By Alan Coté
Recently published US patent applications show that Tektro, a brand known primarily for its brakes, has been working on electronic derailleurs and shifters. The Taiwan-based company has filed over 65 U.S. patent applications in the past 10 years, and at least two dozen of the latest applications involve derailleurs and rear derailleurs. Could Tektro be ready to offer a major new transmission?
Tektro has several recently issued patent applications and patents with descriptions and claims of mechanical rear derailleurs, as well as cable shift levers, although the latter are apparently only for flat bars, not slide bars. No documents have been found from Tektro relating to cable-operated front derailleurs, either because they have not yet been published or because the company is adopting 1x configurations for mechanical shifting.
Other patent applications suggest that the company has done a lot more work than the cable-style gearbox. The legal documents describe what appears to be a full range of electronic shifting technology, including front and rear derailleurs with integrated batteries, shift levers with wireless transmitters, as well as related electronic control systems. Tektro’s first patent application related to electronic shifting was filed in March 2015, which means the company has been working on the technology for some time. But there has been a storm of recent activity, including 13 applications published as early as 2022, compared to 8 in total in 2021 (patent applications are typically published 18 months after filing). Eight of the applications published in 2022 relate to electronic shifting, while the remaining four relate to brake technology.
I have reviewed the company’s patent documents to provide a snapshot of some of the intellectual property the company is seeking to protect in connection with electronic shifting. Keep in mind that patent designs simply need to support the description and claims in a patent application and may have little resemblance to the appearance of a finished product. Tektro’s US office declined to comment on the company’s patent filings, as is common practice across the industry.
Numerous Tektro patent applications describe and claim various elements of electronic rear derailleurs. One includes a battery pack mounted on the top of the derailleur body. At least one patent application describes a system with a removable battery casing, such as in SRAM’s etap system. A clutch mechanism is also described. Wireless capability does not appear to be clearly specified in the descriptions of the rear derailleurs, but other patent applications are clear on wireless protocols from shifters to both front and rear derailleurs.
Electronic front derailleurs are the subject of several Tektro patents, including one issued as a US patent in October 2021. There is no ambiguity about the wireless configuration here: “In this embodiment, the 1102 circuit board has a 1103 antenna. L The antenna 1103 is configured to receive the shift signals transmitted by the brake / shift lever It further describes in detail that the battery is removable for replacement or recharging.
As any bicycle mechanic knows, positioning the front derailleur is a complicated and often frustrating adjustment. Tektro addresses this with an innovative mechanical feature: an adjustment screw that allows you to fine-tune the position of the derailleur cage relative to the frame. “… the activation component can force the adjustment component to press against the bicycle frame, so that the bicycle front derailleur can be rotated relative to the bicycle frame in order to slightly adjust the position of the bicycle front derailleur, thus ensuring a change of a bicycle chain between the chainrings.
Several patent documents describe combined brake-shift levers which include a battery, a PCB assembly, and an antenna. In one version, those electronic shifting components are housed in a module that connects to the end of the handlebar, with a wire running to the lever to receive signals from the shifting switches. It is described as applicable to both road and flat bar configurations, which would allow Tektro to build a single electronic unit that would work with both styles of levers. The shifting switches are indicated in different positions on both sides of the lever body and on the sides of the paddle behind the brake lever blade.
Controller and more
Tektro has thought of many details of electronic shifting, such as a system for replacing electronic shifting components that uses a phone app to pair the shifters to the derailleurs with new ID codes. Another describes and claims a system for authorization association between electronic components that includes anti-theft functionality. There is also a system to warn motorcyclists of low battery levels, for both the derailleur / receiver batteries and the shift / transmitter batteries.
Tektro has recently seen a surge in the OE sector, particularly for hydraulic brakes for e-bikes. Industry sources tell BRAIN that Tektro has been able to fulfill orders where Shimano and SRAM couldn’t, due to pandemic-related supply problems at larger companies. The same supply chain problems make it particularly difficult to launch new products right now, adding more mystery to what Tektro may have in the product pipeline.
Alan Coté is a registered and principal patent agent of Green Mountain Innovations LLC. He is a writer who has contributed to Bicycling, Outside and other magazines in the past, and is a former elite level runner. He also plays the role of expert in bicycle-related lawsuits. Nothing in this article should be considered legal advice.