Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Full Cricle: The De-evolution of Standards

One of the first blogs I ever wrote was about bottom bracket "standards" and how they anything but standard. Until the last decade or so, bottom brackets had remained unchanged. The only "standard" you had to worry about was whether your frame was English, French, or Italian threaded. As frame technology "improved" the standards changed in lock-step. The only problem is, it never had to change, but did so because problems started to pop up. Rather than going back to basics, the industry "pressed" on (pun intended). For every problem, a new solution. For every new solution, a new problem. 

Let's revisit the history of this eternal dumb-assery:

For 50 or so years, you had this:

The square taper bottom bracket

Worked great and lasted almost forever. That is, if you took care of it, you could avoid this:

User error

When Aluminum frames became popular they started with this style BB. Using a stiffer frame material (due to its enlarged diameter), it made sense that one could utilize an outboard style bearing system to increase the stiffness of the pedaling platform. 

(I think this is a Titanium frame, but you get the idea)

This was fine. You could install it on a steel frame as well and still get similar benefits. While still used on many bicycles (that have thread-in BB shells), this innovation was replaced when we decided that bottom brackets could be even stiffer if we made the shell its self, over-sized. This allowed crank makers to use a larger diameter spindle (30mm) to achieve the desired stiffness. 

In a flash, that made frames with threads obsolete. Using the same width (from bearing to bearing) but a larger diameter, meant we had to find a new way to insert bearings. This gave birth to a standard that was scrapped in short order.


The bearings were pressed into the shell which was simply raw frame material.
This idea was destined for failure as the problem was two fold: If you mistakenly pressed the bearings in at an angle, you end up trashing the bottom bracket shell itself which meant your frame was toast. Secondly, the interfaces had to be greased heavily and often or it made noise (creak). This was due mostly to the fact that frame tolerances varied so there was usually some form of movement between the frame and bearings. Many manufactures then started specifying use of a specific Loctite that would minimize movement. That's right, no different than using a shit ton of duct tape to hold something in place, they simply said "glue it in."

Again, this standard was abandoned almost immediately as the complaints started rolling in. 

About the same time, they started mass producing frames out of carbon, which also saw the same bottom bracket evolution:

Originally, carbon frames had threads. That went bust as soon as the frames started cracking...

So again it was decided that the shell should come out to the same end point of an out board bearing, and that it too would have to be pressed in. The problem with that was the shell was carbon and could never in a million years hold stainless steel bearings under that type of load without jacking up the frame. So what did they do? They placed the bearings in plastic (and sometimes metal) cups and pressed those into the frame.

Problem solved, right?

You wish.

Now, I will admit that (in my professional opinion) it is possible that the creak in the video is one of two things: a crank that is over tightened (or otherwise improperly installed) or just poorly maintained. But it stands to reason that if you are hearing this noise on your bike, it just may be that the interface itself is stupid to begin with. 

But the past is the past and the future is now. Surely we have reached an end to this madness. I mean there is no fricken way the industry will reduce the size of the BB or go back to threading them in, right?

 Oh C'mon!!!

Yes, this is what it looks like: A "press-fit" bottom bracket that "threads" together affectionately known as "Thread fit."

"Enduro is finalizing their new PF30 and PF86/92 threaded bottom brackets, looking to solve two of the biggest problems with pressfit setups.
They’re still pressed into the frame, but the alloy shell is stiffer and once pressed in, you thread it together lightly to cinch it tight. That eliminates any play, which causes those annoying creaks and groans, and ensures proper alignment, which extends bearing life and reduces drag."

You have got to be kidding me.
Give them what they want, be it lighter, stiffer, or more aero until it no longer works, then engineer more crap to replace it with. I swear to you they are already planning the release of a new round of obsolescence to replace the already obsolete. 

Wheels got wider to make them more "aero" until we could no longer fit them in our brakes. Frame materials gave us stiffer bikes until that proved too much for some people and was then changed to make all the Fred Sleds more compliant
Take this leap in innovation for instance:

That's fancy Trek Speak for "It has a very similar ride quality to steel given the fact that a smaller diameter, round seat post can move around under you. But since we made the frame out of square carbon tubes, we had to do this or you wouldn't buy it because it is too stiff. Had we just stuck to normal diameter steel tubes and maybe a carbon 27.2 seat post, this point would be moot. 
Thanks for the money!"

But wait: there's more!

That's fancy Trek Speak for "We copied damn near the exact same rake as an old steel fork because we don't want to admit that steel forks were already proven to be the most comfortable. And then we added the silly inverted fork drop out mostly for laughs, but also because a shortened wheel base is important since you are going to be racing all the time. Thanks for the money!"
   I am eagerly anticipating the release of SRAM's new Hydraulic V-Brakes.*

...At least then we could fit wider wheels in them.
*To my knowledge, SRAM is NOT developing brakes like this, but if they do, I will be the first to say "I told ya so."

Let's cut the crap here. No once cares to admit that they were wrong in continuing the development of this type of technology. They are only trying to fix the mistakes they have made without admitting they were wrong. But like the juggernaut they are, they cannot be stopped. If the makers of this stuff stopped, they would lose money because they would run out of new shit to sell you. They can't have that now can they? Of course not, because they made about 
6 Billion dollars last year keeping you on the hook. So why the hell would they?

But they were wrong. Evidenced by the fact that this bottom bracket exists, we have indeed come full-circle. Like making bell bottoms cool again, they have made bottom brackets thread in again. 

A solution to a problem that wasn't a problem until some jackass came up with a solution.

The End.


  1. So, if one has a BB30 on their new bike... What should one do to minimise crom screams?

    1. One should have it serviced often by a qualified technician. It is true that the BB30 platform is still being used on bikes (mostly aluminum). And it was, in its time, a viable technology that improved stiffness. That said, I have seen it go horribly wrong as in many cases, riders are simply not being educated on the pitfalls of such technology. Many riders are also at fault themselves as I have seen bikes that are simply abused by people to think that bikes are perfectly built and will remain that way forever. For instance, I cannot tell you how many times I have seen a rider scoff at me when I tell them that their chain is so badly worn that they must also replace their cassette. "What do you mean?! I have only had the bike for three years?!" So, I know how I come off when I write this type of stuff, but I can assure you that I ride many different standards across the board. As a technician, I service my equipment often as I am well aware of what happens when one does not. So, while all of these technologies are fine in their own respect, they certainly require some sort of attention from the end user. Thanks for the question, and thanks for reading.

  2. I don't get it. I can see that you find fault with BB30 and its press-fit brethren and you realise that the major bike companies are unlikely to return to a threaded BB shell, yet you object to an innovating company coming up with a doo-dah that absolves most press-fit problems? Forgive my naiveté.

    1. Yes, you have a point that is for sure so let me elaborate...
      It is true that the industry is unlikely to return to old standards.
      So that "doo-dah" and its purpose are welcome to a guy like me who deals in pressing in bottom brackets on 95% of the bikes that I sell.
      I mean, I still think the jury is out on whether or not this doo-dah will truly solve the problems. I HOPE it does, but I am not holding my breath until the votes are in. (as i personally feel that there may still be may factors that may contribute to it not working) While I understand how you could get that impression, I must say that my objections are based solely on the fact that it HAS to exist in the first place. Just the retro grouch in me. :) Thanks for the comment, and thanks for reading!