On Innovation

On Innovation

I didn’t want pizza. It didn’t matter to me that my father, grandfather, uncle and two cousins were all going to have pizza. It didn’t matter to me that the way you buy pizza means that everyone kinda needs to eat pizza. I didn’t want pizza because I didn’t like pizza. Simple, right?

Not so fast. I need to add that I was a child at the time, young enough to still be struggling with long division, and pinheaded enough to insist that I didn’t like something I’d never tried.

The adults of the group (as well as my cousins) held firm and I was given the obvious ultimatum: fine, don’t eat pizza, but you won’t eat, either. Once the pie arrived I was egged on a bit—just try it—and lo, behold, I was sold. I mean, it’s pizza, right?

That is but one example of a thing I didn’t like before I’d tried it. Of course, that wasn’t the last time it happened.

When Shimano first introduced STI, I remember joking to a friend that I didn’t need it because I had the ability to reach my downtube whenever I needed. I knocked mountain bike suspension because I knew how to absorb shock with my arms and legs. I knocked disc brakes because I didn’t want a frame’s flex pattern to change, because I didn’t want the bike to weigh more and because … oh who knows.

In each case, once I’d had a few hours in on those innovations, I believed, just like the kid who didn’t want pizza. For me, the lesson has been to stop knocking anything until I’ve tried it. That’s why I can go to town on cauliflower. I’ve tried, again and again.

I’ve been seeing pushback against a variety of technical innovations, from carbon clinchers (which haven’t been ready for prime time in all cases), to electronic shifting and on to disc brakes and even fatter tires. I’ve exposed my own foibles for a simple reason. I claim to be an avowed modernist, someone who loves new ideas and yet, even I can shoot down a fresh idea, so I have empathy for the resistance anyone else may feel.

But this is where I have to be careful. I hate conspicuous consumption. I won’t own a bike just because it’s the hip bike to own. In my duty to you as a reader, I’m constantly balancing my mission to present what I find interesting or noteworthy against the danger that RKP will start to seem like a shill for manufacturers and our reviews like a long parade of “native” advertising. If you don’t buy another bike in your life, and confine any future purchases to tubes, tires and chain lube, that’s fine by me. RKP exists to feed your jones for cycling and hopefully keep you both excited and thinking about this sport—even if you don’t agree with everything we publish. We just want you to keep riding.

But here’s where I will make a plea on behalf of the manufacturers (as well as our comments section). More and more IBDs are hosting demo days. It’s a great service that the online retailers can’t match. It’s a wonderful chance to experience all that new technology. Give ’em a try. The most rabid denunciations of both electronic shifting and disc brakes seem to come from those who have yet to try them. I think the conversations around electronic shifting and disc brakes would be substantially different if everyone was speaking from an informed perspective.

So why bother with the new if not to feed the capitalist belly? Because I fundamentally believe that all these innovations have the ability to help make the experience of riding a bike fresh and give us back some of the stoke that first drew us to cycling. That’s where flow lives, hides. And if there’s one thing no one can argue against, it’s personal fulfillment and satisfaction. A better bike can make for a better ride. A better ride can make a better day. Enough better days adds up to a better life.



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  1. Jim

    I know it’s hard but occasionally, we have to read about the products that don’t work out so well to believe that the good reviews are genuine. I’m also looking for that review of Di2 that says I rode it all winter in the rain and muck and grime, thousands of miles and every shift was better than mech.

    And toss those cauliflowers with olive oil, a little garlic, s+p, broil until browned or just brown them on a stovetop.

    1. Hackintheback

      I have over 4,000 miles on a Di2 equipped bike in the past 12 mos and have ridden in every type of weather condition imaginable. It has shifted beautifully since day 1. I’ve charged it 3 or 4 times total. It’s magnificent. I honestly didn’t think I cared about electronic shifting until I had it and now I can’t imagine going back.

