JRA with the Angry Asian: My wish list for 2019
I know I’ve already shared with you my ten favorite bike products of 2018, and so you might be wondering why I’m bothering to repeat myself here. Here’s the thing: I’m not. Whereas that list was all happy and positive, this one is more a run-down of things I’d like to see changed, improved, or just flat-out eradicated in the coming season. Will any of my requests actually happen? Probably not — but here’s what I’m hoping for regardless.
Without further ado, and in no particular order, here goes…
Seriously, enough with the press-fit bottom brackets already
I’ve been going off about press-fit bottom brackets for several years now, and for good reason. While I still believe the concept of press-fit is just fine, the way it’s executed is so spotty that any minuscule performance benefit press-fit might provide simply isn’t worthwhile.
To be fair, I’ve ridden (and owned) a few bikes with press-fit bottom brackets that have held up just fine, running quietly for years. My experience with Giant’s TCR range, most metal frames, and my personal Pivot and Ibis mountain bikes, for example, have all worked well. But when things aren’t perfect, the creaky, squeaky cacophony that results is enough to make me want to scream.
Even when press-fit does work perfectly, though, it’s still nowhere near as easy to work on as a good old fashioned threaded bottom bracket shell, and I still usually need to dig through an entire drawer of tools to find the one that fits — not to mention a hammer, sleeve retaining compound, a heat gun, and a pint of whiskey to dull the pain.
A number of companies — Specialized and Ibis are two that come to mind — have already started reverting back to threaded shells, and I sincerely hope the trend continues in 2019. And if companies are going to continue with press-fit shells, they can at least do us all the favor of specifying thread-together cups so the bikes have a fighting chance of staying quiet. Pretty please?
Bad internal cable routing needs to die
I get it — internally routed cables look nicer. But unless they’re fully guided (meaning you can mindlessly push the line in at one end, and it magically pops out at the other end), even something as simple as replacing a worn derailleur cable and housing literally ends up being a fishing expedition. Rarely do I encounter systems that seem like they were designed by someone who’s ever had to actually install the stuff themselves.
Is it too much to ask to make things easy to service? I like a clean-looking bike as much as anyone, but I appreciate it much, much more when I can see there’s also been some thought put into what’s required to get to that point.
Again, I’ve noticed some headway being made in this department as well, but the industry as a whole still has a long, long way to go.
We’re long overdue for a real tubeless road tire standard
If only based on how the news was received, it clearly was a big deal that Continental finally entered the tubeless road tire market just a few weeks ago, after adamantly refusing to do so given the lack of any sort of industry-wide standard in regards to tire and rim fitment.
Continental’s new GP5000 TL sounds great (and since a test set just showed up, I’ll soon know myself for sure), but that much-needed standard still doesn’t exist. Numerous industry sources — Continental included — have confirmed that those talks have been going on behind the scenes, and that an accepted standard isn’t too far off, but there’s a potentially big difference between something that’s almost here and actually is here.
When I pressed the subject at the launch event, Continental wouldn’t commit to saying that its new tire would only fit on certain rims, and not others. It would only say that the new tire should work with all tubeless-compatible rims, but with varying degrees of fitment quality.
I’m sorry, but that’s just not good enough, especially knowing firsthand how much variability exists in “tubeless compatible” rims and wheels today. They’re just not all the same — not even close. Here’s to hoping that all of those closed-door discussions in Brussels yield some real fruit in 2019, because no one should have to roll the dice when it comes to tire security.
Properly finished frames from the factory
The very best bike shops I’ve come across often have one thing in common: they strip incoming bikes down to the frame, and then face, chase, and mill surfaces such as bottom bracket shells, head tubes, and disc brake tabs until they’re absolutely perfect. As much as I admire that sort of effort, the fact of the matter is that no one should have to do that to begin with; those frames should have arrived treated as such from the factory.
It’s one thing to design things perfectly on a computer, but another entirely to make sure that the finished product matches the print. When a bottom bracket isn’t perfectly round or the ends are perfectly square, what you often get is a lot of creaky or premature bearing wear (see above). Disc tabs that aren’t perfectly square make it much more likely that the brake will either rub or be noisy. A poorly reamed seat tube might result in a persistently slipping seatpost. And so on, and so on.
