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.


RANTWICK said...

The bike info situation reminds me of the same with computer stuff. Long gone are the days of the "computer guy" who seemed to know how to do everything - there's just way too much now. My job is more about who is good for what than anything else these days and that person is less and less often me.

cafiend said...

@Rantwick: I hope that's not as ominous as it sounds, but it seems to be a problem with the modern world in general. The people we overlook, the garbage collectors, dishwashers, lawn mowers, and such, have the greatest job security. Or, if you have no conscience, you can pull in a good income from business or the law. It's tricky to be both prosperous and good.

Anonymous said...

It's technology in general. Just had 3 and a half hellish months trying to get my heating ventilation and air conditioning system replaced, Wow - if you think the bike industry has problems - HVAC beats that by a mile. Lousy engineering, poor products. poor contractors, installers who looked like they had a grade two education and serious substance issues. Ended up spending almost twice what you would spend on a system for a whole house, for a small condo town house...