Next Step for Electronic Shifting: Custom Peripherals?

TRP hydraulic levers

Long, long ago, in a bike shop not far from here, bike mechanics once installed shifters and derailleurs from different makers on the same bicycles. On purpose. And they worked great. I’m not shitting you; it’s the truth. Well, when I say it “worked great”, what I really mean is that it worked as good as any other options available at the time. You see, this is back in the dark days when shifters and derailleurs didn’t actually shift, but rather the derailleurs blindly dragged the chain into the path of the cogs while under the vague influence of a shift lever. Nowadays we call this mysticism “friction shifting”, and its adherents have been rightfully pushed to the margins of society. (Don’t try to frighten us with your sorcerous ways, Grant Petersen.)

Then from the mists of time immemorial, or at least the fluorescent swirl of the 1980s, indexed shifting brought structure and order to the people of the world through system integration. Derailleurs and shifters were designed to work best in specific combinations. The alternate perspective is that they were designed to work poorly outside of those combinations, but a modern indexed system can, for instance, be engaged out of the saddle at full power, something not feasible with older friction shifters. The quaint institutions of old (Huret, Simplex, Suntour) eventually toppled to the true empires (Campagnolo, Shimano). But while ever more nuanced system integration yielded shifting that was sure even under the most demanding conditions, the end user lost any personal choice in the interface…the shift lever itself. Systems like Shimano’s Di2 and Campagnolo’s EPS are replacing tensioned braided cables with digital impulses on computer connecters, and the future of shifting promises to completely bind cycling consumers to a single brand. Or does it?

You see, the funny thing is that while it takes a huge amount of resources to develop a modern integrated shift/brake lever for traditional mechanical systems, it’s just not that difficult to build a brake lever that has some push-buttons hooked with cable inputs. I’m not precisely sure what licensing and patent issues might be a stake, but if you compare Di2 system to a game/entertainment console, what is the shifter if not a game controller or a similar peripheral? At Sea Otter, Head Hugger Byron snooped this new TRP lever for hydraulic discs and Di2 interface.

In the future world of electronic shifting, I also pray for complete inter-compatibility between road and mtb shift systems. Also, I want to be able to easily change the system presets so that a 10sp system can be configured for 9sp or 11sp without much more than a chain swap.

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Daniel Rebour _ Simplex shifters _ 1975 from Stronglight’s flickr