Updated March 15, 2000: A New Campagnolo Patent for an Updated Electronic Shifting System
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You've probably never heard about it, but in 1996 Campagnolo quietly patented a design for an electric, electronically actuated rear derailleur. In fact, prototypes existed as early as 1994, and Campy secretly patented some aspects of the electronic system in Italy prior to obtaining the U.S. Patent.

You'll find the full details at this location on the U.S. Patent Office's server, but we've excerpted a diagram and a brief summary here.

Could this be the system that replaces Mavic's now-defunct "Zap"? Only time will tell. But it's clear that Campy is working on the next generation of shifting.

A few notes:

  • The derailleur looks much more like a "normal" derailleur than Mavic's version. An actuator motor (see the picture below) is located inside the derailleur body, pushing and pulling (as the cable does in the current mechanical models) to move the chain from cog to cog.

  • Like Mavic, it uses a battery stored inside the handlebars. But it builds on Mavic's system by using a tiny generator in the lower jockey pulley to recharge the onboard batteries. Unlike the Mavic system, the shifting does not rely on the movement of the jockey pulleys; the motor does the work.

  • A disk/sensor combination inside the motor that moves the derailleur "senses" which gear the bike is in and relays that information back to the microprocessor that makes the whole thing work.

  • Shifting is shown either on Ergo-like levers or on a separate keypad.

  • It was invented by Valentino Campagnolo himself!

From the U.S. Patent web site:

INVENTORS: Campagnolo; Valentino, Vicenza, Italy
ASSIGNEES: Campagnolo S.r.l., Vicenza, Italy
ISSUED: Jan. 2 , 1996
FILED: Dec. 27, 1994
INTL. CLASS (Ed. 6): F16H 9/24; F16H 59/00;
U.S. CLASS: 474-070; 474-080; 474-103; 474-110; 474-116; 280-238;
FIELD OF SEARCH: 474-70,80,82,103,110,116 ; 280-238 ;
AGENTS:Sughrue, Mion, Zinn, Macpeak & Seas;

ABSTRACT: A powered control device for speed change in a bicycle comprises an electric motor directly mounted onto the rear derailleur and is provided with an encoder for detecting the position of the rear derailleur.

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