TCI Friday

On this week’s Paceline we discussed the announcement from Shimano that the new Dura Ace and Ultegra groups would be 12spd and, more surprisingly, electronic only. The future is here, or will be shortly, and it offers ever so slightly smoother shifting and requires a charged battery.

As ever, I feel ambivalence.

Progress is good. If you’ve ridden a Di2 or AXS or EPS-equipped bike, you know that electronic shifting is really nice. It’s fast and accurate, and the way the derailleurs adjust themselves, so you’re not perpetually messing with a barrel adjuster is maybe worth the price of admission all on its own. Maybe.

On the other hand, proprietary systems lock consumers into choices that may or may not pan out in the long term. The future is expensive, and a lot of the functionality is just iterative improvement on what has worked pretty well for most of a decade already. As usual, progress is by inches, not by miles.

Within the industry, folks act as though consumers move en masse to new tech. They see what leaves the warehouse. It’s all the latest product. They don’t see what’s in your garage. They don’t see what you and your friends are riding on a daily basis. This tunnel vision for current and future stuff skews their decision-making about what products still need support, which are still viable. etc.

I used to be the future.

I’m not saying this influences all their choices in a negative way. They’re paid to be forward-looking. I’m just saying there can be a disconnect between what companies are developing and what riders are ready for. Of course, you will always have early adopters, ready to plonk down their hard-earned on the new thing, but behind them there are layers of consumers five, ten and fifteen years behind the curve who can be left behind in this relentless process.

I’m not mad at Shimano or anyone else trying to make bikes better. I’m just concerned that sometimes big decisions catch riders out at a time when the big picture growth of cycling is at a critical juncture (if it ever isn’t). At some point, what a bike is divorces itself from what a bike has been in a way that means the price to get back in is too steep. See for example, all those mountain bikers on 26″ hardtails who hung onto a bike they loved until the way back in was a $5000 fully-suspended 29er. Those aren’t the same animal. They’re hardly even the same species.

This week’s TCIF asks, how deep you are into new cycling technology? Do you have disc brake bikes? Do you have electronic shifting? Do you have an eBike? Or do you prefer to make do with the latest and greatest from some time ago, the old future? If so, how many years ago, as a guess, would you say your cycling technology is?

Join the conversation
  1. bikeworld says

    In the quiver:
    1 trail-oriented hardtail MTB (29″/27.+) with AXS Eagle electronic shifting
    1 trail-oriented FS MTB (29″) with SRAM GX 1×12 – soon to go to GX AXS
    1 retro 26″ MTB currently under construction that’ll likely end up as a single speed
    1 ‘race’ bike with fairly traditional 2×11 drivetrain
    1 ‘gravel’ bike with 1×11 and hydraulic brakes

    In the N+1 ‘on deck circle’ – maybe a BMX bike, but I’m getting too old for that sh!*.

  2. Jeff vdD says

    Disk brakes on most of my bikes: gravel and CX hydro, CX2, MTB, and fat mechanical. Rim on CX3, singlespeed, and 2 folders. Coaster on beach cruiser.

    Electronic (SRAM 11-speed) only on the gravel bike.

    My next bike will probably be the steel Ritchey Break-away Outback. I’d LOVE to do that with mechanical shifting AND mechanical disk braking, but not sure how practical/possible that will be especially trying to avoid obsolescence. Purpose of this bike is bulletproof travel where I can do all the work myself.

  3. jlaudolff says

    I had road discs before gravel was a glimmer in the eye of Mike Sinyard because I was tired of chewing through rims here in the PNW. However, it wasn’t until yesterday that I had a road bike with full hydro. I have two Ti “forever bikes”, one gravel and one road (mech rim brakes). I wanted to upgrade the 5yo gravel bike so it was more capable for touring and had full hydro since the HyRd brakes I had on there were wearing out. This sent me down a long rabbit hole of trying to find a setup that would work with the frame and wheelset etc. Well, the “forever” CK hubs don’t work with 11speed and beyond and they no longer make the thru-hole adapter I needed for the front. The frame has a post-mount. So to make this work, I ended up with a new fork, wheelset, brifters, and rear derailleur. This bike now requires two different flavors of brake pads, but hopefully will last me near to forever ;>).

    I’m not really excited at all about electronic shifting so will work my way down the food chain to 105 or Tiagra or Sora or whatever is supporting the 11-speed mechanical I have on both bikes at the moment when I need to replace worn-out parts.

  4. bart says

    I’m 5-8 years behind the curve. And very happy there. My goal is to ride the bikes I have unless/until they’re clearly not working for me. At this point saddles and bars (rather than brakes or shifting) are the things that I’m thinking about.

    1. khal spencer says

      Hee and haw. Yep, nothing like a bad saddle or set of bars to take one’s mind off of whether the bike shifts like a dream.

  5. khal spencer says

    “Progress by inches, not miles” and may I add, by piles of Ben Franklin’s picture, which some can afford. Planned obsolescence?
    The Stumpjumper and Litespeed Gravel have disk brakes. Everything else uses the rims. No e-Bikes, no electronic shifting. The older stuff works just fine until it doesn’t and then I’ll have to figure it out. I’m still quite happy with the Shimano 9 speed and Campy 10 speed stuff. The Litespeed is the newest beast in the quiver and I got it with the GRX 10 speed as that cassette has a wider ratio than the 11 speed stuff.

