See also: AutoBike documents

Country: USA

AutoBike was one of the brands owned by CSA Inc. of South Easton, Massachusetts. CSA was (is?) ‘a worldwide market leader in TV-driven fitness retail’ - which seems like English, but clearly isn’t. It may mean that they sold (sell?) shed-loads of cheap exercise machines on Home Shopping Network or QVC.

In 1997 CSA launched its AutoBike - a bicycle with a revolutionary automatic derailleur that was sold by a $10 million TV campaign featuring an ‘award winning infommercial’. (Can this get any more horrific?) The AutoBike was apparently ‘The Bike For the Rest of Us’ - if they were really spending $10 million promoting it, they had better have been right.

A contributor to describes its gear system as follows:

“There are three weights on the back wheel attached to the pie plate. As the wheel speeds up, they pull the plate out farther to the right, pushing the derailleur towards the smaller cogs. It has six cogs fixed to the hub, with a front sprocket freewheel system. The bike can then shift up or down whether or not the rider is pedaling. Coming to a stop always brings you back to first gear. It's a simple system, not much to go wrong.”

and its performance as follows:

“Serious riders will not be happy with the auto shifting feature. Not only does it usually shift a little too early, keeping your cadence low, but it will clatter if you ride at a speed between gears. When this happens it's easy enough to stop the noise by either speeding up a little to hold the gear, or slowing down to allow the down shift. I also do not recommend any serious honking on these bikes. When they up shift under heavy power it is quite violent, often throwing your feet off the pedals.”

You can see photos of this wonderful contraption here, here and here.

By 1998 the ‘Autobike’ seems to have already been renamed the ‘Autobike Classic’. Also in 1998, CSA designed an improved derailleur called the AutoBike SmartShift 2000. This, new, automatic derailleur seem to be the work of one Jessie R. Chattin of Tampa, Florida who took out US patents # 5,163,881 (filed in 1991), # 5,295,916 (filed in 1992) and # 5,445,567 (in 1994). All three patents appear to describe a low normal derailleur with a set of spinning weights which are driven by a plate behind the freewheel, and which are spread apart by ‘centrifugal force’ pulling the derailleur towards high gears. The three patents all describe a design with three weights, and with the drive from the plate to the derailleur by toothed cogs. AutoBike’s SmartShift 2000 differed from the drawings in the patent in having only 2 spinning weights and the drive from the plate to the derailleur by belt, but is recognisably the same device.

AutoBike signed up GT as the bike brand lucky enough to get the exclusive opportunity to sell ‘quality’ bikes using this improved derailleur through independent bike shops in the USA. In its 2000 model range (released late 1999) GT included a bicycle model called the Autostream that used this derailleur.

Some time after 2000, AutoBike went to join the choirs invisible, and was reborn as LandRider. I have often thought that ‘Norwegian Blue’ would a great name for the colour of a bike.

Back on topic, I remember seeing the SmartShift 2000 (branded Falcon?), and immediately assumed that it would never work. However, I later met a, seemingly sane, woman who claimed to have covered untold miles on a GT Autostream and was perfectly happy with its gear changing.

When it comes to bicycles, I often find that truth is more of a stranger than fiction.