Listening too intently?

In our little corner of the world there seems to be an increasing and almost scary reliance on, and acceptance of, what we are told is “good”, “right” and “better” by the magazines, websites and marketing big shots of the cycling industry.  Be it weight, technology, gear count or (*yawn*) disc brakes on road bikes, I can’t help thinking too many of us are listening too intently.

Year-in and year-out the bike industry busily churns out the “next best thing”, with annual 10% reductions in weight and 10% increases in stiffness.  Everything has gone oversize on the basis that stiffer and lighter is “better”.  Rims have gone wider, and ‘aero’ rims are no longer ‘aero’ unless they have a bulbous curve to them.  On the subject of which, every bike brand now has an ‘aero’ frame in their range, and every helmet manufacturer has an ‘aero’ lid to match.  Jeepers…

Cranks are apparently getting stiffer and lighter.  Anyone who can ride two different cranksets on the same bike and tell me they can genuinely, physically feel the difference in weight or stiffness… well, you can have all my bikes.  Oversize head tubes on steel frames?  Nothing more than following fashion of other materials (where, admittedly, this might have a benefit above a certain frame sizes).  30mm BBs and crank axles?  Shimano certainly aren’t shifting on this, and one American shop who test a lot of components have, so I’m reliably informed, proven that 30mm axles carry zero benefit Vs 24mm axles.  35mm bars and stems?  Really?

Don’t get me wrong – some of this stuff is genuinely very good, regardless of whether or not the ‘benefits’ truly exist.  Praxis’ second brand, Turn, have some new cranks on the market – the quality is outstanding, but I’m curious whether they really need to have 30mm axles on them, beyond a requirement to be more universal to all of the BB ‘standards’ out there now that we’ve all been told (brainwashed?) that the 30mm axles are “better”.

And then there’s the respected, experienced few who are given the privilege of testing “the latest and greatest” to tell us all how wonderful these new-fangled technologies are. I admit to being one of those few – but if I don’t like a product enough to offer up a positive review I politely decline, choosing instead to give the company my criticisms and feedback.  A less proactive example of us respected, experienced few, is a widely regarded website who openly state that their method of testing the stiffness of a bike frame is to lean it up against a wall and push against the pedal.  What is that actually testing?  Not a lot beyond the movement of the tyres and stiffness of the wheels – any bottom bracket movement resulting from this ‘methodology’ would only be visible to the naked eye, and that’s no means of measurement.  Use the same tyres at the same pressure, on the same wheels, at the same spot on the same wall, with markings on the ground to check the BB movement using a camera lens mounted at the same height and pointing at the same angle and I might start to buy into it.  And yet their readers listen.

I ride “old style” narrow rims, and even some tubular rims that are over ten years old (granted, I do own a set of new-fangled wide rims too).  None of my current bikes has an oversize headset, and recently I was running a ten year old steel frame that had a 1” headset on it (admittedly, I do have a frame on the way that will have a 44mm head tube).  I don’t own a carbon bike, and one of my bikes is made of wood.  Yes, really.  Ok so I do have a bike that runs electronic gears, and yes, they work very nicely – but they also bore me to tears because there’s no maintenance to do.  My bike with an oversize PressFit30 BB has been nothing but a ballache, and I run a BB that converts it back to a 24mm axle.  Go figure!

Don’t get me wrong – I’m often an early adopter, and I love the ‘latest and greatest’, but only when it carries an actual, tangible benefit.  Frankly I struggle to remember the last time a new bike product made me feel any genuine performance benefit or enhancement beyond making my bike look better.

And the disc brakes on road bikes thing?  I’m not going there…