Ask Uncle Dave #7

It's About Standards

Words by Words - Dave Tolnai.
March 23rd, 2015

Thanks to everybody who listened to my call-to-arms and supplied reasonable questions for me to ponder. I mean…you guys are a strange bunch. But thanks. Oh, Knausgaard’s second part is up, if you’re interested. Dude is interesting. He doesn’t talk about plugging toilets in this one though.

So on to the questions. This week, I’m going to ignore all of your interesting questions, and take this one instead. Because it seems timely for a rant about standards.

Dear Uncle Dave,

Why are new standards considered to be so terrible?

Why Are New Standards Considered To Be So Terrible

Right in the wheelhouse! Man, Uncle Dave can talk about why he hates new standards for hours. Hours and hours. You could leave the room, go out for dinner, come back, and he’d still be talking about why he hates new standards.

I’ll start with this little tidbit of information from Transworld MX that I recently read that just blew my mind. Factory supercross teams. That would sacrifice a child and pay hundreds of thousands of dollars for the slightest edge. Hand hubs down from rider to rider, from year to year. Think about that. In the time that we’ve rolled through 3 or 4 different hub standards, factory motocross teams have been happily using not just the same kind/type/standard of hub…they’re using the SAME EXACT HUBS! This suggests to me one of two things:

  1. Ten years ago, an engineer at Honda spent an insane amount of time figuring out the exactly correct values for hub spacing, axle size, flange width/height etc. and nobody has ever been able to better it. Or,
  2. There’s not a lot of benefit to be achieved by monkeying around with minute changes to hub dimensions because factory motocross teams apparently seem to be able to compete despite their anciently archaic hub dimension technology.

There are basically two arguments that people use to justify new standards.

  • Argument A – Progress and change are good.
  • Argument B – Nobody is forcing you to buy the new standard.

On the surface, Argument A is very nearly a good one. Devoid of context, it is almost something that I can get behind. Of course progress is good. Who doesn’t want progress Right?

And there have been some absolutely wonderful progressions/new standards introduced into mountain biking.

Downhill racing wouldn’t be where it is today without 20mm axles. Probably.

12x142mm hubs tightened up the rears of some otherwise noodly bikes. But I’ve got a 10mm through axle DT that works pretty well too.

External bearing bottom brackets and accompanying larger bb axles are amazing. But bike companies seem intent on getting rid of these. Wait a minute…that didn’t even require a new standard…

Post mount disc brakes are a pretty good idea. Hey. Nothing bad to say about that one!
ICGS was pretty cool. But then they decided to change it to ICGS05.

We probably wouldn’t have nice and wide handlebars if we hadn’t moved to 31.8. But then of course they’re pushing a different diameter now, so that will probably go away soon.
Tapered steerer tubes mean we can have lighter, long travel, single crown forks. And hey…nobody seems intent on changing that one yet!

Ummmm….Huh. That’s actually a pretty sad little list. In the past 15 years, we’ve created a handful of great new standards. And we’ve made a lot of progress contained within the envelope that already existed. And we’ve created a whole shit pile of crap standards that suck and make people really angry. I actually started making a list of horrible standards that have been tossed onto the scrap heap of progress (or that should be) but I stopped because it was too long and depressing. Even just thinking about all the different headset and bb standards that have emerged recently makes me a bit sad. So, ya, progress can be good, I guess. Until it is usurped a year or two down the line by a newer and better standard because; fuck you if I’m going to think about things more than a year or two into the future you mouth breathing cretin.

Now let’s talk about Argument B. Nobody is forcing you to buy the new standard. First, if anybody ever says this to you, punch them right in the balls.*

No. Nobody is forcing you to buy the new standard. Today. And if every new standard that came down the pipe had no impact on my existence, I wouldn’t care. But they always do. No matter what, a year or two down the line when the new standard has been accepted because people just don’t care any longer, Ta Da! You can’t buy what you wanted to because they don’t make it any more. Wait a minute. Have I already talked about this? It’s kind of a different article. I rail against “progress” there, not just “standards”. I’m too worked up to carry on, so please just go read that where I finish up this portion of my argument.

Yet, here we are, entering back into this stupid argument again because every 3 months some ridiculous new standard emerges that makes everybody angry and are you seriously telling me that a bike company is making a hub that is 6 mm wider and is totally incompatible with what already exists because they want to push the flanges out by a few millimeters for dubious reasons? That’s fucking crazy! I would, in all seriousness, not buy that bike just because of that insane piece of information. And they’re trying to change the 15mm front axle standard that people still hate, that was only created a few years ago and are making it even more similar to the 20mm front axle standard that was just fine? That’s fucking crazy too! I will never buy that either. Until it is the only thing available and I’m forced to. And just to drive home how crazy things are getting, here I am, going on the record as being in agreement with Sponsel! Sponsel! Who points out just how dubious this justification is in his sometimes amazing fashion.

