The Big Bounce

There is a theory of the universe’s beginning and end (sort of) called the Big Bounce. For those of you familiar with the Big Bang, the Big Bounce posits that just as our universe putatively began with an explosion that caused things to expand rapidly from a singularity, the likely end of our universe is a gravitational collapse that reaches a similar density to its original state, followed by a cyclic explosion and expansion, a bounce.

Bike categories are like this.

In the beginning there was one bicycle. Rapidly the universe of bikes expanded, new types winking into existence like the clouds of gas that coalesced in the early universe. Despite the malign influence of the UCI (something like gravity), the proliferation continued apace. Over time, the various types of bikes became categories, like stars and planets forming galaxies from those gas clouds. The substance of the industry began to take shape; something like a discernible order took hold.

Enso – Tranquility – Takashi Murakami

When I started riding road bikes, they had rim brakes, and the standard tire was 23mm. There were still people riding 19mm then. The jump from road was to cyclocross on 32mm tires with cantilever brakes. And from there to a 26” hardtail mountain bike with 2.1” tires. The categories were distinct and pretty well defined.

But as we know from watching planets sucked into stars and dying stars sucked into black holes, nothing stays the same for very long. The character of the universe is unstable, and so it is with bicycles.

What we saw happen, particularly as the idea of gravel bikes started to take hold was that road bike tires got wider, so now it feels like 28mm is the standard with disc not rim brakes, and that’s for a “pure” road bike. Gravel bikes (and to a much lesser extent cyclocross which was never a big category by numbers) then pick up at 32mm and run up to 45mm now, which begins to overlap with the thinner mountain bike tires. Gravel bikes are getting dropper posts now, and even sometimes suspension forks.

Mountain bikes run from 2.3” tires up to 5” if you rope in fat bikes. And so we have an expansion of the bike universe to inhabit all the space between a 19mm tired road bike and a 5″ tired fat bike. This is akin to the universe continuing to expand (in all direction and in all places) from the Big Bang, driven on by the repulsive force of dark energy, which is apparently more powerful than gravity.

In the Big Bounce theory, gravity eventually overcomes dark energy. The universe will stop expanding and begin contracting. Our Milky Way galaxy will collide with its surrounding galaxies, much like gravel bikes colliding with mountain bikes and road bikes, all of it coming back together rapidly, until categories are difficult to tell one from another.

So what happens next? I suspect, because humans deal best in discrete categories and concrete terms, that a lot of these categories will shake themselves out and in 5 years or so we’ll know what a road bike is; we’ll know what a trail bike is. Etc. The expansion of categories just can’t go on, and where there is overlap, the market will decide on what’s worthwhile and what disappears, like a white dwarf into a black hole or a 650b hardtail into Craigslist.

After the categories shake out and narrow themselves down again, i.e. once they come finally come together, the industry has shown it will simply expand again, bouncing if you will, to refill all the gaps it had recently left, between a road bike and a gravel bike, between a gravel bike and a mountain bike, between what really works and what just might sell.

Now might be a great time to subscribe to The Cycling Independent. Why would you do that? Because you like us for starters, but also because you believe in supporting independent writing, because you don’t like being bombarded by ads, and because you’d like to see us survive the coming media apocalypse. OK. That last bit was alarmist, but you get where we’re coming from.

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  1. khal spencer says

    It seems the bike companies have figured out how to stay in business. Like car companies, create planned obsolescence, since a basic decent bike can last for decades. My ’02 CAAD5 rides just fine although my ’05 Six-Thirteen rides nicer. I am sure a 2022 Wonderbike would ride even nicer, but really not that much nicer. And if I want to shave grams, I’ll start with one less glass of wine.

    Now, not only are components not backwards compatible, but nowadays, whole classes of bikes are soon obsolete. Cross bike? You can’t ride gravel on a cross bike, amiright? You need a gravel bike. You got a gravel bike today? Next year you will need a coarse gravel and fine gravel bike. Oh, and a washboard road bike.

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