Shimano di2 Electronic Gearing for a touring bike

When my partner developed osteo-arthritic pains in her thumbs, it became very difficult to use conventional mechanical shifters, especially those used on straight bars (she can't use drop-bars due to an old cycling back injury).  Touring for 6 to 8 hours a day was becoming close to torture.  So I started looking at electronic gear-shifting, and Shimano's di2 system seemed to be the answer, though not as straightforward as it seemed at first.

The first problem was that we wanted the option of synchronised shifting and that's only available with an 11-speed cassette, and her bike, a new Thorn Sherpa, had a 3x10 set up.  That was solved by a Shimano XTR 11-speed cassette, choosing 11-40 as that was the widest compatible with a front triple.

Second problem was that Shimano specifies a maximum chainring size of XX teeth, which is OK for mountain biking, but not high enough for touring.  However the di2 system doesn't know what size your chainrings are, just that you have a triple, and the front derailleur can simply be mounted higher up the seat tube to align with the larger chainring (the chain guide curve is not a perfect match, but it's OK - it works).  The XTR front derailleur has a capacity of 18, so I chose a 30-38-48 triple for 11 speed chain from Spa Cycles.

Third problem was that the total capacity of the XTR rear derailleur is YY but there's a neat solution to that.  The di2 system is programmable and by default it excludes the combination of smallest chainwheel with any of the 3 smallest sprockets - and that brings the overall variation in chain position within the rear derailleur capacity.

Fourth problem, and potentially a major one, was that the XTR bar shifters are designed to mimic the feel of mechanical shifters, which would put just as much strain on her thumbs!  However Shimano offers various other shifters.  Some only plug into STI levers for drop handlebars, so they were out.  What we settled on in the end were tri-bar end shifters, with a custom mount consisting of a wooden block and a flattened hose clip, all painted black to look a little less Heath Robinson.  They had the benefit too of being adjustable along and around the bars, so that she could operate them with fingers instead of thumbs



I've been into hill-walking since returning to college in 1989-90 for my postgraduate diploma in broadcast journalism, encouraged by my fellow-students, and (surprisingly) finding it a great cure for the vertigo I'd suffered from childhood.

One day I'll get round to posting some pictures and more details here.  Suffice it to say for now that I've walked countless times the fells of the Lake District, the edges of the Peak District, hills and mountains in Scotland and the Mediterranean, and perhaps my favourite of all, Tryfan and surrounding mountains in north Wales.  Plus abroad in France, southern Spain esp the Sierra Nevada, Majorca (the north-east, away from club-land and other hot-spots!), La Gomera, Lesbos, etc.

In 2001 I made a series of four 15-minute programmes for BBC Radio 4 about some of the early computer pioneers, and called the series 'Electronic Brains' - more information here on the BBC website (part-screenshot below, but note the 'Listen Again' links no longer work) and here on the Square Dog Radio website

Radio 4 website screenshot

(click the image to see the full page)

That led to an approach from Granta and they published my book on the subject, much expanded, in 2005.  More information here.

book cover

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Over recent years I have produced a series of 15-minute programmes for BBC Radio 4 for Remembrance Sunday on various aspects of remembrance, as follows:

The Roots of Remembrance Day (2006)

The Roots of the British Legion (2007)

The Menin Gate (2008)

Poppies are Red, Cornflowers are Blue (2009)

Known Unto God (2011)

The Art of Remembrance (2012)

Some Corner of a Foreign Field (2013)

More details of these on the Square Dog Radio website

Prior to that I studied War, Peace & Social Change at the Open University

Building on that experience, and other historiographical work, I am now studying for a PhD in Modern History by Research at Edinburgh University's Centre for the Study of Modern Conflict, where I transferred in autumn 2015 from Birmingham University, after completing my first year, part-time over two years.  So if I continue to study part-time, as intended at the moment, I am due to complete in 2019.  My subject is the Creation and Development of Ex-Services Organisations in the UK 1914-21, looking at the various groups that formed from trade union and political backgrounds and eventually merged to form the British Legion.

My website 'Eternal Cats' is a virtual afterlife where treasured feline friends live on in words and pictures, as well as in our memories. Submissions welcome! Have a look at