Friday, March 4, 2016

Another Electronic Shift System Drops

In case anyone had any doubts, electronic shifting is here to stay, if the latest Taipei Cycle Show is any indication. Shimano, Campagnolo, and SRAM all have their own electronic shifting systems -- all of them costing thousands of dollars. And now a low-cost version from Microshift is clearly in the works, with a functioning prototype system on display at the industry show in Taiwan.

Reports are that the system would cost about $600 or less, making it cost-competitive with a lot of "normal" cable-operated shifting systems.

Apparently, one of the challenges with producing another entry to the electronic shifting world is getting around the patents of the leaders -- as virtually every element of the current systems on the market, right down to the wiring, is protected from infringement. The way I understand it, that was one of the reasons that ROTOR components decided to create their hydraulic shifting system, which is just about to launch later this spring.

Microshift, a Taiwanese company, has been making a name for itself with their good-quality-low-price components. In my experience, their current derailleurs function as well as anything from Shimano, and some even have nice buffed or polished silver finishes that look good on older bikes as well as new. I guess it was only a matter of time before they tried to break into the electronic shifting market.

The way I understand it, the Microshift system, called eXCD, uses "standard" batteries -- in this case rechargeable AAs -- and keeps them in the bar-mounted shifter unit. According to visitors to the Microshift booth in Taipei, there are no other battery packs to mount onto the bike. The company says that a charge should be good for about 1000 km, or 6000 shifts.

I don't know if that's good or bad, but I do know that my old cable-operated shifters have virtually no limit of miles or shifts.

The rear derailleur doesn't look any better or worse than other electronic derailleurs I've seen so far, which is another way of saying that it's just as ugly as the rest. The shifter unit, which houses the batteries, brains, and buttons, is a clunky-looking thing, and doesn't look like it would "integrate" with a bike's brake levers the way some other electronic shifting systems do. Then again, it is intended for mountain bikes - not road - and it's still in the prototype stage, so the design could change. Doesn't matter to me, though.

Once the eXCD system hits the market, in another year or so, I suppose that it will only be a matter of time before we'll be seeing more and more e-shift systems at lower and lower prices, and eventually it could be hard to find a bike -- even at the entry-level -- that doesn't have to be plugged in or charged up before riding.

And won't that be something to celebrate?


  1. i'll truly feel sorry for bike shop mechanics when this junk hits the low-end market.

    1. No kidding -- can you just imagine electronic shifters on a typical low-end bike, given the kind of maintenance and treatment such bikes usually receive?

  2. We're not so far away from the day when electronically operated brakes would appear on the horizon. Trust me.

    Prepare for another holy war: ye olde-school cable-operated brakes or Wi-Fi engaged? What if the battery drains up or someone hacks connection? Does the bike automatically stops dead like hydraulic brakes in heavy trucks or will you end up in the morgue with deep crack in the skull?

    Keep this hi-tech shit out of my beautiful lugged Olmo.

  3. I don't get electronic shifting; what's the advantage? It costs way more, weighs more, has a shorter service life and looks damn ugly. The only advantage I can see is the shifts are faster which is no advantage at all

  4. Shifts feel exactly the same every time, there's almost never need for adjustment over time or regardless of conditions, shifting interfaces require lighter presses and less hand motion, you can have multiple shifting interfaces on the bike (i.e. sprint shifters in addition to brifters so you can shift quickly from both the hoods and the drops), the shifting interfaces can be programmed i.e. to provide much smoother multi-shifting than mechanical paddle-shifters.

    And consistent, quick shifts *can* be an advantage if you're in a race or aggressive group ride where being able to quickly and confidently react to something can make a difference.
    (It matters much less in ultra-cooperative or solo rides where you can anticipate shifts 10+ seconds out anyway.)

    I don't run e-shifting on any of my own bikes (I'm mostly friction, heh), and performance differences due to shifting have of course been a realm of steep diminishing returns since the dawn of time, but it *is* extremely smooth to use.

  5. Eshifting is "smoother" (a relative description mind you), but not faster than mechanical. Shift speed always depends on how fast the drivetrain is moving.

  6. I'm looking around the basement and doing a quick mental inventory of bikes that are up and running. They're all either fixed, single speed or friction. Woops, forgot about my old Supercourse in the corner. It's indexed seven speed with downtube shifters. I keep it as a loaner for a riding buddy who lives out of town. I'm so despondent that I can't make my myself want this new E-crap. I must be a total loser. What a failure I am as a modern consumerist. Sigh...

  7. Electronic shifting seems to be one of those ideas that some company or another resurrects every decade or so, when a new generation of cyclists with no memory of the idea's previous incarnations comes along.

    I remember reading (in Bicycling!, perhaps) during the 1970s, when I first started cycling, about an electronic shifting system. After it was out for about a year, the few who used it said it was heavier, more expensive and less reliable (It didn't work if any moisture got into it!). Sound familiar?

    1. You're right. Remember the Browning automatic transmission? I think that may have been one of the things that helped take down Suntour. Like airless tires these things seem to come around at regular intervals. Sort of like comets. I guess they don't realize that knowing how and when to shift is one of the satisfying things about riding. Electronic shifting on a bike reminds me of an automatic transmission in a Porsche 911. Smells like poseur.