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Automatic shifting demonstrated using wireless technology

Product development company Cambridge Consultants have made what they claim to be the world’s first wireless automatic gear-changing bicycle. It is controlled by smartphone technology.

Cambridge Consultants took a standard bike equipped with an electronic gear system - they've used Shimano Ultegra Di2 - and they wirelessly linked the gears to both manual controls and a smartphone application mounted on the handlebars, and also took information from sensors measuring the cadence and wheel speed.

This combination of monitoring and control allows the system to make automatic gear changes under the control of a smart algorithm running on the smartphone. When the rider’s cadence slows, the application automatically sends a signal to shift into a lower gear. Bluetooth Smart – a low-energy version of Bluetooth – is used to connect the system wirelessly. It’s clever stuff.

The bike was designed as a training tool to help competitive riders improve performance and technique. It would allow a rider to collect data and receive real-time coaching from the smart technology.

The technology could be used with any bicycle to improve performance and make it more user friendly. It can avoid gear combinations that put high pressure on the chain, for example, and automatically shift down gears when the rider brakes hard.

Cambridge Consultants don’t focus on bikes in particular, they are experts in wireless technology and have used this bicycle design as a means of demonstrating the possibilities.

“This bicycle demonstration shows how a combination of sensing, control, algorithms and connectivity can make a real difference to just one sector of the sports and fitness market,” said Tim Ensor, business developer in the Wireless division at Cambridge Consultants. “The exciting part about smart technology is the unlimited possibilities to enhance a device and its applications.

“This wireless bicycle is a great example of the many ways we can continue to upgrade technology. We could incorporate GPS and map data into the application to make gear changes in anticipation of upcoming hills, for example, or include a heart-rate monitor and other measurement tools to help improve training. But it’s not just about the bike – connected systems have the potential to give all kinds of traditional products a new lease of life.”

Mat has worked for loads of bike magazines over 20+ years, and been editor of 220 Triathlon and Cycling Plus. He's been road.cc technical editor for eight years, testing bikes, fettling the latest kit, and trying out the most up-to-the-minute clothing. We send him off around the world to get all the news from launches and shows too. He has won his category in Ironman UK 70.3 and finished on the podium in both marathons he has run. Mat is a Cambridge graduate who did a post-grad in magazine journalism, and he is a past winner of the Cycling Media Award for Specialist Online Writer.

26 comments

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andyp [1495 posts] 4 years ago
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Even better, if someone else (ie DS) could remotely operate it, Andy Schleck might have a chance of winning another Tour.
'just pedal, lad. Leave the gear changes to me, you ham-fisted buffoon'.

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Ghedebrav [1099 posts] 4 years ago
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A lot of bells and whistles of anticipating gear changes etc. just seem like fancy gimmicks to me - but the principal of wireless gear-changing is sound and I suspect it will become mainstream before too long.

Wouldn't fancy doing my world tour with wireless changers, mind, and for the average utility cyclist it doesn't solve any problems that a hub gear and belt drive wouldn't do many times better - but for serious roadies I reckon this will do very well.

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Bez [612 posts] 4 years ago
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"It can ... automatically shift down gears when the rider brakes hard."

Which is only any use if it can also detect that the rider's gently pedalling, otherise it's going to be hauling the mechs way off from where the chain is.

It all seems fine as a technical proof of concept, but surely the only real use of this - with a derailleur system at least - is to avoid having to use wires with normal manual shifters.

Does anyone actually think automatic derailleur shifting is a good idea, or am I just overly sceptical?

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horizontal dropout [296 posts] 4 years ago
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Wow Cambridge Consultants! I used to work for them over 40 years ago. They were quite innovative back then and were developing an anti skid braking system for cars. They had one of the back wheels of the director's E-type jag jacked up with the wheel off and various bits attached to the wheel hub. Someone jumped in the car, started up, stuck it in gear and accelerated to spin up the wheel, forgetting that the car had a limited slip diff. The car shot forward and crashed into the wall just in front of it, landing on all the test gear in the process. Oops.

