A brother in law living in Europe (neighborhood of Switzerland or Austria, he gets around) has been tapping me for advice on a bike purchase.
This morning, looking at links sent by Euro Bro (in law), I noticed how the mushroom cloud of "innovation" from the mountain bike boom has actually led to some meaningful design improvements as the better ideas have clawed their way to the surface of the avalanche of mixed blessings generically referred to as progress.
The examples are far from isolated. Most of the niche bikes of today owe something to the discoveries and even more numerous rediscoveries of the mountain bike boom. Some of the progress, in internally-geared hubs, for instance, was tangential to the direct thrust of mountain bike development, but some interest came from the desire to have multiple speeds without vulnerable derailleurs. What does not work for a mountain bike ridden hard in rough terrain still does excellently for a transportation bike in a more refined urban environment. Yes, I know cities have some hideously rough streets, but no one is clawing up a rough singletrack or hucking a huge drop. Not often, anyway.
Many bikes fly the "retro" banner. They work because that outmoded concept was never wrong, it was merely set aside for something that was either more fashionable or suited to a niche that was currently more popular. Many of the retro offerings hearken back to what made the mountain bike so appealing: it was a general purpose bike. People like a general purpose bike. They want it strong, durable, light enough, as simple as possible and with both a long shelf life and a long usable life.
Racers and performance riders of any sort have always been willing to sacrifice longevity for various other important qualities that enhance performance. The sporty enthusiast has tried to mix some performance with the practicality. The well funded enthusiast might even have a finicky greyhound or two in the lineup. But the foundation of a durable cycling culture has to be a durable cycle. Cycling should be a long term relationship.
Now I just have to figure out how to turn some income on free advice.