BMX And Unplanned Obsolescence

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One thing that has always fascinated me about BMX or more specifically; the economy of BMX- is the current lack and decreasing amount of what is commonly known in ‘the real world’ as planned obsolescence.  Planned obsolescence, for anyone unfamiliar with the term, is the reason you buy a new phone every year, a new games console every 2 years, a new TV every 3 years, a new fridge every 4 years, etc; instead of every 10 years- for ALL of them.  It’s not that companies can’t produce a games console that wouldn’t overheat and melt the solder, or a phone that doesn’t bend in your pocket or smash when you drop it, it’s that it doesn’t make them anywhere near as much money if they make a product that lasts a decade rather than last two years- even if they charged double for it.  800 quid per person every ten years? Or 400 quid every two years? (equating to 2000 per person every decade) It’s a very easy business decision.  The downside is that we are polluting the very planet we are stuck on with our broken junk, merely in the quest for profit.  Thanks to everyone who participates in making BMX what it is, we truely have something we can be proud of; our own little world where planned obsolescence is kept to a bare minimum.

In BMX it seems we learn from our past mistakes.  BMX boomed in the 80’s, starting from the racetracks, to dirt jumps, to ramps, to flatland, to the streets, the riding got more and more demanding not only on the riders but on the bikes themselves.  Unfortunately, manufacturing at that point hadn’t quite caught up.  Many companies openly stated that their forks were ‘made to bend’ as an early warning sign that your forks were about to snap and needed replacing- unthinkable by today’s high standards.  As we all know, correlation isn’t causation, but it’s likely that the crappy bikes akin to what you’d buy in Wal-Mart or Halfords today were at least one of the reasons a lot of people fell out of love with BMX by the early 90’s.  Since the ‘beefy’ period of the mid-to-late 90’s (where we saw things like 14mm axles, 1 1/8″ forks and headsets, oversized tubing etc introduced) BMX has seen a steady but noticeable influx of riders with no real, big slump to speak of since (at least not like the early 90’s anyway…)  Don’t get me wrong, Coca-Cola isn’t sponsoring anything and BMX Beat isn’t on Saturday morning TV anymore but in the internet-age, that’s kinda irrelevant- but we’ll get to that.

Fast forward to our year of 2016 and bikes are, as I’ve said many time before, immeasurably better.  Riders and companies over the years have come to realise the false economy of cheap, throwaway products and opted in favour of components that are made to purpose from the finest materials and manufacturing techniques for the longest possible life.  Why? Because just like a waterfall eroding away at a rock floor below, there isn’t a bike part in existence that won’t eventually give way to the forces imposed upon it, and impose them we certainly do.  When that day comes and you have to pick a replacement, you’re probably more likely to spend a little more on something of a higher quality that you know will last you an extra 6-12 months more than the next cheapest competitor.  Furthermore, in these times of social media absolutely anyone can air their grievances (warranted or not) by uploading photos of prematurely broken parts or simply by harassing companies via their Instagram feeds.  The comments on said online content often read like the typical warranty email inbox… (of the distro company that most of the time, should be receiving it) While it’s totally unavoidable, it obviously doesn’t make sense to give them any more reason to do so by flooding the market with cheaper parts.  While it may be the source of many receeding hairlines for social media content workers within today’s industry, it’s the same mechanism that keeps ‘The Bullshit Merchants’, out of BMX altogether.  Remember the whole Mafia debacle?  Articles were written by seemingly everyone and their little brother around nine months ago heavily criticising the direct-to-consumer model that Mafia bikes and Harry Main specifically were adopting.  The comments on said articles from the general public were, on the whole, equally as damning.  Have you seen an influx of Mafia’s around recently?  I know I haven’t, and I am looking.  My personal guess is that the only people that have or would buy one of those £200 frames is the same reason they only make them in 20.4 or 20.8 TT sizes; to them you’re probably just a dumb kid who didn’t read one of those articles and who would gobble on whatever was spewing from Harry’s hatch anyway.  My point is that the systems that hold our most dear bike manufacturers more accountable than they ever used to be are actually keeping a lid on any outside businesses with ulterior interests, including, but not necessarily limited to putting profits before component longevity- no one is in this game for the money.  Furthermore, it’s our reasonably small economic size and culturally tight-knit community that makes our economy such an anomaly as we mobilise so much faster than the general population- mostly thanks to very high percentages of us who use internet-based resources.

All that said there are still a few items on the market that may have at the time worked perfectly have become obsolete due to better designs being produced.  To be totally fair, if you were to find most of these on an average complete bike, you probably wouldn’t bat an eyelid; but here at The Merged we’re talking aftermarket and I’d like to think no one reading this is in the market for a complete…

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KHE freecoaster guts

Coasters became re-populised for street usage in the mid-00’s but from the outset, it was clear they’d need beefing up from the Nankai and Taska flatland models that many modified for heavier use.  KHE were the first to step up to the plate with their own internals that were used by almost every BMX company looking to add a coaster to their catalog.  The problem with these internals is that the clutch resistance mechanism (those sprung ball-bearings coming from the hole in the axle) will eventually wear out the inside of the clutch and provide zero resistance.  The other problem is the drive-side bearing; there’s no real way to stop the clutch crushing the bearing other than by just not pedaling… far from ideal.  There are companies like Profile, Eclat and Odyssey that have addressed those two issues and redesigned their own internals accordingly.

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19mm crank spindles

Profile Racing’s 19mm splined crank spindles were a huge improvement on what was available up until 1979.  Using a simple splined system found in steering coulombs (Profile Racing started off as a racecar chassis shop) they created the crank that all other cranks were measured against years before anyone else got anywhere close.  It seems it’s finally under threat from it’s 22mm and 24mm counter parts though, being that both offer stronger properties due to increased surface areas for welding on the arm-boss junction.  Larger, hollow-er spindles make for stiffer, stronger and lighter spindles which in turn make for lighter bearings (24mm Mid BB bearings are simply 22mm’s with an extra 1mm machined from the center contact)  While the splined nature of most of our crank spindles will probably never change, it seems the only reason to keep the 19mm is for their sleek aesthetics, maybe also for a little extra bearing life but it’s kind of a weak trade-off in my own opinion.

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10mm male axles

Does anybody else remember a brief period during the 2000’s where you couldn’t buy a 14mm axle-d front hub to save your life?  No one ever gave a good reason for this (other than the odd pathetic statement of; ‘we don’t really need it…’ when we clearly fucking did!) and it’s been a bee in my bonnet ever since.  It’s not much of an issue these days with beefier female center axles and easily replaceable 10mm axle studs but back then it was a real pain in the arse having to find the correct 10mm axle for the hub you just wrecked on a downside smith whilst your rear axle was easily taking twice the beating.  It’s one of the reasons I’ve been pegless for nearly 10 years now.  There will be a place for years to come for male 14mm rear hubs, it’s one of the reasons our frame dropouts are slotted, but the sooner every last male 10mm axle is gathered, melted down, built into the hull of a ship, sailed out to sea, shot ceremoniously into swiss cheese and sunk into the salty brine below, the better off we will all be.

Here’s to progress, keep it up.

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