Glad to see they are still going strong and just as innovative.

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notfastenough [3725 posts] 4 years ago
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andyp wrote:

Even better, if someone else (ie DS) could remotely operate it, Andy Schleck might have a chance of winning another Tour.
'just pedal, lad. Leave the gear changes to me, you ham-fisted buffoon'.

 4 I was about to ask if they would also add any other features from cars, but then realised it's taken me this long to wake up: Andy's constant speed and reluctance to accelerate - it's obviously cruise control...

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musicalmarc [106 posts] 4 years ago
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could be good linked up to training videos. They could use a gradient map to change gear and simulate going up hill and descending. Just need a bluetooth powered fan to go with it.

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notfastenough [3725 posts] 4 years ago
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horizontal dropout wrote:

Wow Cambridge Consultants! I used to work for them over 40 years ago. They were quite innovative back then and were developing an anti skid braking system for cars. They had one of the back wheels of the director's E-type jag jacked up with the wheel off and various bits attached to the wheel hub. Someone jumped in the car, started up, stuck it in gear and accelerated to spin up the wheel, forgetting that the car had a limited slip diff. The car shot forward and crashed into the wall just in front of it, landing on all the test gear in the process. Oops.

Glad to see they are still going strong and just as innovative.

Ha, good story!

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Sadly Biggins [272 posts] 4 years ago
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notfastenough wrote:
andyp wrote:

Even better, if someone else (ie DS) could remotely operate it, Andy Schleck might have a chance of winning another Tour.
'just pedal, lad. Leave the gear changes to me, you ham-fisted buffoon'.

 4 I was about to ask if they would also add any other features from cars, but then realised it's taken me this long to wake up: Andy's constant speed and reluctance to accelerate - it's obviously cruise control...

They'd need to take over his braking as well. He does descend like a child on a tricycle!

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chokofingrz [407 posts] 4 years ago
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Could be a good way for Lance to win his next Tour: hack the opponent's wireless connection and send a signal to make his chain come off when the climb starts!

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Roberj4 [223 posts] 4 years ago
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Bet Shimano with their deep pockets already have wireless shifting sorted. Just a question on which year to launch 2016? Keeps future bike buying ticking a long nicely.

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BikeJon [188 posts] 4 years ago
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chokofingrz wrote:

Could be a good way for Lance to win his next Tour: hack the opponent's wireless connection and send a signal to make his chain come off when the climb starts!

'His next Tour' - I wasn't aware that he'd won any yet  39 3

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The Rumpo Kid [589 posts] 4 years ago
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(Takes deep breath) All of the "advances" in gearing technology seem to be about making what is essentially a crash gearbox work better. Is no research taking place into alternatives to chain drive and cog swapping, or do UCI regulations mean that any such research would be money down the drain?

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Parlee-king [33 posts] 4 years ago
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....and to think that thought moving to indexed gears on downtube shifters was a step to far (TBH still think it was, but good news on ergo levers).

Then again if it helps get a few extra bums on saddles and people looking into improving & talking about cycle technology , that's good news

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harman_mogul [286 posts] 4 years ago
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Great stuff! Was it the same outfit that also did audio amplifiers (Cambridge P40)?

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KiwiMike [1296 posts] 4 years ago
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...sorry, what was all that blathering about an iPad app? I was distracted by the fact that a firm this smart couldn't find the front wheel block  39

...and I'm sure I remember riding a utility bike over a decade ago that had fully automatic gears. The local DH lads spent ages trying to fry it by torquing the bejesus out of it from a standing start.

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rgriffith7 [18 posts] 4 years ago
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 39 What we really need is to get rid of the chain and cassette and have a direct shaft driven powertrain with CVT (continuous variable transmition) as comes on many new vehicles.

