Smartphone allows auto shifting?

Photo: Cambridge Consultants


Manual or auto?

–a question that people often consider when buying a car. In these times of high gas prices, a lot of people do consider giving up the comfort of an automatic transmission for the sake of an extra couple miles per gallon. But what about bicycling?

I prefer to ride a single speed because they have cheaper parts to replace and are easier to maintain than a multi-geared bike but sometimes I do ride my road bike. I’m not sure if I feel like there’s a need for me to shift automatically or electronically but nonetheless it is an interesting concept.

I recently read an article on about a smartphone that enables automatic shifting via bluetooth with Shimano Di2 shifters. It was encouraging since it seems like bicycle technology is progressing and although I don’t think a lot of the technology introduced is needed, I do appreciate it because the contributions of anyone does lend to making bicycles ultimately better.

Here’s an example of what the engineers are trying to do:

“The prototype has been tested on a simulated “rolling road” with few complaints from riders, who can customize the shift points depending on what’s most comfortable. Already, engineers are working to improve the setup, with plans in the works to use the accelerometer in a smartphone to change gears in the event of emergency braking. A similar system could also prevent locking up the front wheel.”

In Bluetooth “manual mode” (I’m not sure if touching a button is any easier than “tapping” a basic shifter on a typical bike) but the system does allow collection of data to make trial runs better. The engineers also want to use GPS to inform the system of upcoming hills which enables the system to shift before you need to.

To the average commuter, a system like this would be outrageously excessive but imagine being more efficient with your commuting time. I used to take pride in riding 5 miles in less than 20 minutes but I would be sweaty from pushing myself. Not considering cost, a system like this, I think, would be welcomed on my commutes that are more than a couple of miles since I could probably commute in less time without having to push myself so hard.

To read more about it, go to


  1. RSN

    FYI, automatic transmission technology in cars has reached the point where automatics generally get better mileage than manuals.

  2. Ghost Rider

    Hermes — you should try a Di2 system — pushing the button is WAY easier than manipulating a lever/paddle on a traditional system. And the shifts are ultra-smooth and require no trimming whatsoever.

    Please also explain your reasoning that such an automatic/electronic shifting system would make you FASTER on your commute.

    Electronic drivetrains for bikes (and automatic transmissions for cars) were developed for efficiency and accuracy during the shifting cycle…not for increased speed.

    @RSN — funny you mention that. I just recently read something to that effect. It’s still a quite popular myth that manual trans gets better mileage…when the truth is that autos can do the job more efficiently. Manuals are sure more fun to drive!

  3. BluesCat

    I’d be more interested in a continuously variable transmission (CVT) like the NuVinci. Honda has a CVT for the new Accord.

    No gears and pretty much optimum use of the “engine” (leg) torque.

    The knock on them is that they’re slightly heavier than a “standard bike transmission” (i.e. a derailleur), but if I’m toting my laptop, satellite radio, organizer, change of clothes, etc., it is really not a factor.

  4. Ghost Rider

    We got to try various flavors of NuVinci hubs at the Interbikes we attended. Pretty neat technology.


    Gears bad. Electrogears worse. Autoelectrosmartphone gears demon spawn. Either that or I just hate that which I can’t afford. Yeah, probably just the second thing.

  6. Hermes (Post author)

    @ghost I’ve made my times faster by learning through repetition what gears are best for which path/terrain/lap. I was suggesting with what Cambridge is doing, if someone were to regularly commute, the auto shifting would eventually “learn” what gear is better for the rider.

    @rsn. ur totally right. i remember when a friend first got a scion (when they first came out) and he said that his auto gets better mileage than a stick but some people still prefer to get a manual trans. believing that the older technology is better for mileage.

  7. Elizabeth

    just more electronics and another battery to charge to ride your bike… I enjoy the fact that my bike doesn’t need charging to ride. I’m out of luck if I don’t charge my cell or my bike computer but I can always just ‘go’ on my bike.

  8. Sean Simpson

    Very sexy app with cool features!

    For the couple people who mentioned the Nuvinci N360 hub, we’ve built a bluetooth-enabled automatic shifting bike with that hub and the riding experience is amazing.

  9. Hermes (Post author)


    the autobike seems cool. thanks for chiming in!

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *