Too Perfect?

I'm going to tell a story about windsurfing gear.  In the beginning, there was the original Windsurfer One-Design.  It had a bedsheet for a sail, weighed about a metric ton, had teak booms, and revolutionized the world.  It wasn't pretty, but it was FUN!  The beaches were littered with them, they were lashed to the decks of every cruising boat on the water, and they were on the roof of like every third car anyplace near the water.  Then the equipment started to get better as more companies got involved in making them (during which time there was patent WARFARE).  And it got more fun as the equipment got lighter and more manageable and faster and basically just everything better.  Also a bit more expensive, but there was a lot of competition, so the pace of innovation far outstripped price escalation.  At around this time, windsurfing was far and away the world's fastest growing leisure activity. It was BIG.  And then a funny thing happened.  The equipment got too good.  In order for it to get too good, it got more specialized.  It had gone from the one board that was okay for racing, and okay for tricks, and okay for just cruising, and okay for wave riding, to a board that was good in 16 knots of wind wavesailing in side offshore port tack, but sucked in 20 knots sideoff port, sucked in 16 knots onshore, and couldn't be jumped on starboard tack.  So you wound up with about 6 boards that were each perfect in the tiny little use band for which they were optimized, and sucked in anything else.  The only guys who were having any fun windsurfing anymore were the 24 year old trustafarians who moved to the Gorge and bought old bread trucks (seriously, it was a phenomenon) to transport their gear, and had the kind of non-jobs where they could just vanish when the wind started to blow.  The sport totally forsake the families that were having a perfect time on imperfect equipment in favor of the people who were tolerating a very imperfect environment in order to pursue a perfect experience.  Within three years of the dawn of the bread truck era, the sport was dead.  Where before the Outer Banks rental market was literally sold out with windsurf trips from October 1 until after Thanksgiving, you could drive down the day of your trip and have your pick of houses within three years.  

How much specialization and perfection can a sport tolerate?  Is one extra gear worth your current bike and your entire stock of wheels becoming obsolete?  Is it worth less stiff and less durable wheels?  Is a little bit better braking performance on super muddy cross races worth not being able to use your road wheels for cross?  Is it worth needing entirely different brifters for hydro brakes - brifters which will likely be on the order of twice as expensive as the current road ones, and are totally incompatible with road gruppos?  How are you, who now feel that a pit bike for cross is a bit of a guilty luxury, going to feel when the guys you're racing against have FOUR cross bikes - two each of canti and disc - and 8 or so sets of wheels?  This is the road we are being asked to hurtle down right now.  

This is a hard topic to articulate, simply because if you try to tell the whole story, you wind up telling THE WHOLE STORY, which would be LONG LONG LONG even for me.  The windsurfing fable introduces the topic.  My plan, having given the blue sky picture about how "great" can be "too good," is to try and break the whole gnarly topic down into smaller segments that have some prayer of not putting you entirely to sleep.

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Just to note, "brifters" ( I hate that word) are obsolete. With the introduction of Di2, shifters can be placed anywhere you put your fingers, like on the tops, on the drops, on the hoods, back on the downtube, or even on your pierced earlobes. In fact, for double rings you really only need one button that takes the chain onto the other ring. So there is now lots of room in the brake lever to put in a hydro master cylinder, and thus not necessarily more expensive than STI, and completely compatible with the inevitable tide of road discs (coming soon to a bike near you).

C. Tough

At least biking gear has for the most part gotten cheaper over the years-I can remember sending a $900 check to Colorado Cyclist in 1989 for a Basso Gap frame with an installed Stronglight Delta headset and Superbe Pro bottom bracket-in 2011 dollars, that'd be about $1640.

Joe Bond

You'll have to wait for the rest of the story, or at least more of it. I'm not headed where I think that you think I am. It's complicated. This isn't a "you kids get offa my lawn" deal.

Dave Kirkpatrick

I guess the question of how good is too good is up to the market to decide, right? Companies with the Henry Ford mentality tend to get dropped from the pack. Maybe 11 gears and hydraulic brakes are too much for you and me, but is it really good business practice to criticize others who may want it?Remember a few years ago when carbon was for the people with more money than skill? You seem to do alright, in the glass house, selling carbon bikes now.


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