still organizes the Grenada Park rides and shows up every Sunday morning at the park to help sign in the riders and then drives to the restaurant of the day to have breakfast with them.

Perhaps the most colorful member of ABC was the late Jim Metcalf, who owned the Erotica Motel at the corner of 52nd Street and Van Buren, a motel that rented rooms by the hour. Jim was in real estate and did not intend to go into the business of renting rooms by the hour, but he found himself in possession of an unprofitable motel with no way to make it pay until he hit upon the idea of marketing it to couples looking for an hour of privacy. The motel prospered, thanks largely to lunchtime and after-work business from employees of the nearby Motorola Semiconductor plant, now ON Semiconductors, at 52nd Street and McDowell. Many of the couples who used the motel were married, but seldom to each other.

Jim organized a ride across the United States, which began in Portland Oregon and ended at the Atlantic Ocean, although Jim and his wife then continued biking north and east through the Canadian Maritime Provinces. Jim also opened youth hostels in both Las Vegas and Phoenix. The Las Vegas hostel is closed, but the Phoenix Hostel, today called Metcalf House, is still operating at 1026 N. 9th Street in Central Phoenix.

For some reason, the ABC has two competing Websites. The original Website, which is rich in content but difficult to navigate, can be accessed at The newer, competing Website’s URL is The newer Website eccentric and a bit light on content. With a bit of navigating, either Web site can point you to the local chapters and to upcoming rides.

Incidentally, the ABC January board meeting is being held this evening (January 7th) at the Amerischool at 1333 W. Camelback Road in Phoenix. After the board meeting there will be a discussion of how to produce maps for club rides that can be downloaded to GPS devices. The public is welcome to attend.

Upcoming Races:

The first USA Cycling sanctioned bicycle race of the year is scheduled to be the Swiss Criterium, put on by the Swiss American Racing team, which takes place on January 31st in the Peoria Sports Complex near Loop 101 and West Bell Road. This should be a great race to watch, especially the professional and senior women’s race starting at 3:40 p.m. and the professional and category 1 and 2 men’s race starting at 4:40 p.m. (We old men race in the wee hours of the morning, although I’m not promising that I will actually race). More information about the race is available by clicking here.

February will bring a race every Saturday and every Sunday somewhere in Arizona. The biggest February race will be the annual John Early Memorial Valley of the Sun Stage Race, which will take place on the 13th, 14th, and 15th. Because I used to race against John and drink beer with him after the races, this race is especially important to me. Although details of this race are not yet available online, the race usually consists of a time trial on Friday, a road race on Saturday, and the popular criterium at the State Capital on Sunday. There will be more information on upcoming races in the next issue of Arizona Road Cyclist News.


In response to the article about the death of Gerald Hickman in the last issue of Arizona Road Cyclist News, I received the following E-mail. The original article can be read at:

Your article on the tragic accident of Gerald Hickman is misleading and perhaps hurtful for those involved. I rode with Gerry on most Saturdays and I was with the group before the ride and at the accident scene, although, unfortunately, I was not riding that day. I agree with your point, of the importance of signaling in a group. However that was not at all a factor in this case. Gerry dropped out of the group on the climb up foothill parkway and was alone and well behind them on the descent. Another friend was leading the group ahead of him and signaled them well, as is his usual practice. The group rode safely around the truck. No-one was with Gerry and knows why he did not see it. We can only speculate that he did not have good visibility in his drop bar position. There were no cones or triangles behind the truck to provide warning before seeing the flashers on the back of truck. In this case, if there are any lessons, the are these: Trucks parked in bike lanes should be required to have cones or triangles, Keep your head up with good forward visibility, Wear sunglasses with a high low profile brow that don't obscure forward vision.

Steve Miller