We're always aiming to offer the best possible riding experience to our customers. That's what drives us to run BTR, and it's the basis for why I think incremental enhancements are crucial. Testing and rolling out new technology and new features step by step is faster and more effective than trying to only launch new features in complete chunks, so it will bring better products to our customers sooner.
It's important that new technologies and features are made available to the customer as soon as they are ready so that the customer is buying the best available product at the time of purchase. There's just no sense in sitting on new technology which could improve products - it would be dishonest to the customer to sell an outdated model, and would give a poorer representation of our company. Quite often, it seems, other companies attempt to blind customers with the smoke and mirrors of new paint schemes, with the pretense that the 'new model' is an improvement over their previous offering. While I see no reason anyone shouldn't buy a bike in a colour scheme they like, it annoys me when it's touted as a new feature.
There is always room for improvement or refinement in design, even if the features and technologies involved don't change - this is why we all update our products periodically even though they're all still bicycles! As improvements are made in manufacturing techniques and materials, new features become possible and/or necessary, and designs must change to fully take advantage of the new technologies. No single company develops complete bicycles, either, so new features are often a reaction to new componentry becoming available. This is particularly the case for us small manufacturers, but we have the advantage of being able to react very quickly to new 'standards' if need be.
Deciding whether a technological advancement is worth pursuing is a matter of judgment; if there's a foreseeable benefit to the customer, then it must be worth investigation at least. In order to provide the best bikes to our customers we are constantly looking for ways to improve our products - from listening to feedback, to developing new concepts, or researching new materials, or honing our production methods. The ideas which reach our production models are generally only the top few which offer the most clear-cut benefits to the customer. We don't have any solid rules about which changes are worthwhile, except that it must bring benefits to the customers; we won't just change something for the sake of changing it. The majority of our judgement comes from experience, both as riders and engineers; we'll have a clear idea of our target and can calculate or understand whether a given change will bring a useful advantage to our customers.
The pitfall we're all trying to avoid is to launch something which isn't ready. A product which fails in any way is (at best) disappointing for customers and damages reputations. We must have a very high level of confidence in a product or technology before it can safely be released; it's our duty to customers to do all that we can to prevent any failure which may cause an accident, and a broken product certainly won't perform well!
Just like a lot of consumers, we get very frustrated by new 'standards' which don't seem to serve any purpose other than to make older components obsolete. These moves seem as if they could only to be damaging for the industry, but the companies behind them surround the new products with a lot of hype in order to drive more sales. I won't name any names...
Technological advancements are really necessary for the development and growth of cycling. Across the board, the bikes we have now are so fast and fun and capable and reliable compared with what we rode even as recently as five years ago, let alone fifteen years ago and, in the grand scheme, that's very recent. Without constantly pursuing and implementing new technologies, this massive improvement would never have happened, and cycling would be much less enjoyable and exciting.
I can speak with some authority on technical changes and industry standards, because I have been riding that wave since the first mountain bikes appeared. I still own the first mountain bike that I built back in 1981, and the only parts which are interchangeable with the modern version are its pedals, grips, saddle and certain tires (if 26-inch wheels are still considered current). Its Schrader-valve tubes are as outdated as its geometry, materials, and construction.
In retrospect, all of the improvements that caused its obsolescence were justifiable, and like today, most created much controversy when they were instituted as “new, industry-wide standards.” Perhaps more important to this discussion is that I have also met with a great many of the individuals who instigated those changes and, with few exceptions, all of those people did so with the highest expectations that their efforts would result in a better mountain bike. They weren’t always right, but nobody is. The reason that bikes are so good now is because the industry is made of people who are stoked on them.
So, when is change good? As it applies to mountain bikes, change is good when it provides a tangible benefit to the rider. That benefit can be related to performance, comfort, durability, safety, value, or fashion – and, it can either be a necessary improvement or simply a desirable one. Face it, for almost all of us, a mountain bike is an expensive toy and a means of personal expression, so “want” and “need” are interchangeable terms for evaluating benefits.
