EDITORIAL

The Pace of Change in MTB

Words Cam McRae
Photos Cam McRae - unless noted
Date Sep 22, 2016

Interbike is a rare opportunity to pick the brains of some of the biggest influencers in the mountain bike industry. Staff from both the product and marketing departments generally know what’s going to market two years from now in 2018, and right now many are working on 2019. Of course, they won’t tell us about this stuff, and if they let something slip and we pass it on we’d get blacklisted, so I wasn’t trying to find out specifics.

I wanted to find out what these people know about the pace of change – so I asked them a very specific question; Do you think the pace of change to mountain bikes is going to remain constant, slow down or increase in the next few years. I was talking about things like axle sizes, bottom bracket standards, headset sizing, shock sizing, wheels, tires, seat post sizes, the kinds of changes that have made bikes from five years ago completely incompatible with most parts from the bikes we were looking at down here in Las Vegas.

“Do you think the pace of change to mountain bikes is going to remain constant, slow down or increase in the next few years?”

Here are eight answers from some savvy industry veterans


Will Ockelton – Marketing Director – Santa Cruz Bikes will_ockleton

“Crikey. It feels like there always has been change. It feels for me like business as usual.  26 – 29, 29-27 plus, 27.5 – 27 plus, fat bikes, e-bikes. It just seems to be relentless. For us at Santa Cruz I feel like there’s a steady pace of it. I don’t feel there’s been any sort of peak, that this has been any more hectic than any other time. What we’re noticing mostly is this demand of people asking us for e-bikes. That seems to be where everyone thinks all the change is. And it’s just another thing. It’s not the replacing thing. There’s always something. People are just looking around for, to be fair, the next bit that needs to be improved. Integrated headsets are cleaner. There’s some unnecessary stuff, like bottom brackets, six of one, half dozen of the other but I think it’s the natural pace of change. I think we’ve been pretty good at rejecting anything that’s B.S. Boost was a tricky one. At work I remember when Boost was a pain in the ass. It does improve certain things but we were living just fine to a point, I believe.”


Dan Dacko – North American Marketing Liason – SR Suntour

dan_dacko

“It’s either going to stay the same or decrease. The reason I think about that. There’s a bunch of retailers I talk to who can’t move fast enough for that rate of change. If they aren’t prepared for it, then it makes everybody’s life miserable. Then there will be blowback from the people who ride the stuff and everybody’s just got to catch up. There’s too many things in flux. I think there are a lot of people asking why we did this. Why are we at this rapid pace of change? Does it make mountain biking more fun? Maybe, maybe not. It’s certainly more frustrating and I think a lot of people are coming to that frustration point.”


Josh Kissner -Product Manager – Santa Cruz Bikes 

josh_kissner

“I would think it would probably decrease for normal bikes. I feel like you’re going to see more people get bored and run out of ideas and start to do more electronics and things we don’t feel are totally necessary. That would be my guess. It does feel that we’ve been filling every single micro-niche for awhile now. It’s tough to know what’s next. I do think there have been a lot of improvements. None of us are doing it for convenience sake. Everyone is trying really hard and coming up with a bunch of new stuff. And most of it’s good probably.”


Bobby Brown – Marketing Specialist – Maxxis

bobby_brown

“I think it’s just going to continue. A lot of us have mixed opinions on e-bikes but I think that’s really opening up mountain biking to a large percentage of the population that may have considered mountain biking a little too hardcore or intense for them to do on a Saturday morning. I’d say if anything plus tires, e-bikes, a lot of these technologies paired with bikes being so much better these days, easier pedaling and lighter weight, are making mountain biking more accessible. And this is going to grow the sport.”


Andrew Major – Tech Writer – NSMB.com

Andrew Major portrait 1

Photo – David Ferguson

“I think for big companies like Trek and Giant and Specialized, the pace of change is going to increase exponentially until the components on the bikes aren’t compatible with bikes from any other bike companies. For smaller companies the pace of change has to slow because they need to be able to build common parts to build their bikes. They can’t all have their own bottom bracket width or hub spacing so they need common standards.”


