Taiwanese component specialists KCNC have released their 2012 catalogue and it contains a complete 12-speed derailleur system consisting of combined brake and gear levers, front and rear mechanisms and a couple of cassette combinations. To really put the cat among the pigeons, there's an 11-speed mountain bike setup as well.
Kudos to British cycling trade magazine BikeBiz; it was them that spotted the new components in a KCNC 2012 catalogue released for download without fanfare yesterday. Admittedly, only the 11-speed mountain and 12-speed road cassettes are actual photos with the shifters and gear mechs shown as the Computer Aided Design renders that engineers use to visualise parts before they are actually cut from solid materials on a Computer Numerical Control (CNC) machine.
KCNC 12-speed titanium cassette for next year: either 11-25 or 11-30
But there they are; if this was a company we had never heard of, there would be a little more scepticism but KCNC is a company with a track record and established worldwide distribution, in the UK though Clee Cycles. They are already well regarded for making anything for a posh bicycle that requires machining out of aluminium and titanium alloys, with cassettes, cranksets, jockey wheels, stems and seat posts often seen in the counter cabinets of bike shops-of-a-certain-enthusiastic-type the world over.
Except for gear mechanisms and shifters, that is. There was, according to the excellent Disrali Gears, a website devoted to the history and development of derailleur gears from the 1930s, a minor flurry of CNC specialists such as White Industries making gear mechanisms in the 1990s when the mountain bike boom was at its peak. But, to be frank, they were blown out of the water by the utterly dominant Shimano with the sheer precision and value of their XT and XTR systems and they just kept on coming.
Meanwhile, the road market up until now wouldn't have been worth the effort. Shimano was still dominant but so embroiled in a tussle with SRAM and Campagnolo over the relatively rapidly developing technology on dropped-bar bikes that a small specialist wouldn't have got a look-in. Is there now a possibility that with both a bigger road market and the move towards extremely complex electronically-shifting systems that a window is opening for smaller-volume CNC specialists to cater for the gear shifting needs of the folks who are already buying their fancy headsets and seatposts?
There are two 12-speed cassettes listed:
All twelve sprockets are individually machined from titanium, according to the KCNC catalogue, and mounted on an aluminium carrier that is 'Shimano freehub compatible' meaning that they will fit on any wheels on the market or as near as dammit. What is not specified is whether that's for a 130mm or 135mm hub. There is no chain mentioned in the catalogue so when KCNC eventually recommend a chain it could be an existing narrow model or they may be working in partnership with a chain maker for an even narrower one than seen hitherto. This latter scenario seems most likely as designing their own shift levers opens the opportunity for a new narrower sprocket spacing away from the existing and near-universal Shimano HyperGlide (HG) standard.