Saturday, July 17, 2010

The State of the Art

My recent blog thoughts on the spiraling cost and complexity of bikes and bike components seemed to to strike a nerve in a few folks.  No surprise there as we are all on the boat in one way or another.


Here is the flip side.

Bikes have never shifted, braked, turned, climbed, descended, rolled, and sucked up the bumps of the trail better than they do now.  Period.

We are at an amazing point in mtn bicycle performance, regardless of the cost; hydraulic disc brakes, smart suspension that is way-tunable, tubeless tires, and frames that hit stiffness to weight targets that were the dreams of engineers in days gone by.  Want to grab a gear with certainty?  No biggie.  When was the last time you missed a shift?  If you keep things tuned even reasonably well, then it just works.

I know that there is a tendency to wax philosophic about the bikes of the days of yore.  But the brakes were a shadow of what we have now, needed to be toed in just right or they howled nicely; shifting was not even close without the pinned, ramped, and computer matched CRs and cassettes of a modern drivetrain.  Handling?  Pfah!  The gradual progression of geometries and angles along with improvements like hydro-formed frames, tapered head tubes, and better hub/frame/fork interfaces have taken us to a better handling bicycle.

I won't even talk about suspension, but even if you eschew the boingy parts for your ride, you cannot deny that a modern fully suspended MTB is incredibly capable of covering rough terrain at frightening speed.

So although I do feel that we are on the precipice of a very expensive cornice and the avalanche of costly, over-engineered parts is looming behind us, I do not wish to go backwards into the past. Luddites need not apply.

There needs to be a balance somewhere and I am not sure where that is.  But I think it will shake out in the end.  After all, it is the consumer that has the last say with cash in hand.  The trick is in knowing what we want.

I know I want to keep riding bikes that work the way these new ones do.  Can I have it both ways? Perhaps.  It is a fine line to ride, is it not?

1 comment:

Fonk said...

Good point. And the technology eventually does trickle down to a lower price point. I bought a 'cross bike recently that has Tiagra shifters and 105 derailleurs on it, and they shift as well or better than Ultegra from a few years back. So if you're willing to wait a couple years and then buy the "new" tech in a lower-priced group, it will eventually reach affordable range.