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?
If you like TCI and want us to be able to eat food and have healthcare, please consider subscribing.