An Equal Opportunity Offender


Sunday, January 8, 2012

Designed to fail

The Light Bulb Conspiracy is a documentary that drags us through the annals of time via the idea of planned obsolescence. The name of the film comes from the collusion of light bulb manufacturers to set the burn time of light bulbs to guarantee a steady flow of "need" from the public. It explores the thousands of patents that have been filed that are for longer burning, longer lasting filaments. They even show a light bulb that has been burning in Fire House back east for over 100 years. For the past decade or so they have had web cams watching the bulb. Two of them have had to be replaced.

The idea of planned obsolescence is not a new idea, nor is it an idea that seems to be fading into the sunset as we have increased our knowledge of materials and industrial processes. Quite the contrary, as better, lighter, stronger materials have become available, we have seen a decrease in product life expectancy. Not only have the products become less and less durable, but the season cycle or the idea of the never ending need to have the newest and the best has replaced the consumer's desire to have a product that will last. Why would I want a light bulb that lasts forever?

Is is often believed that life expectancy is defined by the materials or processes at hand, which in some instances is the case. However, life expectancy is a product of design. If you want a product to last forever, it has to be engineered to do so. Products are designed with a set life in mind from the drawing board.

Enter the bike industry.

For many, many years we had a bottom bracket standard that worked. Sure it needed maintenance on occasion, but overall a bit of grease and a properly adjusted bb could last, well, forever. There was a metal shell that was threaded, one side right threaded, the other left. There was a metal bottom bracket cup/cartridge/bearing retainer that threaded into that metal shell and the world was wonderful. If you had a creak you could tighten the bb via the threads or pull it, service it and re-install to fix the problem. Life was good.

The the bicycle industry as a whole decided that wasn't good enough. We need bigger, stiffer, lighter, some sort of bull shit that won't last more than a season. We need crabon. We need big gaping holes in our frames. We need at least seventy different standards to confuse the consumer and to make impossible to show that one was better than the other. (I've ranted about this before) BB30, Pressfit 30, BB86/93, pressfit adapters, threaded to non-threaded...

Of all these "new" standards, I have not had consistent luck with any off them. BB30, every six months it needs to be pulled apart and greased. Pressfit 30, ever have a problem with your bb, pound it out and replace. I think you get the point.

This is a photo of an Sworks Epic 29'r BB shell after almost a year of riding.

Look close at the carbon weave and you can see that it disappears as you get closer to the edge of the shell. This is because there is an actual lip where the plastic adapter has worn the carbon out. The first bb was replaced after about a month of riding and was destroyed due to a 50 mile race that ended with snow, snotty mud and gritty sand. Since then this gaping hole has seen four more bb's. At this point you can install/remove the drive side cup by hand.

This adapter/cup lasted about ten days.

Planned obsolescence? I think so...

Editors note: SBC aka Specialized is taking care of this customer, as they should, and he will be receiving a brand new Sworks frame to replace his "broken" one. This piece is more a jab at the industry as a whole than any one bike company that has adapted or propagated said standards.


  1. Was going to say, replace the frame. When I tell customers that they get this 1000yard stare. At least you have QBP, Hawley, BTI etc hours away. My valley, every 2nd cuctomer that rocks up read this or that forum, always some overseas thang, this is the latest and greatest. I was known through the grapevine to be too straight with customers with regards their original purchases, after finding this blog , I feel SOOO much better. 1.618