In conjunction with the University of Colorado's Mechanical Engineering Department, bicycle parts manufacturer CeramicSpeed has launched an ambitious initiative: To produce a bicycle with no chain nor derailleur.
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At this year's Eurobike show they unveiled Driven, a 13-speed "prototype" ("concept bike" would be more accurate, as the thing doesn't actually work) that uses bearings and a wicked-looking 13-ring cog that you don't want to slam your shin into:
Driven creates 49% less friction when compared to the market leading chain and derailleur drivetrain. A traditional chain and derailleur drivetrain contains eight points of sliding friction, which is generated from the articulation of the chain at these points. Driven impressively eliminates all eight points of sliding friction.
Naysayers and skeptics will say the cost, plus the additional weight of whatever housing system would be required to keep mud out, would nullify the efficiency of the design. And there's probably a very good reason that bicycle chains have persisted since their introduction in the late 1800s. But ultimately, innovation comes about by people and companies spending a lot of money to try out new things. So I'd say we learn what we can from this, and be grateful that it's not our money.
Plus I can't deny that if they get that pinion working, it'd be awfully cool to see in action.