Greg: It’s not easy being green

by Greg May 21

It started with another broken bike frame. A routine trip to the garage to fettle bikes went from being a pleasant evening beer with my bike, to several beers and bemoaning my lot in ten seconds flat.

worn-cassette2

It had snapped. My wonderful trustworthy frame had snapped. It’s under warranty I remembered, and the swing-arm could be replaced. The next day I rang a real person, in a real shop and they got it sorted. Like in the old days, when customer service was a thing and people talked to each other to help each other out. The next evening, I took down a 12 month old frame and decided to switch components over to it from the broken bike, so I had something to ride in the meantime. Oh how wrong I was going to be.

Tools out, nitrile gloves on, beer open. Strip the frame. Check the chain – over 0.75 – it goes on the dead pile as does the cassette. I should pay more attention to that. Wheels off and set aside. Brakes off – pads are worn, onto the dead pile. Forks, chainrings, cranks, everything off and assessed – surprising amount of stuff in the dead pile now, I think, as I throw the crash shredded grips on it too.

Pick up old frame – seatpost won’t fit in it. Rummage for old seatpost, remember I gave it to someone, and write seatpost on the whiteboard. Remember to be less kind next time. Clamp the frame to the workstand and smear some grease in the threaded bottom bracket, then realise the snapped frame has a press-fit bottom bracket. Grab a spare threaded version and cranks. Pick up chainrings and go to fit them.

Curse.

Scratch head.

Wonder why the 94BCD chainring won’t fit the 94BCD cranks in front of me. Realise someone has machined them so they won’t fit another manufacturers cranks. Get angry. Throw strop. Add chainrings to the whiteboard.

And so it goes on. The brakes need an adapter to clear the frame. The forks are tapered and the new frame’s headset won’t fit, as the headset needed for the 12 month old frame is an obscure ‘standard’ that was in fashion for six months and now isn’t. I’m now at a point where I have most of the various bits for a bike. A third of them fit, half of them are obsolete, and the remaining consumables are worn out.

Now there is a dichotomy here. I don’t mind bits of my bike wearing out. Chains, pads and cassettes are consumables. If they wear out it means they are doing their job, being ridden, and if I am honest, not being treated very well in the process either. On a cost per kilometre basis I get very good use from them – I’m ok with them having a finite life. However, I’d like to be able to replace them – just those bits, not everything they are attached to – when they are toast. When chainrings wear out, I want to replace chainrings, not whole chainsets.

We’ve reached a situation within the bike industry where we have standard upon standard upon standard, and these standards are competing to be on every bike – but not providing any form of longevity, or compatibility with regards to spares. It really irks me in these days of social consciousness and eco-friendly jam jar drinking pubs that we end up with a situation where manufacturers are building obsoleteness into the very core of what we do. Sure, no one wants things to wear out, and everyone needs to sell things to exist, but please have some consistency in how you design things.

But this leads to a bigger problem than just the proliferation of pointless proprietary products – one of waste. I’m hopefully not the only one who refuses to replace entire chainsets when I just need chainrings, despite it being cheaper to do so via NamelessOnlineShop™.

I now have a simple choice. Shell out for another crankset when all I want are chainrings; or wait until my new swingarm arrives.

If you want me, I’ll be riding my singlespeed while I wait for that swingam to turn up.

Comments (21)

  1. +1

    The bike industry appears to have adopted the Lexmark printer business model.

  2. I like my Rohloff more every day. This is why..

  3. Spot on. Also proves there is no such thing as a frame swap any more, always some kind of incompatibility.

  4. And I thought it was just me.

  5. Yep, not a word wrong.
    During the first 15 years of riding MTBs that I did, not much changed [for the better?-ed]. Components were improved by developing what we already had into a better version. Some new things cam along (suspension and discs brakes), but by and large most stuff was compatible year to year.
    However, it seamed like about 10 years ago things changed. In order to get the latest improvement it was probably better to buy a whole new bike than try and retrofit.
    harrumph.

