- Mar 24, 2003
From Australian IT:
THE bicycle is one of the few means of travel which has almost entirely escaped the influence of electronic technology.
In spite of the improvements over the years, gear changes are still generally made per hand and, at night, the lights are still powered by the traditional dynamo.
Yet now it does seem that the bicycle is on the verge of the greatest revolution in its history. If new developments are acted on, the bicycle of the future will have computer-controlled gears, lights and suspension.
The state of the art was demonstrated by the Stuttgart-based firm of Paul Lange, which imports parts and accessories made by the Shimano firm, which has its headquarters in Japan.
The heart of the new concept is the electronic system which controls the automatic gear change. The computer decides the appropriate gear change. The rider has the additional choice of three ratios depending on terrain and the speed required.
The suspension is also electronically adjusted.
Florian Nebel, of the Lange firm, says that at the start of the trip, the suspension should be harder so that the maximum use is made of expended energy.
The faster the bike is ridden, the softer becomes the suspension, he said. The rider always has the option of switching off the system.
Nebel expects that the first series-production bicycles with these electronic aids will come off the line in 2004. The technology has been put through practical tests and some prototype systems have been delivered to manufacturers since 2001.
One German maker, Rabeneick, has sold 60 hybrid bikes fitted with this new technology.
Stephan Behrendt, a technical specialist at the ADFC bicycle organisation in Bremen, says that the automatic gear change does have advantages because, otherwise, working with two gear ratios is often complicated.
Accessories are also coming into the electronic picture. Already established are bicycle computers which measure and show speed plus pedalling rate and the rider's heartbeat.
There have also been advances in lighting which riders could only dream of a short time ago. Lighting firm Busch & Mueller has installed sensors which ensure that the light adjusts to the level of natural light - regardless of whether the bike is in a tunnel or moving as night falls.
But specialists emphasise that price is the factor which will determine how far electronic technology will be used in bicycles.
Siegfried Neuberger, of the ZIV manufacturers organisation, says that a bicycle equipped with the new gear and suspension technology now costs 3,000 ($5,370).
He added that electronics are a means of boosting the image of the bicycle and turning it from what is perceived as a collection of rattling wire and tin into a piece of electronically guided leisure equipment.