Scientists split the atom way back in 1917, but Shimano hasn't figured out an effective bite-point adjustment. SRAM apparently killed the front derailleur but has allowed narrow-wide pulley wheels to live another day. People complain about expensive new gear and then go out on their dual-suspension, tubeless tire-equipped mountain bike that can run for months with only minimal maintenance. You can be a competitive vaper (no joke), but there are only seven World Cup rounds. People stop believing in Santa Claus but keep believing in the gearbox.
What a world.Why doesn't that little Phillips screw on a Shimano brake do something?
Shimano has house-sized machines that can crush massive chunks of metal down into the best crankarms out there, and they make brakes that could be used to slow down the earth's rotation, but the Japanese giant still hasn't figured out how to include an effective bite-point adjustment system. Go ahead, turn that little Phillips screw all the way in; now turn it all the way out.
Why does SRAM use narrow-wide pulley wheels?
Actually, you may as well take it right out and throw it away because it has about as much effect as a child's Asprin would on Whitney Houston in the 1990s.
Shimano has had some issues of late with their highest-end brakes, but their stoppers are generally thought of as some of the most reliable and powerful out there. Pretty much every other brake company has figured out some sort of bite-point adjustment system but Shimano. I'm sure that the Japanese engineers over there have a few reasons for this, and I'm also sure someone from Shimano will tell me all about them, but I don't really care - Shimano could obviously do it, and they should.
SRAM developed their first single-ring drivetrain, XX1, to the point of near-perfection before releasing it in 2012, and all of their follow-up efforts have performed just as well. In fact, it's fair to say that these groups, from XX1 to GX, have had a massive impact on the sport, at least from a gear-centric perspective. One thing that I never could figure out, however, were the narrow-wide pulley wheels that SRAM has used on all of their X-Horizon derailleurs up until releasing Eagle. I say this because one of my only complaints (that I've made in countless bike reviews) with all of SRAM's current single-ring groups comes down to how the derailleur's upper pulley wheel constantly comes out of time with the chain - the wide teeth are then timed to mate with the inner plates of the chain, and the narrow teeth with the outer. The result is a rough feeling being transmitted through the pedals, and it takes having to shift the chain all the way down to the ten-tooth cog and then back up to a large one to right things.
Why so much hate for new stuff?
It seems to be more common on some bikes than others, and I've been told that chain length can be a factor, but it's a quirk that I come across with nearly every test bike that has a SRAM drivetrain. The people at SRAM are a hell of a lot smarter than me, so I'm surprised that they continued with the narrow-wide pulley wheels for so long, but it's looking like that's coming to an end: their new Eagle twelve-speed drivetrain employs an upper pulley wheel with uniform teeth, and I wouldn't be surprised to see all of their single-ring drivetrains go this route.
I would have thought than an enterprising aftermarket company would have come up their own pulley wheels featuring standard width teeth, but that hasn't happened. Levy's Pulleys, anyone? Maybe not.
Alright, I get it, you just bought a new bike last year and now it's apparently out of date, which will no doubt curb its resale value. And none of your wheels from 2013 are the same diameter as those from 2014, none of the 2014 wheels are the same size as the ones from 2015, and 2015's wheels are different than what's being shown for 2016. Oh yeah, some of the hub widths are different as well. Also, from wheels to suspension to drivetrain, it just feels good to be on the latest gear... and now you're not.
None of that actually matters, though.
Your bike's value nearly bottomed out after you rode it a few times, regardless of whatever size wheels it rolls on or what's replaced it in the catalog since you bought it. Besides, most riders seem to keep their bikes for four or five years, which is long enough that it might as well have 20" wheels by the time you trade it for a PS4 on the Pinkbike buy and sell. And speaking of wheels and the eye-rolling hate that seems to go along with the subject, all they are are options. You pick the size that best suits your needs, be it the same 26'' hoops that you've always used, or a set of 29+ wheels and tires that make more sense for you and your terrain. One thing I do understand, however, is so many readers being sick and tired of hearing about "new" wheel sizes and the marketing oil slick that goes along with them - no new piece of equipment is as important as the rider.
I guess what I don't understand is how someone can shit on a well thought out product, calling it either stupid or saying that it isn't needed, and then go out for a ride on their 2008 Giant or Specialized (insert any brand here) that, at one point in time, was cutting edge. Hey, buddy, it's not like you're out there on a steel beach cruiser that you've converted with an old five-speed derailleur and wider tires, so get off that high horse. You may not want anything to do with XTR Di2, Eagle, the latest suspension, or a different wheel size, but don't forget that your 2008 Stumpjumper or Reign is still awesome because it was
the latest and greatest when it first came out. And let's not forget that you're getting a hell of a lot more bike for your money than you ever did eight years ago.
