Standardization vs. Progress

Today’s thought betrays my ignorance of the practical constraints of running a bike manufacturing business.  And please forgive me, but I’m going to use Salsa as my example.

Why Salsa?  Because they’ve got the biggest array of bikes that I own love (Vaya Ti, Spearfish, Mukluk), and because they’ve got the biggest array of bikes that I do not own, but lust after (Fargo Ti).

(Parenthetical Sidenote: Why do I lust after a Fargo Ti?  I don’t know.  It is not that much different from my Vaya in terms of the uses that I’d pursue.  For my riding, I’ve got the Vaya for things that are road-ish, and the Spearfish for things that are not road-ish.  The Fargo fills a hole in my bike lineup that really isn’t there.  But I still love it).

But here’s the rub: I love my ENVE 29xc wheels.  Love them.  Love them enough that if I were to build up a Fargo, I’d want to use them on it.  But I really have absolutely zero need for 2 sets of those wheels.  The Spearfish uses 12×142 rear spacing and a Maxle up front.  The Fargo uses traditional 10x135mm rear spacing and a traditional QR skewer up front.  You could throw a different fork on the Fargo to accommodate the Maxle easily enough…but you’re still left with the different rear spacing.

The reasons for going to 12×142 on the rear of the Spearfish are clear, and having ridden Spearfish with and without the beefy rear, I support the move wholeheartedly.  I also appreciate the sensitive approach that Salsa’s taken to the Fargo’s head tube, allowing use of a tapered steerer or a straight steerer.  A few months ago, I wrote an epistle on tapered steerers and ended up getting schooled.  The advantage of building a bike with a tapered steerer is that you can have additional rigidity if you need it, or you can design a bike with a tapered steerer that does not have that additional rigidity.  It gives you greater design flexibility.

The downside is that you end up with bikes that are no longer cross-compatible.  In my mind, it would be awesome to have a Fargo Ti frame set built up with 2×10, and be able to swap my ENVE wheels back and forth between it and the Spearfish.  But with the advance of technology, that’s a no-go.  It’s an interesting pickle.

  • Not adopting new technology means that bikes don’t improve, and potentially aren’t competitive.
  • Adopting new technology in a piecemeal fashion means that bikes aren’t cross-compatible for customers who might be interested in sharing high-zoot parts across multiple bikes.
  • Adopting new technology all at once (i.e. move to 12×142 spacing on all Salsa 29ers) likely requires more manufacturing flexibility than would be reasonable to expect out of a bike manufacturer.  It is likely hard to make production changes that significant, very quickly, across all bikes.  It may also alienate consumers who don’t want to adopt new standards, have to buy new hubs/wheels/tools/whatever.

At the bottom of it all, there may be reasons that Salsa wants to keep the Fargo to 135mm spacing.  For an adventure touring bike, 135mm hubs can be found everywhere and are easy to swap in…that might be a design choice they’re making.  Plus, it’s a hardtail that will not benefit quite as much from the more rigid 12x142mm rear.  So maybe there’s an argument to be made that the manufacturer is intentionally spec’ing the Fargo with its current front and rear end.  And how many people out there are going to swap wheels between a Fargo and a Spearfish?

In the realm of problems, this is definitely a first world problem.  But it’s an interesting one.  As I pay more attention to bike manufacturing, I’m starting to look at issues and explore not only the “this is what I’d do because it seems like the option that would most benefit me individually” perspective, but also to at least try to consider the manufacturer’s perspective.  More and more, I’m seeing that there are hard decisions and challenging compromises to be made.  What I do appreciate as a consumer is the effort that manufacturers take to explain why they’ve made the decisions that their products reflect.  That’s one of the reasons that events like the recent Salsa demo day ride I was fortunate enough to participate in are so amazing.  Seeing new products firsthand, and hearing the manufacturer explain the benefits of new design, and the thought that went into the product–that makes informed consumers.  It helps us to understand why the finished product looks the way it does, and what choices lead to that product’s final development.  And that information and understanding–that is what ultimately drives product purchase decisions.

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2 thoughts on “Standardization vs. Progress

  1. Time to negate some drawbacks – sort of. With the right choice of hubs it’s still relatively easy to use the same Enve wheels on the Spearfish and the Fargo. All my bikes are 700c/29ers with disc brakes. One reason I love DT Swiss hubs – besides the fact that they take 10 minutes to overhaul and their build is bombproof – is that you can swap endcaps. If you have a 15mm TA front hub, DT makes a QR adapter. Front wheel issue solved for the Fargo. (NOTE: DT also makes a QR front hub that can’t convert to 15TA, but since you already have the Maxle this is not an issue.) DT also makes and adapter kit to convert a rear hub from 135 QR to 142 or vice versa. Rear wheel issue solved. It’s such a brilliant idea that other folks are beginning to do the same (see the SRAM Rise 60 wheelset). You’ll be able to swap wheels in about 10 minutes this way (15 if you need/want to change the cassette). Of course one of the bikes will be sitting on the floor with no legs…and that’s kinda sad :’(

    There is one other issue that prevents some compatibility – rims. The 29er XC rims will work on everything except a road bike. They obviously do great on the Spearfish, would work grand on the Fargo, and would rip on a Warbird. Sadly though, if you were rockin a Colossal you’d need different hoops. The size is fine, and the hubs are perfect, but the rims are simply not designed to hold road tire pressures.

    • Yes–I know about the DT 240 conversions…we had to convert my hubs for the Superfish from standard QR to the axles that it uses. And while it is a relatively quick conversion (like you said, 10-15 minutes), I don’t think that’s an ideal solution. It’s a solution, but not ideal. Ideal would be cross-compatibility…although as noted above, there are reasons that may be impractical.

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