    2. David Feldman

      A couple of amens here, but consider this: Furthering the food analogies (like pizza and cauliflower both, here) imagine if some manufacturers of bike merchandise ran a restaurant. And if, in that restaurant, the chef couldn’t help him or herself and threw a handful of, say, cumin into every dish from salad dressing to cheesecake. Don’t like cumin? Don’t eat here, they’d say, cumin cheesecake is this year’s innovation. Or a music store where every instrument from a kid’s plastic uke to a string bass has a whammy bar. Don’t like whammy bars? We don’t have an instrument for you. Our major component and bike companies are great at this–want fender eyes on a road bike? Too bad. Want cranks that aren’t carbon? Sorry. Want 9 speed downtube shifters? You’re a luddite! I like new stuff but really wish that “innovations” didn’t push everything else out of product lines. Here’s hoping that smaller companies like Soma, Compass, and Dia-Tech thrive because bigger players refuse to learn this lesson.

  2. Tom in Albany

    My last road bike purchase in ’99. Still riding 9-speed ultegra. I’m old enough to want more gear choices than 9. And, I need a new quill stem because I can’t bend over like I used to but I hate to give up my sweet Serotta Ti stem. Though maybe what I really want is something without the 11 or 12 (like what you described before, Padraig) and my back wouldn’t hurt so much?

    My last mountain bike was purchased in ’01. 9-speed XTR, (shifters since replaced due to pilot error). The shocks are shot. The wheels have tubes and are only 26″ in diameter. I’m completely missed the 29er ‘fad’ and am now thinking 650b (27.5) would be the proper choice for someone of my 5’6″/130lb build. (My power-to-weight ratio is NOT impressive. LOL) I could put disks on it. It was state-of-the-art when I bought it… Just never did it.

    It’s mostly a cash outlay problem. I don’t want to spend the money on a new bike but, if I did, I’m thinking I’d buy a new mtn bike first as the upgrade seems to be more ‘real’ than what I’d get trying to replace my Serotta Titanium frame.

    So, I don’t have an issue with new technology, I have an issue spending the money.

    1. Craig Peer

      Yes, good bikes aren’t cheap. My friends are always shocked at how much I spent on my bikes. Of course, the fact that I have 15+ times as much money tied up in wine in my wine cellar seems to go completely over their heads………

  3. Craig Peer

    Seeing as I quit riding bikes for nearly a decade, and just got back into cycling in 2014, I came back looking at bicycles with fresh eyes. I live in NorCal too – where pavement can be rough, and rides average 100 feet per mile elevation gain, if not more. The first thing to go on my first carbon bike I’ve ever bought were the skinny tires and rims – replaced with 25mm wide HED Ardennes + wheels. Next to go were tubes – I put 25c tubeless tires on those wheels ( followed by all my and my wife’s bikes ). Now I have a Roubaix with HED Ardennes + wheels, tubeless 25c tires, Di2 shifting and hydraulic disc brakes. Best bike I have ever owned and ever hope to own. It’s made riding more fun! I just turned 60 years old this year, and I’m doing longer, harder rides than I ever did when I was in my 40’s. Electronic shifting and hydraulic disc brakes just work better !!

  4. scott g.

    What are these “disc brakes” you speak off ?, says Italian son.
    I find them nowhere in the holy books of Campagnolo.

    As we say every year at Passover, “Next year in Italy”

    1. Jorgensen

      Be careful, Campagnolo made mechanical disc brakes for mopeds in the 60’s.

      The “twirling blades of death” may have been dealt a setback to the peloton recently, but they will return.
      Probably when Campagnolo’s most recent designs are ready for prime time.

  5. Jim S.

    I tell people not to ride Di2 or EPS unless they are prepared to buy it. Its that good. You certainly don’t HAVE to have it, but once you do, you’re not likely to go back to mechanical. And to Jim#1 above, I’ve been riding it three years with lots of miles and even several crashes. Have not even had to adjust it once yet. Its my favorite advancement since clipless pedals.