All of these things are extremely frustrating to riders who likely spent a lot of their hard-earned money on a bike, but are easily avoided when things are done properly.
An industry friend of mine (who preferred to go unnamed) estimated that it’d cost about US$10 per aluminum or steel frame to have all of that done at the factory. Carbon would require a more intensive process, but the costs would still be pretty reasonable all things considered.
Wouldn’t you willing to spend a few extra bucks to avoid a lot of headache later? I sure would be.
Universal helmet safety ratings
Bicycle helmets are currently marketed based on all sorts of things, such as aesthetics, weight, ventilation, aerodynamics, comfort, and perceived safety. “Perceived” is the operative word there, though, as no company freely publicizes its test data, meaning the potential buyers have historically only been able to guess at what helmet might actually do the best job of protecting your noggin.
Researchers at Virginia Tech in the United States earlier this year began conducting its own third-party tests, and most importantly, have been publishing the results (and its methodologies) for all to see (you can find it here). To date, the group has only tested fifty different models, but more are pending — and none too soon, if you ask me.
I like helmets that are light, comfy, and airy as much as anyone else, but none of that means anything if it isn’t going to help me in a crash. I’m not sure I can speak highly enough about this endeavor.
Good, reasonably priced, and good-looking cycling clothing
Currently, Rapha’s most expensive bib shorts cost US$270, and its most expensive jersey comes in at US$205, for a total of nearly US$500. That’s just a ludicrous amount of money for one kit, and Rapha is far from alone at this pointy end of the market. Is ultra-premium cycling clothing noticeably better than the bargain stuff? To be honest, it usually is, at least in my experience.
But making stuff really good and charging a lot extra for it is easy; what I find far more impressive is when a company offers kit that’s still very good in terms of features, fit, and style, but at a price that makes you wonder how the company is still keeping the lights on. The same goes for shoes, helmets, and hard goods.
I’m planning on bringing in a lot more lower-priced stuff for test in the coming year. Stay tuned.
More awesome aluminum bikes
I’ve been noticing the resurgence of aluminum frames over the past few years, but the trend really seems to have picked up steam recently, and I couldn’t be happier about it. Carbon fiber still offers the greatest potential performance benefits, but continuing advancement in aluminum technology has narrowed the gap considerably. More importantly, aluminum is still a comparatively inexpensive material, so the value equation is far, far better than what you typically see out of composite or titanium models.
Less of a focus on the bikes, and more of a focus on the riding
Ok, this is a big one, and it stands essentially zero chance of happening in 2019, or maybe ever.
Without exception, road bike companies have focused their efforts on — naturally — the bikes themselves, making them lighter, more efficient, more aerodynamic, and so on. That’s all well and good, but it’s also completely meaningless if we don’t have anywhere to safely ride these things.
After all, what good is an amazing road bike if fewer people want to actually ride them on roads?
Road bikes are, without question, better than they’ve ever been, but I’ve made the argument in the past that we’re in a realm of diminishing returns here. Truth be told, today’s top-shelf road bike may be measurably faster than one from ten years ago, but that alone doesn’t make it better. More importantly, many of the improvements that the industry is currently concentrating on are only relevant to a decreasing population of riders — specifically, competition-minded racers for whom a second or two here and there holds some significance.
Otherwise, I’d argue that most road riders these days are primarily concerned with their own safety on the roads, and it’s here where I feel the industry is falling seriously short.
Instead of pouring millions into saving a few seconds, how about dumping that money into lobbying governments for improved cycling-friendly infrastructure or driver education programs? I get that the returns on that sort of investment aren’t nearly as straightforward to track as, say, sponsoring some pro team or rider, or launching some fancy new bike. I also understand that many companies already contribute a lot to various advocacy organizations. But you know what? I want more.
It doesn’t take a genius to understand that if you make the activity of road cycling more palatable so that it attracts a larger percentage of the population, it stands to reason that companies will sell more bikes as a result. This is far from an easy thing to fix, but it’s something that needs to be fixed regardless.
What’d I miss? Feel free to comment below. I’d love to hear from you, and best wishes for the coming new year.