In this article, we’ll be discussing a Control Apparatus, Control System, and Electric Component for Human-Powered Vehicle by Shimano, US publication 20210061412. The publication date is March 4th, 2021 and the filing date is Aug. 26th, 2019. This patent has not been granted yet.
Believe it or not, this bike is peak performance.
Brief Summary (tl;dr)
Shimano are introducing a wireless super-ecosystem, where a rider can wirelessly control their shifting, dropper, and fork (old news) from the bars. More importantly, this system can control the brakes, rear shock, electric motor, tail light, camera, and computer; all from the handlebars and completely wirelessly.
In the last few months, I’ve written about some cool wireless stuff coming out of Shimano. The USPTO has recently released an idea for their wireless mountain bike groupset. This is the group that’ll compete with the SRAM AXS system. This particular idea even has wireless control of your fork. Shimano have also released an idea for wireless grip shifters for the traditionalist and neophile.
It’s no secret the bike world is going electronic and wireless. I see a new idea every single day for either of these disciplines, most of which suck. As batteries are becoming more powerful, lighter, and smaller; as wireless processors and signal generators become smaller and cheaper; and as manufacturing methods become more streamlined, electronic/wireless technology is more attainable than ever.
That being said, just because we can, should we? You’re about to read some wild shit that Shimano are developing, and it’s important to ask yourself if this is really necessary within this sport.
Shimano are introducing a mountain bike system (though not exclusive to a mountain bike, that’s just what is pictured) that can control just about anything you can think of from the cockpit of your bike. It looks like they want to give the rider complete control of everything associated with mountain biking without ever leaving the handlebars.
As previously mentioned in the wireless groupset article, this new system will also wirelessly connect to your shifters, fork, and seatpost. From another article (this one) we also know Shimano has the ability to connect to your suspension, although that one is about anti-dive. There’s no mention of automatic actuation in this document.
The new part of this idea is the introduction of wireless control of your brakes, rear shock, electric motor, tail light, camera, and computer. In short, Shimano want to sync your entire ride with their system. Honestly, this is bound to happen. It’s too easy to sync anything these days, so it’s only a matter of time before this would happen.
As with many of these Shimano patents, the intended novelty is granular and very difficult to pick out. It appears as though the novelty here has something to do with the way the pairing happens, but Shimano are just making everything wireless (not new), so they need to develop something novel, deep down in the claims. In reality, it’s not important to anyone other than Shimano. The real implication is the idea that your entire bike can be connected in a single ecosystem.
Also, as with many Shimano patents, they don’t have a problem statement or reasoning behind the idea; so I’ll have to take a swing at this one. I’ll say it’s because they can and because people will buy it. I’m having a hard time understanding the justification for a concept like this. Why would someone ever need to control this much shit on their bike? But, as I said earlier, Shimano are catering to the neophile. The latest and greatest are what they want, and there’s a place in the market for exactly that.
Figure 2 shows a schematic of the entire system. We’re already familiar with wireless shifting, seatpost, and front suspension control. Now we’re looking at braking device 24, rear suspension 28, drive system 32, lighting device 34, imaging device 36, and notification device 38. Those are all legalese names for brakes, rear shock, electric motor, tail light, camera, and Garmin-type computer. Remember, all those little lightning bolts signify a wireless connection.
Notice all the buttons on the controller. In this particular example, there’s 12 different controller buttons. Each one would control a different feature on the bike.
We’ll go down the list. Let’s start with the wireless brakes, which is fucking wild to me. This is the last thing I’d want to be wireless. Shimano aren’t super clear on how the brakes will work, but I found one line suggesting the brakes are, in fact, wireless:
The operating device 18 [brake lever] and the braking device 24 are configured to wirelessly communicate with each other.
This could mean that the brakes are actually wirelessly actuated, or the signal to control the light is wireless (noted below). Either way, lets wildly speculate that Shimano are making wireless brakes, because the language in this document could cover both scenarios.
Shimano also state the brakes and rear light are operatively connected, meaning when you hit the brakes, you have a rear brake light, but the rear light can work via the handlebar controls as well (without being connected to the brakes).
…the lighting device 34 is configured to emit light when at least one of the braking device 22 and the braking device 24 operates…
Next, the rear suspension. Shimano state one of the buttons can control compression or stroke of the rear shock. In short, you could probably lock the system or change the length of the travel.
The [system] is configured to operate the suspension 28 to switch a speed of compression of the suspension 28 and/or switch a stroke of compression of the suspension 28…
Next, the electric motor. This document has a motor, but it doesn’t need to be there in real-life. Everything else can operate without the motor on a traditional, analog bike.
The [system] is configured to operate the auxiliary drive device 32 to increase an assist ratio of the auxiliary drive device 32 and decrease the assist ratio of the auxiliary drive device 32.
Next, the camera. Shimano don’t state much other than the line below. But, if I had to guess, the wireless system could probably tell the camera to take pictures and start/stop recording.
The imaging device 36 is configured to capture images and is mounted to the handlebar. Examples of the imaging device 36 include a camera.
Lastly, the bike computer. Again, Shimano are short on information on this one. They do state that the computer will be connected to the derailleur and the electric motor, suggesting it could wirelessly supply data like gearing, ratios, power, torque, cadence, etc.
The notification device 38 is configured to output information relating to the human powered vehicle VH and is mounted to the handlebar. Examples of the notification device 38 include a cycle computer, a smartphone, and a tablet computer… The notification device 38 is configured to wirelessly communicate with the gear changing device 20 and the auxiliary drive device 32.
This is an idea that builds on some of the previous ideas we’ve learned about. You’ll be able to use almost anything electronic that your little heart desires. You want to lock-out the whole bike with the flick of a switch? Go for it. You want to take some pictures of that sweet, sweet jump you’re about to embarrass yourself on? All yours. You want a little more assistance from your E-bike motor? It yours. The possibilities may only be limited by the number of buttons they can fit on the controllers. Then, they can just go to a touch panel for a nearly infinite amount of control. You’ll have a completely connected bike without a single wire (but a shit load of batteries).
I’ve said this before, but as much as I report on wireless, electronic, or active bikes, they’re not for me. I like ‘em nice and stupid, so they can’t outsmart me. That’s not to say this won’t be purchased by the truckload. There are definitely people that’ll love this shit, and for that, I understand the reasons for the development. If you build it, they will come.