What Price Innovation?

I recently heard some chatter from the bike industry about the price of innovation.  I’m generally a tech-oriented guy.  I like new technology.  I like the latest and greatest.  I haven’t yet reached my retro-grouch stage, although I recognize that it will come at some point in my future if I follow the traditional cyclist trajectory.

Our discussion was brought on by a talk about the latest disappointment from the cycling industry.  After last week’s trademark debacle, I was hoping for good and positive news this week.  And then this.

SRAM Recalls all Road Hydraulic Brakes.

That irks me quite a substantial bit because I have these:

Installed on this:

SRAM’s notice says that all umpteen-thousand sets of hydraulic road brakes that they’ve sold, for disc and rim use, must not only be recalled, but must “stop use immediately.”  That essentially means that the Moots is currently shelved.  I’ll be curious to see how this is ultimately resolved, and at the very least, the good news is that it’s currently fatbike season in Illinois.  If it wasn’t, I’d be pretty steamed.

The bike industry chatter I heard suggested that there are basically two different ways to bring products to market: 1) innovate and bring product early, resulting in failures that are recalled and replaced, using the market to do your quality control; or, 2) test, test, test, and bring your product to market late…ending up with a quality product but one that is no longer innovative.

I’ve gotta tell you, as a consumer, both of those options suck.  Is it unreasonable to expect  that a $2,000 or more set of components will work when you put them on a bike?  Is it unreasonable to expect that new products can be released and will be innovative and reliable?  I don’t think I really need to write a long blog post explaining that my expectation is that new products released by major manufacturers will be thoroughly tested and reasonably safe to use–but some in the industry apparently don’t share that same belief.  I went hydro because of the benefits of hydro, and in the process, I’ve been sold on the 11 speed setup.  But if you had told me that my setup would be dangerous to use after only 4 months of use…there’s no way I would have made the switch.

What price are we willing to pay innovation?  I’m seeing, more and more, that it isn’t just the up-front investment…it’s the long-term hassle.  And let me tell you, Shimano is looking better and better.

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22 thoughts on “What Price Innovation?

  1. There are three variables in product launches that are related, and you can only choose two of the three – the third will be the result of what you decide on the others:

    1. Speed of introduction to market
    2. Scope of product testing
    3. Cost of product

    Each manufacturer has to determine which variables are most important to them based on their branding. If a manufacturer is trying to be first to market, then it’s either going to be really expensive or lack full testing.

    No level of testing will guarantee that failures will not occur. No matter how many design details are poured over by countless engineers, there is always the risk that some small aspect will fail in an unforeseen failure mode. Given that brakes are a critical element, I’m happy to let others do the testing to get it honed in.

    Plus, when you ride as slow as BPaul, you typically don’t need to brake anyways…you need to pedal faster.

  2. I got the cheaper S-700 version of the hydros for my Warbird and I’ve only had them on the bike for a couple of months now but this is pretty annoying. I just hope SRAM handles this quickly because the Warbird is the only bike I have.

    Are you going to be doing a blog post on the Shimano Hydros? I’m getting more interested in those as this recall goes on.

  3. Well, the “quality product, but one that is no longer innovative”, is only no longer innovative simply because the unreliable product was rushed to market.

    If EVERY company released their product after extensive testing, there would then be an innovative, and reliable option.

  4. From the article, one might assume that their testing protocol didn’t include much if any time at or below freezing. Hopefully this encourages them to broaden their testing battery a bit more. Here’s hoping that this seal issue is something easily rectified by replacing the seals, and is not the result of a deeper design flaw.

  5. from what i’ve inferred from conversations, it was tested in sub-freezing temps last year, but the testing sample was small. there were other issues that showed up first, therefore not allowing the seal to reveal itself. manufacturing can be pretty complex. you model and test for all the situations you can think of. you prototype and run more tests. you produce the product and feel good that all your tests match “real-world” modeling and prototyping. and then some crazy thing called life happens and throws all that out the window.

    • Yeah, but complete brake failures requiring the recall of 19,000 units sold? SRSLY? That seems a bit over the top.

      What’s more worrying is that there is not even a scintilla of a discussion regarding how these problems will be addressed. Just “stop riding”. That likely means they don’t have a solution.

      • they are covering their bases i’m sure. if it’s happened to even a small number (which I’m told it has), it’s likely their approach is it’s much better to piss off 19,000 folks and ensure nothing catastrophic happens to you. pretty standard.

        i’m sure there are lots of discussions regarding how they’re going to fix it. shimano and trp issued the same statement over their mechanical disc brakes.

        this happens to lots of manufacturers in all sorts of industries (tesla and ferrari come to mind). truth is, we the consumer are generally the testers. not saying it’s right. i’m just saying.

  6. Shimano ALWAYS looks good…(kidding – issues with Di2 have been prevalent)…
    In all seriousness, look at it the same way as you would any other product…are you an early adopter who is willing to work out the bugs (example: cars or cell phones), or would you rather demonstrate some patience for having the latest, shiniest, and ‘greatest’ widget on the market?
    I think that most manufacturers act in good faith, but the product is only going to see a limited range of working conditions by a limited number of people.

    • in other news…anyone notice that we’re being drip-fed news of an electronic SRAM setup just as the recall hits fever pitch? a little misdirection?

    • I want both. I’m an early adopter and expect a quality product. I have a first generation Carbon Beargrease, and the frame is not exploding. I have a set of the new XTR brakes from when they first came out, and they’ve been flawless. High expectations for premium products are not unreasonable.

      • Providing 2 examples where you weren’t a guinea pig doesn’t mean your expectation is reasonable or unreasonable. My point is, if you want to decrease your odds of facing failures/recalls, don’t be an early adopter. You of course still have the right to gripe (I would be pissed too), but you had to think that 1st-gen tech might have some issues, right?

      • Enter my considerable naiveté, stage right, but no. I don’t think a manufacturer has the right, or should have the right, to use the public as their testing guinea pig. If SRAM came out and said, “here’s our Beta version. We’re looking for testers”, I would have thought about it. I would have anticipated different terms. But when they come to market and say, “here’s the product”, I expect it to be finished–or to be safe at the very least.

        The other two examples show that it isn’t unreasonable to expect a product for sale to be a finished product…that it is possible to innovate without being reckless. I think SRAM needs to learn that lesson as well. For my next bike, I’m not going to be looking at SRAM.

      • There is a reason that I don’t currently ride SRAM…and that is because they have a history of doing this (example – the first iteration of Force was a disaster – broken chains and so on). I’m not saying that you don’t have a right to expect to get what you pay for, but also to be wary of the possibility that being an early adopter will come back to bite you.

    • Very well put, Todd.
      The importance of the early adopter is what drives the industry forward. Without innovation and those willing to pay the price of warranty inconvenience or product obsolescence, technology would never move forward. We’d all still be riding manual shift three speed coaster brake road bikes in France. Retro-grouches be damned. Product failures are inevitable at some level. What differentiates businesses is their ability to own those issues and resolve them quickly. From what I know, SRAM already has a resolution to get people going. Pretty spectacular in my opinion, given they just announced this recall less than a week ago.

  7. As someone who for years worked and managed bike shops back in the eighties and continues to be an avid cyclist I have learned from experience to play wait and see with new products. I would much rather have a functioning bike then the latest and greatest, plus I can’t afford to have multiple bikes. True I do buy nice stuff but I’d rather wait till the public gives a thumbs up on it. To all you public testers that type up reviews Thx!!!

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