Wednesday, June 4, 2008

Grouch? Yes. Retro? Hardly.

There has been some amount of misconception of late—or, perhaps every day—that I'm some sort of retro grouch. That I won't be happy until every BMXer on the planet goes back to riding STAs and Holmeseses with 45-tooth sprockets, Kink chains, Super Pros and um, well, Slam Bars (or Castillos, or Standard Six-Piece Strips). Basically, this:


Not true!

(Although that bike is awesome.)

Perhaps some of you missed when I actually posted my bike. Anyway, I'd just like to talk a little today about my two favorite advancements in BMX:

THE THREADLESS HEADSET: Most riders today are unfamiliar with the joys of the 1” threaded headset—like having to remove your stem and tighten said headset (usually with a vice grip or pipe wrench) after EVERY SINGLE RIDE. Or having to hold a cracked headset cup together with a hose clamp (go ask your dad). Or just trying to get the goddamn thing to work properly, especially as most headsets seemed to be made up of mismatched parts from about eight different incompatible headsets. Ask anyone who came of age riding BMX in the ‘80s, and they’ll tell you that the threadless headset is the finest invention of our time. It is. The internal headset even more so, no matter what Chris King thinks.

(This doesn’t even get into the shafted stem issue, where your bars and stem were attached to your bike via a cast metal wedge and a single—usually hollow—bolt. All too often one of the other broke during the simple act of tightening. Yet we rode them anyway. It’s a wonder any of us are still alive.)


THE DRIVETRAIN: If the threadless headset was the best BMX innovation of the past 20 years (well, Cook Bros. did it in the '70s, but it didn't catch on), microdrives were the second. 44/16 is oft romanticized, but not by many of those who rode it on a regular basis. Chains broke. Sprockets bent. Freewheels blew up. Slight wheel movement resulted in sagging chains that either fell off or incessantly pinged off your seatstay until you had to crank the volume on your Walkman (again, ask dad) just to tune it out.

Despite road bikes and mountain bikes using smaller rear cogs for years, the first BMX response to the drivetrain problem was just to make everything beefier. So we got half-inch thick sprockets and motorcycle chains and “Fat Claws” freewheels. That way pedaling became a chore even when verything was straight, instead of your chain harmlessly rattling on your stays it actually ate through them—and the fat chains STILL broke on a somewhat regular basis. Good times.

Then came the cassette hub (I’m purposefully ignoring the 14t freewheel and flip-flop hub, since hardly anyone ran them outside of racing). Or, at least, then came a cassette hub with a driver smaller than 16t. Shimano made a BMX cassette hub way back when, but everyone still ran the same gear ratio. The sun broke through the clouds. Birds burst into song. The lion lay down with the lamb. This, my friends, was progress.

(Of course there was an awkward middle phase, when companies still made insanely thick—but tiny—sprockets, and people ran giant chains with small drivetrains, which chewed up lockrings and felt terrible. Not that I did that or anything. It’s just what I heard.)

First, there was 36/13. Then 30/11 and 28/10. And it was good. Freewheels were banished, giant chains went back to opening garage doors, running motorcycles, and mooring ocean liners, and sprockets got much lighter as manufacturers realized that they weren’t going to ever be hitting anything. If you pick one up now, it’s amazing now how much a 45-tooth sprocket weighs. They’re basically manhole covers with teeth. This one change solved so many problems, and made bikes stronger, lighter and much more maintenance-free. Win-win-win!

(I'll go back to being grumpy tomorrow, promise.)

20 comments:

Matt said...

Should have added something about the removal of peg bosses there. Death traps those things, with the weight to match.

Anonymous said...

i had a tioga headset clamp..you should have got one of those for your loose headset.....

Anonymous said...

the problem with little drive trains is that they are just so fucking cute. BMX bikes aren't supposed to be cute, remember? Whats more cute than a 23th sprocket? Nothing.

joeya said...

yeah but it would sure beat getting your fingers stuck in between a kmc 415 and a 3/16 44 tooth blackjack sprocket

todd from albe's said...

the funniest set up i've encountered is the 25 tooth sprocket-with a guard, 3/16th chain and on the left side thus solving the same problem four times. and having seen seen all the parts, trends and gimmicks come and (sometimes) go i agree that the threadless headset is the best...right after rims that straightened themselves when you put them in a freezer, of course.

ryan said...

I run a big half inch thick sprocket, a big chain, and a freewheel. I have to work on my bike way less than the people I ride with, and it sounds cool when I pedal and silent when I don't.

Plus it makes me 10x better than everyone else in the world.

Anonymous said...

it's integrated, not internal.

Albert said...

Chris King can suck a dick.
Solid headset all day baby.

gregarette said...

The seat on the STA looks fucking HUGE.

Anonymous said...

Khe tires are without question the best invention of all bmx.

Anonymous said...

hey russ, how much jizz did you swallow before odyssey gave you those parts for your personal whip? i am confident that bike has never left the ground…

pdxbmx said...

KHE Tires were an invention? BMX, Road, Mountain, hell every genre of riding has used a "folding" tire in the past. Nothing new dewd. Just an FYI.

Russ don't swallow.

Anonymous said...

The only thing KHE invented was how to let Taiwanese design everything they've ever sold. KHE is the ultimate in putting their brand on a Taiwan idea.

Anonymous said...

That's pretty far from the truth. KHE came up with the currently best freecoaster design and started the million butted craze for handlebars ... just to name a few things. They stuff might be flawed and all but they bring a lot more innovation to the table than most (if not all but Odyssey) parts companies.

Anonymous said...

The KHE freecoaster hub came from a Taiwan company called "Star" hubs and the tooling (that KHE never requested or paid for) is now in the same factory that makes the famous loose ball 9T hub for Eastern (and no, Eastern didn't invent that one either). The original designer of the freecoaster that KHE has been purchasing for the last 6 years is a Taiwanese guy named Chen but maybe he's a friend of some guy in Germany? I wonder what happened to the internal rotor that KHE kept trying to put on their bikes? If that's the innovation we all need then bring back Fish Bone and the "roller peg". I can't find a single KHE item that is not a variation of a Taiwan designed idea.

Anonymous said...

butted tubing has been in the bike industry for 30 years but it probably won't stick around BMX handlebars for long. It's kooky to think we need 11 or 13 butted bars.

Anonymous said...

it's awesome when people that have been riding for a year or two start spewing "facts" about companies when their only real knowledge of the industry is based solely on what they've read on the Come Up message board or in a Dan's Competition catalogue. as much as it is awesome it's also sad that these same people have absolutely no interest in knowing the history of BMX and figure if its more than a couple years old it must be either complete crap or a new invention.

Dave said...

Dropping in with 44t sprockets on 8 foot or more quarters was scary as shit.

If you had a bashgaurd... fuck.

Anonymous said...

Sorry Mr. Namedroppingsmartass that I *might not* be the ├╝ber-knowledgeable industry mogul that's been riding for 42 years. I really don't care enough to get into this kind of argument over some bullshit company. I'd much rather see someone try out different stuff and occasionaly fail (more often than not, in the caes of KHE) than another company that does nothing but label proven ideas with their own shitty logos. But please don't let me disturb you from throwing your precious knowledge around.

Anonymous said...

the correct name is Miller Hou, not Chen you ass.