If you look online, you can still find all sort of parts for 26'' wheels and older drivetrains that will keep your trusty bike running for many years to come, most of them much less expensive now that newer things are available. So keep riding your trusty steed, but know that when you do decide to get a new bike five or ten years from now, it's going to be one hell of a machine thanks to all the stuff you're calling crap today. Why do people think the gearbox is the answer?
The answer to what, our now reliable, efficient, and relatively affordable drivetrains that work really, really well?
Yes, the idea of a sealed drivetrain that's taken off of the bike's moving suspension bits and placed in a low, centralized location on the front triangle would make some sense, and the potential is certainly there for something, but there are plenty of reason why the latest ten, eleven and twelve-speed drivetrains shouldn't be replaced by a big, heavy metal box full of gears. A funny thing happened over the last five years: derailleur drivetrains got really, really good. I'm talking about the system as a whole, from lighter weight chain guides that don't rub or bend, smartly designed derailleur hangers, and even easy to service freehubs that seem to last for seasons of abuse before needing some love. Evolution is a wonderful thing, but it also weeds out the weak, and gearboxes are like the stillborn antelope in the herd.
Don't believe me? Chains don't fall at the mere sight of a bump like they used to, and current drivetrains are more efficient and lighter than a gearbox could ever dream of being. And the biggest factor has to be that, after decades of development, Shimano and SRAM aren't about to ditch derailleurs anytime soon.
I think that most consumers want to purchase what they see being used by professional riders, be it racers on the World Cup circuit or freeriders in the latest movie. When was the last time you saw a gearbox bike take a major win in a race? The old Honda team and gearbox bike certainly made an impact, but they also exited the sport after only a few years. Yes, there's a good chance that Gwin would be just as quick on a gearbox bike, but he is also looking for the lightest and most efficient tool for the job, and that happens to be a traditional (although highly specialized) drivetrain. The same goes for the rest of the field, and I'd be willing to bet that a gearbox bike won't win again anytime soon.
I'm sure there are going to be a few hundred comments on this article from the gearbox gang calling me an idiot, and that's fine. We recently tested Cavalerie's gearbox bike
, the Anakin, and found that it had too much drag in the system, so much continually rotating mass inside the 'box that the slowing wheel gently pushed the rider's weight forward in the air, and you can't shift under the slightest of pedaling loads. And if that wasn't enough, a recent Pinkbike Poll
with 9,607 replies found that just 611 people feel that they need to constantly adjust their derailleur-based system, 3,398 say that they're happy, but there's some room for improvement, and a whopping 5,598 replied that they rarely ever have any issues.
No, a derailleur-based drivetrain isn't always going to be perfect; stuff can wear out or break just as anything else can, especially if it isn't looked after. But the answer isn't to bolt an inefficient, heavy, finicky shifting metal box to the bottom of our bikes. Gearboxes are the answer to a problem that current drivetrains have, for the most part, already solved.Why aren't there more World Cup rounds?
I know the answer to this one - money - but still, it just seems silly that our premier race series consists of only six or seven events, and sometimes even less than that. Pretty much every other top tier sporting series that races around the world features more events, be it motor powered or human powered, but we often have to wait a month or more between World Cups, a gap in action that can make it all feel more like a bunch of random events than a true series. I know, I know, putting on a World Cup race is a bit more complicated
than organizing a local beer-fueled so-called race for twenty of your friends, and that the host has to pay the UCI a chunk of money while also signing a byzantine contract that covers everything from marketing and multimedia rights, sponsor visibility, to how many transgender-friendly outhouses are on site. But even so, as someone who loves to watch racing of any kind, I've always thought that our World Cup season should be fifteen or twenty rounds long.
Would it cost teams a lot more money to have their riders spend even more time in Europe? Probably, but the series could be laid out smartly to make things as logistically painless and inexpensive as possible. Many European resort towns are quite close to each other, for example, so the whole circus could spend a weekend at one mountain before moving down the road to the next, or even back to back weekends at the same mountain but racing on different courses. Sure, events in other parts of the world would be spaced out more, but Europe has always been the real home of World Cup racing anyways, so the majority of the races would still take place in countries like Italy and France, among others nearby.
But what about the racers - won't that be too much racing for them? You only need to look at the massive road racing calendar to see that the World Cup cross-country crew is easily capable of tackling much more than they are now, and if Supercross racers can make it through a series that's nearly twenty events long, so can the downhillers. Injuries would come into play, of course, but there are many more rounds to make up (or lose even more) points.
In the end, it's time, money and logistics that will keep the World Cup calendar from ever being much longer than it is now, but a guy can dream, can't he?