Obsolete

Words Dave Tolnai
Date Jul 8, 2014

Not all that long ago you could go to any internet bulletin board and there’d be a full bore, elbows out, take-no-prisoners discussion about forced obsolescence. And there seemed to be only two sides you could take on this argument:

  1. All progress is a good thing and you should stop complaining about it and you wouldn’t even have a mountain bike to ride if there wasn’t progress and why don’t you go back to the forest you stupid hippie.
  2. I’m sick and tired of having to upgrade way more shit than is necessary every time I want to build a new bike and these corporate thugs are ruining my life with their sinister master plan of unnecessary bicycle consumerism.

Or something like that. Now, sure, there’s a pathetic little peep of dismay each time a company plunges off in their own direction, but nobody seems to have the energy any more.

I was very firmly established in the second camp at one point in time. I distinctly remember getting really angry at Stuart Kernaghan when he was justifying 15mm front axles…or at least explaining why they were here to stay now that Rock Shox was in the mix…or something.

Whatever, he was a jerk for not taking my side. The argument seemed to be that I just shouldn’t buy 15mm if I didn’t like it. My argument was that sure, for now I could choose to stick with 20mm, but in a few years time when I needed a new fork, what would my choices be? And I’ve been proven right! 15mm has swept the “Enduro” market and while still possible, it’s a lot more difficult to find a longish travel, single crown fork to match up with my high dollar 20mm front hub. Or one with a straight 1-1/8” steerer tube. And that fits 26” wheels (ya ya..I know..it exists…you’re missing the point with all your ‘facts’).

It feels odd to be running a fork on my bike (happily I might add) that is basically triple obsolete. And it has a steel spring in it, so I don’t even know what that says about me. I’m surprised I can even still make it down the trail.

But even when the ‘advancements’ make total sense and everybody is on board, it’s still a bit troubling. Not that long ago I bought a nice 10 speed drivetrain for my bicycle and was excited about having a bit of extra oomph up the hills. I decided to wait for spring to mount it, and by that time I had to sell it all and buy a clutch one. And before that got on, I had to buy a narrow/wide chainring or my chain was going to fly off and saw through my leg. I really have no idea what that simple drivetrain upgrade cost me in the end. And kick me in the nuts if there aren’t lower cost 11 speed things about to show up.

And then you get things like pressed bottom bracket bearings in all their iterations. I mean, this is just the funniest thing I’ve seen in a while and I can’t wait for somebody to decide that the ultimate solution is just to thread the damn thing so it’s easy to service.

This all makes me a bit sad. A few years ago I started to change the way I acted as a consumer. More high quality, long term, proven stuff (in all aspects of my life). Less flavour-of-the-month disposable crap. And this happened right around the time you were basically an idiot to start making any sort of long term plans around bike equipment.

So, I’ve stopped caring and will just accept whatever the hell the bike companies are willing to throw at me. I will in no way try to standardize componentry between my bikes, and I’ll be shocked when parts can move amongst them. I’ll stop worrying about whether or not I can re-build my bottom brackets, or whether my headset will last for five years.

I’ll admit that I’ve totally lost this fight and I’ve given up. The global bike obsolescence conspiracy has won and there’s not much anybody can do about it. Sorry about that. Let’s all just take a moment, think about all the nice things we’ve lost and ponder the crazy future that we have ahead of us. Can you believe that we used to get stressed out about ISIS vs. Octalink bottom bracket spindles? We were all pretty stupid, weren’t we?


What planned obsolescence made you mad? Or have you given up as well?

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Comments

koeidels
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Koeidels  - July 21, 2014, 11:13 a.m.

This very much reminds me of the new 2014/2015 Cannondale F-SI with external cable routing, because " It’s lighter than internal routing and it makes service and cable changes a breeze".

Not too long ago we were told that internal cable routing would cure AIDS…

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PeterO
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PeterO  - July 11, 2014, 12:10 a.m.

is it obsolescence or adolescence? Mountain biking is still really young, it took years for the motorbike and automobile industry to reach some reasonable sort of industry standard and unfortunately for us Mountain biking is still nowhere as popular or has anywhere near the amount of capital involved with it. SO personally i think we just have to see where it all comes out in the wash before actually giving up on our favorite sport/pastime because of some new technological advancement or the fact that someone cut out my favorite root or moved my favorite rock….

