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Bike Philosophy #10   BackToList   Print
Written: 2020.05.22   Review Date:2020.05.22    LastUpdate: 2020.05.22

Bike standards and philosophy

1. Preface
2. Bike Standards Philosophy
3. Types of Used bike
4. Bike Types by Use
5. One Bike Vancouver Strategy
6. Vancouver Utility Bike
7. Major Decisions

1. Preface
This document is a philosophy of bikes and standards. This material was removed from the main Buyer's guide so it could concentrate on parts interfaces in a neutral way. The main buyer's guide is still dedicated to "standard parts" interfaces. See Master Buyer's Guide

2. Bike Standards Philosophy
Engineering is about standards and simplicity. Marketing is about creating a story that people will buy. The problem is that lately the story of false progress is overwhelming the standards. The average consumer doesn't care. But when you start talking to mechanics who tell you "there are no standards", then you have a problem. The marketing departments have introduced so many new designs you can't keep track of it all. So the mechanics give up and just muddle their way through repair jobs. And the bike stores give up stocking anything, and just special order everything. I've talked to at least 4 mechanics who tell me "there are no standards anymore". They have given up.

The problem is that the marketing companies have hijacked the market. They have gotten the ear of too many people who don't care. The manufacturers will make whatever they can sell. The common argument you hear is that "can't stick to standards or nothing could improve." Perhaps in some cases. But when you go to their website and notice half the specs are missing, you know it's more than just new ideas. It's that they don't care. One example is hub spacing. The best known standard is 135mm dropouts with a 10mm axle. But now they tell us we should go to wider spacing, with thicker thru axles. This might be OK if they could agree. Or at least publish the thread pitch of the thru axle. Some of the bikes I've struggled to document have almost no information that tells the prospective buyer what they would need to know to buy a replacement wheel or hub. I contacted one manufacturer to ask for such information, and the person was really cooperative, but couldn't figure it out himself. That's the manufacturer! Good luck to the bike stores.

In serious industries such as the computer industry, standards are taken seriously. For example, things like USB-c are definitely superior to what went before them, like serial ports, proprietary printer cables, various monitor cables, etc. But in the bike industry, they are getting used to dealing with consumers who don't care.

OK, you might say that thru axles and wider forks are a necessary improvement. If so, then there should be a published spec for a standard thread pitch and diameter for the thru axle. Every manufacturer shouldn't be using a different thread. But if you go into the various bike forums, you'll find hundreds of postings where owners and mechanics are trying to figure that stuff out. Meanwhile the bike manufacturer is breaking more standards, making questionable changes, and passing it off to a gullible public as advancement.

  Don't despair! It turns out there ARE still a lot of serious bike mechanics and engineers. And there is a growing trend where small shops configure bikes using standard parts. And there are still young people coming up who appreciate the old standards. The market isn't entirely old boomers with too much money. You hear phrases like "steel is real".

Buying a bike should be different than buying a car. With a bike you can replace and maintain the parts yourself. So you are buying more than a bike, you are buying a long term strategy for parts, tools and knowledge. You are buying into a system you can keep going for decades. Unlike cars, bike parts have standard interfaces. For example, when getting a brake job on a car, every car model has it's own brakes. Whereas on a bike, there are standard models of brake calipers and rotors that you will find on dozens of bikes.

Knowledge can add to your enjoyment as much as expensive parts. A simple bike that works properly, and which you understand can make you feel good. It's what goes on in your head that counts. When you meet other cyclists and discuss your bikes, you can exude expertise, whereas the guy with the expensive bike may not. And unlike a high priced bike, your knowledge investment doesn't wear out and can't be stolen.

The website is not a detailed repair guide, but it gives you the theory you want to find the parts you need. For actual repair, there are excellent Youtube videos that show how to fix just about any standard item on a bike. The key is to know the proper name for parts so you can search for the right video. Similarly, it is handy to be able to search online catalogs for key parts.

3. Types of Used bike
Before I get into recommending various strategies for adapting new and used bikes, it helps to briefly review all the different "types" of used bike out there, both current and used. The criteria I use for defining the types is based on the wheel size, axle dropout width, and overall clearance.

