Thursday, October 31, 2013

From the Great Age of Fake

Today's repair subject is a 1995 Specialized Rockhopper. It went into storage after very little use, so it's like an archeological specimen.

The mid-1990s was the Great Age of Fake in the bike industry. New companies were appearing. Old companies were searching for new identities or battling for their lives.

Component manufacturers competed for lucrative OEM contracts with bike companies. Accounting and marketing departments suddenly mattered more than they ever had before.

Accounting departments wanted to see costs kept down as income went up. Make the money. You can always figure out how to hide it. But you're screwed if it isn't coming in. That's where the marketing department shoved its sleeves up and elbowed everyone else aside.

Component makers needed to offer parts that looked good at common -- read "low" -- price points. In the mid 1990s a mid-price mountain bike like a Rockhopper was around $500. That was a comfortable investment for many people who wanted an affordable, sporty bike that would last a while.

When I came back into the bike business in 1989, after nine years away from it, Specialized had established itself as a decent bike line. The model ranges from low to high were Hardrock, Rockhopper and Stumpjumper. At each price point they offered a solid value.

Within three years the explosive growth of mountain biking had begun to erode that from the bottom. Specialized started cheapening the Hardrock even as the price continued to rise. They had made their name. Now they were extracting profit by cutting corners on the product.

Maybe OEM componentry had become ridiculously expensive, so all they could get for lower price points was deceptive garbage. If so, did that bother them at all?

The general devaluation reached the Rockhopper around 1994.
Here is a crank that looks like it has replaceable chainrings in the 58-94 bolt pattern that was coming into common use. Look closely. All three rings are bolted together and attach to the small bolt circle that holds the smallest ring. The rings are Shimano-specific. Of course they were not available for long as replacement parts. About the time people actually wore out any, the replacements were long gone. Lay that one at Shimano's feet with a sizable pile of other bodies.

Interestingly, this crank is from the same year and has basically the same arm profile as the MC 12, M 290 and CT 90 (Alivio, Acera and Altus) cranks Shimano had to recall worldwide because they were snapping off. Somehow the STX model escaped that fate.
These brake levers continue the theme of looks over substance. That's a nice aluminum two-finger lever blade mounted in a cheesy plastic body. The stamped sheet metal clamping band is tightened by a dinky Phillips head screw.
These pedals with a "rugged steel cage" and "space age polymer resin" (plastic) body are still offered as an upgrade from all plastic. However, the metal parts do not want to stay attached to the plastic parts, including the steel axle and bearing cups that will start digging their way out through that plastic pedal body from day one.

The major companies in the industry still play this game even though the market splintered into factions by the beginning of the 21st Century. But smaller companies have sprung up in the niche markets that allow for some creativity and some bikes that might last a while.


Justine Valinotti said...

I remember that crankset. I think SRAM made one like it.

The worst part was that the ring assembly bolted onto the smaller bolt circle. If the two larger rings had bolted to the 94 BCD and the smaller ring bolted to the middle one, it might have been OK.

Are 94 or 58 BCD rings still made? It seems that nobody was making cranks with those patterns after the turn of the century.

cafiend said...

Simulated or misleading replaceable chainrings are common in the industry. And there's really no good way to make a chainring sandwich when the ring with the special tabs on it to support other rings is a proprietary product that can (and will) be withdrawn without warning or apology.

I was able to get 94 and 58 rings last fall. Surly chose that bolt pattern for the Mr. Whirly crank, and one or two other companies had them as replacement parts. Of course these sources can dry up when you're not looking, so I can't say for sure.

Steve A said...

I miss my TA crank for which I became unable to find replacement bolts.

cafiend said...

Velo Orange has been getting a lot of classic stuff like that cloned . Don't know about diameters and threading. But it's a place to look. And Harris Cyclery had some old French stuff in their vaults.

Bon chance.