Thursday, November 29, 2018

Information junkies

Remember those quaint days of yesteryear, when you could go to an annual trade show and be pretty well caught up for the coming year? When monthly or biweekly publications provided what seemed like a more than ample flood of information?

As the whole mess foamed up in the 1990s, we got the latest knowledge from the riders with the time and disposable income to pursue it, and our context from our own riding. Because the categories consisted broadly of road and mountain, it was fairly easy to retain mastery just by doing what we wanted to do anyway: riding. True believers in either camp might try to stump us, but experience usually gave us good answers. Sutherland's Handbook and other collected literature filled out the technical side.

Now that the two broad categories have spawned distinct, large subcategories, each with their own true believers, mastery is nearly impossible. The best informed riders seem to spend most of their time staring into their phones, sucking up information. Information. Information. A lot of it is unreviewed. Some of it is physically impossible. Fewer and fewer people can ride enough hours in enough categories to test the available information for validity. And even what’s trustworthy is too plentiful to absorb and retain. The internet has become our collective memory.

As fall and winter merge, I have a bike on one side of the work bench and skis on the other. It's not a happy merger, because grease is not good for skis. But people want what they want when they want it, and we make our meager pittance by providing what we can. The bikes in the queue include a 2018 Stumpjumper getting some wheel bearings, a first-generation Pugsley getting a drive train update and a 1995-ish Cannondale hybrid looking for long-delayed maintenance and some easier gearing. This is when you find out how much that was familiar has been dumped and buried by the current trends.

The Stumpy is still okay: parts readily available.

The Pugsley is too old for 11-speed, so its new owner has to settle for whatever we can assemble in a 1X10. Gotta be a 1X, of course, because who in their right mind wants one of those horrible front derailleurs on their bike? No mountain bike worth a second look has a rear hub as narrow as 135mm, or fewer than 10 cogs on the back, if that's what you have to settle for.

The Cannondale has a crank with a 130 BCD. There are very few chainrings, especially for a triple crank, in 5-bolt 130. They simply went away. All the cool kids have two-piece cranks and smaller bolt patterns, both in number and diameter. And forget finding a 7-speed, 13-32 cassette. The rear derailleur won't handle anything bigger than a 32. According to the specs I could dig up, it isn't even supposed to be able to handle the chain wrap of the gearing it has now. So if I drop the granny ring down from 30 teeth I need to be able to pull the other rings down to keep everything in reach. That's probably fine with the rider, but not with the industry. I'm actually comparing the cost of replacing the crank entirely. This bike should never have come with a 130-74 crank in the first place. But hybrids at the time fell into two subcategories: road based and mountain based. This one leaned toward the road.

Come to think of it, hybrids still do exhibit that division.

It's hard to keep all of the information straight.


Sunday, November 18, 2018

Robbed of the last of autumn

After a genuine winter-style snowstorm late night Thursday through a good bit of Friday, the roads cleared enough for me to snatch a ride before the next set of snowstorms. The snow has trashed the trail conditions, so my park and rides have become inconvenient. The next stage is to park and walk, which requires a longer drive to get within efficient walking distance. And I'll be walking back out in the dark. I would be riding in the dark anyway.

Some people just submit to the inevitable and ride the trainer in these conditions. I'm not sure what would give me sufficient incentive to ride the trainer or rollers on a regular basis. I would always prefer to be doing something real, outdoors. Not to disrespect the trainer riders. I salute them. The poor bastards.

Just over a month ago it was nice enough to stop for photo ops along Lake Wentworth.

New England says, "You knew what I was like when you moved in with me." It's true. And for the most part I just roll with it. Only after the park and ride became a realistic option did I get used to it and come to rely on it. And, every year, the park and ride season gets interrupted by some amount of snow. Early snow has tended to go away quickly enough to let the season continue, but the current storm pattern may blow that average.

