Showing posts with label Age of Fake. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Age of Fake. Show all posts

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.