Heading out the door? Read this article on the new Outside+ app available now on iOS devices for members! Download the app.
It was well over two years ago that I wrote my raves and rants about the tech trends I’m seeing from the performance and recreational side of the cycling industry. Reading back over that article made me realise that not much has changed.
Now, don’t get me wrong, there’s a lot of good things happening in the cycling industry, but it’s hard to overlook the forever-increasing prices of bikes, the growing number of proprietary parts, some light greenwashing, and the continuation of telling consumers they need race bikes when that’s only the best product for a few.
And so rather than write out a list of angry rants that sound awfully similar to those I’ve written before, I decided I should flip the script and share what I want to see more of.
This is my wishlist for the bicycle industry. Yes, I believe there is money to be made through these ideas. Yep, many of these wishes are based on things we’ve had before. And for sure, I realise that this wishlist is more of a pipe dream given the industry is in a global supply shortage.
Push for real sustainability
I’m excited to see cycling brands becoming less hypocritical and starting to acknowledge their environmental responsibility. And while sustainable fabrics, recyclable packaging, and safer chemicals are all positives, I feel far more can and should be done to assist with the most sustainable of options – re-use and repair. This is an enormous topic I won’t do it justice here, so rather, I have a very specific wish that could help show the industry that technological advancement isn’t the only way to have a long-lasting business.
As the bike industry seemingly moves further away from mechanical shifting and toward parts that require ongoing energy to function, I can’t help but think that the likes of Campagnolo should increase their investment in the old tech. They should bring back serviceable shifter internals (as with their 10-speed and earlier offerings). They should focus on ease of setup. And they should try to make the technology as timeless as possible rather than changing for the sake of it.
Most importantly, mechanical should be priced below the cost of electronic drivetrains. Now, this won’t appeal to a large segment of the market, but it’ll surely be more attractive to consumers than a third branded option in electronic drivetrains that already have little OE (original equipment) presence.
I believe such a long-lasting, serviceable, and affordable groupset would quickly become the de facto option for anyone looking to bring new life to an older bike or to build something that never needs charging.
Focus on more backward compatibility in support of re-use and repair
Following closely from that previous point, I’d like to see key players in the bicycle industry make more of a concerted effort with backward compatibility rather than continually pushing for obsolescence.
There’s no great reason why Shimano’s new 12-speed Di2 shifters couldn’t be adapted via wires to the likely millions of 11-speed Di2 groups in use. Or why those pre-existing 11-speed shifters can’t be used with new 12-speed derailleurs. And yet, such backward compatibility simply isn’t provided.
Yes, it would be a cost for Shimano to write the software to make it happen. And yes, it may even impact sales of new groups. However, such an offering would go a long way to showing that the company’s newfound focus on sustainability (which is an enormous undertaking and a hugely positive step) isn’t just skin deep.
Backward compatibility should also be a goal for the myriad bikes requiring non-round seatposts or proprietary headset pieces. In many cases, these are changed with each new generation of the bike and there are zero guarantees that replacement parts will exist in a decade when they’re finally needed to prevent a bike from ending up in a landfill. Brands truly need to consider backward compatibility for the greater good, ease of product support, and the product’s long-term strength in the used market (something that can and does influence sales of fresh products).
Thankfully some brands manage to retain the shape of a seatpost from one frame generation to the next, and I applaud them for this. Meanwhile, other brands have worked out ways to use non-round seatposts but then allow the use of a round seatpost via a shim (the BMC URS is what I’m thinking of here). This is good stuff and should be more common practice.
Or alternatively, if a brand knows that certain small parts are going out of production and never coming back, then make the designs available so others can more easily reproduce them. There are surely many examples of impossible-to-find parts that would take someone five minutes to replicate with a 3D printer or that an experienced machinist could whip up with the right specs to hand.
Strive for better quality control on the easy-to-control things
While re-use and repair are the best sustainability practices, the reality is that many of us still enjoy buying and using new things. And so if something new is going to be made, I wish it would be made correctly.
Sadly in many consumer industries, it’s acceptable practice to have a small percentage of products be defective or at least on the edge of quality control standards. Short term manufacturer warranties are there to protect consumers from just this. Meanwhile, the bicycle industry has moved to offer far longer-term warranties as a sales feature.
While it’s likely cheaper for a company to produce 1,000 of something and have to replace 50 of them versus producing something that has no returns, I’d argue such practice lacks responsibility. And certainly, a brand’s environmental impact would be greatly reduced by making a concerted effort toward lowering the warranty return rates (I understand that reaching zero is likely infeasible).
Bikes are already getting more expensive, and I’m not seeing or hearing that quality control has noticeably improved as a result. In fact, I’ve had a few industry sources tell me that these things have only gotten worse during the pandemic.
