I tested an Autobike a few years ago and found it interesting. Since that time, Autobike went out of business, but the invention is still available and now sold as the LandRider. These bikes have better frames and components than what was used on the Autobike, however, they’re also more expensive.
The unique shifting system on these bikes operates off centrifugal force. The derailleur has a third jockey wheel attached to a floating disk on the wheel. And there are 3 sliding wheel weights connected via telescoping plungers to this disk.
As the wheel accelerates or slows, the weights spread or contract, the plungers extend or return, and the derailleur shifts the chain down or up the freewheel. Though the drivetrain adds heft (total bike weight of the model I rode was 35.25 pounds; LandRider models are around 30 to 32 pounds) it’s reasonably simple in design and works okay. Shifting is driven by wheel movement and speed so you don’t even have to pedal for shifts to occur. Which means you always start out in a nice low gear.
Whether or not you’ll appreciate the LandRider depends on what you’re looking for in a ride. In my opinion, experienced riders won’t like the weight; and the somewhat clunky and noisy shifts. They also won’t like not being able to select the gear they want to use (the LandRider determines what gear you’re in).
Beginners and casual pedalers, however, might appreciate the LandRider’s user friendliness. However, there are alternatives that shift much more smoothly that I’d recommend trying before buying a LandRider.
These bicycles are equipped with Shimano’s Auto-D drivetrain, which is a computer-operated 4-speed system. Many bicycle manufacturers offer bikes with this system. I’ve ridden a few and the shifting is as smooth as the shifting in my automatic Toyota, not clunky at all. Also, these bicycles are built with high-quality components whereas the Autobike/LandRider is made of entry-level-quality components.
I would also recommend trying out bicycles equipped with Shimano Nexus 7-speed components, which provide more gears than the Auto-D. These bikes do not shift automatically, yet they’re so easy to shift you won’t have any trouble at all riding the bikes. In fact, you’ll love how easy they are to operate.
Plus, there are a wide variety of Nexus-equipped bikes available so you can choose from many models versus the limited selection of LandRiders. And, unlike the LandRider, they’re sold in bicycle shops where you’ll receive expert advice and set-up with your new bike.