Necessary vs. Desirable: The shift from the 25.4 millimeter handlebar-clamp diameter to 31.8 millimeters was a crucial change that provided a necessary safety margin of strength and additional stiffness in response to handlebars growing wider and riding styles, more aggressive. Secretly, most component designers admit that the addition of the larger, 35-millimeter clamp-diameter standard was mechanically unnecessary. True or false, the presumption by elite level riders that fatter bars equate to more precise steering overrides any need for further justification and 35-millimeter bars have become an essential product.
Evolutionary vs. Revolutionary: Incremental change is the substance of cycling and chipping off one gram at a time has resulted in impossibly lightweight and reliable frames and components. Wheel design is an example of how the process of steady improvement has produced outstanding reliability and performance while conforming to worldwide standards. Similarly, frame geometry, suspension travel, and additional cassette cogs creep forward at a speed that makes change easier to anticipate and more digestible for reluctant customers and bike makers alike. The flip side of evolutionary improvement is that it fails to teach us anything new. Revolutionary changes force us to rethink other aspects of the bike’s design. Beyond reliable stopping, disc brakes freed up suspension configurations, allowed wheel designers to optimize rim profiles and gave birth to through-axle standards. The 29er inspired wider hub standards, forced fork makers to recalculate offsets, pushed bike makers to abandon the front derailleur, gave reason to adopt the 27.5-inch format, and facilitated the plus-sized trail bike.
Us vs. Them: The prevailing notion is improvements that result in industrywide changes which are driven externally by popular demand are good – but that changes of similar magnitude which originate from bike or parts makers without popular consensus are bad. Changes crafted to satisfy the customer’s existing needs are an easy sell. But, an equal number of innovations that result in new standards are developed in secret to solve problems, add features, or to enhance performance in areas of the bike which riders are not yet aware of, or do not yet perceive a need for - “Show me something that I don’t think I need and then tell me in the same paragraph, that it will make my existing bike obsolete.” That’s a hard sell, and it may smell like a conspiracy, but it defines a job well done for the product designer.
Why the Big Secrets? It is logical then, to assume that if bike and component makers were more transparent with their future customers about upcoming changes, buyers would be able to make more informed choices and peace and prosperity would reign. But, it wouldn’t go that way. Customers and product designers operate in time zones that are years apart. Lead times to produce a new bicycle design average 12 months or more, while a new drivetrain can take up to four years to bring to market.
While you are signing the credit card receipt for your new 2016 bike, that same brand is secretly rolling out the 2017 model to key bike dealers, while the people who designed it are off working on the 2018 version. So, from the bike maker’s point of view, your new bike is, at least, two years behind the times before the ink dries on the receipt. The reality is that the current model is the best possible bike that they can actually sell to you, and keeping their new stuff secret is probably in your best interest. Imagine if your sales person said: “Hey, before you sign that Visa slip, how would you like to watch some videos of the 13-speed 2017 model and our 2018 Z-link suspension?”
Marketing Manager, Airtime Engineer, Transition Bikes
There are many layers to this here onion. Hopefully, we're ready to shed some tears, which is usually my immediate reaction when I learn about the next 'new thing'.
Regarding industry-driven changes; whether we all like them or not, sometimes they are necessary. And sometimes they are simply a pain in the ass. In the end, it's all a balance. For the most part, we're presented industry changes in very much the same manner as consumers are, just far earlier. ''Hey guess what, all those tires you have? They won't fit on the new wheels everyone's beginning to use.'' Yep, I was one of the last holdouts. It's just as frustrating for us to deal with given issues such as new tooling cost, additional manufacturing time, product compatibility issues, the waste and devaluation of newly outdated product on a consumer level. Not sweet. We do our best to approach every new change in product compatibility or function as if we were the end consumer and assess it as such, and we are are damn lucky we can still do so. If we decide to alter an existing product for adaptation it is because we believe in it.
Riding as much as we do, we've experienced the 'excited to build up a bike, only to realize you can't put it together because you forgot X changed and now it won't work with Y' issue just like you. So we are very cautious of which 'enhancements' will really be worth adopting or not. For instance, the 12 x 142mm hub/axle standard or 27.5'' wheel size. We are the size of company that we didn't want to be the first to integrate those things into our bikes, but we certainly weren't the last to move on them. After much internal deliberation, we determined that they were worthwhile enhancements and it was apparent that the entire mountain bike industry was moving that direction. Everyone was going to have to deal with the same growing pains. And now think about having to use a 10 x 135mm QR rear wheel on a 160mm travel bike that you ride DH tracks on. I know, crazy, right? I think everyone that rides mountain bikes at an enthusiast level can high-five after that one.
