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Gadget Freak Case #205: Colorado Smart Bike Shifts Itself
2/14/2012

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The Colorado State University engineering students who created the self-shifting smart bike (left to right): Ben Johnke, Bill Engelking, and Matthew Stout.
The Colorado State University engineering students who created the self-shifting smart bike (left to right): Ben Johnke, Bill Engelking, and Matthew Stout.

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Beth Stackpole
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Could be a bumpy ride
Beth Stackpole   2/14/2012 6:47:02 AM
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Cool idea. We actually wrote about a Trek bike project several years back that tackled the automatic shifting idea. If I recall, there were concerns around performance, however. Not sure the shifter can match the steady power and the smooth operation of manual shifting for  a rider who gets in the groove pedaling.

MYRONB
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Gold
Re: Could be a bumpy ride
MYRONB   2/14/2012 7:11:04 PM
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Neat idea, but maybe in the abstract, not in a practical sense.  As a long-time touring bike rider and trainer of the 1984 USCF National Womens Criterium Champion, an automatic shift is the last thing one wants for touring or racing.   Quite often it is important to anticipate what gear one wants to be in for an expected situation.  Typically, one selects a gear  to suit the terrain, wind, and pedalling cadence a rider can maintain.  Riding in a pack of other riders, whether racing or touring, also affects the choice of  ratio desired.  No thanks, but I think KISS is the best.

Regards,  Myron Boyajian

Matthew Stout
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Re: Could be a bumpy ride
Matthew Stout   2/14/2012 10:07:26 PM
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I agree with you that our design would not be good for racing, because it is meant for a person who wants to just have a comfortable ride to school or to work. Many basic level riders do not shift enough or shift too much. And most people riding their bike to school or work do not need all of the 21 speeds (or whatever) the bike offers. So this system utilizes four gear sets that are spread out over possible gear ratios in order to select a good gear for the speed of the rider. I understand the concerns about smoothness and that is something we tried to address, but of course it is difficult to address every riding conditions. So the compromise here is that you don't have as many gears for a varied amount speeds, but you also don't have a bicycle that is shifting constantly. If you really get pedaling quickly (as I even tested), the bicycle will skip shift steps (due to the timing of the program) if needed. Also to address comfort, we made the upshift different from the downshift for each gear. So even with a lot of variation in speed close to a shifting point, you won't get redundant shifting. Also, the movement of the servo motors is very quick (and since it can move both gears at the same time) it is actually quickier and equally as smooth (since it uses the same derailuer of the manual shifting bike). And the shifitng only occurs when the pedaling is constant in order to get smooth shifts. More of the features in order to improve smoothness and the ride are in the paper. Thanks for your comments and interest. 

 

seansimp925
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Re: Could be a bumpy ride
seansimp925   2/29/2012 7:44:26 AM
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Myron Boyajian,

Fortunately for these guys, you are a member of the absolute tiniest porton of bicycle riders and your wants/needs are so wildly different than the average that ignoring you is the best thing they can do.

Cheers!

RobLewis
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Gold
Yes, but…
RobLewis   2/14/2012 11:40:11 AM
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There have of course been several attempts at bicycle automatic transmissions, but I don't think the problem will truly be solved until somebody comes up with one that can read the mind of the rider.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Yes, but…
Rob Spiegel   2/14/2012 2:35:49 PM
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This one comes pretty close to reading the mind of the cyclist. Perhaps even closer than the automobile's automatic transmission. I wonder if this will make it easier to drink coffee while cycling. The automatic trans in the auto certainly helped me in that area.

naperlou
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Re: Yes, but…
naperlou   2/15/2012 9:42:48 AM
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Of course you could say that about a car as well.  I had a car that had a highly advertised feature of being adaptive to a user's driving style.  That was fine until you changed styles (which I do a lot).

RobLewis
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Re: Yes, but…
RobLewis   2/15/2012 11:35:13 AM
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I'd argue that the abundance of engine power available in a car can "smooth over" mismatches between the driver's intention and the transmission's state. When all you've got is pedal power, it's much more critical to know the rider/driver's goals, intentions, and attitude. Not to mention "look-ahead" data from the driver's visual perception and analysis of the path in front of him/her.

seansimp925
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Iron
oldtimer8080
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Now if we could only make the CYCLIST user friendly...
oldtimer8080   2/14/2012 3:32:18 PM
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The other problem that needs a solution in the many mountain trails in CO is the mountain bike operator.