Eric McKeegan –  Tech Editor – Dirtrag

eric_mckeegan

“I think they’re going to settle in where they are now for awhile. I don’t think we’re going to see any new bottom bracket standards. I think we’ll see limited things like the 150 DH hub being used – maybe a few more companies using that – but I think we’ve settled a lot of the standards stuff. The tapered head tube has been estabished and no one seems to be messing with that. I’m hoping that similar things are happening with hubs and wheel sizes. I think the biggest thing we’re going to see is messing around with tires for a long time. Now there are 2.6 tires that aren’t really Plus Bike tires but aren’t really standard tires. But everything else – we’re through the worst of it. I hope. ”


Joel Smith – Product Manager – X-Fusion Shocks

joel_smith

“Change and development are far different. There’s been a lot of change but there hasn’t been much development. Developing something that’s unique and very useful and has an application that’s beneficial to the customer. I think we’ve made a lot of changes recently that I don’t think have been significantly beneficial for the amount of change they’ve required. I think the development is going to increase a lot because we now have a product that requires a lot of development – e-mountain bike products. It’s requiring drivetrain rethinking, brake rethinking, fork rethinking, battery rethinking, motor rethinking – there’s going to be a huge amount of development in the next five years that’s going to be driven by a different application. Which is e-bike. Part of the problem with the change thing is that we’ve reached the end of the cycle. If you a 160mm 27.5 bike, how much better are you going to make it? You’re not. There is no game-changer coming in enduro bikes – I don’t believe. So I don’t see the development in e-bikes crossing over to conventional bikes. But that’s where the revenue is coming from. By far the most interesting category at Eurobike this year was e-trekking because it’s generating the revenue. Whatever generates the revenue is where the development is going to happen.”


Morgan Meredith  – Global MTB Marketing Manager – Cannondale

morgadeth

“I think we’re in a bit of a plateau. When you think about it mountain biking is not that old. There are things in the past two years that have been invented that completely change the way and the places we ride. We’ll start to see a slowdown of the wheel size debate, axle sizes and those sorts of things. There is not much farther we can take it in that regard. There are other places we’ll be doing more, in suspension and tires etc. In the smaller moves, I think we’ll start seeing a slow down there. Bigger monumental things will still be coming because we’re young and we still have a lot to learn.”


Not Exactly a Consensus

Not long ago it seemed like companies were reluctant to foist too much change on customers. They seemed to worry riders would be scared away and either choose brands that held on to previous standards and technology, or keep their current bikes, so they proceeded with caution. As change began to accelerate the backlash came on the internet, in bike shops and over post-ride beers, but the sales kept coming. The changes, both large and small, have given media outlets like ours shit to talk about – and new messages for companies to communicate. Many early adopters to 27.5 were medium-sized companies who found new markets and made huge gains on larger brands, making it clear that waiting on the sidelines with technologies like Boost and 27.5 Plus was not an option.

It’s clear that this rapid rate of change has improved bikes dramatically. Some of the changes, like clutch derailleurs, narrow wide, tapered head tubes, dropper posts, carbon construction, improved suspension and geometry and even new wheel sizing, have provided real benefits to riders. Given the choice between a full suspension a bike from 2011 and 2016 it’s not even close. At the same time, many changes feel like lipstick on a pig. I can see why riders feel new standards are being developed to part them from their cash. Consumer fatigue is setting in and I think some leveling off in the near future would be as welcome as a post-ride brew.

My answer is that I hope we don’t see the sorts of changes that will make your bike from 2016 incompatible with 2018 parts. Wheel size seems to have solidified some and we shouldn’t need new axle or shock standards soon, but I think the industry’s recent infatuation with new! and different! will find new areas of your bike to mess with. Call me a cynic, but I’d bet some carbon wheels against the madness ending anytime soon.


What’s your guess about the pace of change?

Trending on NSMB

Comments

zigak
0
ZigaK  - Sept. 22, 2016, 11:41 p.m.

I have a feeling that Joel Smith won't be working in the industry for much longer with that kind of attitude.

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walleater
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walleater  - Sept. 23, 2016, 7:11 a.m.

What….that 'speaking the truth' attitude? 650B, 29ers, dropper posts, oval rings (and I'm not talking Biopace….) etc were all around in the 1980's. Not much is really new at the moment. Just incremental changes in this years exciting new colours and marketed to hell. That's not to say that current bikes aren't much better than they used to be but these days we get creaking CSUs, knackered down tubes from shuttle pad damage and other such delights that we never used to get. Not exactly revolutionary. Maybe off the back of E-bikes there might be an option to buy products that weigh a bit more but don't fail if you sneeze on them.

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zigak
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ZigaK  - Sept. 24, 2016, 12:07 a.m.

It was a joke, obviously, but seriously, mark my words, he won't.
By the way - oh how I long for the times when SRAM's only change to the drivetrain was more color options.