Then you have some of the adaptations that are currently evolving. At the moment, we feel a lot of the latest enhancements coming to the surface aren't really a benefit for us. So we're busy focusing on other things that we feel will be worthwhile (new acronym's included). I feel I can speak for the entire Transition crew when I say that when we drive an enhancement on one of our products, it will be immediately apparent to our customers why we did it.
Pinkbike commenter as WAKIdesigns
The first thing that comes to my mind is what counts as an inconvenience in the realm of mountain biking: a flat tire, chairlift out of order, or racing with a dislocated finger? Nah, I guess we are here to discuss the first-world problems related to bicycle standards, so let's focus on that. I reckon that realistically speaking, for an average, healthy mountain bike keyboard warrior, inconvenience boils down to the situation when the desired item is ''out of stock'' or ''discontinued'' while the latest toy, which is in stock does not fit his current bike. This means that instead of buying one missing component, he needs to make a set of purchases in order to keep his bike in running order or up to date. This doesn't seem to be much of an issue with new hub spacing since we can always hope that some small company can provide us with adapters and spacers. The introduction of 11-speed drivetrains is hardly inconvenient because all of us wear out or break our drivetrains eventually, so we may just go up one gear and enjoy the wide-range cassette without spending much more money.
The real problem starts when our three-year-old frame breaks like has happened to me. I had a decent 26'' wheeled bike, and if I were to buy counterparts of my fork, wheels, and tires to fit the 27.5'' wheeled frame, I would need to spend up to 1,500 dollars. That is a high price for blurry benefits of increasing the wheel radius by 12.5mm, a move that took a great effort to coordinate actions of four branches of the industry - just to make it happen all over again three-years later with the introduction of 27.5+ tires, which ironically makes for an exotic 29er, a wheel size that one of the world's biggest bike companies pre-sentenced to death when showing their 27.5'' bike range for the first time. The 27.5+ tire has a contact patch so much bigger than a 26'' tire that I can observe the difference with a naked eye from the distance of 12.5 meters. I become a climbing god by getting loads of additional grip, instead of one second every three minutes, given my surname is Vouilloz.
There's no problem with fine-tuning the system by changing one thing at a time, but when someone reinvents the wheel, the semi-solutions don't seem to be worth the producer's and customer's inconvenience while we can try to fix issues, like gearing systems attached to the swingarm, which adds half of a kilo to the unsprung weight, or having the same chain stay lengths for all sizes of a frame type, from XS to XL. I like it when the industry takes inconvenient risks by sending it big and acting a bit like riders on the FEST series. It is mountain biking, and we are all here for the thrills and there are no medals for keeping the steadiest pace while following competitors.
Founder, Knolly Bikes
There is always going to be a lot of consumer skepticism regarding actual performance benefits of touted incremental improvements, and in particular ''new standards''. However, in general, I feel that most companies are indeed trying to continually improve their product, or else they would be quickly outpaced by their competition. The question then becomes: What represents an advancement that's significant enough to truly warrant a purchasing decision? Conversely, what is a small evolutionary improvement that's perhaps hyped up but doesn't provide an actual noticeable performance increase? These are commonly a ''fix'' disguised as an improvement, or can simply be a marketing initiative designed to 'out-feature' a competitor. Constant standard changes can also feed corporate desires for increasing annual turnover by reengaging customers prior to their natural purchasing cycle.
The vast majority of products are best served with an evolutionary development cycle. This allows the design team to build on past experiences and to take into account a large amount of direct (i.e. formal development teams) or indirect (i.e. warranty or sales performance) product feedback. This process typically takes at least a year or more (for relatively sophisticated products) before the design direction is ready for the end user market. Once you factor in the additional cost and time of getting a new product up and running (tooling, marketing, and support as well as production timelines) a product lifespan of three to five years becomes necessary to justify the fundamental architecture of the product. Hence, the changes in a product year over year may not be that relevant, but looking back over many years will start to show large advancements in product design and performance.
