I'm a hater. At the risk of sounding egotistical, I am quite good at hating. I see something new–something I haven't tried, something that strikes me as useless or, simply, something I can't possibly afford–and I hate it with a passion. True, I don't go online and chat about it on forums with other haters, but it's probably only because I have alternative opportunities, like this one, to showcase my loathing for that which is new.
By now, you might be asking yourself what exactly it is that I hate. Bleepy-bloopy music completely lacking in electric guitars, a beginning and an end? Hate that shit. Skinny pants, neck beards, people typing or (worse yet) saying "lol”? My vision narrows and goes a shade of red every time I encounter these things.
Mind you, I am not bragging here about being a hater. In fact, I recognize that being a hater simply means that I'm narrow minded and inflexible. I'm reminded of this fact every time a new "technology" emerges in the cycling world and I hate it on sight. Here are some things I've hated since 1986: Biopace, U-Brakes, recumbents (and recumbent riders), suspension forks, Kokopelli tattoos, semi-slicks, full-suspension bikes, hydraulic disc brakes, integrated headsets, air-sprung rear shocks, 29ers, 650b bikes, press-fit bottom brackets, electronic shifting…
I like to think that my hatred was well founded in a few of those cases (press fit bottom brackets, the sudden and unnecessary demise of the 26-inch wheel, etc.), but as I look back on my Most Hated list, I can't help but notice I was wrong about a whole lot things. Hating suspension and disc brakes, for instance, is a bit like hating oxygen. That, however, is 20/20 hindsight at work for you.
When the first full-suspension bikes emerged, for instance, most of them were flexy, heavy and flat-out miserable to pilot. Likewise, I lost count of the number of rides during which I discovered, 20 miles from the trailhead, that my disc brakes had suddenly given up on the idea of stopping my bike. Early disc brakes could sour you on the very concept.
Time Makes Fools of Us All
But here's the thing–the first iterations of any new technology are bound to disappoint. Just as you likely blanche when you look back on your acne-riddled, mullet-sporting, high-school self, so does the bike industry wince when it looks back on its first stabs at brilliance.
Time, research and failure always work to produce better products. You have to expect that whatever is startlingly new at any point in time is probably also something we're going to look back on as startlingly shitty. It doesn't mean that there isn't a kernel of genius buried beneath it all. My favorite bikes these days? 29ers. Do I still ride hardtails? Only when the job requires it. That which I formerly hated, I've come to love. Time and progress make fools of us all.
I try to keep this in mind every time I run across a rumor of a new wheel size, bottom bracket "standard" or tire dimension and my well-honed Hater instinct rears its head.
Last December, for instance, I began drawing up plans for some new Blueprint videos. If you haven't seen any of those videos, the goal of the Blueprint video series is to try and get beyond the bike industry boilerplate "Hey, here's some new shit that you should buy because it's new shit." angle. I'm interested in why something new is being created, how it might actually change what we experience out on the trail and whether anyone out there in the general public should actually give a damn.
Well, the word on the street last December was all about this new "plus-size" thing. When an engineer explained that plus-size was basically a smallish fat-bike tire that would essentially convert 650b bikes into squishy, semi-29ers, I immediately wanted to throttle somebody. Anybody, really. Why? Why? Why? I mean, we'd finally gotten "regular" 29ers into their proper shape. Why switch now? And the icing on the cake? These new bikes would probably usher forth a new rear-axle standard that would make every frame and wheelset in existence obsolete.
My Hate-o-Meter immediately went to 11.
Before You Make This Year’s Model Obsolete…
I'm not going to tell you that plus-size bikes are something you need to buy or, alternately, something you should burn in effigy. Hell, I've only ridden a few of the things at this time and, if history is any indicator, we've got a few years of shitty tires and frame designs to muddle through before that genre of bike approaches anything like maturity. Moreover, I've decided to hold off on hating them because doing so is a waste of time. These bikes will change. Some will be crap. Some will become rad. So it goes.
Boost 148? As I noted in our plus-size video, it's coming and it'll be on just about every bike (plus-size or not) within a year or two. Does that still bum me out? Yeah, but mainly because we didn't make the shift to Boost right out of the gate when we gave up the traditional quick release. Boost 148 makes for a stiffer rear wheel and allows for shorter rear ends. Those are good things. But, damn, new frames and wheelsets? It's a bitter pill to swallow for anyone who recently bought a bike and is now looking at a future in which 142×12 parts grow scarce. And they will. Just as 26er tires and wheels go the way of the 1-inch headset, so will 142×12 wheels.
I will say this, though: Bike industry, if you are reading this, take heed. Most of us want better bikes. True. But, for the love of God, let's make sure that when we crank out some new wonder device, it actually makes the ride better without also adding all sorts of mechanical and financial headaches to the mix.
Bikes and components are not cheap today; you can argue (and I have) that they present a better value than ever before, but they still rape and pillage our checking accounts something fierce. I'm a lot less likely to buy a pricey new fork, frame or wheelset today if I think that tomorrow's new "standard" is just going to resign it to the trash heap two years from now. And I know I'm not alone here. We've officially hit the point at which things are changing so quickly that, trust me, it's going to bite the bike industry in the ass.
I'm not arguing that we shouldn't innovate. By all means–improve bikes and components–but before we toss out the "old" standards, let's make sure we've exhausted all the options. If you are going to innovate at a rate that makes everyone's new bike worthless (or at least un-upgradeable) within a three-year cycle, you're probably going to wind up with fewer consumers.
I'm not trying to be a hater, but everyone has his or her limits.
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