The 1999 MAVIC Mektronic started from the 1993 science-fiction-electronic MAVIC Zap and took another huge leap into the technical unknown.
Mechanically, it worked in the same way, but removed the wires and added wireless control. It's worth remembering how unusual wireless control of small devices was when the Mektronic was released in 1999 - the first consumer product of any kind to incorporate Bluetooth was also released in 1999, and the Apple iPhone did not hit the market until 2007. In fact MAVIC decided to invent their own communication protocols and went on to patent them. Not only did they have to wrestle with cutting edge electronics, they also had to do so in an environment in which every gram counted. And they did it - the weight of the Mektronic came in at just a couple of grams heavier than the MAVIC Zap.
As with the Zap, the side-on photo, above, of the MAVIC Mektronic does not capture the real presence of the thing - to appreciate its stunning Darth Vader looks please glance through the additional photos.
But, unfortunately, it was all a step too far. The MAVIC Mektronic was widely criticised for the reliability of its wireless system. Riders (usually riders who had never actually ridden one) claimed that Mektronics 'shifted down' when you rode under power lines or 'shifted up' when London Taxis drove past. Legends spread that, when two riders in the same peleton were both using Mektronics, one rider could shift the gears of the other. The cycling community loves a gossipy fable - and I doubt the veracity of many of these stories - but mud sticks.
And I do have some serious concerns:
- The first is that the wireless gubbins took up some serious space. The Mektronic is a big object. Where the Zap was an odd, distinctive, shape but was roughly the size of a standard derailleur, the Mektronic was conspicuously obese. And road cyclists tend to prefer the petite.
- The second is that, in order to keep the weight down and possibly to reduce wireless interference, MAVIC decided to desert the solid-feeling aluminium body and the techy-titanium guide pulley of the Zap and used plastic (sorry hi-tech composite) of one sort or another for almost all the visible parts. The Mektronic is a fantastic looking object - but its appearance does not shout 'precision engineering'. MAVIC were already pushing a fairly conservative group of consumers to the limits of their tolerance for technology - and, in contrast to the Zap, they chose not to use 'look and feel' to reassure them. Daring but foolish.
- The third concern is more serious. One the one occassion that I was involved with fixing a Mektronic problem, I phoned a friend of mine who worked on a lot of high-end bikes and asked for his advice. The first thing he said was that he always replaced all the batteries before even thinking of trying to diagnose what was going on. The wired Zap had a large central battery powering the whole outfit through those handy wires. The wireless Mektronic had to include separate tiny button batteries in every single component. Those batteries had to be tiny to prevent the weight of the system from going crazy. And this was years before every gadget you owned had a cheap, lightweight, readily available, Li-ion rechargeable. I don't have much evidence for my contention, but I suspect that slightly tired, non-rechargeable batteries caused a lot of Mektronic issues. In the case of the Mektronic problem I was discussing earlier, replacing all the batteries simply made it go away. You can't imagine how relieved we were!
I think that this example is an earlier MAVIC Mektronic. It is branded 'Mektronic' in large-ish silver writing on the black body, but has no sticker on the chrome flash. The serial number is C5179C.
- Derailleur brands: MAVIC
- Country: France
- Date of introduction: 1999
- Date of this example: unknown
- Model no.: unknown
- Weight: 243g excluding battery
- Maximum cog: 28 teeth (source: MAVIC)
- Total capacity: 30 teeth (source: MAVIC)
- Pulley centre to centre: 48mm
- Index compatibility: 9 speed
- Chain width: 3/32”
- Logic: not relevant
- B pivot: unsprung
- P pivot: sprung
- Materials: Delrin, Kevlar composites, titanium and probably many aluminium and stainless steel internal parts