Let’s look at two examples of rapid market adoption of new products: The introduction of the 27.5'' wheel size is a great example of a major switch in product specification that was proclaimed to be revolutionary, but which also caused a step backwards in many aspects of product design. The race to ''be the first to market'' with this new wheel size flooded the market with frames that eschewed all previous progress of 26'' wheeled frames. Many advancements that had evolved from two plus decades of 26'' wheel frame design were thrown out the window simply to mount 27.5'' wheels on mountain bikes. It took an additional two to three years for frame geometry and suspension kinematics to properly adapt to this new wheel diameter and not compromise on chainstay length, tire clearance, stand over height, front end height, pedaling / suspension performance, among others. These issues led to a ''fuzzy'' introduction of the 27.5 wheel size, where a significant amount of highly developed 26'' bikes were still outperforming newer 27.5 bikes for a few years.
Sometimes a revolutionary technology really does enter the market and take everyone by surprise. One of the best examples of this was the emergence of the platform shock in the early 2000's. This technology completely caught both the cycling community and established players off guard and resulted in a massive change in product specification. Even with some of the initial reliability issues, the benefits of the technology were immediately apparent and clearly outperformed existing products. The technology has continued to develop extensively over the past dozen years since its introduction, but undeniably the initial bump in performance was substantial. The final part of the decision-making process has to be financial. It's one thing to find a new set of tires that is absolutely perfect for your normal riding conditions: in this case, $100 or so could be a relatively small but very worthwhile investment. In fact, I can't think of many better investments for mountain bikes than quality tires! When it comes down to more expensive components (wheels, forks, frames or a completely new bike), then the question becomes more difficult, and unless you are really unhappy with your current product, the rewards need to be substantially greater.
While often difficult to wade through the sea of marketing hyperbole, it is still important for the customer to do their research and prioritize their purchases. What is the performance that you can live with? What represents an absolutely clear performance advantage and do you need it (do you even care)? Can you afford to be on the bleeding edge of product development, and if so are you prepared to deal with potential performance letdowns and possible reliability concerns? Are you better off making small improvements to your bike or are you at the point when you're probably better off just replacing everything? No one but the customer can really answer these questions, but after doing their homework, the perceived value should be there.
Inventor, Product Designer, Design Consultant
For me, standards have to meet the litmus test of practicality, cost to riders, and longevity. No doubt there have been some useful standards over the years, built by consortiums of companies, beneficial to riders, and implemented widely (IS brake mounts, ISCG05, and tapered steerers come to mind), but recently, I see companies using what they call ''standards'' to act as a positioning device for their brands, with little regard for rider impact. Clearly Boost is one that's been met with huge rider criticism, and I think it's justified. It's just too small of a step. Why the heck did we abandon 20mm axles up front in the first place? For that matter, why didn't Boost become a 20 x 120mm front spacing with 36mm flanges? In back, our drivetrains are crammed into the same tiny space as before; we could have at least given some room to grow! Okay, yeah, it may have made wheels a whopping 20 grams heavier but damn, at least we'd be future proofed.
The problem is in part that you have big corporate machines whose marketing engines rely on them feigning some kind of technical innovation. In a boardroom, I'm sure that this stuff seems to make sense, but as a rider, when you have to buy a new wheelset with your hard earned cash, reality starts to hit. It becomes even more insulting when the ''standard'' completely changes again in a couple of years (and it will). Frankly, our industry needs to get its shit together and start talking openly before going to market with pointless incremental steps like Boost.
Listen, we know that 1x is here to stay. We know that that we're eventually going to 12, 13, 14-speeds in the back. We know that riders aren't going to start going slower on their trail bikes. It's inevitable. Why not position the ''standards'' to intersect with that near future rather than where we were three years ago? Bottom-line is that this mess is on the industry - all of us. We should be bringing large and meaningful steps to market industry-wide, and on a planned and publicly open schedule. Until that happens, we're asking the riders to foot the bill for the shortsightedness of a relative few, and it's not fair.
Sure, riders can vote with their checkbooks, but we live in a FOMO marketing-driven society and companies from computers to cotton balls bank on it. This can be fixed. Who knows, perhaps today can be the catalyst for change.