If you know a little about bike design history, you probably acknowledge that truly original ideas which revolutionise bicycle technology and design are few and far between. Most ideas have been tried before, and the overwhelming majority of new products optimise, improve, and adapt existing ideas and concepts. A Polish father and his three sons, the family behind the company Efneo, are working on something that they hope will make a splash.
Modern bicycle innovation falls into three broad categories:
1) Performance driven product evolution and design,
2) New technology and electronics integration / adaption for cycling and,
3) Innovation in alternative technologies.
Efneo have their sights firmly set on category 3, innovation in alternative technology, and are looking to incorporate technology, mechanics, systems and materials which have not become standard on your average bike. Efneo have developed a 3-speed front gearbox that is integrated into the front crank and completely replaces a traditional front derailleur.
Compact and integrated front shifting is not a new idea; already this market boasts the Swiss Schlumpf Innovations 2-Speed ‘Speed drives’, the Patterson transmission crankset (from Gripshift inventor Sam Patterson), and the SRAM Truvative Hammerschmidt for Mountain Biking. While not completely new, removing the front derailleur and integrating reliable ‘planetary gearing’ type shifting into the cranks, as Efneo are doing, is an attractive proposition. I won’t go into the details on planetary gearing, but I will say that there are technical variations between different planetary systems, and Efneo have a range of patents on their designs.
What problem does the Efneo solve?
Internally geared rear hubs have long since accomplished shifting over large gear ranges, and a hub like the NuVinci even uses a ball bearing based planetary gear for seamless shifting. But up-front, integrated front gears solutions have been limited to two gears only. Efneo CEO, Franciszek Migaszewski explains the advantage of their 3-Speed system, “with a 3-speed system the Efneo Gearbox can be used as the only gearbox in the bicycle (with a single-speed hub in the rear wheel); with 2 gears it would probably make no sense.”
There are some more features that Efneo are promoting to broaden their appeal and generate interest among bike riders. This includes: more natural gear shifting ratios (compared to two-speed systems), similar gearing ratios to a traditional three-speed front derailleur, and comparatively easy installation and upgrading of existing bikes.
While internal geared rear hubs are well established, for certain bikes there can be a lot of good reasons to eliminate rear shifting altogether, or even combine two integrated shifting solutions such as a Shimano Alfine hub and an Efneo crank. E-bikes also have massive potential as Mr Migaszewski notes, “The biggest market for us are electric bikes with the rear wheel engine; we had a lot of meetings with manufacturers. In these cases they cannot use a rear-wheel gearbox (they have the engine there) and they do not like the idea of combining an engine and a rear derailleur in one place. Moreover, for an e-bike 3 gears is often enough – not too much, not too little. This combination of the engine in a rear wheel and a gearbox in the crankset is perfect for them.”
Efneo acknowledging that they are not targeting road bikes or off-road bikes. Instead they are aiming at urban, commuting, and trekking style bikes which are better suited to the Efneo gearbox and offer more consistent bottom bracket compatibility.
How will Efneo compete for attention and ensure that their product succeeds?
The obvious goal for the company is to supply their product as OEM (original equipment manufacturer), where bike manufacturers specify this equipment on their bikes. But this rarely happens overnight, and in order to reach the production volumes to become interesting to the big brands, the path for Efneo begins with crowd-funding and appealing to after-market customers who can upgrade.
Efneo have taken to the crowd funding portal Indigogo to raise $30, 0000 (USD) and join a handful of other bike-related projects there. The regular ‘pledge’ pricing in $240 with early adopter pricing still available.
More product details are available on the Efneo website and Mr Migaszewski also hints that an Australian distributor will shortly be confirmed.
What do you think? Is the Efneo significantly different or appealing?