Content Warning - Incoming Waffle
There are some things that are totally nonsensical in mountain biking today: seat-tube slackening flip chips, the idea that conservative isn’t just a synonym for bad, the notion that every-bloody-thing needs to be made of carbon and maybe the thought that you can rescue a 29er's conservative geometry by putting a smaller wheel in the back and calling it a day, although that last one seems to have been just a phase.
Mixed wheeled bikes aren’t bad of course. Only the idea that they could be some golden ticket for a bike company to Marty-McFly any ol’ piece of crap into the modern-day without severely compromising other parts of the bike. Mulleting a bike can be a great idea, and a very easy way to drastically change your bike's geometry. There’s also no reason why a bike should not be built around the concept. However, there’s a big difference between that and slinging smaller wheels into production frames in a bid to get another year out of a product cycle.
It’s like a shot of botox in the face of an old Hollywood star as they try and eke out another action film. All the CGI and whitened teeth aren't going to hide the truth, and I don’t care how much zeal he has… somebody put Tom Cruise out of his misery. I mean, does the poor fella look like a young man or just an old one with a slightly strange and uncomfortable face? It’s kind of the same for the first wave of mixed wheel bikes, but I digress.
There’s nothing wrong with getting old, and I say that as somebody that has somehow missed my mid 20s sweet spot altogether and that’s gone straight from baby faced to falling apart, achy knees and looking, in a word, haggard. Is your whole body meant to hurt all the time? Oh it is? Great. That’ll do me nicely for the next 50 years.
Much like there is nothing wrong with growing old there is nothing wrong with making a bike that may well have been about right on its release but hasn’t aged well. The world moves on, new ideas come about and that’s just how it is. The issue is, in this case, trying to resist the clutches of time and not just cut your losses. The first wave of production mixed wheeled bikes were the toupée-wearing middle aged men of the mountain bike world. Some people go bald and that’s fine - it is what it is.
There are other things in the mountain biking industry that are so sensible but receive so much flack, and I don’t believe it’s deserved. For instance - the idea that maybe the first wheel size to be manufactured en masse might not be the best for all applications. Crazy, I know. Or what about the ultimate bogeyman of mountain biking - standards? But are they really that bad?Does the Word "Standard" Fit the Bill?
Standards, I believe, suffer from their own name. I think the word “standard” is a bit too self imposing. Whether it’s standard or not really depends on the uptake. It’s a bit like when people say that New Year's Eve is going to be the best night ever!!
The weight of expectation alone isn’t conducive to having the time of your life and no amount of fireworks seen through a drunken mist while wearing a hastily assembled Princess Diana fancy dress outfit is going to change that. Regrettably, I know this from personal experience.
The problem with New Years is that we’ve probably all had an absolutely amazing one and this both sadly, and in this instance ironically, sets the standard for the years to come. As soon as you become self aware of how great NYE can be it will never be the same again.
And it’s the same with standards. The first time somebody used the word it was probably an eye opening, promotion inducing moment. On the other end of the spectrum there is the word proprietary
. This suffers from a similar if not slightly different problem. Where “standard” causes frustration by being overtly imposing, “proprietary” intimidates. The potential benefits of a proprietary system are merely a slice of Red Leicester on a mouse trap to some. Delicious? Yes yes yes. Worth breaking your neck for? Debatable, my furry friend.Do You Care? Does Anyone?
I understand why people complain about new standards. I mean, I think it’s often a bit shallow and short sighted, but I do understand. Some standards are good though and they do serve a purpose.
But what I can’t understand is people venting their frustration about something while also acknowledging that they have no interest in purchasing it. If you don’t like a brand’s take on the spoke or somebody’s new BB design then that’s fine - but just don’t buy it. It’s not like there is a gun to your head. The victimhood can be flat out bizarre.
Do you know what I don’t like? Seafood. Do I go and stand on the coast shouting at the sea just to let all those disgusting critters know what I really think? Apart from that ill-fated holiday in Devon, no.
