You can find the darndest things by wandering around and having an open mind. Case in point: Rohloff, zee Germans of 14-speed internally geared hub fame, have an interesting electronic shifter that will make their hub more appealing to mountain bikers. Not now, mind you, as it's only for e-bikes at this point, but word is that it'll be available for non-motorized, aftermarket use in about a year's time. Yes, I know I said a dirty word for these parts - e-bike
- but let's just look at this trick shifter as something that will be available for us pedal-power folk in the near future.
The E-14 shifter is an electronic push-button system with one button shifting to a higher gear and the other to a lower gear, and holding down a button will move the ratio by three gears in either direction. It's wired to a shift box (pictured to the right) that can be retro-fitted onto older hubs, and you can mount it up to work with an ancient Speedhub without issue - these hubs last forever, by the way.
I'm fairly certain that advanced civilizations will dig up a Rohloff hub a thousand years from now and find that it's working perfectly after they do a quick oil change.
All of the above makes the E-14 system sound pretty neat, but the rub, at least for now, is that it's only designed to work with Bosch's e-bike motors... don't shoot the messenger, please. The shifter and motor talk to each other in robot voices that only they can hear, and the Bosch motor will ease up slightly on the power when you ask for a shift, then get back on the gas after the job is done. All told, Rohloff says that this takes 180 milliseconds. For reference, it takes around 300 to 400 milliseconds to blink, just 500 milliseconds for someone to post an angry e-bike comment, and there 1,000 milliseconds in each second. So yeah, the shift happens quickly.
But forget about the e-bike part for now... instead, picture a 14-speed internally geared hub that essentially never wears out and has a 526-percent gear ratio, and the ability to shift in 180 milliseconds. There are good reasons as to why Rohloff's Speedhub isn't for the large majority of riders, but those points are impressive regardless.
There were two other interesting goodies in their booth, one of them being the Acros hydraulic trigger shifter (above, right). This thing is just damn cool: you toggle the paddle up or down to determine if you want to shift to an easier or a harder gear, then push it to make the shift. That description makes the action sound awkward, but I tinkered around with it and could get used to it pretty quickly. Check the video below to see it in action. Plus, it looks really neat.
The other was a shift box that allows your Speedhub to be shifted with pretty much anything you want to use, just so long as it pulls the amount of cable required (above, left). You can use thumb shifters, bar-end shifters, or rig up a fork lockout button. You can also use normal trigger shifters if you open them up and gut their ratcheting internals. Hell, you could even just reach down and pull on the cables if you wanted to.