So that’s why (some) new standards are considered to be so terrible. Luckily, I have a simple rule for determining if it is a ‘good’ new standard or a ‘bad’ new standard. If you have to explain to people why your new standard is necessary, it’s probably a “bad” new standard and you should just come up with a new colour to offer instead.

*Okay. Don’t actually punch them in the balls. And no, this isn’t sexist. We all have to admit that only nerdy men argue about whether or not new mountain bike standards are a good or bad thing.

With Standard Regards,
Uncle Dave

WANSCTBST – yours is the Ask Uncle Dave letter of the week. Congrats You have scored a pair of  Ryders Loops Polarized shades

Rollercoasters. Shoelaces. Drum breaks. All of the best things on earth involve loops of some kind. The LOOPS combines all of these things into one stylish pair of sunglasses.

Have a question for Uncle Dave? Send it here…

  • mikefunk


  • Rob Stead

    Best “Ask Uncle Dave” yet. Hey bike industry “engineers,” are you listening?

  • Cr4w

    I used to be all about the ultra high end. I used to be willing to spend double to get heirloom-quality bits from Chris King, DT Swiss or XTR. There was some satisfaction in slowly acquiring these beautiful components over time. Now I just can’t be bothered, knowing that I’ll be bullied into replacing everything every 2-3 years to keep up with new standards.

    • Was just having an identical thought. Bike companies (or component companies, at least) are going to have to take a bigger picture view and realize that all these changes will likely hurt sales in the long run. Hey, wait, that wasn’t the plan…

      • tw

        I’ve decided to approach it from the other direction.

        The more difficult companies make it for me to move high quality “legacy” items from one bike to another, I won’t buy their product.

      • Dirk

        Homer: You just lost yourself a customer!
        Moe: Wha? I’m sorry, Homer I couldn’t hear you.
        Homer: I said you just lost yourself a customer!
        Moe: Huh?
        Homer: You just lost yourself a customer!
        Moe: Homer you’re going to have to speak up!
        Homer: You just lost yourself a customer, Moe!
        Moe: I’ve forced myself to wha?
        Homer: You just lost yourself a customer!
        Moe: Homer.. I’ll talk to you tomorrow!
        Homer: You just lost yourself a customer!
        Moe: Yeah you can use it!

      • tw

        Ha ha. Nice. I resemble that…….wait a second!

        You are right, they don’t give a shit about me, but I ain’t surrendering my Kings for anyone.

        In a world constantly bleating about sustainability the increasingly disposible nature of bikes and parts is in a word: ironic.

      • Where possible, that’s great. But in some cases, it’s impossible to avoid.

      • tw

        I hear you and appreciate that there are some places where changes are necessary and beneficial.

      • The Big Picture

        I would buy a new bike every couple years. Not anymore. I have been upgrading my 26:” bikes. with cheap end of line stuff. I may get a 27.5 if the 26 becomes impossible, But what about my 5 foot nothing wife. What will she ride.

  • Alex
  • t.odd

    “but, but, 10% increase in stiffness, on a wheel we’re going to put squishy +sized chubby tires on!”

    • Cr4w

      Oh man and if those Boost wheels come laced with anything less than 32 straight gauge spokes I am starting an embargo.

    • Amanda

      Except they went with 148. Not 150 (for which parts already exist, thanks to DH), but motherf*cking 148… If I could put numbers in ALL CAPS, I would. 148! SOMEONE EXPLAIN THE LOGIC BEHIND THIS.

      (okay, no more yelling)

  • BOOST 149 for 2016!

  • YYC

    Are the ever-changing MTB ‘standards’ a measure of ‘design maturity’, ‘tradition’ or ‘naïve consumers’? With the exception of the burst of bottom bracket ‘standards’ a few years back, road bike design has remained relatively the same – double diamond frame, 9mm QR. Granted, companies are now pushing thru-axels, disc brakes and 1x drivetrains …. sounds familiar. Cyclocross is an interesting case study – disc brakes are far more common in North America but even US pros (who are quoted as pro-disc … looking at you J-Pow) ride cantilevers when in Europe. Euros (for the most part – unless the bike supplier no longer offers a canti option – e.g. Giant/Liv), are still racing cantis. Rather than finding new customers, seems the current approach is to shear all existing riders again for a ‘necessary upgrade’.

    • It’s a problem in road, too. Cranks and chainrings, for example. Road bikes are also older, so things like geometry have been closer to ‘modern’ for longer, despite some changes in the last 10 years to steer some road bikes away from race geometry and suited more for weekend warrior or recreational use.

      But road bikes don’t have suspension (other than one ill-advised foray), and they haven’t tried changing wheel sizes (yet). So there are also fewer variables. Disc brakes might throw a wrench into it for a year or two.