On the roads and trails close to Golden, abuse of the trail privileges by speeding cyclists have had the effect of RATIONING the times mountain bikes can be ridden on these trails.

If the people riding concentrate on THEIR " Share the Road " responsibilities, rather than changing gears, then this would be a win-win for the other people and animals using the trails and roads.

If this encourages the " darn, YOU spilled my latte by using the trail while I was on it " crowd, then this setup is a step backward.

For me, adding a Golden Motors Magic Pie motor was the real system that made my Corsa HPV useable up here.

 

 

Jeff Martin
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Silver
Would have done stuff differently.
Jeff Martin   2/14/2012 3:41:32 PM
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rcservosdon'trespondtoadutycycle. theyrequireacontrolsignalwithhasapulsewidthofmin1mstomax2ms.  thena40msorsodelayuntilthenextpulseout.  theangleoftheservowillbeproportionaltothat1mspulsewidthwindow.

theycouldalsobenefitfromapotadjustablecomparatorforthewheelspeedsensortosetthethresholdofthestripdetection. thiswouldalsosquareupthereoutputsignal. iwouldalsothinkthatyoucouldsetaninternalforeverloopsetto.25secondsinainterruptserviceroutine. whileintheloopyouwouldcalculatethewheelspeedbylookingatacountervalueandresettingonceperloop. ithinkthiscouldhaveallfitonjustonepic.

 

rickgtoc
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Gold
Speed sensor vs power output sensor
rickgtoc   2/14/2012 4:09:28 PM
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Neat demonstration project.

I think, however, power output of the rider would be a better measure than speed, albeit more expensive to obtain.  User selects an upper and lower output range, and tranny controller adjusts to maintain.  There are cycle computers out there that measure output, so it's probably possible, although more complicated.  Of course there is another complication to be handled.  You don't want the bike to shift while the rider is cranking down hard on the pedals.  The audible "tranny controller suggests a change" melody would be a signal to the cyclist to ease up for the shift.  If the system senses the ease in pedal pressure, then the shift occurs.

Next challenge: a cyclist airbag system for falls and collisions.  And it has to weigh under 3 pounds.

Nugent_56
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Additional Sensor
Nugent_56   2/14/2012 4:51:11 PM
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I think a sweet addition would be an inclinomter to measure the angle of the grade, so even if the rider doesn't slow down that much, it would still downshift to give the rider more torque to handle the hill.

Matthew Stout
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Iron
Re: Additional Sensor
Matthew Stout   2/14/2012 10:24:05 PM
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I like this idea a lot. It is a flaw in the current system that you must change speed in order to shift in some ways, because when climbing up a hill you may want to still be in a lower gear. It would also be cool to have more manual inputs in the system. For instance, ideally if you could push varying setting for normal, hill, racing...etc on the bicycle's control box that would be very useful. These setting could have different programming for gear changing and utilize different sensors. That way you could put in an sensor for incline without forcing the rider to utilize this if they just want to go up the hill slowly. I actually considered doing this as an input function, but the programming would have been much more longer and complicated for this application. If I was going to actually market this product, I think it would be a great idea. 

ChasChas
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Advantage
ChasChas   2/15/2012 9:36:02 AM
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The advantage I see over other attemps is that it keeps chain efficiency and appears to keep the weight down - the two biggies - efficiency and weight.

Pete Ostapchuk
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Iron
smart bike
Pete Ostapchuk   2/15/2012 9:57:13 AM
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    Back in th 1980s, I connected a 400 pound IBM 7330 magnetic tap unit to the cassette input of my Commodore 64 and made it work. It was a lot of fun doing it but it was not very practical. It would be interesting to see where this goes. Who would have thought that the Edison effect would some day have us putting electronics in a coffee pot. I'm thinking that you guys had fun tricking out that bike. I'm sure it will turn some heads. 

