I’m annoyed by electronic drivetrains, because of their vendor lock nature: you cannot use shifters from any other manufacturer, though it is perfectly OK to implement. But the most annoying part is, they are designed to make you spend more. There is no reason for an 11s electronic rear derailleur to mismatch with a 10s cassette. Anyone who knows a few about electronics already knows it’s very easy to make it work with ANY cassette. Jockey cogs will need replacement, but that’s a very easy obstacle to handle properly.
WheelTop is the first manufacturer that came out with a decent design, that is advertised to work with 7 to 12-speed cassettes. Now, the product disappeared, even from the company website. I won’t be surprised to know they had troubles with Sram, maybe Shimano. Thing is, I’m sick of patent trolling. People talk about stupid conspiracy theories, yet the biggest conspiracies are just before our eyes, which is patent trolling, keeping mega-corporations competitive by just applying for “ideas” that humanity already discovered a few centuries ago. We are on the verge of dismissing capitalism for something we don’t know yet; but believe me, it is not much wrong with it. (I’m an anarchist myself!)
Here is an excerpt from a Sram patent application:“The invention provides a wireless control system for a bicycle, including at least one shift actuator generating an input signal when actuated
and a master control unit transmitting a shift signal responsive to the input signal. At least one electromechanical gear changer is provided and includes a gear changer control unit. The gear changer control unit receives the shift signal from the master control unit and controls the at least one electromechanical gear changer corresponding to the received shift signal. The gear changer control unit listens for the shift signal during a part of an awake mode cycle time, the master control unit transmitting the shift signal for a message duration time which is greater than the awake mode cycle time.”
To me, this is not an “invention”, but an “idea”. Everything is vague. “At least one electromechanical gear changer” can be anything: an electromagnet actuated voice coil, a robot arm, a new age material like an artificial muscle, or..just an ordinary DC motor, found in cheap toys. I’m not blaming anyone here, but the patents got out of control.
Let’s talk American dream: In the early ’60s, when the USA was a terrible place to live for minorities, a black man, who have to sit at the back of the bus, can buy a house, a car for himself and his wife, still earning much less than “white men”. Now, a well-educated white male, still privileged enough in USA society, struggles to pay his rent in states like California, let alone support his family. How did this happen? This is very easy to see if you look in the right place, which is rich people: rich people get richer. But how? The most “out there” reason is technology enabled them to create monopolies, but really, it’s not the whole picture. It’s the patent laws. Big corporations sue smaller and much more creative-innovative companies. In most cases, although big corporations do not have valid claims, they still inspire fear amongst the smaller companies that do not have an army of lawyers and capital. Especially in the USA, legal battles are very unjust and expensive. In the end, they either drive them out or buy the companies. That’s why the American dream is no more. Because it was capitalist dynamism fueled by innovation, some real and lawful competition, and freedom of enterprise. These are just fancy words without a true meaning now.
How complex is an electronic derailleur?
I like to dive into very specific technical details, not just because I’m a former mechanic and computer programmer: I also wholeheartedly believe people have the right to know how the things they purchase work.
In some time, I thought of making an electronic derailleur, because, in reality, it’s even more simplistic than a mechanical derailleur. The prohibitive part of the story is electronics, but manufacturing such tiny parts. I live in many different places, and frankly, I neither have the time, space or resources to go into a such endeavor. But to make it work, you need a small electric motor, few gears, or a lead screw in Campagnolo’s case, and a small microcontroller. If you take the Sram’s route (wireless) you’ll probably want an ANT / Bluetooth communication module. In the past, like 5 years ago or more, I created a mockup project like Archer Components did, using Arduino, a 6v motor, and a lead screw along with some tiny bearings. (actually, that was not a lead screw at all, just a properly cut, long bolt!). It worked fairly well on a test bench until tiny gears in the motor broke because I was too lazy to make a nice coupler and implement smooth start in code. Not to mention it was too powerful for its own good, I purposefully bent the cabling to make it suffer even more, as real-life conditions may not be so forgiving, too. I even went ahead to implement a wireless solution with wireless shifters,
along with a tiny OLED screen showing which gear you are (hopefully) in, and more importantly, it beeps when you shift(!). Electronics is my hobby I can’t invest much time. What I’m trying to say is, electronic shifting is no vodoo thing.
The design of EDS OX looks like a Sram ripoff, and probably is – maybe that’s why they removed it altogether; not just patent issues. It was advertised as $365 a kit, but we just know the kit includes a shifter and derailleur. (What about charger and battery?) To me, pricing is not right. I don’t believe there is a huge crowd of 1×12 MTB users flocking to electronic groupsets: it’s still expensive takes away the mechanical feel, and is still considered as “not reliable” – which is not right. The main selling point for electronic groupsets is, making front shifting easier for road bikers. Especially, Shimano’s Syncro Shift is really worthwhile, which lets you forget about 2 shifters, 2 derailleurs, and bent chains.
If any company wants to break the status quo, they need to come up with a shifting system that fits any bike, has both front and rear derailleurs, and is able to fit various gearing options, like 2 or 3 on the front, or 7 to 13 at the back. Syncro shifting? Great. And they need to sell it for less than 500$ to be competitive. Shimano’s new 105 R7100 Di2 is almost less than 800$ with 2 shifters and 2 derailleurs. Can we be positive about the such system will exist? I don’t think so: the bike and bike part manufacturing business is smaller then we think: even top-notch US & EU brands are manufactured in Taiwan, at a handful of factories. Shimano, even Sram, have huge distribution capacity and they probably sell at 1/3 of the price to manufacturers. A small manufacturer, from the ground up, cannot compete with these 2 big boys, and most bike brands wouldn’t risk their deals with them to buy a new brand’s electronic groupset. It’s fine and safe for boutique firms at shallow waters, like making 300$ brake rotors, or 10$ cranksets.
Also, making the electronic derailleurs and shifters is one thing, but making the whole groupset is a big, big adventure. It involves metallurgy, even dealing with supplier networks, logistics, and lots to name…
Mavic was the first to go into the electronics business and it failed. Have you ever seen an FSA K-Force WE groupset road bike lately?