Automatic transmissions were a breakthrough for cars more than half a century ago. Now we have an automatic gear shifter for a bicycle. Colorado State University engineering students Ben Johnke, Bill Engelking, and Matthew Stout created a bike that shifts gears by itself based on several inputs: rear wheel speed, pedaling direction, and initial chain position.
The students used the factory derailleur cable system, but they added high-torque servo motors instead of hand-turned levers. The bike uses four PIC microcontrollers to process the inputs, control the shifting, and display data to the user.
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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.
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...
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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