A look at a couple of months using Archer Components D1X electronic shifting system.
A few months back (November 2019), I took my mountain bike to the local bike shop for a general service. While there I saw a SRAM AXS unit and thought “that’s pretty cool, I’d love to give that go”. I’m a data person; I like logging metrics for everything and my bike and body are no exception. I currently log heart rate, power, cadence, coordinates (naturally) and muscle oxygenation and I’d love to have logging for my bicycle gears.
Unfortunately the SRAM AXS isn’t cheap, locally you can pick one up, at a good price, for around R 21000 / $1400. That’s a outside my budget, so I started looking for alternatives. Short answer, there aren’t any, with the exception of the Archer Components D1X – and as I discovered, you get what you pay for…
I’m just going to go crazy with the photos now…
A few clicks, aircraft, trucks and a load of hands later and my Archer Components D1x arrived at my door. The deluxe Archer D1x is $389 or R 6000 retail without shipping and customs costs. This is a lot more affordable than an AXS unit.
On paper, the D1x looks really impressive. AC’s FAQs quote the battery life of the shifter at between 80 and 150 hours (vs the AXS’s 20 hours). That’s crazy. You essentially don’t have to recharge it.
Some of the benefits I liked of the D1x over the AXS are that the electronics and derailleur are kept separate. You can use any derailleur with the D1x and you can put the shifter wherever you want. You can also choose between firm or light touch remote buttons and of course you’re supporting an underdog (one might argue SRAM is an underdog, but that’s another conversation).
Keeping the electronics and the derailleur separate means you can use a cheap derailleur (like an NX derailleur) and have it perform similarly to its fancier brethren. The local bike shop owner found that he could also use some 11-speed mechs on 12 speed cassettes… so yes, significant advantages to the D1x.
On paper there was one big disadvantage to the D1x for me: lack of ANT+ integration, which means no logging. I had a plan for that though: a Chinese company called Pine64 Computers makes a dev kit watch called the PineTime. The PineTime has hardware that supports both BLE and ANT+, so it could act as a bridge between the D1x and the remote+computer – but that’s also another conversation… (involving a fair bit of software dev and testing).
So how does it perform? Well. Really well. The initial tests I did were on an NX derailleur and the D1x made gear changes whisper smooth. You often couldn’t even hear the gear changes. Fast, predictable, amazing. This was the deluxe “Micro-Adjust” kit, so I could tune calibration of the shifter on the fly on a per-gear basis, that is truly revolutionary. The NX derailleur in question eventually self destructed due to a known manufacturing fault with NX gen-2 units and was replaced under warranty by SRAM.
I replaced the derailleur with a GX Eagle and the D1x performed just as well.
But not all was well in paradise. Despite the great performance and decent price point of the D1x I feel like the company missed out by not including ANT integration. The PineTime, which includes a combination BLE and ANT+ modem, display, battery, battery charger, HRM, etc. costs $ 25. The Nordic chip that makes that possible is very cheap, so ANT+ is cheap. To make matters worse the D1x can only receive and broadcast its status to one device, so to use an ANT bridge you’d have to pair the D1x to the bridge and then pair the remote to the bridge. This isn’t ideal.
Annnnd there’s another problem with the D1x: water. My bike went for a bike wash as part of its standard service at the LBS. The bike came back with a non-functional D1x. The battery compartment was flooded, but even after cleaning and drying the compartment and replacing the batteries the unit wouldn’t work. I contacted Archer about this and they offered to replace the unit (but I had to ship it back across the globe at my cost).
The replacement unit, which they claimed fixed the water ingress issue, was fitted… but the battery compartment on that also flooded. Fortunately, this time drying the compartment and replacing the batteries resulted in a working shifter. The bike was washed again, this time very gently, same story: flooded battery compartment. So yeah, my confidence in the product is broken. People love the sound of an e-Shifter, but their one concern is reliability and the D1x is not reliable unless delicately cared for – so it isn’t reliable. I struggle to articulate just how sad I felt when the unit failed at the start of a ride. I don’t want to feel that again.
It simply wouldn’t have survived something like the Wines2Whales (it was fitted shortly after this event).
I really really want to support the underdog, but yeah, they’re cheaper for a reason.
I’ve decided to remove the D1x from my bike and go back to a mechanical shifter.
Update 21 November 2020:
The SRAM AXS system in South Africa now costs, on special, R 21000, about 28% more than when I first wrote this post. I’m still loving my mechnical shifter. Something I forgot to mention about the Archer system, especially compared to the SRAM system, is that the batteries are a lot more fiddly to replace on the Archer unit and generally less inuitive.