Back in the 1970s, when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, we cyclists would save our coins to buy the good stuff, like the racers use, because it was finished to closer tolerances and built to last, with proper maintenance. Some of it was super light and fragile, but a 36-spoke wheel was normal.
Racers did not want to risk a mechanical breakdown. They wanted gear that would stand up to abuse. To insure this, it was mostly a trifle overbuilt for its mission.
Science and engineering march on. Race support hovers closer. Designers work closer to the edge because racing equipment doesn't need to last forever. It only needs to last the day. Overnight the mechanics can put on a new piece. It's all part of the cost of mounting a winning campaign. If some wafty widget made of a proprietary layup of rare spider silk seems to be the best compromise of strength and light weight you keep buying them, because mere money should not stand in the way of victory.
Most riders, even racers, don't really have that kind of budget. Most professional teams would probably prefer not to toast most of their componentry in the course of each day of hard racing. But the change wasn't instantaneous. It's subtle and gradual, like a drug addict's slide to the tipping point.
As the top componentry becomes intensely sophisticated and complex, the mid-range stuff is simply beefed-up or watered-down versions of it. Simple durability dwindles and could vanish entirely. The simple parts are relegated to the bottom of the product range, the realm of stamped sheet metal, rough castings and cheesy plastic.
On the Fourth of July a rider brought his bike in, fresh from his crash out on Route 28. His SRAM Apex brifter was severely dislocated. His holiday weekend had only just begun. He left the bike so we could try to reduce the dislocation and restore some function.
On closer examination, I saw the lever body was fractured. The brake lever hadn't just been popped out of its pivots, the pivot seat had broken off.
We don't stock brifters. We've accidentally accumulated some Shimano singles and pairs, but nothing from SRAM. With no time to order anything, I told the guy I would improvise using a traditional brake lever and a barcon set on friction. When I couldn't find an aero road brake lever in either the shop stash or my personal cache at home, I used a Campy brifter with a worn ratchet as the brake lever. It was a nice Record carbon lever with only a few scuff marks from its own tumultuous past.
Interestingly, the 8-speed barcon I used did not pull enough cable to get all the way to the lowest gear on the Apex cassette. The SRAM derailleur is too much of a cable hog. Still, the rider was young and strong, so he settled for his next-to-lowest gear. I patched up his shredded handlebar tape and off he went for a few days. On Sunday he came back to have the emergency repair removed so he can go home and get the bike properly restored.
Admittedly, crash damage exceeds normal wear and tear. But in one sense it only accelerates the normal process. The rider is faced with all the compatibility issues and expense sooner rather than later.
You want to know what it's like to be a bike racer? Take 5-7 hard spinning sessions a week. Every few weeks have someone take a cheese grater to you while you're wearing your expensive cycling kit. And set fire to several hundred dollars a month. Happy?