Not until the fundamental changes…

I was reading the other day on some mountain bike forum that such and such a bike looks like some other brand’s bike. It’s not the first time this has come up and it’s not going to be the last. What it signifies though is that ‘that’ particular avenue has gone as far as it can go.

It’s something I ponder quite a bit – ‘where to next?’ to put it another way. In the case of say a mountain bike frame, there literally are so many ways you can stick the various bits together and do so in an effective manner. Truth be known, the very best, lightest and strongest way to do it (with metal) is with round tubes in the form of a triangle. Sorry folks, but that’s the truth. Every departure from this is just ‘design’, some better executions than others, some more purposeful than others.

Motorcycles and cars are the same deal. The ‘package’ has been refined as far is it’s going to get, everything over this really, again, is aesthetic design to please the eye, and while marketing departments will tell you that the shapes are for aerodynamic, fuel saving purposes, the truth is that a truly aerodynamic car is pretty boring – Prius anyone? Unlike the humble bicycle though, cars and many moto’s have a skin than can be shaped into a pleasing shape, so there is always somewhere to go with them.

It occurred to me (not recently mind you) that for something to really change, a fundamental factor has to shift first. For a car, that might mean loosing the ICE (internal combustion engine), which would mean that the entire package of the car could change, depending on what replaces the ICE. The same can be said for a moto. Slap an electric motor in there and suddenly a whole host of components are no longer needed and as a result, the overall package can change.

Look Ma, no tank…

In the case of a bicycle, it’s a much harder call, there just are no superfluous parts on a bike, or complex systems that require additional components, which means that something more significant has to change. The immediate thing that comes to mind is the drivetrain. That mashing of chain, derailleurs, sprockets, is what keeps a bike looking the way it does. If you’ve ever tried to design around that wretched combo, you’ll know what a limiting pain it is. Loose the lot, or at least the gears (in a conventional sense) and you’ll open the door to a word of new and fresh design possibilities – shaft dive, enclosed belt drives, central gear boxes, each one of those things can change the fundamental package of the frame to the point that a bicycle could look remarkably different.

Will it happen? Well that’s the next question and seeing at what a desperately slow and uninspired pace the bike industry moves in, it’s hard to say if it will. There have been attempts, no doubt, and options are there but I am guessing until there is a substantial uptake of an alternate technology, we will continue to see bikes be a rehash of the same old, same old.

… just thinking aloud.

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