Life from an outsider's perspective…

Questions for the bike industry:

bike industry cartoonMore bikes = less time to ride?
I have 3 MTBs myself. A hardtail with slicks for commuting and easy straight up & straight back rides. A dual suspension “all mountain” with 140mm travel bike for most offroad rides. And a wicked downhill beast. I also have two road bikes. A top-specced one and a still-lovely backup one. But the more bikes I own, the more I have to work for them and the less time I have actually riding them.

Planned obsolescence:
Those in the industry tend to call this ‘progress’.

I fix a lot of bikes. I’m a part time mobile bike mechanic. The part that most often seems to fail on any road bike is -without a sniff of doubt- the bottom bracket. Why? Because it’s down there, exposed to all the crud thrown up by the front tyre, that’s why. Then it doesn’t get cleaned as well as the rest of the bike and probably has the most force exerted on it too. On top of that, water run can down inside your seat tube. Where does it end up? The fickle little bottom bracket that’s where. Now you’d think that with all the iterations, they’d have it sorted by now.

I had to replace the bottom bracket bearings (BB30) on one particular bike twice in one season. How is it that a car engine can run for 100,000km or more and the bearings still manage to work ok? Yes, okay. It’s bathed in oil some of the more clever readers might like to point out. Maybe, in the quest for lightness and stiffness above all else, we’ve completely forgotten about DURABILITY. Seems to me that the individual bearings in oversize cartridges in that new BB of yours are actually SMALLER than the ones in an old square taper. Imagine that!


Non-standardised bike standards:
Here’s where we get to the nitty-gritty of my article and what the rant is really about. Sure you might be all young now and completely in love with the latest & greatest DuraAce, Sram red/black/green and super-duper record (I prefer the latter for what it’s worth). Wouldn’t it be better if Shimano, say, were to actually make something superior each year instead of just changing the shape of the parts? I can remember lusting over the shimano catalogue back in the day. Nowadays I’ll walk into a bike shop and notice a new model sitting on the shelf. It’s like: “oh I see they’ve renamed some groups and updated 105/ultegra/Dura Ace again.”.

I might be getting a bit jaded, but they have the same blasted catalogue that they did 20 years ago: the parts always seem to hover over the page, magically floating in their own space. Even the backgrounds look the same! They might have changed a few pivot points or the finish will be slightly different. Things go oversize. The parts will go from black, to silver and back to black again. It’s all beconming a bit too predictable. To my eyes, this looks like some mere fashion fad. You’ve got to ask yourself at this point: “how long do they expect me/you to be happy with this stuff for?”

Electronic shifting:
Continuing on with this theme a little further, do I really need to plug in my bike in order to change gears? Need to? No. Do I really want to plug in my bike in order to be able to change gears? Want? No. Because that’s something else that I have to remember to do. I already have enough batteries to recharge. I don’t like the thought of having yet another recharger and another 12 way power outlet in the house. Sure you might say that I need to adjust the cable tension on my bike. Not nearly as much.

I can definitely appreciate that the technology is there. I really can. Great! But I personally don’t see the benefit of it (for me). Just because we can do something doesn’t always mean it’s better. I’ve come to learn that simpler things are just less stressful. Will I actually enjoy the ride as much with all these electronic displays beeping at me? I don’t believe I will. I use the bike to detatch from modern life, so I won’t be wiring anything on my own personal bikes any time soon.

I’ll pose a few more rhetorical questions for the bike industry:

  • How long is that LiPo battery going to last?
  • How many recharge cycles before it gives up the ghost completely?
  • Will it be obsolete by then anyway?
  • Is that really more sustainable?
  • Isn’t cycling supposed to be an environmentally friendly sporting activity?
  • Isn’t that one of the original reasons we spent more to buy quality bikes in the first place – so that they’d last a bit longer?
  • They say that a bicycle is the most efficient form of tranport. But if it only lasts 1-3 years, is it as efficient as it could be? Nothing seems to last forever I know, but I don’t think it’s unreasonable to get 5 or 10 years’ worth of use out of something before throwing it away.
  • How many disc brake pad iterations do we have to go through before we settle on the optimum one?
  • Are bicycle and component manufucturers really and truly producing the very best products that they possibly can?
  • Or are they merely “selling out”, giving in to the insatiable demands of the unrelenting annual product cycle?
  • Who is really fueling all this consumerism? The manufacturers? Or the consumers themselves?

A few of you who have been following me know that I have recently gotten into photography in a big way. I was pleasantly surprised to discover that all new Nikon lenses anad camera bodies are backwards compatible, even with cameras more than 40 years old! So with that knowledge, I trust that brand more now don’t I? I don’t fear investing in it so much, because I know it won’t be superceded before the next year is out. I have been looking into this as I invest in some photography equipment. Lenses are very hard to design. Some of Nikon’s lens designs are 5, 10 or 20 years old. Optics & glass technology doesn’t improve all that rapidly.

So why don’t Shimano (and Microsoft for that matter) take a page out of Nikon’s book? Why not just do the best you possibly can, one single component at a time? Why redo everything half-heartedly every other year? Why not do a complex reiterative FEA optimisation of every single part, yeah, starting with a crankset a brake caliper or a rear derailleur linkage mechanism say, one part at a time? That’s what Shimano could do if they truly wanted to make better bike parts. I don’t think they do. I think they just want to sell us more stuff.

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