  1. Old Ten Speed (1970-1980)
     The original ten speed had 2 cogs on the front and 5 cogs on the rear making 10 gears. They had drop handlebars. They had separate brakes called calliper brakes, held on by a single bolt thru the frame. The rear wheel gear cluster was a screw on "freewheel" rather than a slip on "Cassette" system on all modern bikes. In the 1970's they had 27" wheels, rather than 700c wheels now common. So tires are now very limited selection. They tended to have enough clearance for fenders, and a rack. Unfortunately the width of the rear wheel "dropout" was only 126mm, which is narrower than the current standard of 135mm. So you have a difficult time buying a new wheel.

  2. Old Touring Bike (1980)
     In the 1980's, there were numerous manufacturers who made touring bikes. For example, my Miyata 1000. These featured a 3 cog front chainring, but still only had a freewheel system on the rear, usually 5 or 6 cogs. They still had the 126mm dropout. They had sufficient clearance for racks and fenders.

  3. Road Bike (Racing bike, (1990-2020)
     In the 1990's, the generic "ten speed" was replaced by what are now referred to as "road bikes". They could be called racing bikes. They are not designed for fenders or a rack. They are the typical bikes you see people riding in packs to go out for a quick ride around UBC. They only have 2 large cogs on the front, but have evolved to 8,9,10 and 11 cogs on the rear. However, they still don't have low enough gears for steep hills.

  4. Rigid fork Mountain Bikes [1990-2000]
     Rigid fork, 26" wheels, 3x drive train, cassette cogs, flat handle bars. In the 1990's mountain bikes exploded onto the market, and soon became the main type of bike sold. People used them for everything. They had 26" wheels and were sold with fat knobby tires. You could adapt them for commuting by buying thinner, smooth tires. They could easily take fenders and racks. They had the modern 135mm rear wheel dropouts so modern wheels will fit. Around this time, freewheels were replaced with the standard Shimano Cassette cog system on all types of bike. The main thing that distinguishes these old mountain bikes from later bikes was they had no shocks, the front fork was a rigid fork. This makes them lighter and simpler than current mountain bikes.

  5. Basic Mountain bikes with shocks (2000-2020)
     These mountain bikes all come with front shocks, but still have 26" wheels, 135 dropouts, 3x drive trains.

  6. Current Mountain Bikes (2010-2020)
     (1x,Nowdays the manufacturers are pushing mountain bikes that only have a single tiny cog on the front and huge, expensive rear clusters. These are built to be driven on steep and rough trails.

  7. Hybrid Bikes (1990-2020)
     (3x8 drive train, 700c wheels, room for fenders, racks. As both mountain bikes and road bikes became unsuitable for commuter use, a new category called hybrid bikes emerged as the main city type bike. These have 3x drive trains, and flat handlebars.

  8. Modern Touring Bikes [2000-2020]
     Drop bars, 3x9 drive, 700c wheels, fenders and racks These are somewhat more specialized than the generic hybrid. They usually have drop handlebars rather than flat bars. Unfortunately, they tend to have a bit more expensive drive train, usually 3x9 instead of 3x8. They have sufficient clearance for fat tires, up to 35mm size. They are the closest thing to the original 10 speed, except with 135 mm dropouts for modern rear wheels. They tend to cost more than hybrids, such as $1200 and above.

  9. Gravel Bikes (2015-2020)
     Short wheelbase, drop bars, 2x drive train, disk brakes, low gears. These are a "sport bike" aimed at the market where people want a light and sporty bike to go on backroad adventures. One example is Specialized diverge E5 Sport which costs about $1500.00: Specialized E5 These bikes are like a typical racing bike, but have disk brakes, a larger rear cog set, and clearance for larger tires. Key feature is sufficient clearance for larger tires, up to 38mm. They have very short wheelbases, which is a problem for fenders and racks. They would be more expensive to run for daily commuting in rain.

4. Bike Types by Use
In addition to the industry assigned names for bike types, you could list the different types of bike according to how you intent to use it. Eg: You might use an old Rocky Mountain bike as a "Destination Bike" or as a "Beater", You could configure an old ten speed to be your "destination bike".

  1. Destination Bike
     A good but relatively inexpensive bike that you can take on nice rides to some destination. Eg: Bike and Hike. Must be inexpensive enough that you don't worry about it while hiking. But a bike that is kept in top shape. (Not a beater). Could be used for short errands, or short messy commutes. Not as much fun as a "club bike". Cheap to maintain.

