Canadian Cycling Magazine

E-gravel and then Some

Shimano’s Steps system takes your ride to any surface you want

- By Matthew Pioro

Shimano’s Steps system takes your ride to any surface you want

Almost a month before Shimano released its grx groupset for gravel riding, it had already started to “gravel-ify” i ts ebike system. In early April, the company announced that it had updated i ts firmware for Steps. It hardly seemed a gee-whiz proclamati­on, but that change meant you could configure your Di2 levers to toggle between

three drive modes. “On a drop handlebar Di2 Steps bike, you can program the hood buttons to toggle between modes, but you can also use shifter buttons,” says David Lawrence, Shimano road and pavement product manager. “As all of these Steps drivetrain­s have a single ring, it makes sense to program the left side buttons to change modes.” With a firm grip on the bars, you can select the pedal assist you need on rough roads.

The update follows the trend of expanding options for ebikes. This past September, Shimano announced the E5000 drive unit. It’s a light city system for commuting. It’s not as powerful as the E8000 for e-mountain bikes, but it’s lighter by roughly 380 g. It’s quieter, too. I know from riding the first-generation E6000 that the unit definitely hums when you are humming along, so a little less whirr would be good. In June 2018, the E6100 debuted. It’s 210 g lighter than the E6000 and is said to go 20 per cent farther. The E6000, which officially arrived in North America in 2016, will be retired at the end of this year.

Also last year, Shimano put out the E7000 drive unit, giving e-mountain bikers another option. It’s about two decibels quieter than the E8000 and only a little less powerful: 60 Nm of maximum torque instead of 70 Nm. “The assist profile for mountain biking needs to be a little different than road,” says Nick Murdick, Shimano mountain bike product manager. For city platforms, the assist levels are called eco, normal and high. “But, it’s eco, trail and boost for mountain bikes. Particular­ly on the E8000 drive unit, boost mode can really help you clear a section of trail that would have required you to get off and walk otherwise. This feat is possible because the power ramps up very quickly. The system also maintains power for just a moment after the pedals stop turning, so a rock that keeps you from turning the pedals won’t stop you from riding the section of trail cleanly.”

While Shimano is able to get a bit more distance out of its batteries, especially on the E6100, the size of the cells isn’t likely to come down anytime soon. There will have to be a shift in battery technology to get the same amount of watt-hours (418 Wh or 504 Wh) into a smaller package. Outside of the Shimano ecosystem, the company is working on further integratio­n with other products. For example, you can use the new Garmin Edge 1030, 830 or 530 as your display for Steps informatio­n as you ride on the road, gravel or trail – wherever you want to pedal with some assistance.

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