Winter riding is best when conditions are "freeze dried." Dirt roads are firm and fast. The brine stays locked in the roadside snowbanks. It evaporates on the pavement to leave the classic white dust.

We're looking at a high of 19 and single-digit lows on Thursday. This follows snow chances starting tonight and running through Wednesday. With the sun approaching its lowest angle, it has no strength to attack even a small accumulation, and it's not up for very long anyway.

This time of year reminds me of my early years out of college, training and commuting in all weather in Maryland and northern Virginia. The winters are milder down there, but it's all relative: I was reacclimatizing after eight years in Florida. Beyond mere meteorological reminiscence, I can also tap into the blend of hope and desolation that permeated the period. There were roads, but no clear path. I was gathering information, while others in my peer group charged forward with learned certainties. The system works for those who do not question its validity.

That's not necessarily a good thing.

A raven spread its wings and wheeled above Route 25 as I rode toward the Ossipee River. A mountain rose to my right. Woods and fields dominate the scenery there. The cadence connected to every spin through every cold landscape in the same gear, year after year.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

E-bikes and the illusion of something for nothing

A recent convert to the smokeless moped posted this graphic showing their growth in Europe.
It's from this article on a site called Explain That Stuff.

Electric bicycles entice the consumer with the lure of smokeless, relatively silent assistance when the going gets tough. When the flesh is weak, your personal assistant will kick in to carry you through.

A tandem weighs less and provides the chance for pleasant conversation. But a second person does weigh more than a battery pack, and doubles the chances of farts. And maybe the conversation grows wearisome.

An under-performing stoker and a dead battery both still weigh the same as their energized counterparts, but you can ditch the stoker at a coffee stop and try to recruit fresh talent. I suppose you could also scrounge up a fresh battery somewhere. As the smokeless moped expands to become a common appliance, facilities might offer battery swaps along popular routes. Maybe they do already. But with the rate of obsolescence in new technology, what are the odds that such a service could remain current -- so to speak -- with all the proliferating options? You may be stuck with the dead hulk of your 60-pound slug of a bike, even when you're left alone to do all the work.

I wonder if anyone has collected statistics on how many dead ebikes have already ended up chucked in canals.

The ebike relies on the illusion of something for nothing. But aside from the up front cost of purchase and the ongoing cost of charging, you face maintenance and repair of its electrical parts, and eventual decommissioning of the dead battery. You also have to horse the thing around when you're not riding it: transporting it to riding venues if you drive to ride, lugging it in and out of wherever you store it...

As you use your magic moped, you rapidly deplete its reserves of pixie dust. Energy has to go into the equation in the form of your pedaling and the all-important battery charging. Pedal-assist devotees point out that they can choose how much assistance to request, and extend their cruising range. It is still more finite than the muscle power of an acclimated rider. I don't say trained, because that carries connotations of athleticism and competition that many riders pride themselves on avoiding. But anyone who rides frequently is trained. Strength, power, and efficiency all improve with use.

The smokeless moped requires an extra type of training to learn how to interact with the power assistance. To get that go when you want it, you have to use a setting that produces a very noticeable result when you push hard on the pedals. The rider learns quickly how to feather the power to avoid wobbling -- or even getting thrown -- but it does take at least a minimal period of adaptation. My own experience comes from test riding a variety of specimens brought in for repair, and from observing new owners, or novice riders on borrowed equipment.

The bike shapes the rider. You learn how to get along with your equipment. Happy moped riders fall into the comfort zone of the machinery. I suppose someone, somewhere, has tried electric bikes and rejected them. And others push the limits of the medium and lead the charge for expanded capability. (see what I did there? I'm on fire today! Oh wait, that's just the battery overheating...).

