Holding down the household for three kids and kicking my job search into fourth gear hasn’t left much time for hard-hitting tech journalism on Canootervalve.com these days. Not that I ever practiced hard-hitting journalism, but even the fake stuff takes more time than you’d think. So sorry.
But to counterbalance all my mindless rants of late, I thought it only fair to type up something with a little substance tonight. There’s a lot of chatter right now about Shimano’s upcoming hydraulic disc brakes for road bikes, but so far, almost nothing is known about them. I figured I should do what I could to make them at least a little less mysterious.
The wonderful thing about hot new hi-tech gadgets is that their owners need to protect their intellectual rights, so they apply for patents, and applying for a patent means explaining how something works. So it doesn’t take Woodward and Bernstein to figure out how to get an early look at what nobody else has seen. You don’t get the official press release and all the approved answers, but you don’t get the corporate spin either. Here’s some raw design stuff Shimano liked enough to spent a few thousand bucks each to patent.
This first one shouldn’t be a surprise, but it was for me. Seems Shimano, like Tektro/TRP, sees value in a gizmo that converts cable pull to hydraulic action. It makes perfect sense, considering ‘cross bikes benefit the most from genuine hydraulic disc brakes, and they also have “suicide levers” (alternately known as “top-mount” levers or “auxillary” levers–I don’t know if anyone still calls them “suicide” levers, but that’s what they started out being called because they could dump you on your ass right quick, and the name stuck with me). Having both sets of levers on the bike would be too much chaos in hydraulic form, so the converter makes good sense here.
So this tells us that the entrance into disc brakes on road and ‘cross bikes is going to be a bit more complicated than we might be thinking. Instead of one product hitting the market, we should be ready to see several. Also, unless this gets cleaned up a lot, TRP’s Parabox is looking way cleaner.
Now for something completely different:
If you’re seeing what I’m seeing, this is a hydraulic lever mechanism for a TT bike. Is there an aerodynamic advantage to disc brakes? Is this the safe way around the brake track problems associated with full carbon rims? Maybe they’ll never make this, but if there’s even a small chance they’re already at work on it, what it implies for wheelsets and TT and Tri frames going forward is pretty substantial.
Equally bizarre is this patent on hydraulic drop bar brakes. Keep in mind that all of these are owned by Shimano–no garage mechanic quacks here. My eyes made perfect sense of the (somewhat fugly) STI shifters with the line sticking out of them, but, by the time my brain processed the strange Magura HS-33–looking creature at the other end of that line, I was thoroughly confused. Still, the patent is actually for a “Hydraulic Connector Arrangement,” so they can connect whatever hydraulic device they’d like to the end of that line.
Lots of questions, but a few answers in there, too. Nothing beats seeing those first factory or prototype photos, but the sheer amount of information available here (you can click through each photo to go to the patent itself) makes studying patents well worth the investment in time.