Chaos! The New Standard.
July, 2009

Isn't it nice to know that you can take your bike into any bike shop and get it fixed? Even if you're in Mexico, France, Italy, Montana, or even India? If they don't have the part to fix your bike, they can easily order it and have it fixed in a day or two. Well, it wasn't always that way. You see, in the 1970's the International Standards Organization (ISO) spent years of painstaking work involving over 30 nations to develop standard sizes, thread pitches and specifications for common bicycle parts like bottom brackets, hubs, freewheels, head sets, etc...

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Before the ISO endorsements were made, each country had its own standards. Even within a country, you could find different standards for different manufacturers. A bicycle made in France used different parts all around than a bicycle made in Italy or the United States. This made life difficult for both the bicycle dealer trying to help a customer, and also for the customer who had purchased a bicycle with standards not common in their area.

While rifling through my 1970's Bicycling magazines, I found an article on this while the standards were still in development, and it brought to mind many situations that are occurring now in our industry today.

While we have always tried very hard to manufacture our bicycles using standard size parts and specifications to make things easy for our customers, many manufacturers are now veering far from the ISO standards in an effort to create what's called 'proprietary' parts. These are parts designed specifically for that particular frame. It can be something as small as the part that holds the rear derailleur to a carbon frame, or something major like a specific bottom bracket that's only available from that manufacturer.

I think people should be aware of proprietary parts as they can make life difficult for the customer, as well as the bike shops trying to help that customer. This is especially true for the cyclist touring foreign countries.

Here are a few recent cases of proprietary parts, and 'new standards' issues for your consideration.

Out of business: What happens if the company quits making the proprietary part, or if the company goes out of business? For two decades, Burley Tandem company sold tandems all around the world. In 2007, Burley Tandem company went out of business. Burley tandems used a proprietary bottom bracket that was only available through Burley (you can see where this is going). We service many of these bikes each year, and have no bottom bracket to offer the customers who own the tandems besides manufacturing one for them. This is very expensive, and most shops don't have a full machine shop in their basement. In my opinion, Burley would've done the thousands of customers who bought Burley tandems a favor by using an ISO endorsed bottom bracket size.

Incompetence: What if you can't ride your $6,000 bike because a $5 part is only available for order directly through the manufacturer? What if the manufacturer doesn't really have a 'service after the sale' policy, or is completely incompetent?

As I write this, we have a bicycle in the shop that probably cost the customer $6,000 or so about 4 years ago (not bought from us). He shifted into the spokes and broke the small aluminum part that holds the rear derailleur onto the frame. This would be an easy replacement except for one thing. The part on this carbon frame is proprietary to that frame. Not only that frame, but that model of that specific year. The European company that sells the bike in the U.S. won't sell the part to our shop because we're not a XXXX dealer, so it was up to the customer to call them. Since the frames are made in China, and the company is in Europe, it took over a month to get the part to the customer, who then brought it in to our shop only to find out that they had sent the wrong one. Another month went by (so now he's lost the months of April and May) and they finally got him the right part.

This was just one small, inexpensive part that was keeping him off of his $6,000 bike. The bad news is that his bike has many proprietary crucial parts on it that will possibly not even be available in a few years.

Lifetime Bike: A lot of customers who come to our store and buy a bicycle expect it to last forever. This is especially true of those who spend several thousand dollars on a bicycle.

Jeremy, mechanic at R+E Cycles

Here's a great picture of a Rodriguez bike that has lived up to that promise. This old blue Rodriguez is from the mid-1980's, and here's Jeremy installing a new bottom bracket. The parts are in stock because they are ISO standard, and the customer is back on his way the same day. We see these type of bikes every single day in our repair shop. We serviced hundreds of bicycles while the customer with brand XXXX waited for his $5 part. I think everyone should consider how easy their bike will be to service down the road when purchasing a bike.