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Gkam84 [9100 posts] 4 years ago
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I want to get a shot of this and find some one to test it on, just to have find, lowest gear, watch them struggle, then whip it into the highest and see them fall all over the place  19

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The Rumpo Kid [589 posts] 4 years ago
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Rgriffith7 wrote:

 39 What we really need is to get rid of the chain and cassette and have a direct shaft driven powertrain with CVT (continuous variable transmition) as comes on many new vehicles.

I'm with you on CVT. Changing gear ratios by physically moving a chain to another cog is totally Fred Flintstone. If cars had evolved in the same way as bicycles they would now have carbon fibre starting handles.

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rgmerk [2 posts] 4 years ago
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Wireless gear changing is not technically challenging. It's an upper-year undergrad engineering project, if that. The reason it hasn't been done yet in commercial products is simply that if you don't run wires to the front and rear derailleurs, they need their own batteries, as does each brifter. What's the bigger hassle - having a couple of wires, or having four batteries on your bike?

As for automatic shifting, won't work for race bikes. How would you like an automatic shift happening in the middle of a sprint - or, alternatively, being stuck in a too-low gear in that sprint?

If something like the NuVinci CVT ever becomes mainstream (perhaps for commuter or touring bikes), automatic ratio adjustment might be useful in that situation.

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rookybiker [46 posts] 4 years ago
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CVT transmission designs have significant drawbacks including low efficiency and low relative load capacity, which is why they are not all that common in automotive use. Jobst Brandt explained years ago why CVT makes even less sense in bicycles: human muscles are low-power, wide-band transducers and bicycle transmissions are high torque/limited power systems. Exactly what CVT's suck at.

Electric bikes may eventually do the trick. A judiciously designed electric transmission can act as a CVT in addition to having propulsive and regenerative braking roles. Of course the motor/generators, power electronics and batteries all entail energy conversion losses, so a hybrid CVT is no free lunch either.

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matthewn5 [1032 posts] 4 years ago
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The wireless part has already been done - the Mavic Mektronic system from the 1990s was wireless. And had a reputation for unreliability, as a quick Google will attest.

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BearstedCC [82 posts] 4 years ago
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Sorry Andy Schleck had to laugh and laugh... Love the comments about you, just so funny and but true... No presents from Alberto this year...

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LegsDontFailMeNow [6 posts] 4 years ago
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Hmm... wouldn't trust it on a hill climb where my cadence is *ahem* 'less than predictable'.

Can also see some techno smartyboots standing in the crowd on the Tourmalet, hacking the wireless security and beaming random gear-change commands to anyone with a wireless shifter. Actually, that could spice things up a bit...  19

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Rupert [191 posts] 4 years ago
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Ah now we have it ..... the start of what we thought was a long way off.
This technology will move towards automatic gear changing relating to power output and heart rate.

Link this to hud glasses that give you a up front display & you may be able to change gear just by looking ?

It's a brave new cycling world we find our selves in.

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The Rumpo Kid [589 posts] 4 years ago
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rookybiker wrote:

CVT transmission designs have significant drawbacks including low efficiency and low relative load capacity, which is why they are not all that common in automotive use. Jobst Brandt explained years ago why CVT makes even less sense in bicycles: human muscles are low-power, wide-band transducers and bicycle transmissions are high torque/limited power systems. Exactly what CVT's suck at.

Electric bikes may eventually do the trick. A judiciously designed electric transmission can act as a CVT in addition to having propulsive and regenerative braking roles. Of course the motor/generators, power electronics and batteries all entail energy conversion losses, so a hybrid CVT is no free lunch either.

There is no reason, other than nobody's doing the R and D, why a variable pulley (daf car type) transmission has not been developed for the bicycle. Torque is one of the things transmission systems change.

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Farky [183 posts] 4 years ago
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Here we go, only thign they didnt do was link it to a powermeter so the DS could set the required power for every climb and allow the bike to change gears to produce/maintain it.

Rider...just pedal and steer (maybe brake when needed though we may override it if youre a wuss).