Joking aside, compare the cost and benefit of a heavy bike dependent on outside power to make it functional versus your primitive old push bike powered by meat alone. My rationale for transportation cycling, from back in the late 1970s, still applies. I will be eating anyway. I do need physical activity to maintain my body's fitness and health. I will have a basic metabolism even at idle. The energy in my body already can be applied through the supremely efficient bicycle to move my individual self to a lot of places I need or want to go. The up front cost is the bicycle itself, and an evolved set of accessories. Most of those cost nothing to own after the initial purchase. Some are consumable at varying rates. Clothing wears out. Bike parts wear out. But by learning to use tools, and sticking to open source componentry I can maintain a bike almost indefinitely. Frames and parts can be combined in different ways to produce desired riding effects. Pump up the tires. Lube the chain. Go.

Your body is the battery. Your body is the engine. Your body is the beneficiary.

The smokeless moped does have a place in the transportation mix. As an urban commuter it offers partial exercise benefits to riders who can't get sweaty on their way to a job that might require them to look spiffy as soon as they hit the deck there. The energy required to charge them is certainly less than the amount consumed by a full-size car or truck transporting a single occupant. Electric assistance is also good for anyone weakened by age, injury, or illness. But stop calling it a bicycle with a motor when it is really more of a motor vehicle with pedals. The motorized aspect is so embedded in its nature that it can't be separated.

The motor of this specimen drives the chain from the pulling end. This avoids the problem of 20-pound wheels with a motor in the hub, and heavy electric lines that have to be detached every time you need to fix a flat, but it also gives the bike a complicated gear box and does little to reduce the chronic weight problem that afflicts all battery-powered vehicles.

Electric bikes have spawned a whole segment of componentry to meet their specific needs for tires and other parts that can stand up to their weight and the increased wear as a result of power assistance. This is better for the breed than early models that used standard bike components, but it increases yet again the number of products a shop needs to carry to be ready to serve all potential customer needs. Even if shops practice "on-time ordering" someone has to have the crap in stock.

Open source componentry means that a rider can live off the land more easily. The recent Ars Technica article cited in an earlier post sneered at rim brakes and praised disc brakes, but I can find a functional set of rim brake pads almost anywhere.  Even in a local setting, can your local service source get the parts you need for your specific vehicle? How long will it take? I'll be in and out of the shop with a set of brake pads or a chain, or a chainring, or a crank arm, or tires and tubes, or pretty much anything in about five minutes. Installation takes longer, but acquisition is a snap.

My commuting costs when I lived in a town were under $100 a year. They were probably well under $100 a year. And I didn't have to remember to plug my bike in. Even in a rural area, riding a minimum of about 30 miles commuting per day, I only had to keep up with tires, chains, and some chain lube. Because I chose to ride more than the basic distance, I used up consumable items more quickly. But the rate of consumption is still really low unless you're racing, with its risk of crash damage, or mountain biking, for the same reasons. The harder you ride, the faster you wear everything out, including yourself. Find a balance that suits your personality.

The smokeless moped rider will not notice paying much more on a day to day basis, but the up front cost tends to be higher, and the replacement cost will mount. Given the way electronic things go, replacement will also be more frequent. Batteries die of neglect just as much as from frequent recharging. The more complex the vehicle, the more delicate are its storage needs.

Something for nothing turns out to be more costly than you think.

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

In a perfect world...

Fresh out of college, with fantasies of creative success and a very realistic view of my financial position, I built my lifestyle around transportation cycling and small, sparsely furnished dwellings.

That was the plan, anyway.

Artists are always looking for ways to balance the basic needs of survival with the need to create. You have to be as persistent as a cockroach, and as adept at survival. Unfortunately, you will find yourself often about as welcome.

A brightly lit and prosperous world hung temptingly near in the 1980s. I kept letting myself get dragged into various safe harbors, more stray cat than cockroach. It exposed me to normal people, none of whom fell for my bicycling evangelism and suggestions that one could do a lot with a little, and still leave plenty for others to do the same.

