The over-enthusiastic cyclist

If it involves pedalling then I'm probably into it…

Industry influence

On a recent mountain bike ride, I started to feel the benefit of the wider bars and shorter stem I’d installed on the Cotic Soul. I felt more in control and with my weight a little further back it was easier to pull the front end up. This should have been a joyous revelation, but I had a slight resentment that the cycling media had pushed me into this upgrade that I had resisted for so long. One of the reasons I stopped reading MBR was that I was becoming increasingly irritated by their insistence that I upgrade to this wide/short set up. That and their illegible use of tiny white fonts on a bright orange background….

Those that know me well have realised that I don’t like being pressured into decisions*. I’ll often resist all (good) advice in order to stubbornly cling on to the belief that I’ve made my own decisions for my own reasons. I recently decided to go short and wide as I wanted more confidence on the descents – but was it due to years of nagging from the cycling industry and press? The internet has made it almost impossible to ignore peoples opinions on what we should be riding. There’s not just the magazines and their online environments, but internet forums full of people telling you how to kit your bikes out. Blogs are no better, even I’m putting my opinions into your head!

There’s a few examples of this going on in the bike world at the moment, but the one that irritates me the most is mountain bike drive trains. I’m almost universally derided for running a triple ring chainset, but why? I like having a range of gears from 22:34 to 44:11 and apart from the obvious cross-chaining omissions, I use them all regularly. I’ve had friends, colleagues, magazines and websites all telling me that I should be running a double chainset and how it’s so much ‘better’ for years now. I even had a mechanic at Evans imply that I’d specced my bike incorrectly by fitting a triple. Did he not consider that I’d spent hours poring over gear tables to ensure that my dream bike was exactly what I wanted?

Other corners of the industry become even more militant when shouting about having a singe chainring set up. Nowadays that ingenious piece of design technology that is the front derailleur has become as popular as asbestos in the MTB media. An essential piece of kit on a road bike, it is apparently an unnecessary liability on a bike designed to go up and down steep trails. What entertains me most about this development is that companies are now having to get very innovative to overcome the problem that they have created. Companies like SRAM, who have found a way to create a cassette that squeezes in a specially small 11th sprocket, with a sprocket the size of a dinner plate at the other end. Then there’s the obligatory rear derailleur redesign to handle the new freakishly large capacity…. Does this system actually offer any benefits to my ‘retro’ 3×10? I wouldn’t have thought so, but the cycling industry and media need to keep moving forwards to keep healthy, partly driven by professional sport and partly funded by people who feel the need to buy the latest innovation.

Ranting aside, I accept that bicycle design should be improving year on year. Even a look back ten years shows a drastic change in handlebar/stem, suspension, brakes and geometry. I must admit that I thought tubeless tyres were a bonkers idea but now I couldn’t imagine riding off road without them. Maybe there’s people still riding trails on aging rigid bikes with 120 mm stems and v-brakes, but all I see are people buying into the latest technology that the industry wants us to buy. Should I be buying a seat post that I can remotely raise and lower? I’m sometimes tempted to get one even though I never actually manually drop my post. The marketing must be working.

I’d also appreciate it if people would stop telling me that my wheels are too small. 26″ wheels work well for me off road and I’m not about to abandon that format to make them 3″ bigger (and no, not even 1.5″ bigger either). Let me enjoy having fun on my little wheels in peace. Maybe I’m too traditional. I can’t even get my head round the idea of a carbon MTB, having recently regressed to steel (though even that was a decision probably influenced by the cycling press).So what about the ultimate solution to a non-existant problem: electronic gears? Maybe cable operated gears will be as obsolete as rod brakes in 10 years, but for the moment I’ll stick with the cables that flawlessly change my gears every time I need them to. Maybe the pro road cyclists will benefit from them? See what Sir Wiggo thinks of them in the video below: .

So what conclusions can I take from all this waffle? Well, I accept that the bike industry needs to keep reinventing the wheel to keep healthy, if you’ll excuse the pun, but I’d rather be left to come round to these ‘innovations’ when I need to. I’d say just buy what works for your own riding and budget and enjoy riding your bike.

And don’t spend as long thinking about it all as I’ve done today.

* There’s an irony relevant to this blog to be told here. My own reintroduction to cycling as an adult 10 years ago wouldn’t have been delayed if it wasn’t for my aversion to peer pressure. My good friend and flat mate of the time nearly put me off trying mountain biking by repeatedly insisting that I come out on a ride with him and even buy his GT Avalanch. Once he backed off, I did ride, I did buy the bike and the rest is history.

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