Quite often anything promising to revolutionise the bicycle is met with a grimace. It’s either a pure assault on the retinas – think the marmite effect of the Cervelo P5 triathlon/time trial bike and the Canyon Grail with its hover handlebars. Or it’s too much change for traditionalists to take; think the resistance against disc brakes. Typically, behind these designs is a quest to make things faster, more efficient or dare we say it – more fun.
This year world class bearings maker CeramicSpeed launched their new project Driven. And my did it whip the cycling world into a frenzy. A drivetrain without a chain? What the hell! Claiming unheard-of efficiencies, Driven could well prove to be the downfall of the good old trusty bicycle chain. Might that be the case? Rouleur caught up with their Chief Marketing Officer, Ben Powell to talk about how this ambitious project started.
Rouleur: Why now?
Ben Powell: A couple of years ago we had this conversation about pursuing the 1% drivetrain. We know that the bicycle drivetrain as it is today, is pretty much at its optimal when you upgrade to all the CeramicSpeed parts and use the oversized system on it. Current racing chains are as far as you can get with optimisation and efficiency, but still have a loss of 2-3%.
But we thought: is it the right time, does it make sense [to get the energy loss down to the 1%]? Then we came into contact with an opportunity to make an investment into Colorado University’s mechanical engineering department, where basically we can buy into that semester, submit a project and we then get resources from the University. We were connected to a group of students and we set them a project definition and scope which was: pursuing the 1% drivetrain.
What did the project scope look like?
BP: The project criteria was: it needed to be mass produced and it needed to add up to a 250 watts (w) output to hit the 1% efficiency mark. It was very broad but it gave them some direction at the same time. Oh, and they weren’t confined to the traditional bicycle drivetrain. The team were led by Jason Smith, who is our Chief Technology Officer, who had the idea originally of this 1% drivetrain and was the one who brought it to the table.
What’s the 250w output based on?
If you put 250w into the pedals you’ll never get 250w out, but you want to get out as much as possible. And that’s where we talk about bringing that loss of power through the drivetrain down to 1%.
How did the project start to form and take shape?
BP: We fund ourselves and are still a privately owned company, but in typical CeramicSpeed fashion we have a great idea, we think we can achieve something and we say, ‘cool let’s go for it’. That’s what we did with the 1% drivetrain, and then suddenly we had this incredible piece of technology and had managed to prove it can work. Then we kind of looked at each other and asked: ‘Ok, what do we do now?’
We were about eight or nine weeks away from Eurobike and the conversation on the table was, ‘Do we show it to the world or do we develop it further? How do we go about taking this further? Do we even want to take it further?’
You can imagine the resources and hellfire that went from that point into getting the bike to where it is and being displayed to the rest of the cycle industry at Eurobike [a trade only show].
How did the testing go?
When we tested the initial prototypes on the test rigs in Boulder we were so shocked by the numbers, we had to repeat the tests quite a lot to ensure there wasn’t something wrong. It hadn’t quite got to that 99% efficiency number yet, but we were so close on the first iteration that we knew from the changes that we could make that this was going to get very fast. So it was very early that we knew we were onto something and it had legs to fly.
How does it actually work?
What you have essentially is a driveshaft. There’s a shaft that runs in and engages with the front chainring and the other end is engaging with the rear cassette. But driveshafts: that’s not novel right? That’s something that’s been around for years and years. What’s novel about this design is the engagement mechanism. The shaft engages with the front chainring but instead of there being teeth there’s bearings. So when the contact point of that shaft turns, it’s turning into a housing for bearings.
What’s really important to make note of here, is that a traditional drivetrain which has a chain on it has static friction. This happens when the chain makes contact with a cassette or chainring. There’s force there which is a sliding friction as the chain slides off each of the teeth. The chain is constantly having to break that force. There’s no way you’re going to get around it, and when you think how many teeth the chain is in contact with at any one point in time, that’s a lot of sliding friction.
What we’ve done with this drivetrain is move away from sliding friction altogether and you move into something that’s called rolling friction, where the roller bearings are disconnecting at the engagement point. And that’s why it’s really revolutionary because sliding happens in so many points in the standard drivetrain and that builds up friction. When you break that down to only two points of rolling friction [as with Driven] you eliminate so many areas that build resistance and affect the efficiency number on the whole. You are basically eliminating sliding friction by not having the chain there.
What was the response like at Eurobike?
Wild! It completely blew us away. We went into this kind of underprepared. We knew what we were doing, we wanted to build something revolutionary, but as always we wanted to keep our feet on the ground. We didn’t think it was going to blow Eurobike to pieces and that the media was going to go wild, but it sure happened.
The volume of interest we got afterwards we could never have anticipated. Not in a million years. It was picked up by mainstream media even in China. Red Bull have also just done an article on it as well as lots of other media outlets. I think it showed that the revolution is Driven, and what we have produced [is what] the industry has been longing for. It hit engineering forums worldwide, and what that has done for our business in terms of interest in the project, and interest in our industrial division has just been insane. We have investment interest in the project itself on a broad scale.
We had so many requests to buy it, and are continuing on a weekly basis getting consumer enquiries about when they can buy the bike that has Driven on it. There have also been bike brands in contact to enquire about it. And not just one bike brand either.
The Rouleur Classic, held from the 1st to the 3rd of November, will be the first time the CeramicSpeed Driven drivetrain will be on display to the public.