For serious riders, shifting gears is part and parcel of riding a bike, but many casual riders often just put it in a gear and leave it there. Just as driving a manual transmission car requires a certain “feel” for the road, so too does shifting gears on a bike. The new company AutoBike has a machine that offers the equivalent of an automatic car, shifting the gears of a planetary hub to keep cadence within a certain range.
“We are designing and building intuitive automatic shifting bicycles for the non-enthusiast bike rider that just wants a simple and fun way to enjoy bicycling,” said Sean Simpson, Autobike's co-founder. “Being in the wrong gear is definitely one of the biggest issues for casual and recreational riders. And the problem is that in many cases, being in the wrong gear can poison the rest of the riding experience.”
“You’re pedaling like ‘Speedy Gonzales’ and can’t keep up with a group of friends or you’re standing up on the pedals to make it up a hill and you're exhausted by the time you hit the top,” he told BikeRadar. “These aren’t experiences that highlight the fun and simplicity of riding a bike and that’s really what we've fixed.”
The $1,000 (£662) AutoBike uses a Nuvinci N360 Continuously Variable Planetary hub, and analyzes the riding conditions, factoring in speed, grade, gear ratio and cadence. The bike has an adjustable cadence range between 30 and 120rpm, with the default being 50-55rpm, which Simpson said is what most
casual riders prefer.
The Autobike is pedal-powered, but it shifts on its own to keep riders in an easy gear
“The rider doesn’t have to worry about maintaining a steady cadence, because the system is designed to do that for the rider,” Simpson added. “Our bikes have ‘brains’ on board that are constantly monitoring what the rider is doing. Fast or slow, up or down a hill, our system takes these factors and more into account and seamlessly shifts the rider to the perfect gear ratio.”
As this system is based on the planetary Nuvinci rear hub, the bike's rider doesn’t need to deal with the typical three, seven or 21 speeds. Simpson claims the rider doesn't even feel the bike shifting as it moves through the range.
“Every rider knows what it feels like to be in the right gear at the right time and just serenely cruise along while taking in the scenery,” said Simpson. “Our goal was to take these great moments and make them last the entire ride. By always being in the perfect gear, you'll enjoy riding your bike again and we think that will lead to riding further and more often. Our bike provides an entirely new riding experience that takes bicycling to a new level of comfort, simplicity, and, most importantly, fun.”
AutoBike is located in the suburbs north of Detroit, a town that has some experience with transmissions – albeit typically of the automotive variety. In many ways it is safe to say that the transmission is very much in the company’s founders as it is on the bikes. This, along with the expertise the area offers is something Simpson and his colleagues at AutoBike take pride in.
“Nearly all of us have extensive automotive experience. Two of our co-founders worked for General Motors where they designed new transmission systems for future GM vehicles,” Simpson said. “Michigan is a great place to start a company. The amount of engineering talent in this area is second to none with all the automotive and military defense companies in the area. And to top it all off, Detroit and the State in general are really making a big comeback and it's exciting to be a small part of what could go down as one of the great turnaround stories.”