  6. The cycling industry basically invented built obsolescence back in the 19th century, it’s no wonder they have become so good at it.

  7. It’s the stuff we forget about too, friction shifters can be taken apart, greased and rebuilt easily enough… Do that with an 10 or 11sp ? No chance and they aren’t cheap to replace

  8. I’ll take progress thanks. You can keep your jumpers for goalposts…

  9. “over 0.75 – it goes on the dead pile as does the cassette”
    why?
    I don’t change a chain until after 0.75 (but before 1.00) then leave it to wear out over a much longer period until it starts to snap

    “someone has machined them so they won’t fit another manufacturers cranks”
    Grjnd/file/generally remove the offending piece to make it fit

    Its a losing battle yes, but you’ve got to keep all the obscure bits that fit the obscureness of the frame with the frame (out of your control?) so a headset (jnc, race), qr bb, s/post, brake adapter have to belong to and stay with the frame

  10. Your trouble began when you turned that old bike into an old frame. If you’d have left it intact you could ride it, loan it to visiting friends, you’d be able to find replacement components one at a time if that became necessary.

  11. “over 0.75 – it goes on the dead pile as does the cassette”

    I’d swear Park Tools has a deal going with chain and cassette manufacturers 😉

    Let them run on until death. They’re still perfectly fine, it’s just if you actually stuck a new chain it will skip on the old cassette, but then many end up having to do that anyway despite changing chains early. Hence PT changed their checker to make you change it even earlier. Run it all to death though and you’ll go through one chain and cassette in far longer time. Only issue is if your chain undergoes utter destruction and can’t be repaired with a quick link. Just buy KMC and it’ll never snap (well, almost never).

  12. Progress is good and I want brake discs rather than rim and pads that are made of the hardest compound rubber known to man.

    But the lack of consistency in approaches when the industry is supposed to have standards is massively frustrating. Yes you can keep whole bikes, or critical components, and bodge to get round it – and I do – but they fail to become standards if they last six months.

    More annoying is the frustration of building in fragility to the drivetrain. So you cannot make chains that don’t stretch and cogs that don’t wear as easily? Really? This is true even of the high end stuff too, so the adage of “light, strong, cheap – choose two” is another standard that has lasted six months.

    The bike industry is not as low-carbon as we think. On the plus side, maybe our carbon consumption offsets any emissions…

  13. We are now firmly in the run drivetrain to death camp (at the most maybe alternating a couple of chains). And if you do single ring and 4 arm cranks, unbolt and rotate the ring 90 degrees to wear the unused sectors. And then flip it over and repeat the process to wear the reverse flank of the teeth 🙂

  14. “Standards”. The next one is always better. http://xkcd.com/927/

  15. Nice to see I hit this one right. Really miffs me.

  16. You did indeed Greg. I just sold a six speed shimano Road bike with biopace rings that I bought from new in 1990 and with hard great innitially then light turbo use for the last twenty years it’s still running fine on the same cogs and chain. When did they change approach?

  17. The newer chain tools have changed the diameters to 0.5 and 0.75.. wonder why?? and how come a 10 speed cassette and chain lasts half the life of the older 9 speed versions… oh and 11 speed well we all know that will be even worse…
    300 miles for a 10 speed chain and its toast… that cant be right!

  18. This article is great. I feel exactly the same. On of the things I love about my obsession of MTBing is that maintenance gets turned in to a new opportunity to create a new bike! Don’t get me wrong. I love new stuff and how an engineer/designer/shed inventor looks at a convention and says ‘Why?’. But the current trajectory of the industry’s collective ‘innovation’ cycle (oh yes that pun was intended) is not sustainable. Not from an eco point of view at all. Thought that has a bunch of very valid arguments also. No, I mean is that the current crop of new comers, returnees to the buying market that given rise to the ‘cycling explosion’.

  19. Doh!

    …So what happens when this explosion see they are up for a new bike when they wear something out or brake something? What will happen to the industry then? Well at least I’ll be able to buy a cheap second hand bike with for parts and replace the broken swing arm with a good one I have in the shed somewhere.

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