I am not a marriage counselor. Nor am I an engineer. So maybe you should take what I’m saying here with a pound of salt, but I’m going to say it anyway—I wish the bike industry would get together, talk things over, find some common ground and get on the same f@cking page when they roll out the next big thing.
I’m not against progress; I just think the way we go about this evolution-thing is creating a world of prematurely incompatible parts and burnt-out riders.
PROGRESS DOESN’T SUCK
First, let me state for the record, that I am a-okay with the inexorable march of progress. Bikes change. In general, they get better. I know a lot of readers will disagree with me on that score, but really, it’s hard to deny.
I rode a 28-pound, 6.7-inch (170-millimeter) travel bike up several miles of steep, taint-mauling mountain the other day and not once did I think “This bike should be lighter or pedal more efficiently.” Not once. Calling that bike a “rocket” would be overstating the matter, but, sweetbabyvishnu, that long-travel beast climbed better than most trail bikes from six years ago. And on the way down? It was damn near as capable as a full-on downhill bike.
A 28-pound, park bike that you’d happily tackle all-day trail rides on? No shuttles or chairlifts required? You can sign me up for that shit all day. And, yes, we have progress to thank for that.
Having purchased my first mountain bike back in 1988, I can tell you that all those classic retro bikes may look cool, but are actually about as awesome to tote around as a ten-gallon sack of crap.
BUT AT WHAT RATE SHOULD THINGS EVOLVE?
So, yeah, change is good. But that doesn’t mean we can’t be more intelligent about how we change mountain bikes. The rate at which bikes and parts become incompatible with one another today is blinding. You buy a bike today and tomorrow there’s a whole new wheelsize, bottom bracket or axle standard popping up that renders what you bought…well, not obsolete—you can keep riding that thing and having just as much fun on it—but when you inevitably taco a wheel or destroy a fork, you find your options radically reduced.
Manufacturers might trickle out parts from the “old” standard for a couple years, but make no mistake, the pipeline on that stuff will clamp down right quick. Suppliers, distributors and bike shops can’t carry all those "legacy" drivetrains, tires, wheels and forks for long. At least, not in the numbers or variety that riders will demand. It’s not cost-effective. At some point (and that point rolls around faster and faster each year) you’re going to have a much harder time finding 26-inch wheels, tires, anything with a 142x12 rear axle or a non-Boost 110 fork.
Again, I understand that things change and I wholeheartedly embrace that change. The rate of change and the proliferation of “standards” that hate one another, however, has gotten out of hand and this, I wholeheartedly believe, is because so many companies are operating in relative isolation, pushing out new parts that are incompatible with everyone else’s parts and, moreover, aren’t as fully evolved as they could be.
Evolution doesn't suck.
Wider flanges, more stiffness, better strength...could "Super Boost 157" be a better solution than Boost 148? On paper it looks that way. Either way, however, it would have been great if more companies in the bike industry had collectively put their heads together on this one.
OKAY, HERE’S AN EXAMPLE
Consider Boost 148
. I am not opposed to Boost. At all. It makes sense. I understand that Boost 148 rear spacing pisses people off, but when wheel sizes grew bigger and spokes grew longer, wheels got weaker and flexier. This particularly affected rear wheels, which, thanks to being dished, have unequal spoke tension—the bane of wheelset durability.
Boost 148 spreads the hub flanges apart six millimeters, which improves the spokes’ bracing angle. The end result? Stiffer and stronger wheels. It’s impossible to argue with that. Really. You may not like that Boost suddenly outdated the expensive 142x12 wheelset you just bought, but it’s math. Not only did Boost 148 make for stronger wheels, it also allowed for shorter, wider chainstays to co-exist with larger tires. If you like to descend and you like tight trails, these are obvious wins. If you want to go plus-size with your tires, it opens up your options there as well.
So, yay, for Boost 148.