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drewm
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DrewM  - Sept. 24, 2016, 12:57 p.m.

Joel is a lifer who's had a reputation for being super-practical going back to his Manitou days.

Some more interesting insights from him coming up in X-Fusion coverage from Interbike (tonnes more content left to go live).

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Lee-Lau
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Lee Lau  - Sept. 22, 2016, 7:18 p.m.

A shout out is necessary to Josh Kissner for being the Santa Cruz Product Manager who held fast in favour of threaded BBs. One small voice of sanity in an ocean of lemming like gerbil Product Managers chasing barf-inducing innovations in the bike industry arms race of inanity.

Thank you Josh and thank you Santa Cruz for being the "Luddites" that you are.

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Vikb
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Vik Banerjee  - Sept. 24, 2016, 9:58 a.m.

PF BB's are one of the least offensive/problematic "innovations" that has come along lately. You can convert most cranks to a PF bike without buying anything new. In the field I haven't seen any significant problems with PF BBs. I hear lots of negative comments about PF BB's from years before the current crop. And everyone seems to have amensia about the problems they had with threaded BBs as if they never failed or creaked.

The only hassle is you need new tools to install/remove them. After several years on PF BB bikes it's not something that would bother me either way when buying new.

Now if SC had called bullshit on Boost…now that would have been something both useful and courageous.

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esteban
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Esteban  - Sept. 22, 2016, 4:42 p.m.

"I think for big companies like Trek and Giant and Specialized, the pace
of change is going to increase exponentially until the components on the
bikes aren’t compatible with bikes from any other bike companies"
-Andrew Major – Tech Writer – NSMB.com

I think he's so wrong! It hasn't happened yet and it won't happen ever.

The comment differentiating change from development is spot on with current state-of-the-art.

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drewm
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DrewM  - Sept. 22, 2016, 5:30 p.m.

It definitely hasn't happened yet.

I feel that efforts to make proprietary shocks and shock dimensions, steer tube sizes, hub spacings, and even things as simple as Trek's 36mm seat collar diameter (vs. the ~ standard 34.9/35mm) foreshadow a possible future. I'm not suggesting its with any dark intention but if Trek, for example, sees something they think they can improve upon (Boost Spacing, Knock Block to deal crown-on-downtube contact with wider Boost spaced forks, Tapered steerer tubes, etc) they have the purchasing power and design capability to just go ahead and do it.

Now, the industry has adopted some of those examples (tapered steerer tubes and boost spacing) but what if they hadn't? There is no reason Trek could have continued using their purchasing power to have those parts made (like DRCV shocks for example, or Cannondale spec'ing 1.5″ forks from Fox and RockShox long after the industry had moved to tapered) regardless of what everyone else was doing.

Anyways. Bookmark this article. Pretty easy to come back and tell me how wrong I am a decade from now.

Cheers!

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esteban
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Esteban  - Sept. 27, 2016, 2:39 p.m.

Maybe we should consider ourselves lucky that they manage to generally use some form of standard, as opposed to the auto industry (outside of shocks and tires, everything's different!)

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Vikb
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Vik Banerjee  - Sept. 22, 2016, 12:41 p.m.

I'd like to get a new bike. Two things are stopping me:

1. My existing bling parts are not compatible with the frames that interest me. That drives up the cost of the new bike by quite a lot.

2. If I am going to invest in new bling parts I want to feel like they won't be obsolete in a year and have to go through that whole process again.

This is exacerbated by the feeling that so many of the changes are pointless or more charitably…offer limited benefits. At one point I wanted to share some key parts across a few bikes [like wheels/tires, forks], but it seems like the only way to do that is to sell everything and buy all new frames at one go so I can "capture" compatible standards across the fleet.

So I just wait and save the money. Fine for me, but that's $$$ the bike industry could have had this year.

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tehllama42
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Tehllama42  - Sept. 22, 2016, 3:44 p.m.

This is keeping me on the fence for now just one bike, but two for exactly the reason your describe - I want to be able to run three wheelsets across two bikes (one XC lightweight set with Asspens, one trail set with ArdentRace/Ikons, and one gravity set with Minions) where the hardtail could plausibly use all three wheelsets (Canfield EPO; Honzo CR), but waiting to see what my LT29er is going to be is holding back that whole stack of purchases.
Worst for the bike industry is that the confusion is keeping people like me with raging perennial upgradeitis into indecision paralysis, and then I wind up appreciating what I have lots more. I've been accidentally on a no-spend 2016 like you, except that I've purchased a seat and a new front wheel -- and I've saved a buttload on the side that in my mind was slated for two new bikes.

