In this article, we’ll be discussing Bicycle Electric Telescopic Apparatus, Bicycle Power Supply System, and Bicycle Electric Component System by Shimano, US patent number 10,846,757. The publication date is Nov. 24th, 2020, and the filing date is Mar. 8th 2017.
This is Shimano’s answer to SRAM AXS system and includes both wireless shifting and a wireless seat post ecosystem. This is an extremely boring and mechanical patent. Honestly, it’s so disappointing the lack of support or reasoning behind some of these new systems. I apologize in advance for the extreme lack of information in this one.
Brief Summary (tl;dr)
Press button, seat unlocks, release button, seat locks.
Press other buttons, derailleur shifts.
Push more buttons, suspension locks and unlocks.
Historically, shifting has been performed via a cable fixed from a shifter located on the handlebars to the derailleur at the back of the bike (or the middle if you’re still in 2012).
I’ve been rockin’ a cabled connection since the jump, along with pretty much everyone else in this sport. A cabled connection has its benefits and issues like being simple to adjust and easy to replace. Riders don’t need to charge batteries or worry about water ruining their stuff, and they’re cheap to fix when something goes wrong. But, there are also issues of cables stretching, fraying, or just breaking. That’s always fun when you’re 5 miles from the trailhead and a shift cable snaps. Even adjustments can be a pain.
There are also companies that have implemented hydraulic shifting mechanisms, like Rotor. I’d assume this is super reliable and super smooth, yet it’s just another thing to bleed… though I don’t think that’s a deal-breaker. They seem pretty straightforward.
Shimano are already producing electronic shifting, so this whole wireless part should be easy, right? Just put some batteries, controllers, and transmitters in specific spots on the bike, and you’re good to go.
Most droppers function via a hydraulic actuation to provide fluid flow and release the upper stanchion so the stanchion can move freely. Others use a cable to release a pin-type mechanism. Press a button, the upper stanchion moves, release the button and it’s firm again. Simple. The outlier on this one is Trek’s linear actuated dropper I wrote about a few weeks ago. That thing is so cool.
SRAM released their wireless groupset, called the AXS, in Feb. 2019, to much fanfare. The system utilizes a wireless connection from the shifter buttons and dropper button to some wireless actuators in the dropper and derailleur. The shifter has tiny servos/motors that move the derailleur to the exact location needed for each selected gear. The dropper uses a tiny motor to release a valve to allow fluid to flow so the upper stanchion can move.
Lastly, wireless electronic suspension lockouts are not new. Magura released the eLECT system a few years ago using a similar concept, though I assume Shimano are doing it a little differently. Otherwise, we probably wouldn’t be reading about it.
I’ve read a few Shimano patents now and I have to mention how incredibly mechanical the attorneys are when they’re describing the components in question. Holy shit they’re boring. There’s almost no background, mentions of novelty, reasons why they’re doing anything, nothing. It’s just “here’s what we’re doing”. Which I guess is a good thing as far as prosecution goes, but it makes for a horrible read.
In this patent, Shimano are introducing wireless shifting, a wireless dropper, and a wireless suspension lockout. If the actual products are anything like what these images show in this document, the wireless shifting and wireless dropper system are going to look a lot like what we’re already used to, which is probably a good thing. No need to introduce some Testa Truck equivalent of a remote system when the designs have already been well established.
The interesting part of this patent is that Shimano are showing us their concept for a wireless lockout system. It just looks like a new top-cap system that opens and closes the damper. Nothing earth-shattering as far as the mechanisms, because Shimano extremely vague about what is actually going on, but still a cool little addition.
The claims in this patent are technically about the dropper system. This means they’ll file this patent with different claims a few times to cover the shifting and the fork. But I’ll be honest, I couldn’t even tell you want the exact novelty is here. This patent is so incredibly difficult to read that it’d take me days to find the novelty. But, the fact that Shimano is getting into the wireless market is probably the bigger news story here, rather than the mundane improvement they’ve changed to file for this patent.
Like I said earlier, the attorneys provide literally zero information as to why they’re doing anything at all. This is the antithesis of some of the verbose patents I’ve written about (Yeti).
Shimano are a little late to the party, as far as wireless systems in bikes go. SRAM’s system is already selling and I’d bet they’re already developing a 3rd iteration of the system. That being said, this could be like what Yeti has done in the E-bike game. Yeti didn’t rush into the market and developed an extremely unique system (that I hope works), and Shimano may be doing the same. Even though this will be their first iteration, if it’s anything like most of Shimano’s other offerings, it’ll probably be a home-run.
In the end, SRAM has shown the appetite exists for wireless systems and Shimano probably didn’t want to be the Guinea Pig on something that costs a fortune to develop.
As I said before, the dropper system appears to be similar to what we’re already familiar with. There are buttons on the handlebars that send a signal to the dropper to actuate a valve that allows fluid to flow or not flow. Flowing fluid means the dropper can move. Non-flowing fluid means the dropper is locked.
Fig. 6 shows a cross-section of the dropper. When unlocked, the actuator 56 activates the valve unit 64 to allow fluid chambers 68 and 70 to exchange fluid. A locked system is the opposite.
When the valve unit 64 is closed, the first tube 50 and the second tube 52 are relatively positioned relative to each other in the telescopic direction Dl. When the valve unit 64 is open, the first tube 50 and the second tube 52 are relatively movable relative to each other in the telescopic direction D1.
Again, Shimano are vague on how the actual dropper works in excruciating detail, which is probably because there is another patent coming another time that explains it much better.
So, here’s another new item in this patent. Shimano have a fork that can be electronically actuated, where the rider can wirelessly lock and unlock the fork with a positioning structure and an electric positioning actuator. These are vague but it’s just a system just moves something in the (probably) damper to lock and unlock the fork.
The positioning structure is configured to relatively position the first tube and the second tube in a telescopic direction extending along the center axis of the first tube. The electric positioning actuator is configured to actuate the positioning structure.
The second electric actuator (the electric positioning actuator) 156 is configured to actuate the positioning structure 154.…the positioning structure 154 has a lockout position and an unlocked position.
The other stanchion can contain ‘a height adjustment structure 164’.
The height adjustment structure 164 is configured to change a relative position between the fourth tube 162 and the third tube 160…
But Shimano are admitting this part isn’t new.
The height adjustment devices for bicycle suspensions are well known in the bicycle field. Thus, the height adjustment structure 164 can be any type of suitable height adjustment device as needed and/or desired.
With respect to the shifting, it’s a pretty simple process:
…the operation signal is a shift operation signal to operate a shifting device such as the electric rear derailleur. The first wireless signal is an upshift operation signal for upshifting of the electric rear derailleur. The second wireless signal is a downshift operation signal for downshifting of the electric rear derailleur. The first wireless signal and the second wireless signal are distinguishable from each other.
This leads me to the last part of this patent. Shimano are showing their new power supply (battery). I don’t think there’s anything super special here. It’s a battery with a cover and a little release button.
It’s interesting to me that there isn’t a single mention of the words algorithm, automatic, or anything similar. If they had used words like that, it could suggest that this system could be used in an active method, meaning the dropper could eventually be automatically actuated, or the shifting could be automatic based on some sensors. I have a hard time believing that’s not coming in the future, but I can’t say for sure because they don’t say it.
It looks like the two big players are both going to be coming at each other with some top-shelf wireless systems. You know what that means for us NX/Deore folk, right? Competition and oversaturation may allow us to get our hands on these systems. But do you want electronic everything, with batteries everywhere, and a crazy amount of things to go wrong? Let me know what you think of Shimano stepping into this market, I’d love to hear it!