TCI Friday

When it comes to bikes, I have these competing impulses. On one hand, I’d like the industry to be a bit more of a Wild West, more companies doing more creative work, pushing boundaries, trying new things. At the same time, I get frustrated with the proliferation of standards. How many different bottom brackets do we need? How many headsets? How many kinds of pedals even? I suppose what I want is an industry defined by strong standards, with open access to those standards (via affordable licensing agreements) for manufacturers of all sizes. More choice, and more potential innovation, with less complication.

I am a resolute enemy of proprietary systems, though I see the tension inherent in that stance, since any truly new thing will start out proprietary, although if it was available for licensing, then it would have a better chance of becoming a proliferation standard rather than a technological cul de sac.

I shudder to think the UCI might have a role to play here. They already have an outsized voice in the uptake of new technology, one that seldom favors innovation. But some sort of industry body capable of evaluating new standards for long term value, integration with legacy design, and sustainability.

Yeah. I know what you’re thinking. Pure pie in the sky. The whole idea crumbles under the weight of competing agendas and the balance of power between those who already hold patents and those who might, if given a chance, improve upon them.

Maybe it’s an easier question to answer if we look at something other than bicycles. Do we want more monster movie franchises, or fewer? Probably more. Do we want more energy drinks or fewer? Probably fewer. Do we want more political parties or fewer? None? Is none an option?

OK, that didn’t help.

Technological monopoly simplifies our lives. Fewer variations in standard makes it easier to ensure backward and forward compatibility, makes maintenance easier, and improves performance through iterative refinement. Of course, technological monopoly leads to financial monopoly, choking smaller players out and generally stifling creativity. A “free” market is meant to achieve balance between theses opposing forces, but we have yet to achieve anything like the free market balance such theories suggest are possible.

This all started, by the way, with me wondering what pedals to put on my new mountain bike. So I guess, that went sideways pretty quickly. Still it’s worth asking, do we need more standards or fewer? How would you propose striking that balance between innovation and integration? Is there an economist on this flight?

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  1. Jeff vdD says

    Fewer standards per category, but for the things that need to interface with other things, definitely standards.

  2. jlaudolff says

    Things were more or less fine until someone thought non-threaded bottom brackets would be worthwhile. I’m glad I sat that one out. I traveled to California once for a two day hill climbing event around 2012 and listened to creaking press fit BBs all weekend.

    Most other things seem to get worked out because generally companies have to work around whatever either Shimano or SRAM are offering.

  3. alanm9 says

    As the dummy who once thought crank bros pedals were compatible with spd, I share the frustration. Still, I think the give and take of technology is ultimately good for all industries. But then, I have a road bike with a thru axle fork and rear dropout, so what the hell do i know. 😳

    1. TominAlbany says

      I made the same mistake! Brought a pair of shoes and helmet to TX for a work trip where a friend loaned me a bike with SPDs. I didn’t tell him until afterwards that I was pedaling old school.

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