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rivers-mitchell
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Rivers Mitchell  - Sept. 22, 2016, 10:20 p.m.

Get a Banshee….easy to switch between wheel sizes and standards….even better with the 2017 changes.

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david-mills
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David Mills  - Sept. 23, 2016, 6:53 a.m.

Funny you should mention Banshee - a Prime is at the top of my list for a new bike. 29/29+/27+, 142 or 148 rear end, neutral or slack geo - all by adjusting the dropouts. They also trimmed a pound off the frame weight for 2017.

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tehllama42
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Tehllama42  - Sept. 22, 2016, 12:03 p.m.

First off, I really liked this article. Excellent stuff.

I REALLY like Joel Smith's comments about the differentiation between development and change, seems to be echoed by Morgan as well. I have a feeling we'll start to actually see refinement on concepts that bring some industry- wide commonality just on what stuff outright works better, but we'll still see a bunch of stuff which is new for the sake of being new.

As much as it's easy to bag on the eMTB stuff, it's really going to be its own new sport in North America, but as power density on batteries (this is really the primary frontier, and very similar to how FIA FormulaE will push the envelope) increases those will become very capable and fun 40-50lb bikes that make good use of 6-8″ of travel. Those will be new riders on two wheels, and pad bottom lines, but as somebody else pointed out they might very well become about the battery/motor manufacturers handling development of the overall chassis, then speccing existing asian-made chassis/frame setups and throwing whichever price point Park/DH bike parts make sense. There won't be that much value added a bike company can provide, as a lot of that is really working the trade space of pedaling performance and descending prowess, while a 500W motor that runs for hours will simply completely obviate that tradeoff, so a more capable bike will be the answer.

The upside for guys my size is that eMTB OEM type stuff (see Guide RE brakes as a prime example) will be able to pick up some good value hardware that is actually designed around a vehicle package in my mass range if I'm building into a human powered all-mountain bicycle.

Similarly, the electronic integration is something I'm pretty confident I know exactly where it'll end up, and it appears Shimano, Fox, and SRAM are in agreement (common head unit that can control drivetrain and suspension) - but I think they're missing the boat on how much of a sensor suite will be required to really get that right - but once it's all sorted out the shift will again be towards making bikes with added capability, but leveraging the ability to automate suspension adjustments to get a bike that pedals uphill and handles brilliantly, and achieves this in a very similar fashion to how magnetorheological shocks make performance/luxury cars able to do both tasks better. As awesome as that will be once sorted out, some of the technological dead ends to achieve it will be remarkably, hilariously, utterly crappy yet ruiniously expensive.
The upside is that some of the tuning and automation will actually get really good - I think the end state goal within a decade will be that the E:I sensor package will be able to tell a rider within half an hour of riding on representative terrain exactly where to set all the knobs which aren't controlled by a servo for optimum tuning, and then be able to handle the rest well enough for 95% of riders.

Change won't go away, and I think we'll still see it at the current frenetic pace. The good news is that the category/niche overlap is going to end up being a good thing, and more bikes on offer which fit into hyphenated niches (it's a XC-Marathon XC-Trail bike… it's a Trail-AllMountain-Enduro bike…) are a long-term win for consumers. I think some saturation will happen with a lot of those, because an 'average' bike right now is more than awesome enough for an 'average' rider.

Hopefully 'refinement' will be a buzzword that starts happening more then 'all new', and that should be able to take a lot of edge off of that frustration.

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drewm
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DrewM  - Sept. 22, 2016, 3:24 p.m.

In my brief experiences, Joel Smith is one of those guys that always listens carefully, takes a long pause, and then delivers ideas like he's been deeply pondering exactly what you just asked, or opined, for the last three weeks: clear, crisp, concise, complete.

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craw
0
Cr4w  - Sept. 22, 2016, 11:50 a.m.

I was about to do some pre-emptive upgrades on my current bike so that everything will be interchangeable with the bike I'm about to buy. Then I realized that's exactly what they want me to do. It's already tricky enough to get forks and suspension to work just the way you want so I'm loathe to give something that I already own (that's set up just right) for something new just because it's 3mm wider. And so I'm going to do the exact minimum required to keep my current rig working well until it's ready to die. I used to enjoy buying fancy new stuff and now it's increasingly hard to justify.

How about an 11spd cassette that lasts more than a few months and costs <$200??

