March 15, 2007 11:54 AM PDT

Bike makers take automatic transmission for a spin

Don't look for Lance Armstrong to be setting any speed records with a new bicycle equipped with an automatic transmission. This bike is strictly for the easygoing crowd.

Bicycle manufacturers Giant, Raleigh and Trek are expected in the coming weeks to roll out three-speed bikes that feature chip-controlled, gear shift systems.

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The technology, called "Coasting," was built by Shimano, a bike-component maker for 80 years.

The system works the same way on each of the bikes. A dynamo is fitted on the front hub that gauges the revolutions of the wheel. It sends this information to a computer chip housed near the pedals on most of the bikes.

From there, the chip, which controls the planetary gears located on the back hub, determines whether to shift up or down. All the chip needs to make its determination is for a rider to pedal four or five times, according to Shannon Bryant, Coasting project coordinator for Shimano.

Coasting isn't designed for high performance, such as road racing or mountain biking. (See related story on the Coasting technology).

"It's not intended for even inclement weather," Bryant said. "This technology is for casual use or social riding...somebody who wants to tool around town."

The biking industry is mired in a slump. The sector happily rode a wave of popularity in the 1980s and '90s when mountain biking and road racing were the rage, but sales in recent years have been flat, said Bryant. Like a lot of companies targeting outdoor sports, Shimano is trying to tap new technologies in an effort to win back the 161 million Americans who haven't ridden a bicycle since they were children.

Recent surveys conducted by Shimano, headquartered in Japan, found that many Americans equate biking with road racing, Armstrong, unflattering cycling shorts and sticky sweat.

Asked whether Armstrong, the retired road-racing professional and seven-time Tour de France champion, inspired them to get on a bike, Americans said "no," according to Bryant.

"Bicycling got kind of elitist," Bryant said. "Our surveys showed people didn't necessarily want fitness or competition. They told us they loved riding as kids and would ride as adults if they could do it again in a carefree way."

Bryant said that Shimano has plans to continue developing the Coasting technology.

Another perk that Coasting provides is that the dynamo powers not only the computer chip but can also run the headlamp so owners won't ever need batteries.

The bikes debuting on Thursday will sell for between $450 and $700, Bryant said.

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21 comments

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"New"? Systems like this have been around for decades.
And the funny thing is that casual riders are even less equipped to deal with the extra weight and resistance the add than experienced riders. Don't expect this to change the world.
Posted by extinctone (214 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Can you see the future?
If not, why should I (and anyone) have to believe your claim? Oh, if you do see the future, show me the next hot stock for the next 3 months.
Posted by Jess McLean (61 comments )
Link Flag
Good Point
I believe you are correct that casual riders are less equipped to deal with the extra weight and resistance.

One of the biggest mistakes I see people make that want to get back into biking is that they go to Wal-Mart and pick up a big steel mountain bike with ultra soft front and back suspension and big soft mud tires that weighs 50 lbs.

You would expect they would be using such a beast to drive down Mount Fuji but they never bother to leave the pavement.

I drove one of these and just going 8 MPH was hard work, if I tried to sprint on the bike the soft shocks absorbed most of my energy. It was tiring but you could not stop because the wide, super soft knobbie tires would barely coast.

Just changing bikes (to a Cyclocross, not even a pure road bike) nearly doubled my average speed from ~8 MPH to ~15 MPH with the same level of effort.
Posted by Dachi (797 comments )
Link Flag
Why not add a power-assist motor?
Scooters (the motorcycle) and mopeds are in the > $3000 range with the Segway.

You can get the the cheap electric scooters from places like Wal-Mart for $100 but they don't handle very well and I don't think going too fast on something with roller skate wheels is really a good idea.

<a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.revopower.com/" target="_newWindow">http://www.revopower.com/</a> has a 2 stroke power assist wheel that you can fit on your bike for ~ $300 but it is not on sale yet.

The Revopower has yet to be seen, but few of them really make very good solutions for commuting.

I make better time on a Trek XO1 than I would with most of them and I don't wear spandex to do it.

My only major complaint about commuting on the Trek is that hill climbs are never much fun and they cost time.

I average about 15 MPH, the "prosumer" crowd you see in spandex with $3500 worth of gear average over 20 MPH and the professionals are closer to about 30 MPH.

Considering I had a 50cc motorcycle with 9 HP that would sustain 60 MPH (Aprillia RS 50 <a class="jive-link-external" href="http://www.aprilia.com/modelli/road/modello.asp?id=71" target="_newWindow">http://www.aprilia.com/modelli/road/modello.asp?id=71</a>
) it really wouldn't take much to give a road bicycle enough extra push to bring most people's commutes to work within range.

I think a 1 or 2 HP electric engine on a bike would make it as fast as needed without being unsafe to drive for most people and wouldn't require too much battery weight.

The RevoPower site says their 2 stroke engine is 1 HP, 15 lbs, 25 cc, and will do 20 MPH without peddle assist.

I guess that is in the ballpark but I am a little surprised to see it take till 2008 for such a product to hit the market.
Posted by Dachi (797 comments )
Reply Link Flag
We could call it a moped!
Lets put a computer on board to handle the steering as well.
Posted by ralfthedog (1589 comments )
Link Flag
http://lrbikes.com/
Been a commercial product for years.

I think I prefer a mechanical system that lets centrifugal force do the shifting. Simpler and no batteries required
Posted by open-mind (1027 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Umm. . .a dynamo does not require batteries
It generates the power on its own. . .or is that what you were talking about?
Posted by zboot (168 comments )
Link Flag
No good
A centrifugal force shifter does only take one factor in account (speed) when selecting ge4ars, and not the other equally important one (pedal force). In an automatic car, when you press the accelerator it downshifts, because the more power you apply, the more acceleration you want, and downshifting gives you more torque at the wheels. A mechanism based on centrifugal force will apply the same gear when coasting at a set speed or when trying to accelerate from that speed, and even worse, when trying to climb a hill at that speed. And that's simply not good.
Posted by herby67 (144 comments )
Link Flag
Lance Armstrong wasn't setting speed records..
He was winning The Tour de France.. (7 times)
Now if you wanted to make a plausible comparison then you should
have done it with "John Howard". He set a land speed record of
152.2 miles per hour (245 km/h) July 20, 1985 on a pedal bicycle
on Utah's Bonneville Salt Flats.
Posted by imacpwr (456 comments )
Reply Link Flag
Silly nitpick
Ok, perhaps they should have written "Don't look for Lance Armstrong to win any races...".

Or were you just trying to brag about your trivia knowledge?
Posted by kolding (8 comments )
Link Flag
A tip: how about less than $450-700?!
Maybe more adults would ride bikes if they could afford them!
That's a bit too high of a price for entry-level prospects.
Posted by Lucky Lou (88 comments )
Reply Link Flag
this is PERFECT for us fat, lazy Americans...
isn't it?
Posted by yesmanno (1 comment )
Reply Link Flag
Actually
Yes, it is. But not for the reasons you imagine.
An automatic system makes you burn MORE calories, not less. By engaging in the right changes, it insures the user is pushing at optimal speed and strenght, releasing maximum power, and that translates into maximum energy burnout. Pedaling very fast with little resistance or very slow with too much resistance burns less calories. Add to that that the system is probaly consuming some additional energy to work and you have a perfect combination.
Posted by herby67 (144 comments )
Link Flag
It sure is.
The need to put out a bike with and extra-wide seat that can support our 300lb average load.
Posted by Hardrada (359 comments )
Link Flag
 

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