Video: Rotor's 13-Speed Drivetrain is Powered by Mineral Oil - Sea Otter 2019

Apr 12, 2019 at 21:03
by Mike Levy  


Rotor first showed us their 13-speed, hydraulically controlled drivetrain at last year's Eurobike show, but that system was an early prototype and ways off from production. The Spanish company came to Sea Otter with a much more refined version, though, with the group finally being available this coming summer. Price? They're not 100-percent sure yet and didn't want to quote a number, but did say that it'll be in-line cost-wise with the fancy stuff from SRAM and Shimano. So, not cheap.

Whatever it ends up selling for, I suspect that it'll be a pretty rare sight on the trails. Rotor isn't planning on cornering the drivetrain market with their 13-speed group, and they're actually manufacturing all of the components in Spain; think of this as boutique, out of the ordinary alternative to the norm.
Rotor 13-speed Drivetrain Details

• Hydraulically controlled shifting
• 13-speeds (12-speed spacing)
• Uses 12-speed chain
• 10-52 Cassette
• Mineral oil
• Manufactured in Spain
• Weight: TBA
• MSRP: TBA
• More info: www.rotorbike.com

While I'm not going to justify needing a 13-speed drivetrain (or 12, 11, 10, etc), the reasoning behind adding cogs is sound: More cogs can mean smaller jumps between each gear, which is important when you want tiny 10-tooth and huge 52-tooth cogs on each end.


Sea Otter 2019
The 13-speed Rotor derailleur is powered by roughly 40cc of mineral oil rather than a steel cable.


The derailleur has some neat stuff going on, especially the 'Go to Origin' button that does exactly what it sounds like. If you push and hold it, the derailleur will quickly drop the chain down to the smallest cog, which can be helpful if you're taking your wheel out. Speaking of that, the clutch is clever in a simple way; you literally unclip it from the upper section of the derailleur so you can swing it out of the way more easily.

The indexing isn't in the shifter like it is inside a mechanical system, but rather down at the derailleur, and there are adjustable stops to determine how many gears you can change with each push of the thumb paddle.


Sea Otter 2019
Sea Otter 2019
An adjuster at the back (left) lets you change shifter feel, and a button on the front (right) can be pushed to get the derailleur to drop down to the smallest cog nearly instantly.


There's more: That barrel adjuster-looking thing that the 3mm line goes into can be turned to change the effort required at the shifter. It might seem like you'd want as little as possible, but the adjustment can be used to make the shifting feel more mechanical-like. You know, if that's what you're into.

The shifter itself is much smaller than a mechanical unit, and there's just one paddle (with an optional bolt-on bonus paddle) that controls shifting up and down the cassette by how far you push it.


Sea Otter 2019
Sea Otter 2019
The shifter is tiny and there's just a single lever with a bolt-on bonus paddle.


To make a 13-speed cassette work, Rotor's used their own freehub design and also shifted the hub's drive-side spoke flange inboard by a small amount. Yup, that means you'll need to use their hub if you want 13-cogs. Their 12-speed cassettes play nice with normal freehubs, though, with the 10-tooth cog hanging off the end to get the clearance it needs.