A harsh wind blasts the landscape today. When the bike commute was a fairly short hop across a small and pleasant town, I would have done it without hesitation. In the original plan, I would travel from the town by bike or public transportation -- or even walk -- on journeys limited only by the funds I had accumulated to buy time and supplies. In the beginning, I had congenial friends who avidly joined in the imaginary voyages. Invariably, they fell away well short of actually launching any. As far as I know, nearly everyone with whom I rode in the 1980s rarely rides anymore. A good percentage don't ride at all. They outgrew it.

The potbound plant that is human civilization has outgrown a lot of things that might have saved it from the death by strangulation that its growth has set in motion.

Even here, in the rural North, I have made some heroic commutes by bike. But the darkest dark and iciest, snowiest snow encouraged me to take advantage of my foothold in normality to resort to the car. Bike commuting became seasonal, because I could. But in the perfect world, I never did.

In 1980, envisioning a system that would work for me, I had no urge to live in the country. I liked the country, but I know that it ceases to be rural when it fills up with people who want to be in it. My later move to the woods followed a logical series of steps -- half normal and half half-baked -- in which I rationalized that I could live in an existing building in a mostly undeveloped area, and help to preserve its environment while the rest of the world caught on to the need to do so on a large scale. But the simple bikey life was lost.

A perfect world, in which the residents live in small but comfortable spaces, in compactly developed centers surrounded by large tracts of natural environment, depends on good soundproofing. It depends on a lot of other things that are never going to happen, either. But soundproofing is vital. We can't cheap out on construction.

A perfect world also depends on a stable population. Because humans are like most species, designed to replicate freely and lose a lot to famine, disease, and predation, we will not achieve a stable population by peaceful, pleasant, and well-planned means. So again, the dream shimmers and fades. We are too smart and not smart enough.

We don't live in the perfect world. Things happen in the imperfect world that earn our love. There is no exit ramp to the alternate universe that doesn't require jettisoning things that have become dear. And there's really no such thing as a nice little town. Every Bedford Falls has a Potter. And the soundproofing is woefully inadequate. We don't live in the perfect world. But ideas from it could make this one better. Bike and walk. Adjust development strategies to make best use of existing terrain. The map is flat, but the land is not. We're running out of time anyway, so why not spend it on this?

Sunday, November 11, 2018

Sheet metal cogs and tinfoil chains

An article on Ars Technica extolling the "improvements" in bike technology since the 1980s has been popping up on social media today to give my ulcer a workout. Observations by technophiles who aren't mechanics help fuel the headlong rush of the bike industry into fragile technology that is a pain in the ass to maintain, and often impossible to fix.

People love gizmos. Bikes started out on the forefront of mechanical innovation in the 19th Century. As they were superseded by the automobile, they languished in neglect, evolving only a little until influxes of cash and public interest in the 1970s and '80s inspired a rising curve of development that really foamed up in the 1990s with the mountain bike boom and the expansion of the aero/tri segment.

The 1990s brought engineers off the sidelines as hobbyist users and shoved them deep into the design process. Much of this was fueled by the demand for mountain bike suspension systems that would work with the heavy and inefficient human engine, but once you get a serious case of engineering it spreads far and fast. A public conditioned to crave expensive new technological things and accept that they are junk within a year or two at most was ripe for such changes in the bike industry.

For the first 100 years or so, bicycles were evolved machines, not designed machines. Even now, the designers have to study what has been working and figure out why it did before they can screw with it. A hundred years of trial and error honed the vehicle in its various forms to meet a variety of needs. A couple of decades of technological promiscuity have led to some genuine improvements and a lot of expensive and unhelpful complications, not to say downright handicaps. People who think in absolute terms will laud the vertical dropout and its offspring, the through-axle. People who, on the other hand, understand the value of a variable rear wheel position will be stockpiling old steel frames with long horizontal dropouts. They're not just for fixies. 