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tim-lane
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Tim Lane  - July 10, 2014, 12:01 p.m.

Do you really think the industry is conspiring against you by planning obsolescence?

I challenge you to find either an evil despot or devious minion at Interbike this year. Most industry folk I know would love for there to be greater availability of 20mm axles, 26″ wheeled bikes and every other imaginable variation, but SKU counts have to be kept low because most bike companies are small businesses, not the Koch Brothers, so they make what they hope will sell and offer improvements when they are viable.

Rock Shox stuck with 20mm axles as best they could but they don't sell enough to justify widespread existence. Though the 20mm axle is stiffer, the 110mm width results in a wider crown which is typically flexier at a given weight - much of the stress in the system is at the crown, hence the proliferation of 1.5″ (tapered) crowns, the possibility of making safer carbon steerer tubes and the existence of dual crown forks (Boxxer, Lefty). The complete 15mm assembly may not be that different in terms of weight or stiffness than 20mm, but it is easier to use, which probably accounts for its popularity.

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Dirk
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Dirk  - July 10, 2014, 1:56 p.m.

Tim.

As the author of the above article, I can state with a fair amount of certainty that no, I don't really think there is a global bike industry conspiracy of planned obsolescence. That was a jest. Which there were a few of in the article. Right?

I understand your point about SKU counts. That's actually kind of my entire point. Today's "new and improved" means that the old stuff isn't going to be around for long because we all know that nobody can really manage to stock 50 variables of each fork model. That's what sucks about the whole thing. And why I freak out when people say things like "why do you care? It's not like anybody is forcing you to buy the new standard." Because you actually kind of are. Few years from now Dave is in fact going to have to buy the new standard because that's all that will be available. Progress wins by default. Doesn't mean you have to like it. Or like all aspects of it. I'm allowed to question the system. I'm allowed to be troubled by an aspect of our sport where 3-5 year old equipment is obsolete junk that is increasingly hard to source replacement parts for.

There's no "right" or "wrong" to this argument. Both sides are equally messed up is kind of the point I'm trying to make.

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tim-lane
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Tim Lane  - July 11, 2014, 9:31 a.m.

You're allowed to be troubled by whatever you choose, Dirk/Dave.

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CoilAir  - March 24, 2015, 10:01 a.m.

Tim, can you define what you consider a small business to be? You do realize that Shimano, who 'invented' the 15mm thru axle, posted two-and-a-half BILLION dollars in revenue in 2013?

I'm sorry, but there is very much a forced obsolescence mentality out there. Maybe not among the bike brands, but they really just design and market frames. They are just as much slaves to what the Shimano and SRAM behemoths force them to use as the end user buying aftermarket parts.

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tim-lane
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Tim Lane  - March 24, 2015, 10:38 a.m.

Hi CoilAir, I wrote most bike companies are small businesses, not that Shimano is a small business. When 100x15mm front and 142x12mm axles were developed I worked as an engineer at a bike company with less than 50 employees. Shimano consulted us, and I assume other bike companies in their development process. The guys at Shimano are enthusiastic about making the best stuff they can, they're not trying to gouge aftermarket customers - the majority of their sales are OEM.

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auzz
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Auzz  - July 9, 2014, 4:49 p.m.

Ha, jokes on you! I haven't bought a new bike since 2002. Fuck I hate being poor

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emanuel-ferretti
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emanuel ferretti  - July 9, 2014, 10:21 a.m.

A custom bike works out cheaper in the end…
Granted, makes more sense on a ht.

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coexist
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COEXIST  - July 9, 2014, 9:03 a.m.

I can't believe this is even a discussion. Without innovation and pushing forward we would be using leaches and blood letting to cure cancer. The bike you buy today is twice the machine as the bike you bought 5 years ago. Today's nomad is a better downhill bike than the Intense M3 I owned 7 years ago. My downhill bike now weighs less than my full suspension xc bike from 5 years ago. If the price to pay for that is my parts not matching between my xc and dh rig fine. I can't switch tires from my truck to my car either but that's fine. They are two different vehicles for 2 different purposes. I say go crazy bike manufactures and we will know which standards are better in 5 years because they will be the ones that are still in use.

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cam@nsmb.com
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Cam McRae  - July 9, 2014, 9:53 a.m.

