We love our bikes for many reasons, and on my ride to work this morning I was contemplating one of the more shallow reasons I love mine. It is made up of lots of little shiny expensive parts. The fact that I got to pick and choose from all the parts out there and come up with a configuration that is uniquely mine gives me little jolts of joy whenever I get around to thinking about it. The fact that I assembled the thing with parts from more than a dozen different companies and it still works together in unison is an amazing feat of modern engineering. The high end bicycle industry is an amazing mix of standards that allow this level of customization and interoperability coupled with a desire to innovate and constantly produce a new level of performance. I was thinking about the restrictions that have been on motor racing for years and wondering if it has stifled innovation. The same styles of rules are slowly being incorporated into road racing, time trial, cyclocross and track.
While that theoretically may make the sport more entertaining (it is the athlete who is winning the race, and not the technology they are piloting), I am not sure it is actually good for the sport. I doubt few people have bought a vehicle with the idea that at some point it won a race. Mainly because mainstream racing vehicles are so unlike what you can purchase, you know there isn’t even really a comparison. With a bicycle, on the other hand, you can pretty much put together and race whatever your favorite rider is palping, if not buy it direct from whomever is sponsoring them. It may be a bit expensive, but it’s very possible, and more to the point, many riders do it. We all like to make fun of the guy with the team kit and completely tricked out bike that’s being ridden like a beach cruiser. It happens enough that we have all seen it. When was the last time you saw someone in your town with a decked out “stock” car? Probably never. Not only because it wouldn’t be legal, but also because there wouldn’t be anywhere for them to open it up.
Mountain biking and racing is still evolving at a pretty high rate of speed. The leaps made in suspension even in recent years are astounding. It might not be long before do everything bikes that actually climb like a hardtail and descend like a downhill rig will be fully realized. And unlike the mainstream road scene, where weight limits have pushed the majority or R&D away from ultra-light, mountain bike parts can continue to get lighter so long as they remain strong (although they certainly won’t also be cheap).
I hope that the regulations they put on road racing don’t get any worse, and I certainly hope they leave the loose restrictions in place for mountain where they are. I’d like to see bicycles continue to evolve at the pace they are currently rocketing along at. I can’t even imagine what I’ll be riding in a decade.