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Progress in the Bike world?

Matt - 29th September 2013

Progress is a wonderful thing. It has seen the human race evolve from cave-dwelling mammals into the psychologically and technologically advanced species we are today (well most of us anyway.) What I really want to explore here is how the modern cycle industry is progressing, and why this is not always for the benefit of the average (or even the competitive) cyclist.

The bicycle is quite a simple contraption in concept; two wheels, handlebars to steer, a transmission to turn power from the rider into drive, usually some brakes, somewhere to sit, and a frame to hold it all together. This original recipe has been gradually tweaked, honed and improved over the last hundred-or-so years into the extremely efficient mode of transport it is today.

In the last fifteen years or so bicycle technology has advanced at extreme pace. Seven speed transmissions are now obsolete on all the most basic of new bikes, with the latest top end machines sporting a whopping eleven sprockets on the rear cassette. Infinitely adjustable suspension units for mountain bikes, disc brakes that can be adjusted for lever reach, pad contact and modulation, and a plethora of varying headset and bottom bracket sizes and types.

The problem is that most of this technology is developed with competitive cycling in mind. In the world of competitive cycling, every hundredth of a second counts, and therefore component manufacturers spend millions developing marginally stiffer, lighter and better performing components.

A key example of this would be the varying different types of press-fit bottom bracket; It all seems good on paper, they are slightly stiffer offering more efficient power transfer, but what you gain in performance, you will more than lose in terms of durability. We see many of this type of bottom bracket come through the workshop, and almost all will have developed some play, a creak, or some other issue within a few months of use. This would be less of an issue if the parts were readily available and reasonably priced, but as many of them are specific to manufacturer, they can only be acquired from dealers of that manufacturer which can take weeks. Also, as the manufacturers know that they alone can supply these replacement parts, they will often charge stratospheric prices and get away with it. Want new headset bearings for your 2013 Trek Madone? That will be £100 please, for what should be a set of simple cartridge bearings.

The same applies to transmission components. It is easy to be attracted to the "more gears are better" way of thinking, and if your last name is Wiggins then more sprockets enables you to finely tune your cadence for more efficient pedalling over great distances. This is fine is you have a race mechanic waiting to completely overhaul your bike after every ride, and you get a plentiful supply of shiny new top-of-the-line components for free. For the mere mortals among us though, these transmissions require regular maintenance as their multitudes of sprockets require thinner spacing and a thinner chain to make it all fit on the rear wheel. This means that the tolerances involved are tiny, therefore if you have a slightly sticky gear cable or slightly misshapen derailleur or hanger, your gears will not index correctly and shifts will be frustratingly imprecise. On top of this, the thinner chain will wear much faster than the wider eight speed chain, so the significantly pricier transmission will need replacing more regularly.

Unfortunately, as older technology is phased out we are left with increasingly fewer options to keep it simple and just enjoy riding without thinking about whether or not our stiffer bottom bracket system is shaving a few tenths off our Strava segment times. It is difficult not to be swayed by these clever and expensive marketing campaigns, and also not to be slightly envious of the rider who boasts of their new carbotech-XTR-aerospace-whatsit. But before you succumb to the advertising or one-upsmanship, consider this: Is the extra expense and constant maintenance worth it? Do you really need to shave off those tenths of a second, or should we all just get out and enjoy riding?


Lucas - October 16, 2015

NO!That other answerer is just tinellg you what you want to hear.No matter how well you might be able to mask everything off you won't be able to prepare the frame properly, and no matter how careful you are you will get paint and stuff all over the bike.YES. It will mess up the gears and make the bike not function properly. The solvents in the paint dissolve the oils and lubes as well as build up in pivots and springs which will stop it from working correctly.DO NOT paint a bicycle without it being completely disassembled.

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