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:
(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.)