SRAM buys Hammerhead - what it means for the future of riding with connected bikes

SRAM buys Hammerhead - what it means for the future of riding with connected bikes

There have been two important announcements in the cycling media recently. Both will affect the way you ride, train, and race going forward, and both offer a glimpse of what bicycles might look like in the future when every model has an integrated battery and connected technology features.

The bike of the future isn't far away. Let's look at what this acquisition and announcement could mean:

SRAM buys Hammerhead (Karoo 2 cyclecomputer)

The first big news is SRAM buying Hammerhead, the manufacturer of the Karoo 2, an Android-based GPS cyclecomputer. Hammerhead has had some big celebrity endorsements in the past, like Lance Armstrong and Chris Froome, as well as venture capital investors, hoping to build a Garmin/Wahoo competitor.

Bringing it back to cyclocross, they also sponsor fan favorite Maghalie Rochette as well as the Israel Startup Nation ProTour team.

Unlike Garmin, Hammerhead doesn't play in the entry-level space, their only offering has been the $400 Karoo series. It's a pretty safe bet that SRAM would expect to expand their line with good, better, best options in the future to match Garmin's more complete product line.

Shimano Di2 users with Garmin and some other GPS devices have already seen a glimpse of what an integration between drivetrain and head unit can do - like the ability to look at a head unit to see what gear you're in, view Di2 battery status on the cyclecomputer screen, and on some setups, control the cyclecomputer functions using the Di2 buttons built into the shifters - clever.

SRAM, in the past, has grown through acquisition - think Avid, Rockshox, Zipp, Quarq, and their product line already includes some technology-focused features like AXS eTap (wireless shifting) and Flight Attendant, a series of sensors that monitor suspension performance and adjust it on the fly.

With the addition of a connected head unit, systems like Flight Attendant could be expanded with location data awareness to be more accurate and timely (I want a different suspension setup for Whistler vs. Big Bear.) AXS could also be expanded to include anti-theft features, using the connection between cellular head unit, onboard battery, and motion sensors built into the bike to talk to a rider's mobile phone.

Cannondale announces SmartSense

The second announcement that caught my attention was Cannondale's release of a new Synapse model featuring SmartSense. In a nutshell, SmartSense eliminates the need to charge and handle multiple batteries for accessories on your bike. A single battery powers multiple accessories. Cannondale is using lights from partners Lezyne and radar from Garmin - both of which plug into ports on the frame and are powered by a Garmin Varia battery which sits in a dedicated frame pocket.

When things run low, just remove the Varia Core battery and charge using a USB-C connection to top off. The Varia Core battery can also power other devices off the bike - for example, you could use it to charge a cell phone during a bikepacking trip, and since they can be swapped, you could carry multiple Varia Core batteries on really extended adventures.

Lights obviously enjoy wide adoption, while radar does not. Yet Garmin's radar system has tremendous potential to increase rider safety, and the technology is just in its infancy. With Cannondale including it on some models, perhaps we'll see growth in this area.

The SmartSense system introduces as many questions as it answers. Oddly, the SmartSense system does not power Shimano's Di2 electronic shifting - you'll still need a separate battery for that; nor your GPS-enabled handlebar-mounted cyclecomputer, which you'll also need to charge on its own. Surely those features are on the roadmap?

What could a connected bike do?

Imagine you're riding a machine with a hidden, integrated battery connected to a GPS head unit, power meter, front and rear lights. A mashup with the best of Cannondale's SmartSense, Shimano Di2, and SRAM's connected suspension or wireless shifting tech. What's next?

Power everything

Some of the next-gen features are obvious - once you're carrying a single, large battery, it makes sense to power everything possible from that single source. Clearly a handlebar cyclecomputer could be powered by such a system, but how about your power meter, lights, radar, cell phone, and drivetrain? Ebikes have given us a glimpse of what's possible, with add-on lights that utilize existing Ebike batteries for power starting to hit the market.

Suggest a faster, higher-performance tire pressure

TyreWiz is an under-utilized part of SRAM's existing product line. Made by Quarq, TyreWiz provides real-time tire pressure data via integration with the presta valve. If your bike knows your tire pressure and your Strava segment times, it could suggest a tire pressure that might be faster or handle better, automatically! An alert could be sent to your mobile phone - "we found some ideas to make you faster while you were sleeping" - imagine snagging a KOM just by changing tire pressure.

Tell you when to shift or adjust your suspension 

When that GPS has an internet connection, even more becomes possible. How about on-screen alerts that monitor your performance and tell you how to improve it by changing gears? Since the system is logging your speed, heart rate, and power output, plus which gear you're using, and comparing it against your location, it could make recommendations - think "if you shift down one more cog, you're more efficient on this climb" or "don't forget to unlock your suspension fork at the top of this challenging singletrack".

Next in the evolution could be making those changes proactively without the rider. Instead of reminding the rider to shift gears, why not just shift automatically? It's possible.

Make training recommendations

A future system might communicate with the increasingly popular sleep monitors, thus understanding how recovered and ready to train you are. An artificial intelligence might suggest that a fully recovered rider extend their workout a bit further ("you can do 1 more interval!") based on in-ride power output, or cut a workout short if the rider isn't responding as expected.

What other features can you dream up for connected bikes? Let me know using @RideCX on Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram.

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