Shimano Steps – A Bold Step Towards E-Bikes?


Back to the future with Shimano: it’s almost 100 years since their first product, which was a bicycle freewheel. Since then, their name has become synonymous with bike components, and at the Eurobike exhibition, they were promoting their Shimano Steps system, which is built around a frame-mounted drive unit, which is positioned low in the frame for easier handling. The controlling electronics are incorporated in this drive unit; while the unit isdown close to any splashes from puddles, Shimano say that the electronics are weatherproof. And the “Steps” name seems appropriate in that one of the modes available on the product is a “walk assist”, so if you are walking your bike in a pedestrian area, the system will help propel your bike at walking speed.

I don’t have an overall weight for the system, but the marketing guys at Shimano describe the system as “light in weight”, but with a large capacity lithium-ion battery pack, and with an intelligent management system. One feature of this is that the unit automatically switches down to a “start mode” when the bike comes to a stop, so you are ready to make an easy getaway from traffic lights or a junction.

It is often claimed that motor racing leads the way in bringing technology changes to family cars. Perhaps there is a similarity in professional bike racing, as we see the Shimano Steps system equipped with electronic shifting on the Di2 internal gear hub. As gear changes are made, the power is briefly reduced during the change, to make it easier. Certainly Shimano’s claim rings true that they have an advantage over competitors supplying individual e-bike components, in that they build not just the electric drive unit but all the transmission components for a fully integrated system.

As an option, Shimano Steps is also available with a conventional, mechanically-operated internal gear hub, or it can be used with a multi-sprocket cassette and traditional rear derailleur. We can surely expect a number of bike manufacturers to be offering bikes for the 2016 season onwards with the Shimano Steps system incorporated.

Shimano have some glossy video clips showing life style usage of their Shimano Steps e-bike system online. Looking at these, they suggest “Even fit, experienced cyclists will expend less energy on an e-bike, arriving at their destination feeling clean and refreshed. The appeal of e-bikes is broad – you get most of the benefits of cycling (fitness, fresh air, door-to-door convenience) but it’s simply easier.” I know that a number of fellow cyclists are quite scathing about e-bikes. But take a look at the people in the video clips and you’ll notice that – apart from helmets – there’s precious little lycra in view; the actors are wearing “normal” clothes, heading to the shops, to work, and out to meet for a drink. I am going to put my 10p on betting that this trend will make it here to the UK one day, and I have previously confessed a U-turn in my thinking on e-bikes, as I now believe that the more people on bikes of whatever type, the more all cyclists become visible, and the better our claim for proper cycling infrastructure.

So, will Shimano persuade the mountain bike rider? Gary Fisher, the inventor of the mountain bike, seems to think so, as I reported before the Eurobike exhibition. The Shimano Steps system will be available as an MTB variant for the coming year, and is described as being more sporty and optimised for the 11-speed Shimano gear system. They have also added a more “shake-proof” mount for the battery.

No official details were available on the Bosch stand, but it seems to be an open secret that they too are working on a special MTB variant of their drive system, and this can be anticipated for 2016, and some news is bound to come out of Reutlingen soon, where Bosch have their e-bike division.


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