Quit Reinventing the Wheel—Literally
By Mike Wirth
I hate it when people use the word “literally” to describe things, because they almost always use it in a way that’s the exact opposite of how it was intended. Like when someone says, “That guy literally crashed his brains out.” No, he didn’t. He crashed hard, but his brains didn’t spill all over the trail. That said, I think there are more than a few riders who are upset with how the bike industry is figuratively crashing the brains out of the cycling industry by literally reinventing the wheel too many times.
Let’s stop inventing these new standards that do little more than provide small incremental gains and make everyone else’s bike obsolete. I’m talking about axle sizes, wheel diameters, tire widths, drivetrain mounting systems and bottom brackets. I could go on for days. They’re killing the bike industry one frustrated rider at a time. Moreover, we’re making an already intimidating sport impossible to try. Imagine you’re a person who’s outdoorsy—maybe you like to take your dogs hiking on the weekends. You probably have been rock climbing a few times with your friends at an indoor gym where you learned how to belay. You may have even done a triathlon or run a 5K, but now you want to try your hand at mountain biking. You walk into a bike shop and the salesman asks, “What kind of riding do you do?” or worse yet, “What kind of bike do you want?” With so many choices, categories, options, wheel sizes, etc., even I don’t know what kind of mountain biking I do. I ride on the mountain, does that count?
I understand your argument as an industry—it’s the riders who have asked for these new standards and innovations. But, as with a kid who wants to eat ice cream for breakfast every morning, sometimes you have to say no. I’m not suggesting that we should limit innovation, but you’re collectively turning off an entire generation of riders to the sport by making it too technical and hard to understand. I’m suggesting that maybe we hold off on the small changes that really don’t make a difference in ride quality. I know what you’ll probably say—that companies can’t invest in new tooling to make outdated standards, and I understand that; however, if you turn off an entire generation, you’re going to be out of business anyway.
One of the toughest articles I have to write every year is the one where we describe the different types of mountain bikes for the buyer’s guide. Then, inevitably, I get flamed for not including enduro bikes by one group, or flamed by others who say that enduro is a style of racing and not a bike style. So, which is it? To tell you the truth, I don’t even know. We at the magazine are not immune to this. We ran into such a problem this month when we couldn’t test a fork on a bike because, lo and behold, when we went to bolt it up, we realized we had the wrong axle spacing. Sorry to say, but that fork test we were very excited about will have to wait until next month.
My favorite two bike categories are, hands down, all-mountain and trailbike, because you can go all over the mountain trails with either one of them. I miss the days when we could just call a bike a mountain bike and be done with it. I don’t want to hear about how you can’t ride enduro because you don’t have an enduro bike. In fact, one of my friends used to race and win Super-D on a Giant NRS (No Resonance System, or, as it has became known in the bike shop world, “not real suspension.”) The bike had bar ends and almost no suspension, and he dominated the race series with that thing. He didn’t need an enduro bike, or even one that was designed for going downhill for that matter. A mountain bike is a mountain bike no matter what the wheel diameter, tire width or axle spacing is.
Sorry to all my industry friends; I simply had to get that off my chest. You can now go back to your computers to figure out how to make 32-inch wheels or Super-Duper Boost axle spacing.