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Just because you can doesn't mean you should!

Updated: Mar 4

Perhaps I'm showing my age but there are certain "innovations" being pushed by various industries that as a consumer I find rather pointless. For example, new cars these days come with tablets stuck to the dashboard, making small adjustments of temperature tedious and often dangerous: we get six points on our license when caught using a mobile phone but no points when we tap away on a car tablet. That doesn't make any sense! The various driver assistance systems beep all the time, Auto Stop/Start always cuts the engine at an intersection just as you want to pull out, and as of the 2024 model year that stuff can no longer be switched off. Automatic Cruise Control reliably slows down your car every time a vehicle in front of you changes lanes, even though an attentive driver could also change lanes and keep the speed constant.

The bike industry also has gone down some dead ends (this is my personal opinion, your mileage may vary, as the government tells us). Last week's blog covered bike accessories I rate. This week we'll have a look at stuff the cycling industry is pushing and which I feel is not necessarily A Good Thing. If you are looking to buy a new bike or are interested in technical matters related to cycling, read on. If not, you can skip this blog :-)

A few days ago I came across this Facebook post that caused a union of professional bike racers to call for a ban on hookless rims. What happened to Thomas de Gendt during the UAE Tour is every rider's worst nightmare.

Ever since tubeless tyres and rims were launched there has been a huge amount of frustration caused by incompatibility between certain tyre brands/sizes and rims, not to mention the mess made when a rim blows off the rim during the installation of the sealant or because a rider is unaware that tyre pressures for tubeless tyres are significantly lower than for tyres with tubes. There wasn't anything wrong with inner tubes (unless you have two left hands and don't know how to either change or patch an inner tube) but I suspect the cycling industry needed a new Next Best Thing to get cyclists to buy not only new tyres, sealant but also new wheels in the name of convenience.

Tyre sizes: if you think back 10 years, virtually every roadie was using 23mm tyres or thinner. Then the industry decided it was time to shift more stock and told everyone who was listening that wider tyres were faster. The industry neglected to mention they were also heavier and to optimise the (minimal) aerodynamic gains one would also need to invest in new wheels with wider rims. I'll give it another four years, then we'll go back to narrow tyres...

While we're on the subject of rims and wheels: lighter wheels require compromises: fewer spokes mean less stiffness and impact resistance. Stay well clear of carbon spokes. They are a nightmare during wheel construction and trying to find a replacement after the wheel manufacturer has gone out of business will be impossible.

Let's not forget mountain bikes: first we had 26” wheels and tyres and they worked fine for 30 years, until a wheel manufacturer convinced a bike manufacturer that they could increase sales by introducing 27.5” wheels – because supposedly they were better over bumps. Then 29ers came about, for the same reason. 29ers are actually the same rim diameter as 700c road wheels, making manufacturing those rims cheaper on account of economies of scale. Did prices reflect that? Did they ever...!

Then there are hydraulic or cable-operated disc brakes. Yes, they do stop better in the wet, albeit at the expense of extra weight. They can also be noisy, and if you get chain lube on them, good luck to you! They are great if you ride in the Alps or in pouring rain, less so anywhere else. On my road bikes I don't miss disc brakes, but that's probably because I know how to adjust my calipers. I could do stoppies all day long, even on my Brompton.

Since we're talking about rim brakes: chainstay mounted ones were a disaster. Not only would they stop working properly after a couple of wet rides but they are extremely awkward to adjust because of their position. There was a reason they didn't become mainstream...

Electronic shifting falls in the nice-to-have category, unless your battery runs out of juice 50km from home. The one thing that riders forget about electronic gears is that technology changes quickly and spare parts will be difficult to obtain in 10 years time. Non-indexed friction shifters and derailleurs without electronics will go on virtually forever.

You may have heard of Ceramic Speed and their £400 derailleur jockey wheels. If you're into snake oil, knock yourself out and purchase a pair. The efficiency gains will be acutely felt - by your wallet.