The biggest point Dave is making is that consumers have largely given up on questioning the industry. When I was a kid people were skeptical about advertising but that seems to have been beaten out of us as well. Not long ago I saw an ad by Gillette telling consumers to change our blades more often. They were losing sales because the blades didn't wear out fast enough. There was a time when they would have boasted about this longevity instead of trying to coerce you to change them more often.

Another point is that innovation isn't always innovation. Sometimes it's marketing. 15mm, as mentioned above, is a great example. It's not as stiff but it's no lighter. You'll notice 35mm bars and tapered head tubes proliferating I imagine? Because, up to a point, you can increase strength by increasing diameter without a weight penalty. So you can decrease diameter and compromise stiffness without a weight advantage. Everybody wins! And many press fit bottom brackets are turning out to be problematic in terms of durability while being more difficult to service. While you correctly say that bike technology has made great leaps in recent years, the equation isn't quite as simple as you make it out to be.

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emanuel-ferretti
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emanuel ferretti  - July 9, 2014, 10:22 a.m.

amen.

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Faction
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Derp  - July 9, 2014, 11:20 a.m.

Totally agree Cam

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craw
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Cr4w  - July 9, 2014, 1:04 p.m.

I solved this question for myself by trying not to replace stuff unnecessarily. Bikes are costly enough to maintain without giving in to pointless upgradeitis. If I'm riding a lot stuff wears out more quickly so my gear fixation gets met that way, the best way. Then every so often you need to start from scratch and get a whole new bike with all the latest standards - and I'm totally cool with a full fresh start every 3 years or so.

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itsafannypack
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ItsAFannyPack  - July 10, 2014, 12:08 p.m.

Completely agree.

A few years ago I was starting to become so sick of all the new bike tech, and how fast my bikes were becoming obsolete (and otherwise destroyed) I decided to simplify. Now I ride a steel hardtail and have never been happier. It has completely changed the way I ride, and look at my bike. And while I am not immune to bike tech (1×11 in the near future, probably with carbon cranks) it is much easier to pick and choose on a simple bike.

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blackbird
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tw  - July 9, 2014, 8:17 a.m.

I think the distinction today is bike obsolescence vs parts. In the old days you bought, maintained, adjusted, upgraded parts. Eventually the frame would fail or something and you would move on. Today the bikes are almost a part in and of themselves. Yes you can upgrade parts etc, but it's like buy it, thrash it sell it in 2 to three years.

The main challenge is to see where all of this innovation finally tops out. Eventually some standards will remain and others fall by the wayside. I think the bike as a disposable part is an unrealistic trend, and a wasteful expensive one at that. But that's me.

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kain0m
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kain0m  - July 9, 2014, 1:30 a.m.

Amen. We've had a lot of "progress", and we're happily spending a hu-yuge amount of cash to be part of it. 1×11 is the latest iteration of this craze - lower bandwidth, higher jumps in ratio, MUCH more expensive. "But you don't need a chain device - most of the time. And it's more reliable!" - of course, that brand new drivetrain is indeed more reliable than the three year old worn out set it replaces…
Also, 15mm Axles. "much lighter, yet just as stiff". Except the opposite is true, just as heavy as 20mm and just as flexible as a QR.

In general I've noticed that bikes have peaked in performance AND durability about five years ago. Since then companies are working their butt of to make them lighter, sacrificing performance, durability, cost, and compatibility in the progress…

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craw
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Cr4w  - July 9, 2014, 7:50 a.m.

Yes and no but I agree!
I love not having a front derailleur. I think that's a huge improvement.
And my bike today is better than any bike I had before, and it definitely didn't exist 5 years ago.
I totally agree on 15mm. It seemed totally unnecessary at the time but my bike came with it and I've been running it ever since. But since forks are generally structurally stiffer than before I think it balances out.

Is there any way to distinguish between forced marketing coercion and actual progress? Are they the same thing?

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cam@nsmb.com
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Cam McRae  - July 9, 2014, 12:59 p.m.

An unexpected benefit of SRAM's Narrow Wide tech is that it has turned out to be backward compatible so you can strap it on your ten spd by adding a new chainring. Add an after market dinner plate chainring and you have 90% of the performance of XX1 or XO1. It's the best development we've seen in recent years. I can't ever see myself choosing to run a front derailleur again - and I couldn't be happier about that.

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