    I still ride a 1958 Schwinn 3 speed. A few years ago I also have a Trek with 24 speeds. I normally use the front shifter only for those 3 speeds. I still like cars with manual transmissions.   Pete O.

Andy
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Iron
LandRider
Andy   2/15/2012 10:30:32 AM
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I once saw an auto shifting bike called the LandRider. I didn't study it closely, but it used centrifugal weights attached to one of the idler sprockets on the rear duraillieur to sense pedaling speed, and shift to keep that constant, within the ratios available. The mechanism looked like a flyball governor, it was all mechanical. Just FYI.

pueng123
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Iron
Great Mechatronics project
pueng123   2/15/2012 10:53:10 AM
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I think this is one of the best "Gadget Freak" cases ever presented in Design News, and here's why.  It takes common components available to any experimenter, puts them together to solve a problem, and gives a detailed explanation of how it works.  The video was great in explaining the different subsystems of the experiment. I am a long time bike rider and know how hard it is to perform gear changing on a cable operated gear shifting system.  The fact that students made this work using fairly crude experimental components is amazing.  No it is not rocket science but it represents the true spirit of Mechatronics and Gadget Freaking.

Great work guys.

Rob Spiegel
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Blogger
Re: Great Mechatronics project
Rob Spiegel   2/16/2012 3:12:40 PM
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This is a great Gadget Freak in a number of ways. As well as the quality of the gadget, the presentation was great as well. The three guys turned in a terrific set of build instructions, photos, and code. This is one of the best I've seen.

curious_device
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Gold
Re: Great Mechatronics project
curious_device   2/18/2012 11:00:35 PM
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Then there's the all-mechanical version that was for sale in the late 1990's -

http://www.disraeligears.co.uk/Site/AutoBike_derailleurs.html

Rob Spiegel
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Blogger
Re: Great Mechatronics project
Rob Spiegel   2/21/2012 11:54:01 AM
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Interesting link, Curious. Seems it didn't catch on. Could be that cyclists don't mind shifting gears. That may be the rub with this gadget. It also could be that gear selection is very individual, each rider making somewhat different decisions. Manual shifting customizes gear selection.

seansimp925
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Iron
Re: Great Mechatronics project
seansimp925   2/29/2012 7:36:30 AM
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"Catch on" is not quantitative enough for me.

These guys could easily build a better mousetrap than Landrider who currently sells over $50mm of these automatic shifting derailleur bikes every year despite having a terrible reputation online.

Customizing gear selection is easy once you have a microcontroller on board.

Keep up the good work fellows and don't let the "bicycle experts" get you down.  

Rob Spiegel
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Blogger
Re: Great Mechatronics project
Rob Spiegel   2/29/2012 1:22:22 PM
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Hmm, Seansimps925, it seems that our Gadget Freaks have created a more intelligent automated shifting system than the pros. I suppose you could take the intelligence a step further and add intelligence that would allow the shifting system to learn the behavior of an individual rider on that rider's typical routes.

seansimp925
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Iron
Re: Great Mechatronics project
seansimp925   2/29/2012 1:38:02 PM
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Absolutely that's why we should show these guys support instead of poking holes because you or I might not be who they are targeting. We know people are already paying money for the same concept that doesn't work very well. This could be a building block to bigger and better things and we could collectively help move that along by being constructive.

Rob Spiegel
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Blogger
Re: Great Mechatronics project
Rob Spiegel   2/29/2012 1:45:09 PM
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I agree completely, Seansimp925. Whatever the limitations, it looks like our Gadget Freaks have leapfrogged the pros. Even so, there's nothing wrong with constructive criticism. An extensive article in the New Yorker recently showed that brainstorming without a critical element is not as productive as brainstorming that includes skepticism. That, of course, defies conventional assumptions. 

seansimp925
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Iron
Re: Great Mechatronics project
seansimp925   2/29/2012 1:57:04 PM
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Hey Rob is there a way to contact you on here with another cool bike gadget story?

Rob Spiegel
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Blogger
Re: Great Mechatronics project
Rob Spiegel   3/1/2012 10:21:48 AM
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Yes, Seansimp925. You can reach me at rob.spiegel@ubm.com

I look forward to hearing from you. If you have a gadget to submit to Gadget Freak, we're always interested in new submissions.