The photo below illustrates not only a nice orange frame but also how "innovation" often is a huge step backwards. If you look closely, you'll see that bike is running a 1x (one by) chainset. The advantage supposedly is that you can do away with a front derailleur. Sounds good in theory but in practice you run the risk of the chain dropping off the chainring, requiring the installation of a chain guide where a front derailleur normally would sit. You also need a (heavier) rear derailleur with a clutch to take up the chain slap the longer chain requires to fit around the 50T dinner plate-sized largest sprocket of the cassette. You end up with 11 or 12 gears where before you had at least 18 (there's some duplication on 2x or 3x systems) so the steps between gears are larger, which is not good.

To top it all off, having 10, 11, 12, or 13 speed cassettes made mixing road and mountain bike drive train components impossible as they have a different cable pull ratios. A mechanical 9 speed triple really is the best of all worlds: tight steps between each gear, few duplicate gears and a wide gear range.

Gravel bikes are '20s marketing speak for cyclo-cross bikes because the cycling industry needed to increase sales. The reason “gravel bike” sales overtook CX bikes' sales is simple: no matter what you call them, these bikes are the two-wheeled Swiss Army knife. They are a great example of the power of marketing. If n+1 isn't your thing, get one of these. Keep in mind that gravel bikes come in two different wheel size flavours: 700c and 650B. They are interchangeable on many frames. Another way for wheel manufacturers to increase turnover. Smart, isn't it...?

Did you ever have a bike with a creaking bottom bracket? Chances are it was a BB30 or another PressFit design. A Google search comes up with almost a million results. At least the industry has now come full circle and Specialized is moving all of its frame designs back to BSA external bottom brackets. Cannondale has a lot to answer for, including the birth of a whole industry dedicated to fixing the issues with it.

Integrated seatposts: they look nice, but woe betide the owner who after cutting it figures out that he cut it 5mm too short. One's physiognomy changes over time: on my oldest bike the saddle today is 10mm higher than it was 42 years ago. Have I grown that much in the interim? I doubt it, but at least I didn't have to bin the frame and the bike is still doing sterling service on my turbo trainer.

They are found only on carbon frames, which of course are loved by the cycling industry as they now are fairly cheap to manufacture and carry a lot of cachet. What nobody in the industry mentions is that they are a sustainability nightmare: they cannot be recycled and require a lot of expertise to repair properly. Once broken, many carbon frames go straight to landfill. Aluminium and cromoly frames can both be recycled, the latter can also be repaired without much difficulty.

We should also mention suspension on road "endurance" bikes such as on the the Specialized Roubaix with its Future Shock or the Trek Domane and its IsoSpeed: both suspension systems add complexity and weight while raising future maintenance costs (both need an annual service), not to mention spare part availability which will be very difficult five years down the road.

Speaking of maintenance costs, check out this video on a Trek e-MTB service by a reputable bike dealer: £400 for a service - a good reason to learn how to do it yourself! E-bike batteries have a life expectancy of three to five years, after that you're looking at a replacement cost of £300 to £600 a pop - if you can get a replacement. Avoid puddles or heavy rain on your e-bike: electricity, electronics and water do not mix well.

Finally we come to the elephant in 2024's bicycle innovation room - internal cable routing. Combine it with a one-piece bar/stem design, hydraulic brakes and electronic shifting and a 20 minute job of changing a hose can develop into a whole morning wasted taking the front of your bike apart (handlebars unwrapped, fork and headset removed, etc etc).

Your bike mechanic will both love and hate you, the former because of the massive labour charge your visit will have racked up and the latter because your bike will be an extremely frustrating job. Trust me, this is an instance where form must follow function and ease of maintenance. The couple of watts of aerodynamic gains simply are not worth it for anyone but a professional cyclist who has a team mechanic doing the spannering on his bike.

A bit of critical evaluation by the consumer will prevent making a purchasing decision that would result in having a doorstop a few years down the road.

Did I forget anything? Please comment below.

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