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0
Perry Schebel  - Sept. 22, 2016, 12:49 p.m.

gx or xt?

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craw
0
Cr4w  - Sept. 22, 2016, 12:58 p.m.

XT. Luckily the first one got warrantied so it can go back on with a fresh chain while #2 can go back.

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Faction
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Derp  - Sept. 22, 2016, 1:02 p.m.

My XT 11-42 cost me about $85 online

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ryan-hill
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Ryan Hill  - Sept. 22, 2016, 11:37 a.m.

All this talk of the imminent e-bike takeover has me intrigued/confused. I've seen a few on the local fireroads in the Bay Area and a lot of them on the pavement around the city, but I don't know anyone personally riding one. Can NSMB do an article that looks into the numbers of E-bikes being sold, consumers purchasing them, and the parts of the world / North America that they are being purchased in? I'd really like to figure out where this demand is coming from. If it is indeed expanding the bike industry's reach and influence it would be great to learn more about it for access and advocacy reasons. Thanks!

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david-mills
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David Mills  - Sept. 22, 2016, 12:27 p.m.

There was blurb from Commencal on PB recently, to the effect that e-bikes were [or will be?] half of all sales in Europe. There wasn't a follow-up to ask if that was revenue or units sold, but it's still pretty significant. Will this trend wash up on the shores of North America? Considering that:
a) the 35-55 demographic is driving mountain biking forward, and not getting any younger
b) there's a gigantic mass of affluent Boomers who want to stay active as they retire
c) mtn biking is much less about climbing than it was in the 80s and 90s.
All signs point to Yes.

I was recently fighting my way up a climb and stopped to put my lungs back in my chest. Two fit-looking 40-something ladies with German [?] accents came whipping up the trail and asked me how far it was to the top. 2km. "Ja ja ja, no problem!" Zoom! Off they went. Pedal-assisted 6″ travel bikes looked like a LOT of fun right then, and that may be what convinces people to get e-bikes in the future - fun.

I see it going the way of skiing. In the beginning, everyone was a tourer. Then a few intrepid souls paid somebody to take them up the slope in a horse- drawn sleigh. Lifts made it even easier, and soon everyone was doing it, and going for a tour became the exception rather than the rule, unless you wanted untouched powder. But then heli/cat/sled made that easy as well, as long as you had the money. Right now, most of us tour on bikes under our own power. However, a growing segment uses chairlifts and trucks to get to the top, and some even use heli. E-bikes could just be the next step in that progression.

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JBV2
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james  - Sept. 22, 2016, 5:09 p.m.

tour? TOUR??? brah we, ahem, ENDURO where you been man?!

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david-mills
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David Mills  - Sept. 22, 2016, 6:24 p.m.

But I don't wear goggles, use bottles or have a fanny pack, so how can it be

enduro, sorry, ENDURO?

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tehllama42
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Tehllama42  - Sept. 22, 2016, 3:36 p.m.

Considering that self-driving automobiles can very quickly become self- shuttling setups for MTB applications, the whole 'cheater factor' aspect of it may seem utterly trivial here fairly soon.
That said, I think it'll remain partitioned because of trail access - but in places where the OHV trails are tight or relatively flowy, I think electrified enduro bikes will be the absolute answer… and I mean bikes that very narrowly toe the line between bicycle EWS and moto hard enduro - once the electric ones are light enough, the gaps between those disciplines will shrink a fair bit, or at least could.

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D_C_
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DMVancouver  - Sept. 22, 2016, 11:15 a.m.

I guess that's one good thing about e-bikes; they're a red herring that keeps manufacturers from focussing their unnecessary changes on bikes most people ride.

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tehllama42
0
Tehllama42  - Sept. 22, 2016, 3:40 p.m.

I suspect it's more about profit margins - these are cool new bikes which compete directly against other things which are far more expensive (mid-life crisis choppers/cars/golf), so they can make more per bike. It's not about the raw per-capita customer thing, its about where they can spend some development effort on a high likelihood payout - right now it's eBikes, but once that saturates who knows.

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mikekoot
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mike kootnikoff  - Sept. 22, 2016, 10:31 a.m.

Eric Mckeegan has an interesting point of view. things got crazy for headtubes and steerers for a while and that slowly calmed down, same with bottom brackets which is mellowing out, etc. The bigger picture is the industry is like a PID loop and if everything is tuned just right, the violent swings over short periods of time will decrease into subtle changes over a longer period of time.

we are exploring what we can do right now, soon we will find what actually works and what we need.

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