The other day—July 18th, to be exact—S&M posted a news item with four new projects they were working on: seat guts to run a railed seat on a Pivotal post, a closed dropout, a super-wide bottom bracket shell for Shimano external BB cranks, and a clear plastic one-piece sprocket/guard. None, save for the seat guts, appeared particularly close to going into production, and I wasn't entirely sure whether any of it was serious at all.
You see, once upon a time when BMX wasn't so deadly serious, S&M used to run ads that openly mocked their alleged competition. One, which featured a cobbled-together two-piece frame, ridiculed Auburn. Then they came out with the PBR Model which was a jab at Standard and their R-Models. So part of me expected all of this "new" stuff to be some sort of elaborate joke. Seeing that he put his address at the bottom, I e-mailed Chris Moeller. He got back to me yesterday, assuring that it all—while still in the developmental stages—is indeed legit.
So let's go through this stuff one by one. I'm not gonna go through the trouble of swiping the photos from S&M's Flash-based site, so it's gonna be text only. Go there and check the photos if you must. For each, I'll run their original text, the questions I had, and the answers Chris gave me. Cool? Let's go.
1. Pivotal to railed seat guts.
The first one is a regular railed seat that works with a Pivotal seatpost with the use of our new guts. We like the single bolt assembly of the Pivotal system but really like railed seats for 3 reasons: the look, the flex, and the ability to adjust front to back. these guts have passed the testing stage and are being made now. We are also making a seat for this system but any railed seat will work after you cut a small slot in it for the Allen wrench. We also like to peel the padding and cover off first but you don't have to.
There were a few things I didn't get about this. I mean, if you want to run a railed seat, there are plenty of seatpost options already—the Odyssey Intac even has a single bolt. And the idea of cutting up a perfectly good seat seems a bit ridiculous too, even if it is good for your reproductive organs (assuming you actually sit down ever). The only real benefit I could see would be that this guy could move his seat forward and finally slam his seatpost. When I first saw the Pivotal concept, I thought the lack of front-to-back adjustment would be annoying. Then I got one and realized it didn't really matter. And I even sit on my seat sometimes!
Moeller's response: "Some people like to adjust their seats front to back….so it’s a bonus for them. Other people like the flex and look or a normal railed seat (like me) so that’s also a bonus. It just gives people the option of using either style of seat on a Pivotal post." Fair enough.
2. Closed dropout.
This rear drop out uses a hub with a hollow axle and bolt. This drop hasn't had the taper machined into it yet but when it does it fits the bolt perfectly. We are testing this now and it's working out great. The drop out never closes up and you can slam your wheel and have it tighten the chain automatically due to the tapered bolt. We call this the "Black Hole". This thing is awesome and it's super clean.
I had four main questions about this. 1) People still pinch dropouts? Maybe they do, but it's hard to believe it happens often, given how short most of them are. 2) What hubs would this work with? Profile, I suppose. And the new G-Sport hubs will have a female axle. But it sure doesn't help the zillions of riders who have conventional hubs. 3) Who wants to fully unbolt their whole rear axle anytime they want to take their rear wheel off? 4) How does it work with pegs?
Moeller's response: "People do close drop-outs up and they do bend so this one would be a lot stronger in every direction. Hubs wouldn’t be available right out of the gate but parts for new systems never are at first i.e. Aheadset, removable 990 posts, Hiddensets, Mid BB’s etc. If it caught on the hubs would be around for sure. As far as pegs go you could make a peg with a taper on the base, or use a flat one and tapered washer under it."
I'm still not sold. But it's not like it'll be replacing all conventional dropouts next year or anything.
3. Bottom bracket for Shimano cranks.
Shimano DX cranks used to have thread-in cups that sat on the outside of the Euro BB shell. Now they are working on a plastic BB system that presses in. It works great but requires a new BB from the frame manufacturers that is asymetrical...we are riding them now and they work really good. This might also allow street riders to use Shimano cranks without fear of grinding down the outside of the cups. It also makes putting your bike together way easier. No need for a special tool for instance.
It's a racer thing, and I don't understand. I mean, for race bikes, sure. Go ahead. But it seems to me that using this BB shell would limit you to JUST using Shimano cranks. And since they use a spider/chainring setup, I can't imagine why street riders would ever run them. Weight savings isn't everything, is it? (And honestly, I'm not sure what's so bad about external bearings in the first place?)
Moeller's response: "The BB is a Shimano thing…we just built them a frame for it. They are doing it already in MTB. It would probably be race only but who knows the cranks are real light and if they offered a regular sprocket it might catch on…they are so light."
Race bikes, OK, I suppose I get it. Street bikes? No. At least, I hope not.
4. Clear sprocket/guard.
Last up is a Lexan sprocket with guard. This thing is light but expensive and we're not having the best of luck with it yet. Not only is it breaking but the teeth are getting mangled pretty eaisily. This may go the way of the original plastic Addicks sprocket but we're not done yet. The idea was to make a guard sprocket that slid really good. We're still working on it.
I believe the word I'm looking for is "yuck." The Addicks sprocket that Chris mentions was a '70s product that was more or less an epic failure. Vintage BMX types may use them on era-correct show builds, but that's about it. More recently, there was the Seawright sprocket, which didn't last long either. As for plastic guards, some bashguard bikes had them, and later there was the Masterguard and the Havok (later Odyssey) Sprocket Pocket. This has been tried before. And even with all the advances in composites, it's hard to believe that a plastic 22-28t sprocket could be made strong enough. Honestly, it's hard to believe a company like S&M is even trying something like this. Especially since their last one-piece sprocket/guard was so rad.
Moeller's response: "The plastic sprocket isn’t real hot…but we are always making weird shit and testing it. We just thought for once we’d show people a few things. 99% of the stuff we make and test never comes out. But the stuff we have pioneered has changed a lot of how people look at BMX bikes."
Hey, I'm a sucker for honesty. Keep playing around, guys. S&M bikes have come a long way in 10 years. Who knows what they'll look like 10 years from now?