  2. Beater
     A bike you bought on Craigs list and which you don't intend to maintain in top shape. Let the cassette and chain wear till it breaks. Don't spend any money on upgrades.

  3. Secure Commuter Bike
     A bike you intend to ride to work a substantial distance and have a secure parking place at work. It can have an expensive frame, but should be relatively cheap to maintain. Eg: 8 speed, 9 speed, not 11 speed. Does not have to be exotic.

  4. Club bike
     (Adventure bike) A really nice bike with drop bars that you go out for high speed rides with a bike club. Almost always a "bike with drop bars, lots of gears, no fenders. And perhaps some exotic components to talk about at coffee. Depending on the the type of ride, it may be a road bike or a gravel bike for off road "adventures". Does not need to be cheap to maintain.

  5. Randoneur Bike
     A racing bike with fenders, set up for 100km but not set up for cargo.

  6. Long range touring
     Heavier frame, fenders, racks, panniers. Relatively standard parts available in typical small bike stores. Maintenance cost is a concern.

5. One Bike Vancouver Strategy
Our standard touring/commuting bike satisfies the following requirements:

  1. Inexpensive enough to leave on street
  2. Driven in the rain
  3. Climb hills loaded
  4. Standard parts

  1. Inexpensive to buy
      I'm talking about a robust bike that costs between $700 and $1500 for a commute less than 20 km. My commute to GVRD was 14 km each way and took about 45 minutes. For that I used a used Norco 10 speed. Over the years I rebuilt the wheels and gear system. Nowdays I think my present rigid frame mountain bike with 1.75 (44 mm tires) would work, but perhaps be a bit sluggish for that disance. In theory, a bike with an internal hub would require a lot less maintenance, but you start to get into more expensive bikes. So you might be more reluctant to leave it locked up in an unsecured place. If you have a secure lockup and good high speed roads, then you might consider a touring bike with drop handlebars.

  2. Driven in the rain
     Drive train maintenance is likely to be your biggest cost. You are likely to be replacing numerous drive train components at least every two years. The commuters I know who ride all winter need to replace or overhaul their drive train every spring. With many drive trains, it is going to cost you $350 each year to have a shop put on a new chain, cassette wheel, and front ring. But you can reduce these costs drastically by choosing a bike with an inexpensive drive train. With a 8 speed rear cassette and the less expensive chain rings and chains, you can reduce this annual cost to $50 or less. So the drive train has to be inexpensive. And the bike must accommodate good fenders.

  3. Hills
     I'm assuming you need a large enough range of gear ratios to handle Vancouver hills. This means 3 front chain rings, and usually 7 or 8 speeds on the rear. Bikes with only 2 rings on the front, or only one do not have low enough gears.

  4. Simple to maintain
     The bike must be simple and cheap to maintain. Choose a bike with a 7 or 8 cog cassette rather than 9,10, or 11 cog setups that require more expensive chains and cogs. If choosing disk brakes, familiarize yourself with cost of replacement parts. More on that in the next chapter.

6. Vancouver Utility Bike
Here's the types of bike you'll look at: A "short haul" or "utility" bike is one you'll use rain or shine for short errands, in traffic, and be able to leave it unattended.

  1. New Hybrid
     The easiest way to get a suitable commuting bike is to buy a new or used hybrid bike. These typically have 3x8 drive trains right off the bat, so you won't have to do any conversion of gears. If you are buying a new bike, you'll find lots of new city bikes and hybrids in the $600-$800 range that will be fine commuting bikes. For example, at Bike Doctor, I inspected dozens of them in detail. None come with fenders, but they seem to have the necessary mounts. But if you are buying new, you can get them to prove in advance that fenders and rack can be mounted without a problem. Avoid trying to adapt a racing bike for commuter use. Unfortunately, the current "road bikes" which descended from the original 1980's "ten speeds" no longer have enough clearance for fenders, and often do not have mounts for racks. Years ago, I ordered a nice road bike and the shop said no problem putting on fenders. So they put the fenders on, but when I went to pick it up, the fender setup was a horrible cludge. Fortunately I was able to back out of the deal. Ideally a bike store would have one bike of each model that is fitted with fenders and rack, just so you can look at the details in advance. But they don't, so if you buy new, make sure you know in advance which rack and fenders you will use, and have them fitted before you buy. Especially with disk brakes, make sure you've got a workable rack solution. And make sure the bike fits you. All bike stores will adjust the seat and handlebar height for a trial run.

