There are three ways to change gears on bikes: using mechanical, electrical or hydraulic systems. Which is used on any given bike is all about how the power is transmitted from the shift lever(s) to move one (or both) derailleur(s) among the available gears. Pulling on cables to mechanically change gears is the most common and familiar method, but the use of both electricity and fluids to switch gears is becoming more popular.
In this article we take a look at the advantages of hydraulic gear shifting. A great example of such a system is ROTOR´s 1×13, a recently launched, state-of-the-art, 13-speed drivetrain for use on road, gravel, cyclocross or mountain bikes.
Perhaps the greatest advantage to hydraulic shifting is ease of maintenance. Hydraulic shift systems use an intentional design of fluid moving within a closed system to create changes in pressure that in turn create movement of a derailleur to shift gears.
Yes, like any braking or gearing system, it does take time to initially install and set up a hydraulic shifting system, but once you do, there is very little further caretaking to be done. Gone are the days of having to adjust your derailleur cable tension to accommodate the inevitable cable stretch for mechanical gear shifting systems over the first days and weeks worth of riding.
Also gone is the need to have to maintain yet another battery. We’ve all heard stories of batteries in electrical shifting systems dying mid-ride because they inopportunely run out of juice. With hydraulic shifting, you never have to remember to charge or replace your battery.
Ever notice how mechanical shifting degrades over time as water and grit contaminate cables and housing and cause corrosion? Or how they don’t work when they get wet and then are subjected to freezing conditions? With hydraulic shifting, those concerns no longer apply. Hydraulic shifting is unaffected by wet conditions, and it works well over a wide range of cold and hot temperatures. Likewise, because hydraulic systems are relatively simple in their design, they are both efficient and precise in shifting feel relative to mechanical systems.
Tried and Tested Technology
Hydraulic systems, which have long been used for applications like vehicle brakes, airplanes and construction and mining equipment, made their debut on bikes along with the development of disc brakes. Cyclists who experienced early hydraulic mountain bike disc brakes will remember that they came with a lot of issues, although those were eventually addressed as the technology was further developed and improved over time. Fast forward to today, and hydraulic braking is now ubiquitous on mountain bikes and quickly becoming the new standard for road and gravel bikes, too. And while hydraulic actuation is relatively new to bike shifting systems, engineers already have decades of design experience in having brought hydraulic technology to bicycle brakes.
Switching over to hydraulic gear shifting soon will put you on the cutting edge of the latest bike technology; you’ll be an early adopter and thus different from most other cyclists. But don’t wait, because we’re sure that hydraulic shifting will catch on quickly, so you won’t be alone off the front for very long.