I would go through the article and dismantle it point by point, but if I read it for more than a few seconds my head explodes, so I'm not going to do that. I have to accept that the battle for public perception was lost a long time ago. The best I can do is put better advice out there for the few people  who will still appreciate the versatility and freedom that a simpler bike offers to the average underpaid toiler. As it was in the 1880s, is now and ever shall be, a bike is a good investment for a working stiff, as long as it is well chosen.

A Trek Fuel full suspension mountain bike last week provided a nifty example of how a designed weak link, intended to fail under stress to preserve more important and expensive parts of a system, can be bypassed when those more expensive parts become more fragile in the greedy quest for more "features." The rear derailleur hanger of old steel and aluminum frames used to be part of the dropout on that side. It would occasionally get bent on a road bike, in a crash, or if an improperly adjusted derailleur shifted into the spokes. With the coming of mountain biking, bent hangers became common because riders would pick up sticks or other debris in the chain and drag it into the derailleur as they continued to pedal. Steel frames could be straightened from some pretty alarming looking deviations, but an aluminum dropout was usually ruined. Aluminum frame builders started providing replaceable hangers. The concept spread to become the norm. Derailleur hangers are now one of several jigsaw puzzles that repair facilities have to solve on a regular basis.

Some early replaceable hangers were made of such soft alloy that they actually bent just from the ordinary stress of shifting. The first run of hangers on Specialized Stumpjumpers in the mid 1990s were notorious for this. If they weren't, they should be. The Big S eventually started making hangers out of steel, and has now evolved functional alloy versions, but it actually took them a couple of years to face their blunder. Denial was as big a force as "innovation" in the bike industry in the 1990s.

Having finally hit the right level of fragility in the hanger for the drive trains of the time, the industry looked at it no more. They moved on to adding as many cogs as possible to the rear cassette and making chains as thin as necessary to fit the stack of saw blades that now makes up a modern gear cluster.

One dozen sheet metal cogs, so thin that they have to be pinned together with little rivets to keep the damn things from folding under load

Compare the 8-speed chain (top) with the 12-speed chain (bottom) While either can be bent with sufficient stress, the force required to tweak the tinfoil specimen is far less.

The cassette in the top picture is a 12-speed 10-50 SRAM Eagle. Ten to fifty. The biggest cog is the size of a chainring. It's the thickness of a chainring, too. They can't get away from that. Anything that big has to have the strength to support itself, connecting rivets or not. 

By killing off front derailleurs, the industry avoids the biggest bender of chains, but I have ridden double and triple front chainsets for 43 years and never bent a chain. Meanwhile, to provide some vestige of the former range of available gears, the industry has to cram more cogs in the back, over a range that requires a rear derailleur like a crane to cover the span and manage the chain wrap. That's a long cage, my friends. And a skinny, skinny chain. The chain line sprawls so widely that the chain is vulnerable to bending just from the normal deviation. Add a traumatic factor like a stick in that dangly derailleur cage and you'll be lucky to get away without trashing the chain along with whatever else gets mangled.

In the case of the Trek Fuel, the tech who checked it in saw the twist of the rear derailleur and stated that the bike needed a new derailleur hanger. But when I looked at the hanger it appeared pretty straight. The alignment gauge confirmed this. This is after we had to buy a new alignment gauge, because the old Park DAG-1 doesn't have a long enough nozzle to get into a derailleur hanger buried beneath rear suspension pivots. Our old, old Campy gauge worked, but the DAG series has a more sophisticated system for checking alignment around the circumference of the rim. It's tweakier to use, but gives a more fine-tuned look at any problems. Or, in this case, lack thereof.

The robust replaceable hanger had stood firm. The evolution of the drive train has moved the weakness in the system out to the $125 derailleur instead of the $32 hanger.