    At some point, the greatest impediment to getting into cycling will be the sticker price of admission. Not everyone is hard core or an investment banker.

  6. scottg says

    Rim brakes & Mechanical shifting now qualify you as a Retro-Grouch, no wonder that Rivendell
    and Rene Herse are working on their own mechanical derailleurs.

  7. scottg says

    My latest derailleur purchase ? 2x Suntour VXGT rear mechs.
    Suntour goes marching on!

  8. alanm9 says

    Disc brakes because they work better in the wet and cold, not because they’re newer. As for shifting; when I bought my latest money-was-no-object Litespeed I went with Ultegra mechanical. Here’s why: A) I’m cheap and B) I’m already sick of charging things. I have 10 charging cords on my workbench, 5 on my office desk, and 5 more spares in my travel bag. I just detest the whole damn process of plugging and unplugging and remembering to charge and making sure I have the right cord and are my lights charged enough and why do I only have 10% charge and which way does this cord go in and does red mean charged or should it be green? Plus I’ve been let down too many times by tech. I’m sticking with mechanical wherever I still can.

  9. Rosé Dave says

    It’s a mix for me, consisting of the bikey things from 2006 to the present. Most I bought, so the key was the things I wanted to do and what I could afford in the midst of kids, mortgage, car payments, and the necessities like beer, wine, music, tv and magazine subscriptions. More recently, my disposable income has allowed for disc brakes, full suspension, dropper post, and other bells and whistles (at least bike bells, though one of those deer whistles would be quite a statement on a gravel bike- would pair well with jorts) (BTW, disposable income sounds like what a trash collector earns, or a fitting description of my wages if you saw my garage or family closets). Oh yeah, bike technology. It’s fun. I buy the new stuff when it helps me expand my riding portfolio. Portfolio! Like buying this shit is an investment. In reality, it’s the same spirit as when I needed that new G.I. Joe. How I can play without the new toy?

  10. TominAlbany says

    1998 Serotta Ti with ultegra/105 9 speed and only room for about a 28mm tire.
    2001 Trek Fuel with Shimano 3×9, though only the smaller of the three chainrings are accessible. It’s disk brake adaptable but I’m still on the rim-grabbers. I’m that guy you describe above. 26″ wheels full bounce and a desire to buy something more modern without the budget, at the moment, to do so. I hardly ride it because it’s just not fun to ride any more. shifting sucks on it and the transmission needed replacing over a decade ago.
    2014(?) Blue Norcross with 2 x 10 SRAM and disky brakes. The disks are a cheap model and rub a lot. But it’s been a fun ride on gravel and (finally) CX. Thinking about a gravel bike.

  11. Taihennami says

    I’m clearly approaching this question from a different direction from most other commenters, but I think I speak for a silent majority. I do not cycle for sport. I cycle as an inexpensive means of transport. That my bike superficially resembles one used for certain sport riding types is completely accidental. But I’m the type of rider who *actively* values hard-wearing and inexpensive steel to lightweight aluminium, titanium, or carbon fibre. I firmly believe that if you’re still riding an *upright* bicycle, you have no right to complain about its weight; its very form is holding you back more in terms of performance.
    Fifteen years ago, I rode a 21-speed Claud Butler hybrid with direct-pull cantilevers. Then it got stolen, so I replaced it with the nearest equivalent immediately available, a 24-speed ex-rental Crescent hybrid with direct-pull cantilevers. I immediately had the shop swap over the brake cables (to British versus Continental standard) and fit a luggage rack. Since then I have also replaced the headlamp and tail lamp with modern and much more effective LED types, still driven from the front hub dynamo. Various normal wear components (tubes, tyres, cables) have been replaced as needed. Eventually the roller-clutch freehub wore out and refused to engage in the cold, so a new wheel was built around a ratchet freehub. And right now, I’m in the middle of a complete drivetrain replacement – with another bog-standard 24-speed setup, just with slightly tweaked gear ratios, and hybrid SPD/platform pedals instead of pure platforms. The complete set of genuine Shimano components cost considerably less than a new bike from the bargain basement (ie. with no luggage rack, no mudguards, no headlight, and a 7-speed hub gear); that remains true even after adding a new saddle and SPD-compatible footwear to the total.
    If I still had the Claud Butler, I’d be looking for a 21-speed drivetrain instead. Shimano don’t make them any more, even as replacement parts. A 9-speed compatible crankset would still work, but I’d have to assemble a custom rear cassette to match the unique capabilities of the old MegaRange 11-34T – a key feature I would refuse to compromise on – by cannibalising one or more 8-speed cassettes, or have the bike itself modified to accommodate 8-speed components, a much more significant project. I am fortunate, with the Crescent, that an 8-speed 11-34T MegaRange cassette is still in production, along with the associated and highly durable 8-speed chains and suchlike.
    So count me on the side of at least having compatible replacement parts available for several decades after initial production.

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