If these parts are all doing the same thing, why are they all so different and why doesn’t that manufacturer’s part fit that manufacturer’s bike?
As a supplier of parts and accessories we often get asked for replacement bottom brackets or headsets that are unusual or different to the norm. Usually the dealer has gone to the bike manufacturer first to try to identify it, however when this sometimes draws a blank they give us a call. Currently there are over 26 main head tube designs and over seven for bottom brackets, so with this complexity in mind, you can start to see the size of the problem?
Identification is the first hurdle. In our experience the best method is to take some measurements of what you have, from here you can follow some easy steps to find what you need. For headsets we follow the route of internal or external bearings, press in cups or direct fit and straight or tapered. This narrows the window down enough to get in to the right area, and then take some headtube internal dimensions and then we can identify the correct solution for you.
Although there are less bottom bracket standards, this can be more tricky to find as you have to take in to account the chainset as well. You have MTB or Road, threaded or press fit, cartridge of direct fit then take the bottom bracket internal dimensions along with the chainset axle diameter.
To help dealers identify these standards we recently produced a bottom bracket and head tube poster (that was a free insert in BikeBiz for your workshop), and it was only after doing so it dawned on me just how crazy the situation had become. Head tubes that differed by 1mm on the lower bearing was one of my favourites, and I have to ask why bother doing this? What conceivable advantage can it give to a bike or the rider from going from 55mm to 55.95mm, it’s just crazy.
I would ask that before introducing a new headset or bottom bracket size, the first thing a bike designer should think about is the customer and how the customer will look after their bike in the years to come. Of course it makes complete sense to follow the latest guidelines from the major component manufactures, but it makes no sense to completely redesign an existing standard and to make it proprietary for your bike, this helps nobody, especially the customer.
My question would be what if the part breaks, how will the consumer repair his bike and get back on the road? Will the local dealer stock the part, will the dealer be able to order the part or will they even be able to correctly identify the part?
Before you redesign an existing market standard I would suggest that you must either gain universal industry backing or have something that offers a clear advantage over the system it replaces, thus forcing industry backing. This can be a fine line to tread, and I am certainly not suggesting that we stifle innovation. Real innovation helps to drive the market forward and improve the machines we ride. Changing something for the sake of changing, because it blends better with a tube or that it is 50 cents cheaper to manufacture should not be a reason to produce yet another obscure standard.
Currently the market (especially for mountain bikes) is very fragile, with purchasing decisions being carefully considered. We, as a collective industry need to be more aware of the end user, put ourselves in their shoes and ask how would we cope if we need to find a replacement part?
Greater clarification and standardization can only help the industry; if we all pull in the same direction it can only help earn back consumer confidence.