Sure, the romance is fun. She moves fast and sweet and looks great. She makes us feel younger and faster just to be out with her. But, some morning will we wake up and find that she is expensive to keep, unwilling to change, and finicky when life gets messy and rough. Just like that, the honeymoon is over.
I am talking bike parts here, specifically the new drivetrains to come out of the factory doors and shipping crates to the bike showrooms near you. The latest and greatest shiny and spinny parts are taking shifting and pedaling performance to a new high. I have been on the SRAM XX 2x10 for 6 months now and I will never go back to a 3x crank, not unless I decide to pedal across the country or something. It shifts like magic, has been solid and reliable, and is crazy light.
The last 2x9 set-up I had worked really well too. In fact, 8 speed XT was not any slouch. I am no retro grouch and I sure don't want to go back to chainrings without pins and ramps, etc, but carbon fiber in a chainring? Who asked for that? It is getting crazy $$$ to replace a new bike's drivetrain. Bikes can fulfill a basic need such as transportation or hauling freight in some third world country. These bikes are simple, heavy and very strong. Parts need to be easily replaced, cheap and rugged. Bikes can also be light and fragile cutting edge racing machines that are never meant to last a long time before they are replaced. In between are you and I, Mr. and Mrs. Joe Average.
We have needs that are somewhere in the middle of beast-of-burden and thoroughbred filly. We appreciate the light weight and fine engineering of a well designed piece of hardware and are willing to pay for that...up to a point...and I do wonder if we are crossing that point.
I did not ask for a $300.00 XX cassette. A nine speed XT cassette is light enough for me and is under $100.00. I did not ask for carbon fiber/alu composite chainrings either, thank you XTR.
A quick check of replacing an XX cassette, CRs, and chain comes out to a whopping $516.00. I have not seen pricing on the new Shimano XTR but I bet it is pretty close to that.
So, while I agree that I am picking on the best stuff and that those levels of components are always expensive, the cost is trickling down as we move to a 10 speed rear cassette, dedicated cranks and derailleurs/shifters world.
Now, if this stuff lasted LONGER than the old parts and gave us more shifting performance in poor conditions, then that may be overlooked. But, that does not seem to be happening. If anything, it is going the other way towards a more fragile and finicky set-up and less and less cross component compatibility.
So while the new stuff is stunning when it is new and working well, I do have to wonder just how good it needs to be? I would have accepted a 9spd wide ratio cog and a 2x9 crank with no issues at all. Give me an XT version of the 12/36 Deore level cassette and a 36/24 or 34/22 crank set with nice, ramped and pinned CRs and life would be just fine, thank you.
How about an 8 speed rear cassette...12-36 with bigger steps between gears, an aluminum spider, all the little shifting ramps, a wide and cheap ($15.00 for a good quality SRAM) chain, chainrings that have a bigger BCD like the new XX crank for a stiffer shift but thicker for increased life. I could live with that. I could live with spending $150.00 to replace the drivetrain....$70.00 for the cassette, $20.00 for the chain, and $60.00 for the CRs. That would last me a year I bet.
It may be time for an company like SRAM or Shimano to take it backwards a notch....make the new 'Rugged 8' drivetrain. Think it will happen? It should, but what does that say about the latest and greatest stuff that they want us to ride? Is it less than rugged? No marketing guy wants to go there.
And what would Trek, Specialized, etc do with that 8 speed group? It would be a gamble to spec that on thousands of bikes. I don't think that big companies like gambling. What I can see is a bike like the Salsa Fargo being offered with the 'Rugged 8' drivetrain. I can see a lot of custom and aftermarket frames being set-up with a modern 8 speed build as well.
But, I don't think it will ever happen...too much momentum in the other direction to spend money going backwards. 9 is better than 10 and 11 will be better than 10...8 is too yesterday.
It does make me love my SS a bit more and I am sure eyeing the latest IGH stuff. I do believe that hubs like that are a significant future part of MTBs given enough time and refinement. When that happens, there will be a sizable jumping-of-ship by many riders tired of getting ground down at the LBS's payment counter.
In the meantime, I will hope for a company to step up and swim upstream towards the waiting market that has less and less choices. FSA? Maybe Origin? Salsa/QBP? It is a bicycle after all. It should not be disposable or nose bleed expensive unless we choose to make it that way.