Ah, triathlon, the land of innovation. When the traditionalists in cycling turn up their noses, but here with an open mind to play with anything, everything. The aerobar, the split-nosed saddles. If it’s backed by science, we’re all in. And the roadies follow.

The debut of Texas-based ProShift is one of those products that immediately “throwback” feel of clever ingenuity, of creating a product that nobody knew they needed.

ProShift’s Ennio Mastracci visited the LAVA offices to show us his new technology. After 20 minutes of install (bolting the head unit and plugging in the new shifter ProShift) was ready to go on my Cervelo P5 for testing.

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WHAT IT DOES

ProShift is a true “Plug and Play” interface; attach it to a standard Garmin bracket mount, plug it into one of the Shimano junction box ports, which connects to one Di2 TT shifter, in either Dura-Ace or Ultegra (options also available in Dura-Ace and Ultegra road Di2 shifter/brake option as well).  Once connected, the user loads in all key metrics (wheel size/tire size, chainring/cassette info, crankset length, measurement units, FTP) and can then set up target bands for cadence, gear display,  power range that the unit will then. You can even set up gear boundaries based on gear inches; if you want to stay in the big ring and range only between the 11 and the 19T in the back (race day on a flat course baby!), it will do just that. Or open up your options and allow it to dump into the small and run the full range in the back, shifting across the big ring and the cassette to stay within a close range of gear inches when moving up and down hills. With proprietary algorithms driving the bus, the unit literally shifts on its own as soon as the unit recognizes the athlete is about to head out of their target range.

And if you’re on a climb and finding you’ve been too aggressive with your pre-selected gear range and need a bit more climbing gear, a user can still shift up and make that gear available.

On the road the experience is certainly otherworldly. I took ProShift out for a spin from our SoCal offices. And no sooner did I pull onto the road did it begin working, picking up a bit of gear as I loaded up to reach my 175 watt sweet spot. As the road gradient goes down, ProShift picks up the variance in cadence and load, and shifts down to allow you to stay on top of the gear. Headed uphill? Again, PowerShift notes the spike in power as an incline, and shifts down, allowing you to spin and not over-muscle the climb.

Capable of shifting twice a second, the unit can run through the gears fairly quickly as the terrain changes….maybe not as quick as a roadie would want on a road bike, but for our needs as triathletes, there are few courses that would require massive gear dumps. And any time you wish, you can disable the feature, and go into a standard manual shift protocol. A set of intermittent flashing lights on the head unit blink to confirm settings during setup, then blink  green (active), red (upcoming gear shift, left light for the front derailleur, right for the rear derailleur) or blue (manual) to indicate which mode you’re in while riding.

After a few minutes of riding, I could get a sense of when the unit was about to shift; particularly when I came to the bottom of a descent and was beginning a flat or uphill section.

Downside? A large data console with somewhat rudimentary digital display (sorry, we’re spoiled by Garmin here) relaying cadence, speed, include, power, torque in Nm and heart rate eats up a fair bit of precious real estate. Granted, this is a first iteration, but if this takes off, we would suspect the head unit will pare down a bit in time. The unit also displays a clever “fuel gauge” that estimates your power levels and time to fatigue based on calculations pulled from your FTP.

Shifting under load will be a big question as well, particularly for those that like to turn big gears. ProShift recommends really light action when the terrain pitch changes. That is, you’ll probably experience jarring shifting if you happen to be under full load climbing out of saddle  when the unit decides to shift. You can also not pedal backwards, as the unit will transmit even reverse spinning as a cadence value and will shift, potentially into a cross-chain situation that could damage your chain. I don’t think most of us do that anyway, but it’s something to watch for.

Value? Huge for triathletes. I don’t think that roadies that like to move through their gears a ton will be a candidate for PowerShift. But triathetes that ride predictable courses (think Kona, Florida, Oceanside, Roth) and need to stay on their numbers through the course of a race, or training up to a race? Hell yeah, this will be valuable. For athletes that ascribe to training and racing within a narrow power band, ProShift doesn’t let you sit up, or go over your plan. Sure, you can override it at any time, but PowerShift’s value exists in staying on the program. And on the rivet. Or backing off and staying in zone.

For that reason, coaches will love it, too. If the unit is active for the entirety of a ride or race, I’ll be interested to be a coach, receiving a client’s file, to look at a dead flat power reading, and see how performance equated over time.

Beyond that, it allows an athlete to simply stay in the aerobars, focusing on putting down power. And eating. And drinking. And anticipating the run. It’s really capable of being a piece of the mental equation, fully removed.

To date, it’s not compatible with Campagnolo’s electronic protocol, in that ProShift mainly takes advantage of the easy-to-change junction box interfaces of Shimano’s Di2 platform.  The head unit is large to say the least, but given that Mastracci is an electronics engineer, that it will only be a matter of time before the relay hardware becomes pared down. Remember, that’s how guys like PowerTap, Garmin, etc. started too.

PRICE: $999 for the head unit and one Di2 TT shifter. You can find more on these guys at baroncontrols.com