MENTIONS: @pinkbikeoriginals



122 Comments

  • + 52
 Sorry I can’t make the ride, I have to stay home to charge my shifter and bleed my derailer!
  • + 11
 Did nobody learned how unreliable the Reverb was, seriously nobody ??
  • + 60
 @squagles How often did you have to cancel a ride because you had to bleed a brake?
  • + 42
 @tonkatruck: I think the Reverb’s problems are due to design problems, not just because it’s hydraulic. We all ride hydraulic brakes and most of them are extremely reliable.
  • + 33
 @tonkatruck: Hydraulics barely qualify as rocket science and have been used successfully in a large variety of applications for a hundred years - you’re not too worried about sudden failure of the brakes of your car, are you? If done right it will work without any trouble for years.
  • + 4
 As no plan survives reality it is essential to have plans b and c and d. Eat your porridge
  • - 1
 @Barkit: depends if you run shimano or not in my experience
  • - 9
flag RobertBro (Apr 13, 2019 at 5:48) (Below Threshold)
 You sir just won a comment of the year.
  • + 6
 @Barkit: Brakes don't require the supreme precision of 13-speed shifting. Once you engage pad contact via lever throw, braking generally works reliably the same and you can go ride with a suboptimal system.
  • + 8
 @tonkatruck: Can't argue with the reverb issues! However, this will go through Rotor's QC not SRAM's QC, there is a world of difference.
  • + 2
 @tonkatruck: i never had any problems with reverbs lever/activation. Spring, thats another story.. 4 models, all of them started to sag eventually. I've learned my lesson, I'll stay away from reverbs in the future.
  • + 1
 @Barkit: more than i like actually
  • + 5
 @tripleultrasuperboostplusplus: Even an insufficiently bled hydraulic system will work more precisely than a current shifting cable.

Which doesn’t matter in this case since not much precision is required (the indexing is in the derailleur).
  • + 2
 @FuzzyL: Once I own and old Opel Astra and the master cylinder and a rear drum just explode in the middle of the city at the same moment driving to 5 km tunnel in a 11 km drive in Madrid(M30)...My sister just touch the brakes to go inside the tunnel and nothing...pump like crazy the brakes and nothing...One of the worst moments of my entire life,braking a car whit only 1 drum rear brake (handbrake) and impossible to go out off the road...It was very very rare but it happens from time to time.
  • + 34
 Wolftooth will make a cable conversion for it.
  • + 2
 You sir deserve more upvotes!
  • + 29
 Technically, isn’t the derailleur “powered” by your thumb, with the power transmitted by mineral oil? Just saying because AXS or Di2 are actually powered by something else other than the rider, or Shimano’s Airlines were powered by air. Cool tech regardless.
  • + 4
 The title threw me too..."powered by mineral oil"? ...huh?
  • + 3
 Why not use water?
  • + 14
 @chyu: Water freezes and boils pretty easily.
  • + 6
 @bbeak: boiling is not an issue here, at least I hope
  • + 6
 @bbeak: glycol
  • + 2
 @chyu: mineral oil lubricates the piston o’rings giving less friction and better feel.
  • + 31
 13 sounds unlucky, how about 14 instead
  • + 5
 Rohloff?
  • + 19
 This makes more sense to me than electric shifting. Once this hits a reasonable price I'll definitely consider it.
  • + 3
 Why more sense than di2?
  • + 14
 @Lasse2000: Looking at it from the point of view that usually my bike trips mean no access to power/ability to recharge if required. I can easily have extra oil in my repair kit in my van if I need it.
Not saying di2/electronic shifting isn't great, hydraulic shifting appeals more on a personal level.
  • + 5
 @OzMike: you can easily keep a spare battery, that would take up less room and be lighter weight!! Di2 or SRAM
  • + 9
 @TylerG96: everyone's got their own preferences. If I can bleed a brake I would assume I could bleed a derailleur. If problems were to arise with an electric setup I wouldn't know where to start.

