Shimano recently filed an application with the United States Patent Office that's raising eyebrows and all sorts of questions.
The patent appears to outline a completely interconnected, electronic component system—as in, you hit a button that drops the seatpost and the suspension travel and damping automatically change as well. Pure conjecture here, but if I were a betting man, I'd guess that lowering the seatpost as you begin to drop into a steep descent might automatically increase your travel and reduce the compression damping on your fork and rear shock. Think of it as an e-version of BMC's Trailsync dropper.
That's what it looks like from here, at least. Patents are a strange beast to wrestle with; they are at once incredibly detailed and obscure. Companies need to set precedent and protect their emerging technologies without exactly giving up the goods. It's a weird, linguistic dance. You can pore through through the patent application here, but the bit about suspension travel, damping and seatpost interconnectivity is evident in the patent filing.
Shimano has never been a company bent on courting controversy, so I wasn't surprised by their response when I requested an official company statement on the patent. "Shimano is constantly in development of new products, but does not comment on rumors, innuendo or speculation about products whether they are in development or not.” Well, okay then. The company doesn't want to deal in speculation, but I will...it's in my job description.
An Electric World...It's Coming
It's not like Shimano has been hiding their electric intentions. They debuted Di2 for road bikes in 2009 and rolled out e-XTR in 2014. We've tested the stuff extensively. But as we noted in this double header XT Di2 review, while novel and accurate, electronic shifting hasn't been a game changer in the dirt world. It seems like a fair bit of wires and hassle to accomplish a task that a $3 steel cable already does pretty damn well. It kind of makes you think that maybe the end game was always something much bigger than moving a rear derailleur left and right.
Likewise, electronically-activated suspension has been around for a good long while now. K2 had its "Smart Shock" back in 1997. Fox rolled out its electronic iCD suspension waaay back in 2012. Magura has had acceleromator-equipped suspension for years as well. But getting those suspension components to "talk" to non-suspension components? That's a new trick, if not a logical progression. That patent suggests it may soon also be a reality.But the patent indirectly raises another question: Will Shimano's electronic dropper seatpost communicate with Shimano-branded suspension? Will Shimano become a major player in forks and rear shocks? When you consider that their biggest rival, SRAM, has its fingers stuck deep into the suspension pie, it seems odd that Shimano would continue to steer clear of the squishy-bits business. Might Shimano's moment arrive in the form of electronically-activated suspension that "talks" to their e-dropper post? Who knows. Shimano isn't in the business of conjecture and innuendo, but you're free to go whole hog.Conjecture away.