  6. B DeVaney

    Great piece, Padraig.
    Being fortunate to ride and critique newer stuff also brings the liberating feeling of riding a great, older bike from time to time. The greatest beauty I see in today’s tech isn’t so much the electronic vs mechanical or disc vs rim debates, but to acknowledge how comfortably positioned, ranges of tire volume, choices in saddles, etc …
    We once chose our setups from within a very narrow window of options which required us to either be specialists on road vs. off-road unless we could afford a stable of bikes. Bikes today are simply more capable, comfortable, and fun. The frames are stiffer in the right directions, more compliant in the proper planes, have greater component capabilities, and we ride them on a wider range of terrain. Bicycles are more fun and awesome than ever. Our problems are a result of too many choices. Great choices. I love such first world issues. mmmmmmm, pizza.

  7. MattC

    Good words for sure! I made the mistake of demo’ing a 27.5 mtb a year or so ago…(ok, maybe 2). It was a medium build (Shimano deore) double setup. Weighed a few lbs less than my current 03 Blur (full XTR, WAS a hot bike back in the day). I was blown away by how awesome this bike did EVERYTHING. The chasm between my old bike and the new one was a grand canyon. Started saving $$ cuz I wanted a decent build (XT double, carbon wheels). Demo’d a road bike…yeah, it was nice, but the gulf between it and my 09 CAAD-9 (w/ Record 10spd) wasn’t nearly as large as my mtb.

    Just got my new MTB after the holidays (took me the 2 years to save for it), it’s a 29’er full suspension…didn’t get my double ring setup after all…it came w/ a 1×11 (I specifically did NOT want that gearing, but it’s what it came w/ and was such a fantastic deal I couldn’t turn it down). Figured I’d ride it a while and save some more $$, then switch it over to a double. Fast forward a few months….The 1×11 is FANTASTIC!! Sure, I do miss the gear or 2 on the bottom that I lost (how often do I REALLY need a 22×34 combo? Answer: not very often…so I need to HTFU). And I miss the few gears on top now and then too…but overall and the VAST majority of the time, not at all. And the other thing I can’t imagine living w/out on my mtb: Dropper post. OMG, that should be mandatory tech on all new bikes! I used to SUCK at descending. Now I still likely suck, but with MUCH greater joy and confidence! The dropper post is a game-changer!

  8. Aar

    Thanks for the wonderful piece and open, honest perspective. It’s just another example why RKP is an indispensable part of my day.

  9. Bart

    I’m often skeptical of “new” stuff. I don’t trust the opinions of others and I like to see things around for a few years before jumping in. This is true for me with bikes and all sorts of other stuff. I have a carbon Ultegra Di2 road bike and I love the bike but I’m not “sold” on electronic shifting. I’m planning to buy a new multi-strada bike (custom titanium) and put mechanical Ultegra with hydraulic disc brakes and tubeless wheels/tires on it. My current multi-strada bike is 3×9 Sora. I also have an older aluminum road bike with 3×9 Ultegra. In addition, I have a tendency to have old beater bikes for nasty winter conditions. So, I’m kinda all over the place but there is definitely a place for innovation in my world.

    I test ride a lot of bikes and hate being “told” what is right for me whether that is my position, frame size, tires, clothing, etc. I love suggestions and ideas but I very much prefer to form my own opinions of things. And I LOVE demo days where I get to try lots of rides to see how they feel to me (but they’re hard to find where I live).

    The thing I like about the reviews on RKP is that they’re full of well considered opinions that I can use as suggestions and ideas and introduce me to product and manufacturers/builders I would otherwise have a hard time finding.

    Keep up the great work!

  10. Waldo

    I have a Di2 bike. It’s a fine bike and shifting works well, but I prefer tactile feedback of mechanical shifting.

  11. peter lin

    my trick for cauliflower is to cook it in indian curry. Then it’s super delicious, cuz it’s curry! I’ve had my UDi2 since last september and I love it. For the last 5 years, I’ve consistently snapped my rear derailleur cable twice a year. I’m a heavy salty sweater, so the cables just give up after a while. On more than one occasion, I’ve had to limp to my LBS and get it fixed so I could get home.