Nancy Golden
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Platinum
Re: Great Mechatronics project
Nancy Golden   3/2/2012 7:15:26 PM
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While their project is a great accomplishment for these young men, I think you are correct as to why it has not caught on. My husband is a cyclist and I just asked him if he would want a bike that shifted automatically and he gave a most emphatic "No!" When I queried him further it was because he wanted to have control of the shifting. Of course some people wouldn't care and may appreciate not having to worry about shifting - I fall in that latter category but then, I am much less likely to buy a high dollar bike.

Rob Spiegel
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Re: Great Mechatronics project
Rob Spiegel   3/5/2012 11:57:30 AM
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Good points, Nancy. I fall into your category. I like the idea of an automatic shift, but my taste in bikes tends to be very recreational. I end up on  very, very few hills.

seansimp925
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Iron
Re: Great Mechatronics project
seansimp925   3/5/2012 4:50:25 PM
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Hey Nancy. As with most things in life, you must always consider the source.  Your husband is a cyclist.  The overwhelming majority of Americans are not cyclists.  What about someone who currently does not ride a bike but wants a fun healthy activity in which to partake?  This person might be turned off by the perceived complexity/specialty that they see in the more hardcore bicycling enthusiast (crazy looking expensive bikes, aero helmets, clipless/cage pedals, spandex, etc).  I agree price becomes a greater issue for these non-enthusiasts but I don't see anything about the CSU bike that is particularly expensive.  On a side note, does your husband drive an automatic car/truck/SUV?  I have several friends that, if asked whether they would drive an automatic car, would emphatically say, "no."  In fact, they might curse at me as well.  But then there's the fact that 95% of cars sold in the US are automatics (up from 68% in 1980 and 78% in 1986).  Automatic transmissions get worse fuel economy and they cost more than their manual counterparts.  Why do you think people buy automatic cars/trucks/SUVs?

Just some food for thought!

 

Nancy Golden
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Platinum
Re: Great Mechatronics project
Nancy Golden   3/5/2012 7:50:41 PM
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Oh, I don't discount the bike's value and I am proud of those guys for their accomplishment (and I love projects with PICs!) but it is a tough economy and bringing a prototype to market can be a difficult proposition in any economy. There have been various versions of auto-shifting bikes available for decades and they simply don't seem to be catching on. Perhaps if we had bike safe lanes in every community and workplaces accommodated locking up bicycles in a place protected from the elements, we would see more casual riders using these bikes to commute to work, but for now at least I see this as a niche market, and probably a relatively narrow niche at that. A well-designed auto-shifting bike that was cost-effective and reliable may get my attention as a casual bicyclist, but in this economy – I'll make my $200 Schwinn last a few more years...

Tool_maker
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Platinum
Weight
Tool_maker   2/15/2012 1:01:00 PM
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I am not a cyclist, but it seems to me the overwhelming research dollars are spent it reducing the weight of the bike. At least that was what I found when I was helping my adolescent son find a suitable bike. The lighter they were the more they cost.

Just curious, how much weight has this added and would that not defeat any advantage gained by shifting?

a1f6d
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Iron
Re: Weight
a1f6d   2/15/2012 2:23:50 PM
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The whole system adds about a pound to the weight of the bike, and that could be reduced significantly with more expensive light-weight materials.  I've been riding the bike to and from classes on and off here for about 2 weeks and haven't been able to notice any lack of performance due to increased weight.  As was mentioned earlier, this isn't meant to be a system for a competition racing bike as much as one for a casual rider. 

Bill

Matthew Stout
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Iron
Re: Weight
Matthew Stout   2/15/2012 2:48:54 PM
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As Bill said, the added weight is very small. The servo motors are actually mounted where the water bottle holder was, so if anything it is lighter than having a water bottle there. And the weight on the handle bars is small, and it is not noticable for none racing situations. I was just reading an article about how (with some basic/simple approximations) every pound was about 6 seconds more on a 25 (or so) minute hill climb. The dynamics and drag will technically be effected by adding these components also, but it is very minor (not noticable) to anyone not racing.

