Industry insiders: What new technology could be a game-changer?
Earlier this year I spoke with bike industry stalwarts to get a sense of the industry’s direction. I asked a series of broad questions and received some interesting answers.
My second question focuses on how technology can change the way we ride. Is there a new product, or a product in development that has the potential to be a game-changer?
These responses have been edited for length and clarity.
Joe Breeze, Breezer Bikes
What I would love to see is a transmission that can stay clean and efficient. The chain is still the most efficient way to transfer power known. And wouldn’t it be lovely to keep it clean all the time? Especially for a mountain bike, wouldn’t it be nice to enclose that chain? Perhaps with these transmissions coming along, that is not a derailleur transmission, up near the cranks perhaps. That you could have a single chain going to the rear wheel and have less unsprung weight at the rear wheel no less, maybe have the chain covered by a chain case of some sort. Fifty years down the road when you go to inspect the chain you’ll see a nice clean beautiful chain.
Scot Nicol, Ibis Bicycles
What I’m most excited about now is tire and rim technology. Now we’re all running tubeless and using wide rims. Those two factors, the wide rims combined with the low pressures you can run with them, has been an amazing game-changer. Some of my bikes I’m running like 15 psi and the traction is unbelievable. That for me is where it’s at.
John Parker, Underground Bike Works, founder of Yeti Cycles
I think the oversized tires have changed everything — brought me back into the industry. I was living on the beach in Ventura, was down on the shore looking for beach glass. I saw a guy on a fat bike, and I instantly had to have one. It’s the most fun I’ve had on a bicycle in many, many years.
Although that was great for riding down on the sand at the seashore, back in the day Doug Bradbury and I had always talked about what this sport really needed was oversized, bigger tires. Doug went so far one time, he took wheels off a 75cc Kawasaki motocross bike made his own hubs and laced them to a mountain bike. They were prohibitive in the weight but the thought and the idea was there. 1997, we were using the same size tire that Ignatz Schwinn took to the 1939 Worlds Fair.
I remember sitting with a young Kozo Shimano in my booth one time and telling him the only thing we need now is disc brakes. The drivelines, the disc brakes, the tires, the suspension. It’s rather provocative now how great it is. This was the beauty of mountain biking when I started. Everyone went into their garage with a dream of making something. And now it’s wide open. I can’t say there’s just one thing, but the ride, the technology, the improvements, for me it started with these oversize tires. Every bike I’m going to make from now on will be a plus-size-tire vehicle.
Gary Fisher, founder Gary Fisher Mountain Bicycles
The whole electric-assisted bicycle thing is what I’m interested in. It is the world’s most efficient motorized transportation, and I think we should be very proud of it. I think the way it’s being sold can also be something we learn from. We’ve identified 700 bike shops in the U.S. that only sell electric bikes. Those guys have a much different way of selling things. I tell my regular shops to go in and check out the way they do business because we can all learn from them.
Richard Bryne, Speedplay pedals
I think disc brakes are the latest potential … I mean they’re not new. I think Phil Wood had them first for road bikes a few years ago.
What they’re doing to bicycles is they’re giving designers the freedom to use larger tires and rims and making it where bikes bridge the gap between road bikes and mountain bikes. And you can have one bike that’s practical for a lot of different purposes, and I think it’s a game-changer.
Chris Chance, Fat Chance Bikes
I don’t have anything that comes to mind to point my finger at directly. But I’m really excited about how things are evolving in the bike business. People are doing a lot of refining, looking at what works, what doesn’t work. What survives is really serving us now. I love talking to people about how, say, their old Yo Eddy Team Fat Chance was their favorite bike years ago. They get on a new one and say ‘Wow this is even better, I couldn’t even imagine back in the 90s it would get even better than this.’
The culmination of all this experience and technology and honing and refining I just find really exciting. We’re riding this wave of ingenuity in parts, geometry, tire design, wheels, brakes, you name it. It’s really getting somewhere.
Tom Ritchey, founder Ritchey Logic LLC
If there was a game changer, we wouldn’t notice it, because there are so many people getting lofty ideas that everything is a game changer! We’ve lost the ability to even recognize one. From my perspective, the only thing that matters is that the uniqueness of the bicycle and its elemental components that exhibit the utility of a bicycle are there. That’s a game changer. Whatever it is that gets people into riding will be our future. Electricity will be in our future, but to the degree that we’re [riding] without electricity and that makes us feel like we’re in control and making it down the road, that is a wonderful thing.