Robot’s Useless Reviews – The Replaceable Derailleur Hanger

In the financial crisis of 2008, I was lucky. I kept my job and my home and my savings. In the aftermath, my wife and I asked ourselves what small things we could do to keep from contributing to a future crisis, and one thing we opted to do was break up with our bank, one of the big ones deemed, in fact, “too big to fail.” We use a local bank now. They’re very helpful. A human answers their phone, and they helped us out of a pinch our old, much larger bank put us into by being uncommunicative, inflexible, and borderline unethical. There is nothing funny about any of that.

The replaceable derailleur hanger (RDH), by contrast, is hilarious.

It’s a bike part “too small to succeed,” a point of strategic and intentional failure, a $10-40 part that exists only to protect the existence of a slightly more expensive part. In my experience, the scheme seldom comes off. Many of the impacts that are strong enough to shear off a 3cm square piece of solid aluminum are also strong enough to bash your derailleur to bits.

Like, sometimes you crack your helmet AND get a concussion. It’s a two-fer.

Back in the days when I was selling titanium bikes, people would ask me if they could have theirs built with a replaceable hanger and were surprised when I said, no. In my 9 seasons there, I only ever saw one broken hanger, and the impact that caused it had some other deleterious effects on the bike, such that the hanger was not a primary concern. The insurance claim and getting the car’s hood ornament removed from the rider’s ass were higher order issues.

I am not saying that titanium is a superior material to aluminum, but I am not not saying it.

I suppose I’m just bemused by a system that is designed to fail and shocked by riders who accept that system blithely, stocking up on hangers for the unavoidable eventuality. You might have noticed in my spare hardware review that no derailleur hangers appeared in my random parts selection. I’m not saying I’m better than you. I own an Italian-threaded, ceramic bottom bracket and no bike that accepts such a contraption. I also have a single speed, 650b hardtail, as we established last week. The Useless Reviews are a special sub-genre of literature known as “comedic hypocrisy.”

One person’s trash is another person’s prized Campy Delta brakes.

It’s hard for me to escape the idea that a replaceable derailleur hanger is just trash though. It’s like what biologists call a “vestigial structure,” a part that has no real purpose anymore, like your appendix, which does nothing, unless it gets inflamed, in which case you better see your body mechanic tout suite. The good news, I guess, is that your liver is probably fine. Maybe not. It’s an imperfect metaphor, and you were going to quit drinking and upgrade that derailleur anyway.

The new one is 15 speed. It shifts telepathically. It weighs as much as a hummingbird fart, and it lives inside the frame’s chainstay, where it is protected mostly, except that the chainstay is made of plastic, a synthetic approximation of a hummingbird femur, ironically.

Look, I know what you’re thinking: “What’s the solution, Robot?” And as usual, there isn’t one, and I have no real point. When thinking about the bicycle and bike parts though, I generally find it useful to recall something my friend Phil Cavell told me, that the modern bicycle is really a warmed-over Victorian invention, stunted by the controlling forces of the UCI. It’s a contraption, a beautiful, ugly, fragile, beast of a thing that is simultaneously revelatory in its daily use and disappointing in its humdrum shabbiness.

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