"Talk to me in 5 years"
This is a direct quote from Scott here at the shop to a rep from a components manufacturer that we deal with (we'll call them Z co.). Z co. rep. was in the shop trying to sell us on the new 'standard' bottom bracket size that they were promoting. You see, just because someone calls it a standard doesn't make it one. That might sound confusing, but let me tell you a short story.

Several years back, Z co. tried to get us to adopt their bottom bracket 'standard' (we'll call it YY) for our tandems. I told the rep at the time "YY is not a standard, and I don't perform product testing on my customers". Since we deal directly with most of our customers, we know very quickly if a specification is bad. He told me that other manufacturers had accepted the standard and we were the only hold outs. He was of course, correct, the other guys had accepted the new design, and I'll bet they wish they hadn't (hind sight is always 20/20). He called me a curmudgeonly retro-grouch and said that I was just "against new technology". We dealt with a few customers who ended up with these bottom brackets and they were indeed inferior to the 'real' standard (way inferior). So inferior in fact, that the company dropped it after just a few years, and moved on to a new 'standard' that was then dropped for even another new 'standard'.

Fast forward to 2009. As the new Z co. rep was trying to sell Scott on the even newer 'standard', and Scott was telling him to talk to him in 5 years, I simply said "5 years ago, you guys told us YY was the new standard, and now you don't even make it anymore". "YY was junk" said the Z co. rep. Although YY was abandoned, YY customers can at least fit a real 'standard' bottom bracket into their frame. When this new 'standard' is abandoned, the frames will not be compatible with an ISO endorsed bottom bracket, and the customers could be faced with the same issue that plagues the Burley tandem owner.

How Can You Know? If you are like me, and you expect a quality bicycle to provide a lifetime of service, you need to have a guide of how to determine if parts on that bike are going to be available in 25 years. The guy who bought that 'lifetime' bike pictured above got exactly what he paid for.

Things to look for:

1.) I have nothing against proprietary parts, some proprietary parts are a good idea. But, I want to make sure that customers make an educated decision. Any part that is proprietary to one brand of bicycle or component company is NOT a standard even if they call it one. Realize when you purchase a bicycle with proprietary parts on it, you're purchasing a bicycle that will most likely not be around forever. It may be difficult or impossible to find parts for in a few years.

2.) Just because someone calls a new design a standard does not make it a standard. A company can make a design public, call it a standard, and then the industry rejects the design a few years later, and the so called 'standard' disappears. This is the case with the ISIS bottom bracket 'standard' that I spoke of earlier.

3.) How long has the 'standard' been widely used in the industry? This is a great way to determine if you will be able to buy a part for your new 'whats-z-ma-jig' head set or bottom bracket in 10 years. If the 'standard' is only a few years old, it would be premature to assume that you will be able to get parts for it in 10 years.

4.) Are major, high-end after market parts manufacturers offering the replacement parts. If companies like Chris King, Phil Wood, White Industries, etc... will invest tens of thousands of dollars into manufacturing to the standard, then there's a chance you'll be able to get parts in the future. If not, then I would say it will become difficult to repair your bike down the road.

5.) Ask someone who cares. I've been in the industry my whole life, and so have the folks who work here at the shop. The Z co. rep was completely wrong about me. I love new technology as much as anyone, but there has to be a reason for it, and it has to be proven sound before I recommend it to my customers. My customers count on my years of experience to build them a bicycle that is durable, comfortable, and will last a long, long time.

Nothing makes me happier than to see 25 and 30 year old Rodriguez bikes roll in for a yearly service (a lot of these customers name their bicycles). Knowing that the bicycle was purchased with a lifetime of riding in mind, and imagining the places that bike has carried the owner to and from, then, sending it back out for more.....that really is what a bicycle should be.

If you want your next bike to be hand-made by people that love bikes and work right here in Seattle, Rodriguez is your next bike. If you want your next bike to be comfortable, and designed to last you a lifetime of cycling, visit us today. 206.527.4822

That's the big story, and thanks for reading -Dan

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