Thursday, March 24, 2016

the arms race, continued: 12-speed cassettes

It's official: We now have 12-speed cassettes.

Thanks to SRAM, the purveyors of racer-wannabe culture and the folks who insist on curating your next riding experience, There is now a 12 x 1 drivetrain for mountain bikes.

Apparently, the folks at SRAM decided that managing two derailleurs has simply gotten too complicated. What's more, they've decided that climbing hills has gotten too hard, which is the only reason I can come up with for the existence of a 10-50 cassette paired with a 36t chainring. I could climb up and over a telephone booth with that gearing. (If I could still find a telephone booth, that is.)
Then, to get the most for their trouble they've priced it out of this world. The cassette alone retails for over $400.

Yeah, sit with that a minute.

Four hundred dollars. For a cassette.

From the photos, it looks like a very pretty cassette, but I'm not putting it in my ear lobe.

To justify that price, I'd have to hang it on a $5,000 frame. And of course someone's gonna have to come up with another exclusive chain tool like Campy did for its 11-speed chains. Because unless you spread the rear dropouts farther apart (Q-factor? What's that?), that chain is going to be pretty damned narrow and thin-walled and you BET it'll need a special tool of its own.


(Below) See this? It's what we used to do before cassettes came along.

Once upon a time, freewheels were all we had on bikes. They could be taken apart, overhauled, the bearings cleaned and re-greased; and worn cogs removed and replaced as needed. Suntour, Regina and other makers used to sell individual cogs for just this purpose. And as long as you could repair a freewheel, you could buy just the parts you needed and keep it going a lot longer.
Of course, that sort of frugality is bad for a company's bottom line.
AND -- American riders got bigger and heavier, which is part of why cassettes became such a good idea: cassette hubs are stronger because the weight is on the hub instead of just the axle.
AND -- racers wanted more gear selection because they didn't want to have to think about gear combinations, they just wanted to shift and keep on shifting ad infinitum.

So eventually freewheels gave way to cassettes, and today you can't find a decent freewheel easily.

If you're like me you scavenge for old freewheels wherever you can. Then you take them home, clean and re-grease them and put them away with a thin coating of light oil on them. And if you're lucky, you acquire enough to see you out. Which is what I've basically done.

Because honestly, this 12-speed thing is a crock, just another smokescreen designed to fool you into thinking your old parts aren't good enough anymore while lining the pockets of bicycle manufacturers who live and die by selling to pretend-racers because real racers alone won't keep their operations propped up and chugging along. This stopped being about real quality a long time ago. And it has stopped being about real innovation too. Bicycles with chain-based drive trains are a mature technology. Everything achievable now is mostly baby-steps that don't really mean anything in the real world. Real innovation would entail coming up with ways to make bike parts last longer and the industry as a whole become more sustainable. But I don't see that happening anytime soon. And it's a shame. Because it's just one more nail in the coffin of the false notion that the bike industry could possibly ever be "green". It's still a lie and it's a lie that's growing all the time.

Reduce, reuse, recycle. And seriously, recycling should be the lowest priority in that triad. Start by using things until they really wear out, then turning them into something else that can be used for another purpose. Then recycle the materials, and if possible buy new components made from that melted-down metal. It's not rocket science anymore. The bike industry has known how to do this for a long time and mostly refuses to. It's time to wake up and stop making throw-away technology.

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