Again, it's all personal preference and hydraulic tech makes sense to me.
Further to this I'm not bothered by grams. I'm already slow, I won't notice the weight until I lose more of my own weight.
  • + 0
 @TylerG96: what if your on a week or month long bike packing trip? Do you bring 40 spare batteries?
  • + 2
 @OzMike: power bank. Practically ubiquitous these days
  • + 7
 @mkotowski1: You can do well over a 1000 miles on one charge on Di2...
  • + 0
 @OzMike: along with keeping a bit of mineral oil in the storage unit known as “van” you can also use said van to charge your electronics..
Having owned di2 and played with the experimental road version of this hydraulic setup, I feel they are both good options from first impressions. Di2 worked flawless on my Mtb for two years, those same parts will end up on my CX bike at some point. Rotors system has a very unique sharp feel to it though, if it holds up well, it will be a great contender
  • + 19
 But why tho...
  • + 9
 Because they can?
  • + 2
 this
  • + 14
 9 speed ain't dead!
  • + 11
 Who the f*ck needs 13 gears just slap a 9 speed on there and send it! #pittedlife
  • + 5
 there it is.
  • + 5
 I have zero issues with cable derailleurs, but I like seeing people try new things, so props to rotor. I have zero desire for it right now. With how simple cable swaps are, and how much of a pain bleeding components is, cable is still my preferred derailleur setup.
  • + 7
 Yeah after the great experiences with countless swapped out Reverb seatposts i really want more hydraulic actuated components on my bike....
  • + 3
 I feel the same way but I have to admit the wheel removal features are pretty neat! Looking forward to Mikes review
  • + 11
 I've had good luck with hydraulic brakes.
  • + 6
 Does it say SRAM on these? Wink
  • + 6
 Does this continual press for more gears remind anyone of that scene in Spinal Tap?

"Why don't you just make 10 louder?"

"Buu?.....this goes up to 11."
  • + 4
 Most people can bearly bleed their brakes, let alone a derailleur that has to shift through 13 gears with neuro surgeon precision to shift right, yes gimme more things to fiddle with and make my life a living hell
  • + 3
 Most people won't be buying this.
  • + 3
 I'm not sure why this is better than a cable system, bar the lack of cable stretch and maybe feel? What would concern me though is making a repair of it was damaged when out riding. Yes, with internal routing the chance of damaging the hydraulic line is relatively low, but the potential difficulty in repairs is much higher. Your chances of a bodge to get you home are slim. Also, the availability of spares etc would be a concern...
  • + 6
 Does anyone else remember the days you could have fun for days with cheap mechanical gear ?
  • + 4
 i'm still in those days lol
  • + 2
 On reflection I wonder why this did not come sooner. I know that shimano did air but when you think about it, we have had hydraulic braking for near three decades. A gear system is not dealing with heat build up and expansion issues, in fact the forces are hugely less so. I wonder why even mineral oil. Whilst marginal, there are lighter weight oils. Even water. With no heat then you can use what you like?
If it was sensible £ Id consider it.
  • + 2
 I saw hydraulic shifters in MBA in the 90's.
  • + 3
 Water? There goes 30% of my riding... #frozen
  • + 2
 How is this hydraulic system in any way better than a mechanical cable? The hydraulic system is far more complex, and therefore less reliable than simple mechanical cable.
  • + 1
 @Skooks: depends on how reliable it is. Comparing like for like, neither my SLX hydraulic brakes or my SLX 11 speed shifter need much maintenance. Setup of the shift cable though, on that particular frame, needed a bigger loop at the derailleur end than is ideal for riding on natural style trails with lots of trail litter (sticks, rocks, vines, whatever). I’ve snagged it a couple times resulting in a quick stop to put the cable housing back in place (yay for fully external routing) and then carry on. Eventually I won’t be so lucky and I’ll have to single speed it out of there. In that instance, a hydraulic hose would be nicer.

