So, here I am stealing a term that Grant Petersen coined over at Rivendell. I got my very first job in a bike shop after an interview when I told my future manager that, "When I grow up, I want to be Grant Petersen." She laughed at me and said that most places that would have gotten me kicked out, but that she was on the same page. My admiration for Mr. Petersen and all his works and style remains strong, but it does not exclude a healthy appreciation for current trends and technological advances in the industry. 8 speed drivetrains have a lot of advantages, but 11 speed is pretty rad. Di2 works really well and is very easy to set up and work with it, once you get used to the robots. The manager at my current shop once remarked to me, "You really have an appreciation for mechanically sound devices, huh." I had never really thought about that, I figured that everyone had an appreciation for mechanically sound devices. If they are inexpensive, even better. Within the industry and it's weird ways, I try hard to avoid being a retrogrouch: that is, I try not to like old things just because they are old and I am crotchety. I am crotchety, but I only really like the old things that work really well and were/are reasonably priced. Just like how I like new things that work well and are reasonably priced. There are really good new bike things, just like there were really good old bike things. I think the only thing that I can really get behind from days of cycling past that is no longer what once it was is cheap beater drivetrains. Cheap, clapped out 5,6,7, and 8 speed drivetrains work remarkably better than cheap, clapped out 9 and 10 speed drivetrains. You can just beat that stuff down into the ground and it continues to work vastly better than it should. You can fix it with a hammer, a Crescent wrench, a channel-lock, some WD40, and a jug of TriFlow. The flip side of that is that those drivetrains only ever work as well as a 5,6,7, or 8 speed drivetrain will ever work. As a coworker of mine used to say, they will suck forever.
So, retrogrouching is not for me, but I can see where the retrogrouches are coming from in certain situations. The end user of the bike just needs to understand what performance benefits they reap from the increased cost of 9, 10, and 11 speed drivetrains, and decide for themselves if it is worth the added cost. Many times working in a bike shop I have felt that if all the customers were polled on what they wanted from a bike, really wanted and needed functionality-wise, the vast majority would be on 1x8 cyclocross bikes with some mildly backswept riser bars, 700x32 tires, thumb shifters, and v brakes. But, then I guess if you really held someone to task, all they REALLY need is a single speed with cantilever brakes and 700x32 tire. But, you know, it is nice to have gears that shift smoothly and brakes that perform well in all conditions for long durations without maintenance. And obviously, mountain bike technology has advanced light years in the past decade and half, to very appreciable improvements in performance. People are riding things that simply couldn't have been ridden 15 years ago, and riding everything else faster and smoother. That is awesome. And if we can make those brakes better, shouldn't we? Shouldn't we make shifting smoother, given that we can? And once we have that technology, why not slap it onto other bikes that, while not strictly speaking in need of it, would benefit from some aspects of it?
I guess the takeaway from all this blather is that I worry that the industry is in danger of abandoning things that it needs in its progression towards additional rad-ness. One of the moments when I knew that I was in a special place while working at Sellwood Cycle Repair was when I came back from a test ride on an experimental tubeless setup after wrecking and scuffing up the bike, bleeding from my skinned knee and elbow, and my co-worker said "Aw yeah, how rad were you getting?" I am always in favor of developing additional rad-ness. However, let's not stop making 1x8 cross bikes with townie bars that will get everyone where they need to go in comfort.