One easy-to-prove example is that sales for disc brake tab facing tools continue to grow as more shops need to fix the alignment of frames and forks that should have been fixed at the factory.
Park Tool recently released a cutter specifically for facing the flat-mount tabs of carbon frames, and that’s a tool that really shouldn’t have to exist. And it’s the same story for many other frame surface preparation tools related to press-fit interfaces that bike shops lose money for owning. I’d compare it to buying a fridge and being expected to glue on the seals before you can turn it on. Brand new frames and forks should not need to be fixed by mechanics or consumers – it’s that simple.
Introduce bikes for the older generation of road cyclists
My father is edging toward 70, rides on tarmac most days of the week, and wouldn’t be comfortable riding a low-stack race bike that many in the industry would try to have him ride. Many of his riding friends are in the same position, and I see other riders like this on the roads every single time I’m out. More specifically, I’m talking about the use of race bikes with a potentially unsafe number of headset spacers in order to achieve a fit that’s still lower than ideal.
Custom bikes are absolutely an avenue for achieving a high-end bike with ideal geometry, but the reality is that many lifelong cyclists never look beyond what the big brands and local bike stores have to offer. And that leads to me ask: what happened to all the endurance road bikes?
It wasn’t that long ago that the likes of Giant, Trek, and Specialized would sell more endurance road bikes than any other type of road bike. But it seems at some point the word “endurance” lost its lustre and the trend now is for many of these bikes to be marketed as “all-road” bikes. They’re certainly comfy and capable, but the trade-off is that on smooth roads they now feel slower, heavier, and less like a performance machine. I can’t help but feel that they’ve left a large and ageing segment of the cycling population alienated.
I’d like to see more race-inspired but relaxed-fit bikes hit the market once again. Bikes like the Canyon Endurace (arguably a bit low in the stack height for some), Cannondale Synapse, and Giant Defy are good examples, but I think there’s room and money in the market to make these more desirable. Specifically, I’d like to see more well-rounded, lightweight, and comfortable riding race bikes given the option of taller stack heights and shorter reaches. Having such an option for more relaxed geometry in an otherwise performance-designed bike is something the industry has done before, and I’d like to see it again.
Make rad alloy bikes again
It’s no secret that I like metal bikes. One of my road bikes is a CAAD12 with rim brakes. It’s competitively light, feels lively, and isn’t uncomfortable. Better yet, alloy bikes produce fewer emissions in manufacturing (a fact backed up by Trek’s recent sustainability report), can be easily recycled, and the bike didn’t cost huge money to purchase, either. All good things.
My CAAD12 wasn’t my first fancily built alloy road bike and I’d happily buy another – except there aren’t many options that appeal to me at this moment. So many brands in the industry have become so focused on what’s incrementally better, I fear they’ve forgotten that there are other ways to sell bikes while keeping things affordable. Not every customer seeks out the latest and greatest; many just want the best thing for their dollar.
The Cannondale CAAD is the most obvious example here, and while the CAAD13 is a better-performing bike than its previous generations, I’d argue it lost its cult-like market appeal. The way it looks, the way it’s priced, and the way it utilises a few proprietary parts are all too close to the company’s carbon bike. Part of me wants to commend Cannondale for so obviously designing a bike based on what the engineers wanted, but equally, I wish they didn’t take such a path.
If Cannondale was to take a backward step on the performance-driven engineering and listen to its once-loyal customers, they’d find a huge market of would-be buyers that want a simply shaped frame that uses common parts and is easily serviceable. Specialized seems to have realised just this with its Aethos, but one shouldn’t have to spend more to get less.
Rewind the CAAD by a generation, give it modern tyre clearance, a threaded bottom bracket, mechanical-friendly cable routing, a round seatpost, and most importantly, make it affordable. Right there you have a bike that has real demand, would surely spoil the sales figures of other brands, and equally, it would serve the next generation of lifelong cyclists.
Following this point, I feel the market is ripe for modern takes on now-retro bikes. How cool would it be if Trek rebirthed the Klein name as a high-end alloy brand? Classic Klein paint, round tubes, external headsets, external cabling (with the option to remove such guides altogether for electronic shifting), threaded bottom brackets – but do it with modern alloy manufacturing methods, make it ride smooth, and don’t charge an astronomical amount for it just because you can. Now there’s a bike I know I would buy.
Seriously, count in me for a 2023 Klein Quantum with an 11-speed Campagnolo “Lifetime” (or “Tutta la vita” in Italian) group.
Sadly the sceptic in me partly believes such awesome alloy bikes are hard to come by because they undercut the sales of more premium bikes. And another part of me believes that the weekend warrior cyclist is so sure that metal bikes are inferior and unattractive that it keeps the brands focussed on progressing carbon. I hope some big brands can prove me wrong and do alloy in quantities that satisfy market demand.
Well, that’s my list of reasonable wishes for the bike industry. What do you want to see?