What Is E-Bike Automatic Shifting and Do You Need It??Reading Time: 4 minutes
E-bikes make cycling easier than ever, and e-bike automatic gear shifting is another excellent option.
Bikes keep evolving. New tech enters the marketplace every year that makes cycling easier, safer, and more enjoyable—from fully steel hardtails to e-bikes with front and rear suspension and ABS braking, the possibilities seem endless.
Shimano is one of the largest bicycle component manufacturers in the world and recently announced several products that they hope will revolutionize e-biking: automatic shifters. Are they worth it, and should you be using one? What’s all the hype about? Let’s dive in.
What Is Automatic Shifting?
Adding to the list of gadgets available on e-bikes, Shimano has released two different but related pieces of tech that help with an e-bike’s ability to shift and overcome some of the challenges associated with conventional drive trains. Shimano markets these two pieces of tech as the Shimano Cues Di2 AUTO SHIFT and the Shimano FREE SHIFT. Both are operable and tunable via Shimano’s companion app, E-Tube Project Cyclist.
Shimano Cues Di2 AUTO SHIFT
The Cues Di2 is designed specifically for e-bikes and is essentially a re-engineered rear derailleur powered by the onboard battery and motor of an e-bike. By digitally connecting the derailleur with the rest of the power train, the various components of the bike can communicate.
On bikes equipped with the Cues Di2, Shimano has installed a speed sensor in the bike’s rear hub. As a result, as the bike increases in speed, the rear derailleur can shift to a more difficult cog on the rear sprocket without the rider having to monitor the constantly changing difficulty of pedal strokes and manually gear up or down to ensure a smooth cadence.
E-bikes equipped with the Cues Di2 also include torque and cadence sensors in the e-bike’s mid-drive motor/bottom bracket assembly, which also ensure that the selected gear remains optimized for the amount of effort a rider is putting out.
Shimano FREE SHIFT
FREE SHIFT is the sister tech to Cues Di2 AUTO SHIFT, which was released simultaneously.
Where a traditional derailleur requires the rider to be pedaling to initiate and complete a gear change, FREE SHIFT allows your bike to change gears even while coasting. This is made possible on an e-bike because the mid-drive motor can spin the front chainring using battery power rather than pedal power, which engages the rear derailleur.
Using the speed and cadence sensors, the bike can monitor when it is slowing down and automatically shift into an easier gear, preparing you with the optimal gear needed for the next acceleration.
It is important to note that the Di2 and FREE SHIFT systems can be set to auto or manual, allowing you to manually override the auto-shifting at any time. And there is a benefit to manually shifting at least some of the time: Shimano claims that by doing so, the system will learn your preferred cadence zone, ensuring the auto-shift function maintains gearing that meets your preferred riding style. Thanks to this technology, we may have entered an era of personalized auto-shifting, which is very cool.
Shimano LINKGLIDE and HYPERGLIDE+
A note about compatibility: AUTO SHIFT while pedaling is compatible with e-bikes equipped with Di2 shifting and an 11-speed or 10-speed LINKGLIDE drivetrain. AUTO SHIFT while coasting is compatible with e-bikes equipped with Di2 shifting and a 12-speed HYPERGLIDE+ or a 10-speed/11-speed LINKGLIDE drivetrain.
Benefits of Auto-Shifting
Let’s face it, using your thumbs to change gears isn’t necessarily rocket science or difficult. While many bikers take shifting for granted, Shimano claims Cues Di2 and FREE SHIFT technology reduce the stress associated with optimizing ride quality and pedal cadence by taking the constant decision-making of shifting up or down out of the riding equation.
It lets you focus on the road and enjoy the ride just a little bit more. Auto-shifting may be a welcome addition for people looking to maximize the fun they get out of a bike.
FREE SHIFT and E-Mountain Bikers
Shimano highlights one use case particularly well suited to auto-shifting: mountain biking. If you’re a mountain biker, you regularly climb trails, and it’s not uncommon to find yourself in the completely wrong gear when the terrain changes abruptly, particularly when you begin your descent.
For example, when climbing, you will be in the easiest gear your e-bike has available. After cresting the peak and crushing a 40km/hr descent, you’ll eventually find yourself on a flat section requiring harder gear to keep up speed. With FREE SHIFT, the derailleur will automatically adjust the gear so that the first pedal strike after the descent delivers power to the wheel, rather than you having to spin like mad to travel through their entire gear range.
Shimano also claims that being able to shift to the right gear without pedaling will change how you think about cornering a mountain bike and that FREE SHIFT can help you focus on planning your line and maintaining a stable body position for greater control and acceleration after corners.
Using the E-Tube Project App to Customize Shifting
Shimano’s companion app, E-Tube Project, allows you to adjust a wide range of performance variables on your e-bike using your smartphone. With respect to automatic shifting specifically, the app allows you to tune how your automatic shifting system works for you.
For example, the app allows you to choose a ‘Riding Scene’ on a scale from ‘Pavement’ to ‘Mountain,’ to adjust the shift timing on a scale from ‘Slow’ to ‘Fast,’ turn on or off self-learning, and control the starting gear on a scale from ‘Light’ to ‘Heavy.’
Is E-Bike Auto-Shifting Right For You?
The answer to this question depends on several variables. For instance, if you don’t have a compatible e-bike, you’ll need to upgrade your entire e-bike to benefit from Shimano’s latest technology. You’ll also need to ask yourself how much you think you’ll benefit from automatic shifting.
You might find the technology redundant if you are an old-school rider who prefers the utmost control of your gears. But if you’re looking to make your biking experience the least complicated, if you’re a mountain biker who loves playing with the latest tech, or if you’re new to biking and struggle to choose optimal gears to maintain ideal cadence, then automatic shifting might become your new best friend.