Once I replaced the derailleur, the drive train made a very slight clink noise while running the chain on one of the cogs down on the high end of the cluster. Thinking that this may have been the gear in use when the stick jammed, I wondered whether the sheet metal cog had picked up a slight kink. Because cog teeth normally exhibit a cyclic pattern of offset teeth, a slight but larger deviation is hard to assess. Because the clusters are all riveted together, if any single cog had been rendered unusable, the rider would have had to purchase an entire cassette at $215 retail. If it was only the chain, that's a mere $42. But you can see how the cash cost of a minor mishap can add up very quickly. The fail-safe part of the system was the least affected by the accident in which it was intended to take the most damage. That stress was distributed to the rest of the parts. 

The damaged derailleur was bent in the middle, so that the upper and lower pivots were no longer parallel. The rider said he stopped pedaling the instant he realized that the stick was in there, but the derailleur still went into the spokes. With a tubeless tire, spoke repairs can extend to dismounting the tire and possibly having to replace the sealed rim strip. Fortunately, the bends in the spokes did not appear too sharp, which would create a stress riser. I was able the true out the minor deviation in the rim without racking up uneven tension.

An autopsy on the bent derailleur revealed that the four pivot pins of the parallelogram were bent, making the derailleur twist increasingly as the rider shifted toward the larger cogs. You can get some replacement parts for the SRAM Eagle 1x12 derailleur, but not those parts. Removing them is a destructive process, because they are riveted. Just like SRAM Double Tap road shifters, the part you can get is not in the area that actually breaks.

I'll keep taking the money to work on this crap, but I will never stop pointing out that it's expensive, ephemeral bullshit: the exact antithesis of everything that made bikes a great piece of technology for decades. The mythical free market demonstrates time and again that the consumer's taste for excruciatingly engineered junk sucks all the money away from simple, durable items of lasting quality.

Saturday, November 10, 2018

"Field destroy"

"Just render the frame unusable," said the email from Specialized's warranty department. So we handed it off to our colleague who has an excavator. I have not transferred his photos from the work computer yet, but here is the result:


The warranty department at Specialized was duly impressed.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Wasteful and destructive customer service

Along with so much else in the world, the bike industry is slumping to new lows in waste and destructiveness.

Today's topic: warranty. Back in the 1970s, any bike shop employee could rattle off the phrase, "lifetime warranty on the frame and a year on the parts" with casual assurance. Crash damage wasn't covered. Normal wear and tear were excluded. Not a lot of stuff seemed to come back. A simple warranty like that was a safe bet.

At the dawn of the mountain bike era, the industry held onto the memorized phrase until the strain of explaining the exclusions got to be too much. The 1990s saw a sharp change in the previous open-handed policy. No one was covering crash damage, but companies handed out a lot of freebies as the competition ramped up, just to try to win friends. But the accounting department soon stepped in to preserve profits during the unprecedented surge of business. And rightly so. Conniving riders were constantly scamming to get things covered. Unfortunately, honest claims suffered as well. And warranty terms became a moving target. We had to keep checking to see what current policy was.

Since the bike industry has broken up cycling into very specific categories, warranty has become more generous again, particularly in the less crash-prone sectors. And, with consumer interest far below what it was when everybody wanted a mountain bike, the industry senses a need to try to buy some friendship again.

All this sounds like it might be good. Here's how it isn't:

When bike shops were treated like trusted members of the industry, we were trusted to evaluate claims and submit them. As the 1990s cranked up, manufacturer's representatives would come through to validate our findings and write credit memos, but it was still pretty collegial. That shifted abruptly around the midpoint of the decade. Our shop received fewer and fewer rep visits. Warranty procedures varied from company to company. Response times got longer. Reporting requirements became more stringent. We would usually have to box up an item -- even if it was an entire bike -- and send it to the company to be evaluated.

Shipping is expensive, especially for a large, awkward box with a bike in it. This year, Fuji had us return two or three bikes that arrived damaged in shipment, but they were still basically packed, or easy to repack. Fuji sent a call tag, and off they went. Other than that, we have been successfully discouraged from pursuing much warranty for much of anything smaller than a bike. The process takes time, and time is, as they say, money.

