How two German geeks are trying to kill the derailleur

You might have heard of Pinion recently; its gearboxes have been replacing derailleurs on various Nicolai models for years now. And in last month’s issue we tested the new Ion GPI, with its progressive Mojo Geometron geometry, Pinion gearbox and Gates belt drive.

But how did Pinion get started? Ten years ago Christoph Lerman and Michael Schmitz were enthusiastic mountain bikers working at Porsche. It was there that the two engineers decided they could make something better than the derailleur.

For two years they sketched and planned using cheap student-priced software. They applied for development grants twice, and were turned down twice. Then they found a wealthy backer, formed a company and began to finalise their prototype.

Of course, just after he gave them the dosh, they heard that their third grant application had been successful. At which point the backer decided to back out — his wealth suddenly needed elsewhere.

Pinion gearbox grip shift

Gripshift-style shifter makes braking and shifting difficult

Turns out this was actually good news. It removed the pressure to go into production, and gave Michael and Christoph time to improve their mech-substitute. They discovered a huge flaw, which would’ve prevented series production, and fixed it. They visited a wise man, born four decades before mountain bikes had been invented, and explained their utterly brilliant idea. He said he’d find them a new backer. He did — himself.

Two more years of development work passed. Prototypes were destroyed on the test rig they’d built themselves to save money. Suppliers took months to deliver spares, because Christoph and Michael languished at the bottom of their customer list. Progress stagnated.

Eventually their first product was ready to show at Eurobike. People liked it. Eighteen evenly spaced gears, totally shielded from mud, rocks and rain. Made to automotive standards, Michael and Christoph said it could go a year between services, unless you’re able to ride 10,000km.

Pinoin gearbox engineering

Complex engineering promises durability and rear end simplicity

OK, it’s heavier than two derailleurs, and more expensive, but hey, the rear wheel is simplified because it doesn’t need a cassette. Which makes it ideal for enduro and DH.

Two more years passed. Michael and Christoph applied for patents, hired staff and started production. It began to appear on bikes, and riders started giving feedback. In the first year, 15 bike builders ordered it, which grew to 40 in the second and now the figure is up to 50. They’ve launched urban riding and touring models. They expect to sell tens of thousands.

So, next time an utterly brilliant thought comes to mind after a ride, consider what Christoph and Michael had to go through to make their Pinion transmission real.