But here’s the thing—Why did we stop at 148? Why not go wider? I was one of many editors who asked Trek why they didn’t simply bypass the Boost 148 middle ground and go to downhill spacing instead. Trek’s thinking was that Boost 148 improved things without screwing up Q-factor or requiring entirely new cranksets and bottom brackets. You could shift the chainline outboard 3 millimeters by simply adopting crankset spiders with 3-millimeters more offset.
That logic seems sound. They (Trek and SRAM) were innovating in a way that didn’t require as much wholesale change. In fact, that sounds downright compassionate. And I think Trek’s engineers came to that conclusion sincerely. Hell, it seemed reasonable to me at the time. As it did to every editor out there.
But then Pivot shows up a year later with Super Boost 157
, which affords even more rear wheel stiffness and strength, more tire clearance and still doesn’t jack-up your Q-factor or require entirely new cranks or bottom brackets.
I’m looking at the landscape of change here and it appears that Pivot’s use of older downhill spacing affords riders more of the benefits (stiffness, durability) and more flexibility (in terms of tire choice). Boost 148 works, but could Boost 157 work better? That’s the question. Frankly, it’s too early to call it, but here’s where I loop back to my premise: What if representatives from the bike industry got together and talked this shit over before they pulled the trigger? I’m guessing we’d have fewer “standards”; that would be a very good thing because right now, shit is changing so fast and furiously that riders are afraid of buying a new bike, fork or wheelset.
Why would anyone, for instance, dump a thousand bucks into a fork, for instance, when it might suddenly be incompatible with front wheels in a year or two? And wheelsets? Who in their right mind spends a grand on a wheelset after seeing 27.5 wheels with 142 axles enjoy the half-life of a fruit fly? I hear people say it all the time, “I’ll buy a new bike when things settle down.”
Well, things aren’t going to settle down. Ever. That isn’t a problem, in and of itself (again, that’s just progress and progress is thoroughly kick ass). But the rate of change? That’s gonna bite the bike industry in the ass, sooner rather than later. Riders are losing confidence in the very worthiness of upgrading their bikes and parts. And if that sounds too touchy-feely for the bike industry, let me be plain: A loss in consumer confidence is going to cut into the bike industry’s bottom line.
For the record, I'm not confusing the bike industry with a hippie commune.
JUST A PIPE DREAM?
I’m not entirely naïve. I also understand that the reason companies don’t get together over tea and share their trade secrets is that—no shit—they are competing against one another in a free market.
Innovation sells a whole lot of bikes, so why would anyone give up their goods to the very companies that are trying to squeeze them out of the market place? Fair question.
I’m not, however, suggesting that Mike Sinyard of Specialized jump on a flight to Wisconsin and divulge his latest frame designs to John Burke at Trek. I’m neither stoned nor crazy. All I’m saying is that if one bike company is going to come up with a wider axle dimension or a widget that births all sorts of proprietary offspring, that they talk it over with a couple other companies first. Having more minds poring over such a thing would result in fewer half-steps and more breathing room between “advances” that render everyone’s bike incompatible.
I know what I’m saying here sounds crazy. The marketplace is not a hippie commune or a 1960-s style love-in. I get that. I’m not suggesting that companies give up their trade secrets, I’m just saying that when we start mulling the idea over of changing a “standard” that we put our heads together and come up with the best solution—one that benefits both companies and riders.
The bike industry has tried to do this before. It’s not entirely without precedent. I remember an Interbike (I think it was back in 2000), for instance, at which fork manufacturers met and decided which brake mount to go with—international standard or post mount. Sadly, they went “international standard”. It took another six or seven years to realize that Manitou was right about the superiority of the post-mount system and, yes, this whole historical tangent sort of invalidates what I’m saying here about the wisdom of talking things over, but, hey, at least they tried. I’m just asking that we at least attempt it.
Dear bike industry, do it for the children. Or the kittens. Or the dolphins. Or the long-term profitability. Take your pick. I don’t really care what the motivation is here, just do it. Get on the same page.
A kitten dies every time a new press-fit bottom bracket is invented. Save the kittens.