A customer who bought an Orbea somewhere else brought it to us for a shifting problem. In the process of dealing with that, we discovered a crack in one chainstay. The customer did not want to repair the frame, so he contacted Orbea for warranty. Once his new frame arrives, we are supposed to saw the old one into pieces, and send photographic evidence to Orbea. As much as I rag on the carbon crowd, the bike is beautiful. I hate destroying beauty.

The bike hangs on death row in the workshop, while the customer waits for the new one in the color he wants. I wouldn't want to own it, but I can appreciate its appearance. And it's old enough still to have the cables on the outside. The new one won't.

As sad as it is to consider sawing up a carbon road frame that at least got to see several years of riding, the next case really shoves the wasteful consumer side of the bike industry in your face.

A customer bought a Specialized Fuse. He's an athletic adult in his late 40s, I would guess, a firefighter, a family man. What you would call a good and productive citizen, who has gotten into mountain biking. I don't know what his cycling background was before the little local mini-boom in mountain biking inspired him to get this bike. It doesn't matter really. He rides in a sporty but relatively sane fashion. He paid about $1,200 for what he -- and we -- thought was a solid and reliable bike.

A $1,200 bike today is about what a $500 bike was in 1995. Let that sink in a minute. One thousand, two hundred dollars. It used to seem like a lot of money. Now it's barely the threshold of anything built to stand up to the moderate abuse of a mountain biker who doesn't ride with a death wish.

Our buddy went up to the Kingdom Trails in Vermont early in October. The weather was cool, but not cold. The Suntour fork on his bike stiffened up and the controls ceased to function. The preload knob wouldn't turn, and the fork would barely react to bumps. He rode it anyway, because it was better than nothing, but he'd only had the bike for about two months. The conditions were not extreme. He had not crashed the bike or abused it. When we examined it, we found no signs that he had pressure-washed it or even hosed it down vigorously, which are two common mistakes. The fork was just foobed.

In the warmest conditions, the fork is almost normal. But this is New England.

A quick web search of "fork sticks in cold weather" or something similar will pull up lots of results that include this fork and most other low-end suspension forks from any manufacturer. We did suggest that the customer upgrade the fork, but the manufacturer still has a responsibility to back up the product.

In answer to the initial message to Specialized, they said to hit Suntour for warranty. It's a Specialized bike and the fork crown has a sticker saying that this particular fork was made to their specifications, but when it's time for warranty it's someone else's problem. Ooooo-kay. Sourcing is complicated these days, when a fork is its own set of complex moving parts.

Suntour responded helpfully enough, but the Fuse comes with a straight steerer on the fork. All the cool forks have tapered steerers. The OEM fork had 120mm of travel and a straight steerer. Suntour only had 100mm forks with straight steerers as replacements. Or they would send an upgrade with 120mm, but the customer would need to get a new headset.

Back I went to Specialized. I explained Suntour's deal, and asked if they would provide the headset necessary to make the change to a tapered fork. The head tube on the frame looks like it will accommodate it. Simple, right? Pretty cheap. Neat. Tidy.

Nope.

Specialized will send the guy a complete bike. That seems awfully generous. Bordering on foolishly generous, actually. And the terms of the deal require us to take the perfectly good frame of his "old" bike and smash it. In fact, if we have to field destroy the whole bike, that includes every component. It's a gross and nauseating waste of resources all the way from here to China. But they don't want to pay the freight to ship the derelict back to them, and we certainly don't. The customer should not be penalized for having trusted their product to perform according to its advertised specifications. The whole thing goes from a fixable glitch to an obscene example of consumerist gluttony. And the new bike will have the same fork, with the same straight steerer, setting up the possibility for the same failure on the next cold ride.

Remember when bikes were about saving resources and having less impact on the planet? Yeah, I barely do. And riders who came in any time after the mid 1990s will never have known anything but this conveyor belt of consumption and obsolescence.