Rainy rides in sandy soil, not having a shift cable get all fouled up would also be pretty sweet (why isn’t there a rubber boot covering the tension adjuster of a shifter like there is on the brake master at the same spot where the line bolts up?). But that’s about it. And the button on this derailleur looks like a bad idea on those same natural trails.
  • + 2
 I'm on Eagle and love it...but I'd be happy with 11 sp with Eagle range tbh. Often I'm skipping gears. I could do with a bit more jump assuming they could figure out how to make the jumps really, really smooth. It'd drop some weight too. 13sp seems odd.
  • + 2
 So what happens when your on the trail you catch a limb and rip the hose out of the derailleur. So you have to hit up your bud going "Yo man you got some mineral oil and a bleed kit in you tool bag???" A bit easier just carrying a cable if you ask me.
  • + 2
 After cursing my Reverb B2 for its stubborn hydraulics and aversion to cold, I wonder how well the hydraulic system will have to be designed with a longer distance and greater range/sensitivity to pressure and change between all those gears. I'd hate to be stuck in/between gears or paranoid about temps in 30-40s F when I'm riding.
  • + 5
 Looking at that mech reminds me how well shimano does industrial design. This reminds me of a mech from the 80s
  • - 2
 Eh, new 12sp XTR isn't that pretty, XX1 eagle is pretty. XTR 11sp is the nicest looking with the swoopy lines etc! This kind of looks space-agey...different but kind of cool in a weird way.
  • + 2
 Shimano has a couple more years of practice under their belt. I'm not saying this thing looks like a million bucks, but I find it refreshing that it looks like they actually designed it from the ground up instead of just copying what's already out there.
  • + 0
 XTR9020 looked damn good on the press release. Similar to XTR 980 cranks which were super tits. So was 970 rear mech. Current SLX 7000 cranks look stunning too. I think Shimano screwed it up with the looks of 9000, they made them look like some commuter gruppo, a shame because it is possibly the best performing and most reliable thing they made.
  • + 1
 Steel is real. Hydraulics are great for high force applications with volume displacement being a huge advantage. Shifting really doesn't require a large amount of force even with a clutch mech. This is up there with the old-school pneumatic shifting systems that never caught on. Good luck Rotor, but I'm not seeing a big market for this one. Your cassette design on the other hand, please tell me more.
  • + 5
 Mandatory “give us gearbox” comment
  • + 3
 with this shifting or electronic... not two cables and a grip shift
  • + 1
 @5afety3rd: Effigear works with a single cable.
  • + 3
 Very interesting tech but how do companies stay afloat spending so much R&D on these new products that they aren’t too concerned with selling many of...
  • + 1
 These products get them attention and a high tech image, they may actually live off selling chainrings.
  • + 2
 What is the advantage over axs or a standard set up? Is it less effort at the lever, cleaner shifts? Why is it “better” than a cable actuated shifter system?
Thanks if you can answer my questions.
  • + 2
 If it has the same spacing as 12 speed could you not just use the shifter and mech with current 12 speed cassettes from Sram , Shimano and Sunrace ?
  • + 1
 probably, but if they really have a 13 cog cassette that light, and they also have a 12 cog cassette, I wonder if its below 300 grams. I'd think about getting their cassette and pairing it with a traditional derailleur + shifter
  • + 3
 I really can't wait for a 22 Speed Cassette to come out in the next 6 Months Wink
  • + 11
 Rumor has it that there were be an 11 sp cassette coupled with 2 chain ring and a new mech called a front derailleur
  • + 2
 Living in the mountains what I really want is a gearbox with just climbing gears. Don't need high speed gears as pointing down gets you all the speed you need.
  • + 1
 Not a fan of the hydraulic dropper but obviously a big fan of the hydraulic brake, shifting? Er, yeah i would like to really check this out, certainly looks well put together.
  • + 1
 @DrPete They say 13 will take some time, so first try
will be 12. Shifter and mech are the same, so there
is only the cassette to buy.
  • + 1
 Why not just say it's a manually operated, hydraulically actuated drivetrain. Who cars what kind of hydraulic oil it's using.
  • + 2
 Can we get back to gearboxes, please? How about that paddle shifter with a Pinion box?
  • + 0
 Sounds like a great idea to me, though hydraulic shifting has been done before by another company:
www.pinkbike.com/news/Pinkbike-First-Look-Acros-AEG-11-MT-Hydraulic-Shifting.html
  • + 3
 Acros didn't invent it, they just bought the company. The original was 5Rot.
  • + 2
 @nozes: I didn't say they invented only that it was done before Rotor.
  • + 1
 Cool article. I went and checked it out hoping that there were "dentist " comments back in 2011, but no go.
  • + 1
 "...you literally unclip it from the upper section of the derailleur so you can swing it out of the way easier."

