Fourteen years have flown by since I first walked into a bike shop as a twelve year old, decided that mountain biking was far too expensive a pursuit for my budget and rather than dispiritedly retreating out the shop door back in front of the TV, I opted for a BMX bike. For a young boy I think it was the most logical of choices, primarily for steering away from my previous life as a reclusive Playstation enthusiast but also the kind of bike I chose to do it on. BMX caught my eye that day with its sheer stripped back simplicity that no other cycling sub-culture had bred before.
Bike maintenance back then however was not so simple. Spending hours on cold nights bashing at your new bearings/frame with a club hammer, pole and a bit of wood was a common occurrence. Sneaking your bike into the school workshop the next day when that wouldn’t work was another. Needless to say bike maintenance was more like a military exercise in logistics that required a day set aside from riding… If you were lucky.
Although even in recent years I’ve seen brands who can’t make stems to fit even their own forks (or vice versa) due to the unpredictability of some tubing manufacturers, the standardisation and predictability of bike parts has only ever improved. In the twelve short years since George French wrote this RideUK Tech article on the misadventures of bike assembly in 2003 we’ve seen the inventions and/or adaptations of the mid size BBs, integrated head sets, built-in fork races, pivotal seats, micro drive gearing, removable brake mounts, spline drive, female-axled cassette hubs, L/RHD cassette drivers, half links… there’s plenty I’m missing here. All these inventions were designed to make bikes stronger, lighter, simpler and more accessible to riders who may not have an entire workshop at their disposal.
The simplistic design ethic of BMX is even at a point where it’s seeping out past it’s own little microcosm; George’s Elementary V3 stem won an ID Magazine design distinction award in 2005 for the single-bolted stem and we’ve all seen pivotal seats and half-link chains on bikes of varying kinds.
BMX’s thirst for the simple has brought us all the way to a time where you can disassemble most of your bike with a half decent allen key in 5 minutes flat. If you have the cash you can even remove your chain with an allen key. No more bench vice-pressing bearing cups into your frame, clubbing bearing races onto your forks or fiddling endlessly with seat post guts like days gone by.
My question is simply; are we reaching an apex in BMX design where it’s as good, and as simple, as it’s ever going to get? We all pretty much all ride something resembling a steel race bike no matter what discipline we’re riding, rear ends are shorter to make it easier to hop, bars are higher (my back has never felt better) and I don’t think anyone is going to find a good enough reason to deviate from this dynamic. Bikes are awesome now.
…But not quite perfect. While cassette drivers seem to be pretty satisfactory on the whole (bar one or two) no one has ever stumbled across the holy grail of the maintenance-free ‘stick-it-on-and-forget-about-it’ freecoaster; or at least not in the way you’d confidently throw a cassette on your bike. SYM-Hub were rumoured to be close but it never seemed to be confirmed by anyone due to them being stupidly heavy and equally expensive. I have no doubt these things aren’t a million miles away though, Eclat’s recent offering looks to be a huge step forward, away from the ridiculously dated ‘modified coaster-brake’ design. By the time companies perfect rear hubs BMX will almost be utopian in nature, there will be no need for new bike parts or new technologies to be designed because everything will already be perfect and I’ll be out of a job. Damn.