Autobike Builds First Continuously Variable, Automatic Shifting Bike

Autobike's New Auto Shift Goes Electric, No More Wheel Weights

Who remembers the Trek Lime? Or for that matter the original Autobike (not sure if they’re related)? It seems that the holy grail for bike designers is a bike that appeals to the masses not because it’s the lightest, or fastest – but because it’s the simplest to operate. So, first there was the Autobike (that are going for $799 on ebay!) which was quite the bike. Equipped with centrifugal weights on the rear wheel and a Low-Normal rear derailleur that was attached to said weights, the rider would start pedaling causing the weights to spin outwards which in turn shifted the derailleur to a harder gear. Stop pedaling and come to a stop, the weights would return shifting the bike into an easier gear to get started. Quite the Rube Goldberg contraption, the whole design was actually fairly clever. Too bad it didn’t work. Pedaling at certain cadences would leave it in between gears, the gearing was usually off, and the as-seen-on-tv nature of the thing caused most to be horribly assembled and destroyed on the first ride – at least the only bikes we ever saw in the shop were broken.

Then came the Trek Lime – which was a great bike, though it wasn’t perfect. The Lime did nearly everything right with the exception of the 3 speed internal hub that seemed to turn potential customers off. Apparently not wanting to shift, didn’t necessarily mean they didn’t want gears.

Which is where the new Autobike and NuVinci step in with the first automatic shifting, CVP equipped bike that we know of. Thanks to a 360 percent gear range and smooth, automatic shifting – the new Autobike shows a lot of promise.

More details, pricing, and video after the break!

Autobike's New Auto Shift Goes Electric, No More Wheel Weights

Just like the Trek Lime which was based on the Shimano Coasting platform, the Autobike has three main components to the automatic shifting puzzle. In order to provide the system with power, the front hub features a SRAM dynamo that provides continuous juice to the system so that the rider never has to plug it in. Wires lead from the front hub, through the frame, to the bottom bracket area where it joins the brains of the system – or the small onboard computer and sensors that detect your speed and cadence. With this info, the computer then tells the shifter mounted on the rear hub how to shift the “gears” and a small motor carries out the shift.

The biggest difference here is obviously the inclusion of the Nuvinci N360 CVP hub (continuously variable planetary). Since the Nuvinci hub has continuously variable gearing and you can shift smoothly at any time, under any load it would seem to be the perfect hub to mate to an automatic shifter. With the Lime you weren’t really sure sometimes when it would shift, and it was limited to those three gears. The auto bike seems to promise what we all thought when we first heard of a CVT bicycle hub – truly automatic, variable shifting. Apparently, riders will be able to set their ideal cadence either through buttons on the bike, or with their smart phone via Bluetooth. The question that hasn’t been answered yet, however, is how often the shifter is actually shifting the hub – is it continual? Every 5 seconds? 10? Hopefully we can find out and report back. UPDATE: The system analyzes the rider’s actual riding condition (speed, grade, gear ratio, cadence) hundreds of times per second, and has the ability to shift multiple times per second if required. The result is the rider never even feeling individual shifts, because the steps are so small and unnoticeable, yet always feeling like they are in the perfect gear.

Autobikes will be offered in Standard and step through frames, apparently in a one-size-fits all kind of deal. Fortunately it is a very pedal forward design with a slack seat post. There are multiple color options, and initially at least, the Autobike will retail for $999.95 with free shipping on the first 500 orders with a scheduled delivery of Spring 2013.

Comments

Erich - 03/20/13 - 10:19am

Those original Autobikes should all be rounded up like unsold ET Atari cartridges and buried in a pit in the desert. Included should be simple stone or metal carvings indicating to future archeologists that this mass burial represents a bicycle evolutionary dead end.

Seething hatred for the MK1 Autobike aside, this new iteration seems like a solution in search of a problem. I don’t know that having an auto-shifting CVT is any easier than just turning the regular twist shifter that’s included with every NuVinci. As a bonus, no auto shift means no electrical system to deal with.

Sean Simpson - 03/20/13 - 11:47am

First, great article Zach! It’s obvious you know the history of automatic shifting bicycles.

“The question that hasn’t been answered yet, however, is how often the shifter is actually shifting the hub – is it continual? Every 5 seconds? 10? Hopefully we can find out and report back.”

The system analyzes the rider’s actual riding condition (speed, grade, gear ratio, cadence) hundreds of times per second, and has the ability to shift multiple times per second if required. The result is the rider never even feeling individual shifts, because the steps are so small and unnoticeable, yet always feeling like they are in the perfect gear.

I’ll keep an eye on this thread for any other questions.

Sean Simpson
Co-Founder/Engineer
AutoBike, Inc.

Zach Overholt - 03/20/13 - 11:56am

Nice, Thanks for clearing that up Sean!

Sean Simpson - 03/20/13 - 12:08pm

Hey Erich,

We don’t see an electrical system as a downside. It’s a key enabler that allows individual riders to find their comfort zone and then let the bicycle keep them in that comfort zone at all times so they can simply enjoy the ride. Previous automatic shifting bikes left the rider with little to no ability to modify cadence. It also allows riders to track their riding stats like distance traveled, average speed, calories burned, etc.