Essentially, my point is that no the weight doesn't have an effect on this product for its application.

Ozark Sage
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Silver
Re: Colorado's BBEs (Bright Buding Engineers)
Ozark Sage   2/15/2012 8:07:30 PM
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Ben, Bill and Matthew interesting. I am sure other readers have sufficently commented on your design so I should like to make a comment on your (or another's) parts list and the use of the word Ohm, [George Simon Ohm] derivation: unit of electric resistance equal to resistance of a circuit in which a potential difference of one volt produces a current of one ampere

A resistor listed in a parts take-off with the ####(number) or CCCC (Color) to call out in it's ohmic value; ohmically in ohmage as read from an Ohm meter readout is in ohms

The capitalized plural OHMS is normally reserved and NEVER used since it means On Her/His Majesty's Service,  I really don't care but, our friends the Brits' are proud of their English language and, they had Webster's first! So guys sack this trivel piece of information away in your head until you need to pass it on to another future engineerand.

Rob Spiegel
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Blogger
Re: Colorado's BBEs (Bright Buding Engineers)
Rob Spiegel   2/16/2012 3:01:10 PM
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I love that, Ozark Sage. OHMS! A nice peice of trivia when creating parts lists. 

roboto
User Rank
Iron
Re: Colorado's BBEs (Bright Buding Engineers)
roboto   2/27/2012 5:04:37 PM
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OK , Ozark. why did you post all of that? 

Most importantly we need to concentrate on the invention at hand created by three young men. They have more things to worry about than how to spell ohms or its meaning when in all caps.  Don't take away their thunder.  This is a brilliant idea and they have a working example.  Kudos.  Great job.

  

William K.
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Platinum
Colorado bike shifts itself
William K.   2/15/2012 2:18:42 PM
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What an amazing gadget! I bike several miles every day, and I shift gears a lot, so much that I wear out shift cables. But I really wonder how the system will anticipate what I want to do next, which, since the standard derailuer shift requires crank motion to shift down, I shift prior to the action for which I shifted. All of the computers that attempt to anticipate what I want to do are always wrong, and unless the processor can read my mind, it will be wrong as well. That would be a bit frustrating, I think.

What I wonder about is how this system could possibly match the reliability of the simple cable and lever shifters that have been around for so long. And is this package waterproof? I seldom choose to ride in the rain, but I wind up doing it not by choice on many occasions. So I wonder about how robust this system really is.

a1f6d
User Rank
Iron
Re: Colorado bike shifts itself
a1f6d   2/15/2012 2:32:56 PM
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In riding the bike around, there is definitely a learning curve as to proper technique in operating it.  You're right in that it could never anticipate my needs on the fly.  For instance, in going up hills I'm forced to slow down enough to get into an appropriate gear before I start up the slope.

Obviously, there is no way with the added complexity to beat the reliability of the original cable and lever shifters.  I am interested myself to see how long the system lasts before something wears out as I ride it to class.  I'll let you know when something goes bad.  Unfortunately, no, the system isn't water proof, and originally wasn't really light proof either.  We had issues with direct sunlight saturating the photo-transistor.  This was fixed with a small shade mounted over the unit.

Bill

William K.
User Rank
Platinum
Colorado smart bike shifts itself
William K.   2/15/2012 2:19:49 PM
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What an amazing gadget! I bike several miles every day, and I shift gears a lot, so much that I wear out shift cables. But I really wonder how the system will anticipate what I want to do next, which, since the standard derailuer shift requires crank motion to shift down, I shift prior to the action for which I shifted. All of the computers that attempt to anticipate what I want to do are always wrong, and unless the processor can read my mind, it will be wrong as well. That would be a bit frustrating, I think.

What I wonder about is how this system could possibly match the reliability of the simple cable and lever shifters that have been around for so long. And is this package waterproof? I seldom choose to ride in the rain, but I wind up doing it not by choice on many occasions. So I wonder about how robust this system really is.


George Kaye
User Rank
Silver
How hard can it be?
George Kaye   1/10/2014 4:21:51 PM
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To shift your bike yourself? I agree it is fun gizmology but if you are going out for a little exercise . . . .

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