Electronic Shift By Wire on Bicycles

Shimano electronic derailleurEvery time I mention brake by wire, throttle by wire or anything by wire, there's a contingent of voices that just can't get their heads around the change. Here is another sign of control by wire in a place I wouldn't have thought about, bicycles. Shimano has introduced their full electronic shift by wire system for road bicycles. The derailleur is controlled by a stepper motor to precisely position itself for each gear change. There is a wiring harness to connect it with the gear shift which takes the slightest touch to execute the move. It's powered by a lithium-ion battery (isn't everything?) which will last 1000 km between charges. Everyone who has used it raves about how well it works and, predictably, some purists can't stand the idea.

If electronic shifting is entering the relatively lower cost (but sometimes still pricey) mechanical world of bicycles, motorcycle "by wire" controls of all sorts will soon be with us on bikes in every price range, after all, electronics continually go down in price once volume goes up so expect it soon on the bargain basement entry level scooter as well as the high end touring bikes, though it will probably be coming on the higher end first. Of course, as electric motorcycles start to enter the market in greater numbers, what better place to go all electric in the control systems, too?

Harley Davidson is introducing electronic throttle control on their 2009 touring bikes and Honda has a new electronic control combined ABS system for super sport motorcycles. It won't stop there, it will filter down through the entire range.

Put away the cable lube and get out your voltmeter. Change is coming, you might as well get used to it.

Link: Wired Magazine


  1. JR says

    I’m cool with the idea, but for some reason I still want my “life or death” controls to be mechanical/hydraulic (i.e. brakes… although I realize that mechanical and hydraulic systems fail ALL THE TIME… such is the case with my current motorcycle).

    There’s something comforting about having that physical feedback from the road/brakes/springs on the butterfly valves.

    They would be eliminating some of the fun of shifting on a motorcycle, but on a bicycle, those crappy derailleurs never really worked perfectly anyway.

  2. taxman says

    years ago people had the same complaints about power steering, power brakes, and fuel injection.

    there will always be purists that want the classic answers. and theres nothing wrong with that.

  3. ROHORN says

    Shimano has (or had? – I’m too lazy to look it up) an internal 4 speed hub (Nexus Auto-D) with electric shifting for a few years now.

    Campagnolo (sp?) had an electric derailleur at one time.

    Not to be inflamatory (ever!), but Shimano is famous for gimmicks. Whether this is one of them or not, I don’t know. For a tandem or recumbent with long cable runs, this could solve a lot of nuisance issues.

    As far as motorcycles go, I would dearly love to see a transmission wth the shift forks contolled by a stepper motor – and connected to a fly-by-wire throttle. Push the down/up shift button on the left grip and the gear changes while the engine matches the rpm and get a dead smooth shift with no clutch every time……

  4. OMMAG says

    You’re probably right about this becoming the norm at some point.

    Anything that complicates the maintenance or servicing of machines though ….. I’m not looking forward to dealing with it.

    All the more reason to get busy with that resto/mod on the old Yamaha.

  5. r00 says


    The Aprilia Mana has a throttle by wire system, as well as a CVT transmission, which has up/down shift buttons on the left hand grip, as well as the traditional shifter on the left peg.

    It’s also got storage space (gasp!) that can fit a helmet. I’m REALLY interested in it as a commuter bike.

  6. Sean says

    I’m quite interested in the possibilities of ride by wire. A bike that lets you have adjustable tension on the throttle, an automatic upshift instead of the rev limiter, that preloads the brakes when you button off… It really makes sense to me. Of course, there have been airshifters around for years on drag bikes and speed bikes (generally using the elongated swingarm to hold the compressed air), and incorporating a switch that shoots the gear up or down is really just a case of rewiring a cheap aftermarket shift light.

  7. pghcyclist says

    Thanx for mentioning my favorite groupo. I love mechtronic. Wireless too. Although in a group interference was a problem.

    “those crappy derailleurs” are the fault of the mechanic and the nut holding the handlebars. A well set up derailleur can work just fine

    Shimano also came out with a pneumatic system titled “airlines” for bike shifting it was intended for the downhill market and never really took off.

    And yes it is gimmicky but it does solve that nut holding the handlebars problem, especially when your to tired to throw the shift lever properly.

    Kneeslider- that cheeper world of bikes at least this world starts at $10,000ish. A little outside the most peoples realm.

    Lets not forget about electric motorcycles as so many of us here love them. Arent the throttle by wire buy nature?

    Thanks guys just my opinions as a bike mechanic. I love to see some of my stuff on the best motorcycle blog on the web.

  8. Hopkins says

    Why take something simple like a bicycle and make it complicated with no benefit? Now we have to re charge a battery every time we park it?

    Technologie should make life easier, not harder…

  9. todd says

    Now riders can have pre-programed shift points for a ride, based on GPS data. No need to think about it, the team captain can set the shift points and the rider just has to anticipate the change. With the growing use of hall sensors the cranks can be separated from the sprocket. The cyclist pedals regularly – at full output/constant RPM – to power a generator that powers the sprocket motor so shifts can be seamless with a computer controlled system. No additional power source would be required except if desired to help overcome the inherent energy loss in the motors. A similar system in the steering and additional gyro stabilizers will allow the riders to compete together remotely in a climate and biorhythm controlled environment each riding a controller. Races will resemble spinning classes and spectators can either watch the group of cyclists in real time without missing the action (because they’ve never ride out of view) or watch the cycles circumnavigate the course. Simulators will also be on hand (or remotely in your home next to the couch)which allow novices to join in on the race and view their “ghost” image compete against the other racers on their own monitor.

    The recent advent of higher resolution GPS is gaining ground in the remote-mountain biking arena…


  10. says

    After over ten years in the retail side of the bike industry, this is really the culmination of the gimmicky, over priced, over complicated, fashionista type direction high end biking is headed. There is simply no need to take an elegantly simple device and add so much unnecessary technology. Other than to show up you buddies on Saturday morning rides, there’s just no need. It’s heavier, more costly, and wears out much more quickly. Think about it for a second, why would you want two motors on a bike, just to shift gears?!

    It’s this type of stuff that has in large part led to the resurgence of single speed bikes. What once was, in large part, a trend started by shop workers is now one of the largest growing sectors in the industry. In my shop, I’ve had many more of my customers say they are turned off by introductions like this than are excited about it.

    While I feel that technology has more practical uses in a high performance motorcycle, I get much the same pleasure riding my older vintage bikes as I do riding SS bicycles. It is a bit harder to go faster. It does take more concentration in terms of braking and throttle control. Is that necessarily a bad thing?

    Most of this is pretty far out stuff right now. Looking at what a current Shimano Dura Ace group costs, (the current high end offering,) I’d expect this set to cost somewhere around $2000. That means we will really only see it on bikes $5000 and up. While that’s really a pretty small section of the market, it is a bit scary to think another 10 years down the road from now.