You may or may not be familiar with the term industry standard. If not, it refers to a set of guidelines that are (generally) adhered to by all of the companies within a given industry.
For instance; if you wanted to start a company that made tires for cars, and you decided that a 16.5” tire is what the world needs, you wouldn’t get very far because automakers make wheels that are 16” or 17” in diameter. You’d be making a product for an industry standard that doesn’t exist, and you’d fail miserably.
There’s no sense in re-inventing the wheel, is there?
Try telling that to the bicycle industry.
When I first got into bikes in the late 80’s, all bikes had head tubes (this is where the fork attaches to the bike) that were 1” in diameter. That’s easy right? Well, actually, that’s not true – BMX bikes had 1” headsets (the bearings that allow you to steer the bike) that were just a bit smaller than the 1” headsets that you had in mountain bikes and road bikes.
I don’t know why…
Anyway, about this same time, noted envelope pusher Gary Fisher wanted to make forks out of something other than steel – like, aluminum or titanium. Presumably to make the forks lighter. But in order for that to work on a mountain bike, the steerer (this is the bit of the fork that attaches to the bike frame) would have to be stronger. And to achieve that, it had to have a diameter larger than 1”
So, the Evolution headset was born – 1 ¼” in diameter. Of course someone would have to make a new, larger headset, which Fisher did. And so did Shimano – which is pretty much a gold stamp of approval in cycling. That and Chris King. If you invent a new standard and Chris King goes with it, you’ll probably be OK.
So yeah, that’s cool. We can handle two sizes – two sets of tools, twice the inventory, no problem.
Right about the same time, Tioga decided that a 1 ⅛” diameter headset was simply the next best thing to sliced bread. For some reason, the majority of mountain bike companies agreed.
And then we had three standards. Great.
Luckily, for some reason, the 1 ⅛” size ended up winning this war pretty quickly. But I have no idea why. I was told once that Evolution headsets wore themselves out in no time, and of course 1” was just so two years ago. Plus roadies still used those little things, and we’re way better than that. By we I mean mountain bikers, as opposed to road riders – those guys are so out of touch man.
Whatever the reason, 1 ⅛” became the standard size for headsets, and there was much rejoicing.
Well, except for road bikes. They don’t need those giant head tubes. Plus they don’t like mountain bikers, so they stuck with 1”
And actually, we’re jumping bikes off of picnic tables a lot now (this is the late 90’s I’m talking about here), and breaking a lot of stuff on these bikes, so what we really need, is a stronger headtube.
Behold! The OnePoint5 headtube-inator!!
Nobody seemed to like 1.5 though. I think only 3 or 4 companies used it. So, like the Evolution headset before it, it failed, and order was restored.
One headset to rule them all – 1 ⅛”
Except…. You know, we really like this carbon fibre stuff, and its waaay stronger if we can make the tubes in larger diameters. So, if you’re cool – and you’re cool right? – maybe you could, you know, make the head tubes bigger?
Welcome back 1.5” headset!
Yeah…. I’m going to need to have you only make the bottom of the headtube 1.5. See we have these computers now, and they say that the top of the headset doesn’t really get beat up that much. But the bottom, that gets pounded. So can we get tapered headtubes? 1.5″ at the bottom, 1 ⅛” at the top? Yeah….. thanks.
I can’t believe I just wrote this much about headsets.
I can’t believe I just wrote this much about headsets, and forgot to mention that the way they attach to the bike also changed.
I was going to go through all the changes in bicycle industry standards since I’ve been in the game, but I’m at 500 words already.
There’s still bottom bracket widths (too many to count) and attachment methods (at least a half dozen), rear wheel spacing (four), seatpost sizes (too many to count), handlebar diameters (third one just starting to hit the market now), and disc brake attachment methods (four). I could pretty easily write long, rambling blog entries about all of these too.
Holy crap! I forgot wheel sizes. I could probably write a damn book on that subject.
What I’m sure that you’re thinking right now though, is, what’s the point of all this?
I don’t know really. Some of these changes improve the bike, no question. The larger BB axles we have now are far stronger than the old square taper units.
Some of these changes help the industry. When threaded headsets were replaced by un-threaded headsets, it allowed fork makers to make one steerer tube length instead of 3 or 4. Road racers did fine on threaded headsets for years and years though, so you really have to wonder who benefited most from that.
Similarly, I doubt that bike companies like having to make bikes with 26, 27.5 and 29 inch wheels, which is probably why we’re now seeing most bikes under $1000 made with 29″ wheels. These bikes are for more recreational pursuits than expensive bikes, so I’m sure the perception is that most buyers won’t know about the differences in the sizes, or won’t care.
So, if you’re me, you start hording the good 26″ stuff, and hope that nothing else changes too much. And on top of that, just be entertained by the irony that the bicycle industry is based entirely on the wheel, but somehow can’t escape trying to re-invent it.