  2. Touring Bike
     If you decide you want a touring bike with a steel frame and drop bars, you'll find a new one is usually are a bit more expensive than a "hybrid". So you might want to consider a used one. The big advantage of a touring bike is it often will already have fenders and a rack, so unlike a Hybrid, you don't have to guess what it will look like when fitted out for Vancouver.

  3. Old Mountain bike
     Rather than a hybrid bike, you can convert one of the old 1990's mountain bikes for commuter use. These bikes have 26" wheels and a rigid fork. Although new mountain bikes these days all have front shocks and have different sized wheels, there are so many thousand 26" bikes that it's still easy to get replacement wheels. If buying an old mountain bike you will need to add fenders, rack and smooth tires. (the old knobby tires are not what you want).

  4. Old Ten Speed
     I used to think converting an old 10 speed was a good strategy and that's what I did. But when I review all the things I had to do to make it suitable, I realize it would be a bad thing to recommend. Better to buy a used touring bike right away. The problem with old 10 speeds is that you end up having to make too many tricky modifications. First is fenders. Such bikes were not designed to have fenders or racks. When you put fenders on them, they don't have much space between the caliper brakes and tires. Something is always rubbing, at the slightest nudge. Even without fenders, the caliper brakes (mounted by a single center bolt) are a major problem to adjust. Second problem is gears. Old 1980's ten speeds have narrow dropouts and freewheel gears rather than cassette. And only 2 cogs on the front. So to get suitable low gears for Vancouveryou need to track down a replacement freewheel. Or replace the whole wheel, in which case you run into the problem that modern wheels are 135 mm dropouts, whereas before 1990, the standard was 126 mm. So if you have 126mm dropouts, you must get the frame stretched to one of the new widths.

7. Major Decisions
There are several types of bike that fall within the overall requirements outlined earlier. I am concentrating on the most common types of bike you would use for commuting. Although I initially included a decision between internal hub versus derailleur, I have now moved that elsewhere, as they have not become popular. Some other types of bike are also not considered in detail such as 1x11 speed "gravel bikes" or old ten speeds. But in the list of bike models remaining, you now have to make 4 major decisions:

 1. Drive Train
 2. Brakes (Rim or Disk)
 3. Bars (Flat or drop handlebars)
 4. Frame (Steel or aluminium)

  1. Drive Train
     For a commuter/destination bike, it is important to have low gears and inexpensive components. If the bike is regularly driven in rain, you'll need to replace the rear cassette and chain every couple of years. (The "cassette" is the cluster of cogs on the rear wheel). I think the best system is still the 3x8 system: 3 cogs on the front and 8 on the rear. The notation is (3x8). Classic 10 speeds from the 1970's, and some racing bikes have only 2 cogs on the front (2x). The thing you can quickly calculate by counting the teeth is the "cog ratio". The cog ratio is the number of teeth on the smallest front cog divided by the largest number of teeth on the rear. A low ratio is a low gear. You want your low gear to have a ratio less than 1 to 1. My current main bike has 22 teeth on the front, and 32 on the back, giving a cog ratio of .68. Below are the ratios from some of the other bikes we have:

      NumCogs Front Back Ratio -------------------------------------------------
      Rocky Mountain (3x7) 22 32 .68
      Old Norco 10 Speed (2x7) 40 34 1.17
      Miyata Touring bike (3x5) 28 30 .93
      Yellow Brodie (3x8) 16 32 .50
      Specialized Diverge (2x8) 32 32 1.00

    Here is a more complete report: Bike Models Database

    For this article, I am talking about wheels roughly the same size, so it's easier to just compute the cog ratio than to try and figure out the "gear inches" while in a store. Furthermore, the largest widely available Shimano rear cassette has a maximum cog of 32 teeth. So to get a 1:1 ratio, you want a cog on the front with 32 teeth or less.

    For Vancouver, I think you want a cog ratio 1:1 or less. My old Norco 10 speed above had a ratio of 1.17 even with the largest cassette I could find. My touring bike is my classic Miyata 1000, with a lowest cog ratio of .93. It is barely good enough for touring with a load. My old mountain bike is my main bike these days and has a 42-32-22 on the front and a 12-32 cassette on the back, so my lowest gear is .68. Since my middle ring is 32 teeth, that gives me the 1:1 ratio which is sufficient for our city streets. But on North Shore excursions or down in Berkeley California I was frequently using my smallest ring.