Our bike can shift hundreds of times per minute and multiple times per second which enables a smooth, seamless riding experience. It wouldn’t be possible to replicate our riding experience with a manual twist shifter.

-Sean

frank - 03/20/13 - 1:54pm

I like it. I think its going to be big.

However, I think a fully sealed chain case would go a long way towards solving problems that deter casual cyclists, namely having to maintain the chain, getting grease on your pant legs and transporting and storing a ‘dirty’ bike with grease from the chain getting all over.

I’m sure they were trying to keep the cost down, but I think creating a ‘whole package’ bike with lights, fenders, a rack and everything you would need would be ideal, making it comparable to a car in ease of use. Also, once you sell a bagillion of these, please put together a sport model that an actual cyclist would buy, the body positioning on that bike looks absolutely miserable for anything more than going around the block.

Greg - 03/20/13 - 4:24pm

I agree with frank – although for under 1000 bucks, it would be worth it buy they bike just for parts and build it up on the frame of your choice. Some NuVinci bikes go for close to $2000

Bikehoarder6 - 03/20/13 - 5:12pm

I will say this is a very good thing for many reasons.
First, how many of us have had girlfriends go on casual bike rides but didn’t know how to shift? I had a girl who not only didn’t know how, but flat out refused to even try to learn. She equated learning how to shift bike gears like trying to learn Chinese.
Second, if the bike community as a whole is trying to advocate cycling as a healthy lifestyle, get more people riding and therefore improve life for all cyclists with more bike paths and bike lanes, then yes it is good.
Third, out of my 6 bikes the bike I ride most is my Electra Townie 24 speed cruiser. It is the most comfortable and ergonomically designed bike outside of a recumbent (yes I have one of those as well).
Fourthly, if this shifting system works as well as they say it does, obviously it can be put on any bike frame/geometry imaginable.
Fifth, if it gets the roadies and other bike snobs all twisted up and panty bunched, then the Autobike is just plain awesome!

Velo - 03/20/13 - 6:46pm

Not personally a fan of the aesthetics, but I hope the bike is successful. A Nuvinci N360 CVP Rear Hub by itself is $400.

Spinalot - 03/20/13 - 7:53pm

I applaud the makers of this bike. Truly this is needed. Unlike other posters I love the design and the comfy upright position. I would be a little concerned about hill climbing ability with such a riding position though.
I do hope they start to export to the EU. The Dutch would love these, there are more bikes than people there (Netherlands) I would like to see them in the UK too.
If I could offer advice though, in the EU bikes of this price bracket and much cheaper come with, what you call accessories or post sale add-ons as standard equipment.
So would include:
pump
rack
kickstand
lights
Mudguards (I believe you call them fenders)
Some even include a set of panniers for the rack.
Good luck with your launch I truly hope it is a resounding success. It deserves it. The more people that ride bikes the better our planet gets and the healthier they get.

“When I see an adult on a bicycle, I do not despair for the human race”
H. G. Wells.

Ouam - 03/21/13 - 4:35am

Hello Sean,

Congratulation for this great product and pragmatic concept.
I’m riding bicycles since I was a kid and I’m working in the bicycle business for decades, I’m a bicycle racer and user, but I consider that the biggest part of the bicycle progression and development would be made on the “non cyclist user”…
Perhaps are you looking for a distribution in Europe?

Thanks

JC

Sean Simpson - 03/21/13 - 3:26pm

Thanks for the kind words and feedback everyone!

JC,
Drop us a line at info@evolvethebike.com

Thanks,
Sean

Carsten - 08/15/13 - 8:51am

I’ve test-ridden a NuVinci360, and while I liked the feel of the CVT, I got annoyed by wanting to constantly adjust the gear ratio. Also, I had to do a lot of twisting. Mating this with the auto-shift would address my issues. The downside of the NuVinci360 CVT for _ me_ the limited gear range (3.6x). If a higher gear range were available I’d consider it. Still, I think there’s a big market for the AutoBike as is, and wish them the best.

Craig Curless - 08/23/13 - 7:15pm

Sean Simpson,

I live in Indianapolis, IN and would like to try out the autobike. Where is the closest place I can find an autobike to get a test ride?

Thanks,

Craig Curless

peter sides - 08/28/13 - 7:15am

Autogears may not seam that relivent today with our underpowered bicycles
a bit like sycnromesh on car gears, you don’t need it, you can change gear without it, it just takes longer and is harder.

But imagine a bicycle capable of 60mph (its easily possible with an advanced gearing system, they exist as design concepts) then autogears would be essential.

Autogears at present live in the leisure cycle arena but they are the future.

Glenn Six - 11/21/13 - 10:09pm

I just saw an article about the Autobike in a magazine today. Is this bike now in production? If it is is there a way to take one for a test ride?

Post a comment:

Comment sections can be a beautiful source of knowledge, conversation and comedy. They can also get pretty ugly, which is why we've updated our Comments Policy. If your comment isn't showing up or suddenly disappears, you might want to check it out.