Shimano has filed a rather unassuming patent titled 'Bicycle Telescopic Apparatus' that actually contains a few interesting insights into new tech that could be coming from the drivetrain giant.
The patent application was filed in September 2021 and mostly revolves around a sensor within a dropper post that detects whether the dropper post is in the dropped or extended position.
While we have already seen some of the best dropper posts break free from their cable shackles, most notably Rockshox Reverb AXS wireless dropper post, none of them control more than the dropper post itself.
What makes Shimano's 'Bicycle Telescopic Apperatus' patent interesting is that they are looking at how a rider's interactions with the dropper post could relate to other componentry on the bike (see FIG. 9 below). The patent touches on a number of areas from drivetrains (both electric and mechanical), e-bike motors, and most excitingly of all, suspension.
While patents are often purposely vague in their wording, this one from Shimano has some specifics about how this system could work. To save you from reading the below extract from the patent, here's how it would operate.
Essentially, there would be a sensor in the dropper post that would be able to determine whether the post was in an extended or compressed position. If the post is extended, the suspension will lock itself out. Drop the saddle down for a descent and the suspension will open again.
"In the embodiment of FIG. 9, the suspension controller 470 can actuate the suspension valve 462 to alter the behavior characteristics of the bicycle suspension 86 in response to the signal from the output device 154. If the rider sets the height of the seat 54 above a certain level when riding uphill or on a level surface, the signal from the output device 154 will indicate that the seat 54 is above the certain level. A program stored in the suspension controller 470 can, in response, instruct the suspension valve 462 to lock the bicycle suspension 86, for example. If the rider sets the height of the seat 54 below a certain level when riding downhill, the signal from the output device 154 will indicate that the seat 54 is below the certain level. A program stored in the suspension controller 470 can, in response, instruct the suspension valve 462 to increase the damping of the bicycle suspension 86."
How would this compare to Rockshox Flight Attendant and Fox Live Valve?
Currently Fox's Live Valve and RockShox Flight Attendant are the only electronically controlled suspension platforms available. While they both work following different protocols, the systems essential do the same thing although neither is perfect.
Both use sensors on unsprung parts of the bike to monitor impacts from the trail as well as accelerometers and other sensors to determine gradients and whether the bike is airborne. All this data is then processed and used to control the suspension dampening in order to optimize performance.
Flight Attendant also monitors a rider's pedal input and considers this in its dampening algorithm, stiffening up the suspension with the aim of improving a bike's pedaling platform.
So far no brand has integrated the dropper post into the suspension system which we think is a no-brainer. After all, in most situations, the dropper is usually compressed when tackling descents and technical features which is when you will want your suspension to be open and active. Droppers are then only extended on climbs or smooth pedaling sections for seated pedaling where a firmer damper setting or lock-out mode would be desired.
While we think this could be a very promising approach to better automated suspension management, expectations should be managed as we are unlikely to be seeing this tech anytime soon. While Shimano already does a range of dropper posts under its Pro component brand, none of them are currently electronic. Shimano also doesn't have any suspension units either, so unless they develop their own – which is very unlikely – they will need to find a suspension manufacturer to work with.
Considering the two big players, Fox and RockShox, already have their own systems and SR Suntour also appears to be working on something, which was spotted on Tom Pidcocks Olympic BMC Fourstroke, Shimano may struggle to find a partner to get this project off the ground.
Connecting to other bicycle components
While it's the dropper's influence on the suspension that caught our interest, Shimano also touches on other components too, specifically drivetrains (electric, mechanical, and internal gearbox) and e-bike motors.
The concept behind the dropper and drivetrain/motor interaction would be when the dropper post is put into the lower position, the drivetrain would automatically shift into a higher gear or the motor offer more power output.
While in theory this could be beneficial, we aren't convinced it would offer any real-world benefits out on the trail.