  12. Les.B.

    At least with Di2, one can upgrade an existing bike. Discs, you gotta buy a whole new bike.
    I’m sold on discs, but not ready for a new bike.

    1. Bruce

      I feel exactly the same way. I’ve got the bike of my dreams and at my age, 67, don’t anticipate buying another. I sure would like to refit my bike for disk breaks as I’ve always been conservative on descents and I think they would help that.

  13. Jeff

    I love going downhill fast. Spin out your top gear, tuck into the fetal position and bomb the road. A Minimum of 50mph.

    At 6’4″ and 220lbs, I carry inertia that volcanizes break pads; with friends of similar size, we’ve seen carbon surfaces melt along with inner tubes while in the pursuit of limiting our ability to go downhill.

    Dining out, I will order and eat whatever the waiter recommends. I don’t even look at the menu. I will put my desire for the known aside and welcome the unknown. The restaurant professionally makes food to be consumed that will please the appetite, while offering something fresh and hopefully unique/authentic.

    In contrast, my friend only ever orders a wedge salad… High end steak house to small town corner shops. He likes what he likes.

  14. phillipivan

    I just upgraded to the new Chorus, from the previous one, after a crash wiped out the shifters and rear der. It does nothing the old one didn’t do, but it does it very well, so much so that presently the only argument I can buy for EPS is the nicer ergos with the dropped thumb shifters.

    My local pizza place, Ida Red, lives at the base of the nearest mountain, Macedon, and Wednesday is $15 night. I have never, on its premisses, witnessed a child protest the food.

  15. Michael

    I don’t buy new bikes that often, but when I do, I buy the best I can afford (and feel I merit). I like MattC’s story – they say that anticipation and planning make vacation trips far more enjoyable and also longer (you are enjoying it long in advance, and sometimes afterward with photo albums etc.) and I think it is the same with bikes. Another reason to buy a custom-built bike – the waiting list is a good thing by giving you time to anticipate the bike! Anyway, being aware of the changing tech is great (thanks, Padraig et al.!), and then you just choose the moment to buy what is currently good.

    But I still hate American pizza, with all that cheese, sauce, junk all over the top, and crust. I’d have skipped that meal. Fortunately, I get to Napoli frequently, where the pizza is sublime.

  16. Pat O'Brien

    Leonard Zinn did a piece about disc brakes, including some industry comments, on April 19th. The interesting part was the effect of rim heat on braking performance and tubular tires.
    I think they could radius the edge of the rotor, make the circumference completely round without any “saw teeth” and include some lightweight guards over the rotors without affecting braking performance. Knee jerk reactions based on little or no data solve nothing.

  17. David

    “A better bike can make for a better ride. A better ride can make a better day. Enough better days adds up to a better life.”

    Obviously “better” is highly subjective. But aside from that, and as someone who finally converted from down tube shifters in 2009, I’ve been historically slow to adopt new bicycle tech. Heck, I’ve still got a non-suspended Specialized M2 Stumpjumer with XT thumbshifters in my garage.

    But, my biggest problem with current road bike technology progression is the lack of compatibility with existing bikes. I have a 2009 ti frame that I purchased as a lifetime bike. (I’m 54 years old btw.) It clearly does not have mounts for disc brakes, so I’ll continue to use rim brakes be necessity. And If I were to use electronic shifting, I’d have useless cable guides on my down tube and top tube.

    I was initially smitten with the mechanical simplicity of the bicycle. Disc brakes and electronic shifting have taken that away – to a degree. I like to repair my own equipment and with new technology – just like with automobiles, it is getting increasingly harder to do that.

    And we don’t even need to talk about the cost of new technology.

    I’m perfectly happy with my rim braked, 10 speed mechanically shifted road bike. The state of “flow” that I achieve, every time I roll out of my driveway reminds me why I love to ride and why I love the bicycle.

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