The best correct grammar in the sentence are 'more easier'.
  • + 0
 you mean "more easily"
  • + 1
 Drive careful now ya'hear. Wink
  • + 2
 Could be good - no stretched shifter cables to deal with.

How does it handle multiple gear changes?
  • + 8
 Shift cables don't stretch. It's the cable housing settling into the ferrules that causes the slackening over time.
  • + 2
 @rh00p: Really?? I had no idea. Interesting if thats true
  • + 3
 @rh00p: all of it. Nothing is static in this world except stupidity.
  • + 1
 @rh00p: either way ..
  • + 0
 Less fiddling than with cables, no batteries like electronic. If it didn’t require a special freehub it would be worth a try, but nobody will separate me from my Onyx hubs.
  • + 1
 I normally fiddle with a bow (horsehair, not cable), Wink myself... Seriously though, I've never messed with my cables … what about bleeding or something happening to the hose etc?
  • + 2
 @mtbikeaddict: I've changed out shift cables more often than I've had to bleed brakes. Hydraulic is a nice set-and-forget choice.
  • + 1
 Didn't Mike say they have a 12 speed version that fits on a standard Shimano freehub?
  • + 0
 @hamncheez: Yeah, but then it just becomes harder to justify the switch from Eagle. May still be worth it though.
  • + 1
 @DrPete: Also its pretty certain this is going to be effing expensive.
  • + 1
 @hamncheez: yeah, there’s that. It’ll definitely be “I damn well better be getting another cog for this amount of money” pricing.
  • + 1
 @hamncheez: I can't find the 12-speed cassette anywhere.
  • + 1
 @sc213626: Last sentence of the article:

"Their 12-speed cassettes play nice with normal freehubs, though, with the 10-tooth cog hanging off the end to get the clearance it needs. "
  • + 1
 @hamncheez: correct, I meant "anywhere to purchase".
  • + 2
 @sc213626: None of this is available to purchase yet
  • + 1
 Lots of cool tech in that derailleur. I’d love to get on one of these as long as it performs
  • + 1
 The spacing between 12, even 11 speed is totally fine. Great in fact. Gearboxes are the next step.
  • + 1
 Science is cool and bikes and cool and if we combine then the whole world is way cool.
  • + 0
 Well if cars and motorbikes have hydraulic clutches this was inevitable. After all how many new wheel standards can the industry invent to induce repeat bike sales.
  • + 0
 How does an aftermarket drivetrain force anyone to buy a new bike?
  • + 2
 @DrPete: If a new type of drivetrain gets implemented as OEM. That's why we see bike companies changing standards on axles, bottom brackets or headsets more often than ever. They sell us a product with an artificially limited useful life to generate long term sales volume. It's called Planned Obsolescence and it's a common policy in industrial design and economics.

You know that joke where the laptop we buy today is already obsolete? Well it's not a joke.
  • + 1
 @DrPete: rotor hub probably only superboost, suddenly frames obselete. Done. New bike
  • + 1
 @sethius: The 1x13 requires a new hub, but no change to axle width.
  • + 1
 @DrPete: forces you to buy a new bike if they only did their hub in new school diameters. Any excuse to buy a new whip ????
  • + 1
 @sethius: you’re right. Rotor is in on a grand conspiracy as the smallest drivetrain manufacturer in the game with like 1% market share to force people to buy new bikes.
  • + 1
 Not going to be cheap, would love to try it though.
  • + 1
 My drivetrain is powered by shots and giggles
  • + 1
 Have it in backorder and am waiting..... ever so patiently...
  • + 1
 Definitely report back. Are you doing 1x13 or 1x12?
  • + 1
 Can't lie, I bet that feels glorious to shift.
  • + 2
 Steel cable
  • + 1
 Gearboxes are the only reasonable future...
  • + 1
 I like this. And that Revel it's on also looks sweet.
  • + 1
 It's rad to see some real innovation here.
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