It’s almost a social phenomenon. It’s like arguing with somebody in the comments section of a celebrity's social media post as you try to assert what Kanye West really meant when he said something moronic.
If you and I were riding along I could not give one iota of fecal matter if our spokes are interchangeable, or any other part of our bikes for that matter. My bike, my problem.
The truth is, I honestly have no allegiance to any one design type of anything and I really don’t mind if you do. I think it’s really important to buy something you want with the characteristics you desire. That to me seems so thoroughly sensible.Is It All a Way to Drive Bike Sales?
The idea, however, that the bike industry is forcing things on the customer that they have to buy against their will is cringeworthy. Owning a mountain biking isn’t a god-given right and neither is your custom. Bike companies are there to make money and that shouldn’t be something we’re uncomfortable with. They should just make the best they can offer. That's not to say they shouldn't be held to account for their actions like anyone, but make them accountable for their outlook and conduct, not getting our unmentionables in a twist if they increase the width of a hub by 6mm.
If you owned a bike company, with staff to pay and bills to cover, would you honestly stick with an inferior design or try and appeal to a niche who are very vocal in their desire to recuse themselves from a new purchase? Of course not. And I'm not saying that people only make bikes to make money, to do so would be wholly untrue and the bike industry is full of people with passion - but everyone who runs a business needs to keep themselves out of the red.
I suppose my overarching ethos is rather simple - sometimes new standards are annoying and proprietary components can be infuriating, however if we didn’t have people that would think out of the box and gladly drag bike design forwards, often kicking and screaming, then the bikes you and I ride would be worse for it. Some changes are less consequential to the whole of our bikes but others can potentially be a can of worms.
The modern trail bike is a wonderful thing. I suppose I double take when somebody lauds the capabilities of their 29” 140mm travel bike with progressive geometry and all the trimmings in one breath and then says “Eugh
, Boost though” in the next. I’m not saying it’s a direct consequence, or that bikes would be all that much worse without Boost spacing, but things such as axle spacing standards have played their part in making the mountain bike what it is.
I know some of you don’t want anything to do with a wheelset that uses a certain kind of spoke or maybe a hub that means you’re going to have to change your chainring, but the list of things that we, as a community, have resisted and mocked is as long as it is illustrious.
Are new standards a con conjured up by the bike industry? I don’t believe so. A lot of it comes down to what you want: the best performance full stop, or the best performance derived by shared technologies. We don’t look at suspension units and get frustrated that Fox and RockShox seals aren’t interchangeable. Sometimes you need design freedom to chase a particular concept.The Casualties Along the Way
One section of riders I really do have sympathy with is people who buy a full build, perhaps not knowing what they’re getting themselves in for and 18 months down the line they realise that they ride what is essentially a who’s who of obscure bike brands. But, in general, I don’t think we’ve ever had it so good and although there seems to be an upheaval every few years, something like Boost being a notable example, I think the modern mountain bike is a truly amazing thing and that companies do remarkably well to all be on most of the same pages.
For me, the main stumbling block is that I find it hard to understand why we willfully homogenize design. Yes, J bend spokes, for example, may well be the best option - I am open to that - but I see it far more fruitful if you encourage bike companies to make whatever whacky thing they want and then we just vote with our feet. It’s the vocal dissent that confuses me.
And let me be absolutely, unequivocally clear - I don’t think it would be great for each brand to have a different spoke type - but at the same time, it really wouldn’t be the end of the world, provided spares were manufactured and available. It would be a few years of weird kooky designs then followed by many years enjoying the fruits that the exploration yielded. Which doesn’t seem so bad to me.
I want the best bike full stop. No ifs, no buts. Whatever design ideology a company chooses to follow I think they should be encouraged to do so. I want an ambitious and bold design that doesn’t want to just keep up with the Jones’ and fall in line. It wants to separate itself from the bunch because it may well just be on to something. Sometimes it will be crap but, then again, that’s always the risk of innovation.