BikePortland.org

Wilsonville company promises ‘perfect shifting’ from phone app and hardware combo


OTTO Photo Shoot Freddy
The smartphone camera uses the targets on the
gauges to create 3-D models of your gearing.
(Photos courtesy OTTO DesignWorks)

The rising tide of products that combine physical objects with mobile apps has come to do-it-yourself bike maintenance.

OTTO DesignWorks, a startup based a few miles south of Portland in Wilsonville, says its first product will offer “perfect shifting in under five minutes” for people with Shimano and SRAM 9-, 10- and 11-speed gear cassettes.

As the video below shows, the company sells gauges that can be attached to a cassette and derailleur. Its free mobile app then uses a smartphone camera and photogrammatry — the mathematically intensive process of turning images into three-dimensional modeling — to diagnose the situation and walk someone through the tuning process.

The physical gauges will start shipping in early June; preorders are being accepted now. The software is expected to be available in the iOS App Store in the next few weeks.

“This isn’t just about the tuning system; it’s about smart tools. Part of our mission here is to kind of rethink tools and maintenance for cyclists.”
— Jake VanderZanden, OTTO

“I’ve been racing bicycles for 30 years at all kinds of levels, and this actually was a need that was born from my own irritation in swapping wheelsets and then always having to adjust the rear derailleur,” OTTO President Jake VanderZanden said in an interview Tuesday. “While I have an engineering degree, for some reason it’s too complicated for me. I would always wind up watching a YouTube video. … I could always get it close, but never perfect.”

The resulting product is two years in the making, VanderZanden said: six months looking into different product possibilities, a year developing the product and six months working out bugs in the app’s diagnosis process and instructions with what is now a five-person team.

DWFritz Automation, an employer of VanderZanden, is also an investor in the company.

“We found out every lens in every camera in every iPhone is unique, so we actually have built a lens-calibrating model into the software,” VanderZanden said. “We have found that the lighting indoors with shadows, and the lighting outdoors is all unique, so we’ve had to build the app for things like that.”

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OTTO has a patent on its photogrammatry process, which VanderZanden hopes will make this the first product in a line that will include tools for seat positioning, handlebar-fork alignment and front derailleur adjustments.

And maybe someday, for tasks outside the bicycling world too.

“This isn’t just about the tuning system; it’s about smart tools,” VanderZanden said. “Part of our mission here is to kind of rethink tools and maintenance for cyclists.”

He said initial testing in the Portland area has turned up two basic types of customers: “higher-end folks” who want to guarantee a perfect tuneup no matter who works on it, and people who just prefer the convenience of doing the job in what the company describes as five minutes (for someone with practice) or 10 minutes (for a first-timer).

A closer shot of how the product works.

For some people, VanderZanden said, “pinning a derailleur is kind of a black art and some mechanics are kind of against the idea. But by bringing science into the equation you can get a perfect tune almost every time.”

Only an iPhone app is currently complete. OTTO is working on an Android app that will be specific to Samsung Galaxy devices.

The basic version of the app currently works for one bike at a time, though if you’re working with multiple bikes you’ll be able to delete the profile and enter information anew. You’ll also be able to buy additional bike profiles in the app for $9.99.

VanderZanden said he’s also looking into the possibility of a pro version that could be marketed to bike shops to help mechanics there.

“Automation is finding its way into every walk of our life,” VanderZanden said. “A lot of the tools in the bike maintenance world are classic, but there’s an opportunity with more precision and more speed with automation.”

— Learn more at OttoDesignWorks.com.

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