      • Andy Eunson

        Pete. Road had 650 wheels in the late 80’s but they decided that the smaller size was slower. Small wheels let riders draft closer and accelerate better or that was the argued benefit. Lots of smaller riders still use that size though. Road has a lot of UCI rules to meet which really inhibit changes. Road has to be double diamond, saddle set back is dictated, discs aren’t allowed for road racing, bike has to weigh 15 pounds or more, no part can be there for the sole purpose of being aero, tube dimensions are dictated too.

        If there is a real benefit, I am happy for a new standard. I remember cotter end cranks. Hell I remember square tappered bb’s that needed frequent overhauls. And I probably used and wore out more metal in those days than now. New balls every couple months and even then spindles would pit out as well as cups. One can make a list of lousy standards pretty easily. Quill stems and threaded one inch standard with two sizes of crown race. And English or Italian thread. Or french which different again. One can go on. Some standards were changed for the better.

        But some stuff today it seems more marketing than real. 650 versus 26 for example. Giants direct drive steer tube sizes. Boost. OK I understand the benefit of a better bracing angle for the spokes. You guys ever seen asymmetrical rims? Or offset spoke holes where the left flange spokes go to the right side rim holes?

      • Andy Eunson

        Oh yeah that’s the ticket. Imma gonna develop that new wheel design. Compete with boost. Calling It Boom. Left to right, right to left: BOOM- spoke angle

      • Rob Stead

        or 36 spoke wheels…

      • AndrewR

        Giant’s Direct Drive steerer tubes: good luck finding a new stem for that bad boy.

      • They recently did away with DD2 b/c it was too hard to find compatible components.

      • Where do you go to get new balls? I’d be down for some that are bigger than the OE-equipped ones I have.

      • Andy Eunson

        Well Pete i still have a tin of 1/4 balls in my tool box. That should be bigger and better eh! (Sorry you walked into that one bro)

  • Beeston
  • Sponsel

    I’m wounded because the Sponsel link doesn’t link to anything I wrote 🙁

    • Awww, Charlie. I’ll see if Dave can pop the correct link in there.

      • Dirk

        Fixed! Marking the first time in a long time that Sponsel has been happy with NSMB.

        Ah. He’s probably still not happy.

  • DMVancouver

    I bet that if there was a way for consumers to measure their bike’s stiffness, people would be all over this.

    Compare to weight. Consumers have demonstrated a willingness to pay substantial premiums for things that save mere grams. I bet that most people wouldn’t be able to discern the weight difference of SLX to XTR given a bike blindfolded, yet people pay because they can put their bike on a scale and brag about it.

    If you question whether Boost is going to make a discernible difference to your riding, do the same before plunking down the plastic to save 40 g.

    • AndrewR

      XTR vs SLX is not really about weight, it is about the extra buttery smoothness of the shifts, the additional power and modulation of the brakes and most importantly the three year over one year warranty that comes with XTR. Also Shimano are so bent on proving that XTR is the best that if it ever does fail (which is very rare to be honest) even from normal fair wear and tear, they just replace it at no additional cost and with no argument.

      • SimonIA

        Shimano actually offers a 2-year warranty on non-XTR brakes for leaks.

        And shifting quality, once you get above base-level stuff, is far more dependent on proper cable routing and adjustment than trim level of components. XTR and XX is damn good stuff, don’t get me wrong, but thinking practically…not worth the money.

      • AndrewR

        This is an area where you and I are always going to disagree. From a straight out engineering perspective taking 10 grams or 2.5% off a part that is being shaken back and forth or up and down 60-120 times per minute (just guessing that last figure) is significant in reducing wear and tear. There is no disputing that XTR level cassettes just last longer. The one peice cyclinder design of XTR/ Saint makes them far easier to bleed and offer far more consistant power for longer than XT (or SLX). Shifter I agree is less important but it does feel nicer and if you have already spent $5000 on your bike what’s another $50 over the XT model? Chains, been running KMC for as long as I can remember so it is more a matter of material quality and again reduced weight on a part that gets thrashed up and down repeatedly.
        But as long as we are both enjoying our riding within our mountain bike spending budgets it all doesn’t matter. Happy trails.

  • kain0m

    I think the most important point is, it is not about stiffness or weight or any other “engineering fact”. It is, however, about three big things:
    – Making the bike companies look innovative. Just take a look at how innovative they think they are for using bigger wheels.
    – Making your existing stuff incompatible. Cranksets, Derailleurs, Forks Hubs, etc. – so many high end parts from just five years ago don’t fit anymore because the standard has changed in a way thatnis incompatible with new parts. 20*110 was convertible to 15*100, which is why they fixed their mistake with 15*110. Also, dealers have stockpiles of old stuff which is obsolete – so they have to do a blowout sale there, and buy new stuff from the manufacturer.
    – Sell whole bikes, not upgrades. There are fewer and fewer framekits available, fewer forks, etc. If spares are available, it will increase the lifetime of what you have. Their vision is a high-tech piece of kit which has to be serviced twice a year and can only be replaced as a whole.

  • sospeedy

    +1 Uncle Dave. Heck, i’m still on 26! And still lovin’ the ride!