Mr. Keith's Philosophy of Touring Equipment - Choosing What's Next - CycleBlaze

Mr. Keith's Philosophy of Touring Equipment

A manifesto

SUMMED UP, my General Philosophy of What Makes Good Touring Equipment might be distilled to this: "Simplest is best", with the corollary "Standards matter.".  I'll happily trade a few grams of extra weight for rugged, robust, simple designs that hold up well and last forever, and equally trade some proprietary gee-whiz "feature" for readily available and replaceable/repairable bits.

Unique and unusual are fine if you're talking about art, or a weekend day-rider, but are considerably less virtuous if you're talking about the design of something you need to be able to rely on day in and day out (and possibly need to have serviced or repaired in out-of-the-way corners of the world). 

Don't even get me started on planned obsolescence.

The parameters and demands of loaded cycle touring haven't really changed in decades.  A solid, robust design solution existed forty years ago; if the needs, requirements, and demands haven't changed, why change the design?  There have been some advances, I'll allow: I wouldn't want forty year old brake designs on a modern bike, for example.  Headsets and stems have evolved and it may be that the current style offers advantages over what came before.  Other than that, though, what's better now than it was then?

When I buy what I consider to be a durable good I expect it to last decades, not just a couple years, and I want to be able to take it to just about anyone qualified to do basic mechanical work for service if it needs attention.  Having selected carefully and with all due consideration, I won't get rid of it just for the sake of making a change; I hang onto it until it's worn out, shot, done and dusted.  I don't want to be forced into discarding it because some proprietary part has failed and replacements cannot be had for love nor money.

Every part, every design detail, should be carefully selected based on the expected use of that particular model of bike, not simply adapted or transplanted from some other bike that is designed for a different purpose.  Through-axles are a good example.  They were developed as a safety measure for mountain bikes, to prevent the front wheel accidentally departing from the bike due to an inadequately tightened quick release.  Mountain bikes, particularly when ridden aggressively over rough terrain, commonly lift the front wheel clear of the ground, making front wheel separation much more likely if the wheel has been installed improperly.

A loaded touring bike does not typically face such a risk.  Not only is it heavier, it has a longer wheel base and is seldom if ever asked to bunny-hop logs, large rocks, and other obstacles common to mountain bikes.  So, where's the supposed safety advantage of a through axle design?  It doesn't really exist, so far as I can see.

Through axles require hubs and dropouts that differ from the decades-old standard design.  And yet, some bike manufacturers equip every model of bike they make with through axles.  Why?  Because ill-educated consumers ask for them, disregarding the fundamental reasons and rationale for them.

I can't really blame the bike manufacturers: they are in business to please their customers, and being responsive to customer requests is good business practice.  But still...  So, on my touring bike, built expressly to please me, you'll not find through axles.  Or "one-by" gearing (another mountain bike feature that has been adapted for and deployed to road bicycles.)

That, however, puts me at odds with the people and corporations who are in the business of dreaming up "what's next" and then producing and selling it to the bicycling public- particularly the mass-market manufactures but also a number of the more limited-run, artisanal builders.  

They have a vested interest in constantly driving change (often seemingly simply for the sake of change with no obvious benefit, and sometimes clearly-discernable detriment, to the consumer), as well as responding to customer requests as noted above.  The bicycling trade press aids and abets them in this enterprise, driven and supported as they are by advertising dollars from the manufacturers.  Every year virtually every publication puts out an Annual What's New/What's Hot In [the coming year] issue.  It's often little more than barely-concealed paid advertising and puffery but it sells magazines and, presumably, the stuff the magazines feature.

Granted, the bicycle touring sub-sub-sub culture of the bicycling world writ large is relatively small and perhaps bike tourists are less likely than other market segments to chase after shiny new bits and bobs just because they're out there.  What we're after (or at least what I'm after; I should not presume to speak for the entire bike touring population) is solid, long-term bulletproof reliability and ruggedness, coming sometimes at the expense of a few grams of extra heft and giving up more modern amenities and innovations.  

It's important to keep the intended use in mind when choosing options.  Bicycle and component manufacturers often take a design intended for one model, such as mountain biking, then extend and apply it to other cycling formats where it's arguably not only not necessary but may actually be a step backward.  Blindly accepting the logic that "it's better here so it must also be better there" is a bad practice.  The needs of a touring cyclist are quite different from a road racer or mountain biker, and touring gear should be designed, built, and selected accordingly.

If my behavior is even close to typical for the miniscule fraction of buyers with similar interests, manufacturers have a financial disincentive to continue producing parts whose design, although elegantly simple, functional, and generally durable result in correspondingly low rates of sales for replacements, and only marginally greater rates of market expansion since really how many new bicycle tourists are there every year?  And how many of them have the same outlook I do?

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Kelly Iniguez26" wheels! I'm perfectly happy with mine. Yet, the selection of rims and tires is getting smaller and smaller.
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2 months ago
Keith AdamsTo Kelly IniguezI think the same is true for other sizes as well. I don't know whether it's a supply side issue with manufacturers going out of business or shrinking their product lines, or whether local shops have switched to carrying more oversize 28 and 29 inches in response to the current fad for ultra fat rubber, or something else. Ebikes may also be contributing by claiming shelf space that was once reserved for tires appealing to the tourist crowd.

I'll have to ask my friend in the business what he's seeing and doing.
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2 months ago