    Cassette Replacement: As I said earlier, any bike driven in the rain will need the chain and cassette replaced every year or so. The advantage of the 7 and 8 speed cassettes is they are half the price of the 9 and 10 cog cassettes. And they use a standard chain, whereas as soon as you get to 9 cogs, the chain must be thinner. So your ideal bike would have an 8 speed cassette. Unfortunately, you are forced to get into more expensive 9 cog cassettes with a new dedicated touring bike.

    These days some manufacturers are pushing "Gravel Bikes" with only 2 rings on the front (2x). For example, the Specialized Diverge. The small cog on the front ring is only 32 teeth, which is much lower gear than the old standard 40 tooth low on a road bike. So with a standard 11-32 tooth cassette, you'd have a 1:1 ratio. However, gravel bikes tend to have expensive 10 cog drive trains, which are more expensive to maintain than a typical 3x8 system. The standard cassette on hybrids is the Shimano 8 speed 11-32 tooth, for about $34.99

    Internal hubs: The alternative to derailleur systems is internal gear hubs (IGH). These have all the gears inside the hub. The most common is the Shimano Alphine 8 speed. IGH are easier to adjust and do routine maintenance but more difficult to overhaul. And perhaps a little less efficient on steep hills. In my recent store visits, I saw three good models at Bike Doctor, and one at MEC. But have not seen a lot on the street.

  2. Brakes (Rim or Disk)
     Rim brakes are the least expensive initially, but wear out your rims during gritty wet weather. Most lower price bikes have rim brakes. People like them because everybody can see how to adjust them. As of 2018 April, disk brakes start on bikes around $700 models. Disk brakes require wheels that have built in rotors. There are two types of disk brake: cable versus hydraulic. Doing routine maintenance on disk brakes requires learning new procedures (Youtube). As of 2018, many older cyclists are still sticking with rim brakes, although if I was buying a new bike today, I'd probably try disk brakes.

  3. Bars (flat or drop)
     Flat bars are ideal for town trips and navigating in traffic. Mirrors work well on flat bars, but not very well on drop bars. Almost all city/hybrid bikes are sold with flat bars. Drop bars are more common on longer range touring bikes. They allow you to alter your hand position, and get down out of the wind. Converting from flat to drop bars is not feasible because you need to replace brake levers, brakes, cables and shifters. This kind of conversion is beyond the scope of this document, if you want drop handlebars, you better buy a drop handlebar bike to begin with.

  4. Frame (Steel or Aluminium)
     Almost all bikes were made with CrMo steel tubing up until year 2000. Now almost all hybrid bikes have aluminium frames. As of 2018, I found that the aluminium hybrids tended to be the same weight as steel touring bikes. CrMo tubing is tougher, more flexible and gives a softer ride. Almost all dedicated "touring" bikes are steel frame.

Now that you know the four main decision factors, we can discuss actual types of bikes. In theory, you could have almost any combination of the 5 decisions. Eg: You could decide you want a steel frame bike with internal hub, belt drive, drop bars and disk brakes. But not all combinations exist. Eg: Once you say you want belt drive, you are talking about internal hub. Here are some typical models available:

 Model Price Frame Bars Brakes Gears base Weight -------------------------------------------------------------------
 KAS Tr-101 $999 Steel Drop Disk 3x9 104 12.8
 Devinci St Tropez $749 Alum Flat 3x8 3x8 109 13.0
 Norco Indie 2 $799 Alum Flat Hydr 3x8 115 12.7
 Norco Indie $1399 Alum Flat Hydr Alp8 110 12.6
 Norco Indie-Belt $1999 Alum Flat Hydr Alp11 110 12.5
 Norco City Glide $649 Steel Flat Drum Nexus8 107 13.5
 MEC Urban Interval$1350 Alum Drop Hydr Alp8 106 11.3

 - weights and wheelbase are for the largest size frame of that model
 - The weights are in kg, without fenders or rack
 - Wheelbase is centimeters
 - Hydr means Hydraulic disk brakes
 - IGH means "Internal Gear Hub",
 - "Alp8", "Alp11" and Nexus8 are all internal gear hubs. The number is the number of speeds.