Bike innovation: Chasing its tail?

Campagnolo index shift lever

When we talk about innovation, what does it mean for the bike? I wonder. How much innovation has there been in the past 20 years? 30 years?

Not much, beyond frame materials. Index shifting came along in 1984, and so did clipless pedals. I think they’re the last two meaningful innovations in recent history.

Headsets have come a long way from threaded to internal. It’s one of those hidden improvements. If pressed to name the most innovative change in the past decade, I’d say it’s the internal headset.

Let’s face it, the bike hasn’t changed much since the diamond frame and gears. You can ride a bike from the 1960s and get the same enjoyment as a bike made yesterday. You sure can’t say that about electronics.

This isn’t a bad thing. The bike’s simplicity is a blessing, not a curse. Marketing does its best to put the “new” into bike equipment, but I don’t think it helps sell bikes. Marketing would do better promoting the joy of riding.

Next time I’ll give my wish list for what engineers can work on. There’s always room for improvement.

One Response to “Bike innovation: Chasing its tail?”

  1. Steve Dascomb Says:

    Having ridden constantly since the 70’s since I was 12, raced, and an engineer , I think the main improvements have been clip-less pedals and cranks with improved q-factors. Remember your ankles being scraped off consistently by Campy cranks? How about having to pour water on your feet with toe clips on hot days? Training for countess hours has now become a factor of your legs and lungs, not your feet.

    Brakes today are awesome (but again that was circa late 90’s with dual pivot designs). Handle bars! Ritchey and other designs from the late 90’s made a world of difference! You could never put yourself over the bars with any brake before then.

    Carbon forks finally hit their stride in the late 2000’s! I can now counter steer on technical descents with precision. No more wobbly descents. What I have been doing on motorcycles since the 70’s finally is achievable on bicycle in the new century. There’s one in the last 10 years that has made an AMAZING difference!

    Tires? 10 years have proven to be quite impressive. The number of flats I get are significantly reduced. Cornering, feel and longevity are awesome.

    10 and 11 speeds. Changes everything. No more dead spots in you gear range. Incremental, I know; bit I’m still reminded how awesome it is EVERY ride.

    Wheels! I have a pair of Campy Nucleons that are about 7 years old now. Smooth, comfortable and BULLETPROOF! That didn’t used to happen – even with custom, hand built wheels. Hub, rim, and spoke technology is just great these days. Wheel systems are quite impressive.

    Don’t even get me started on how far mountain bikes have come in the last 10 years!

    The cool thing now is seeing teenagers on fixed gear bikes – pure simplicity and it’s really catching on. Reminds me when I was in college in the early 80’s riding a fixed gear.

    Ride on.

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