Monday, March 21, 2005

The Bottom Bracket

The bottom bracket just begging to get screwed in and hit that gob of grease waiting for it.

Just one of many fun dedicated bike tools. This screws the bottom bracket.

Bottom bracket getting screwed in. It's lefty-tighty, by the way.

Hey, I gotta give props to Shimano. That's the Japanese company that some people kind of resent in that I-hate-Microsoft sort of way. Shimano came on the scene in the 1980s and started making better bike parts. Unlike the old parts (Campy), Shimano parts couldn't be fixed. They had to be replaced. Lot's of rightous people love to not like Shimano (though fewer and fewer as time goes by, I notice). Even though you would think I would be a Campy change-is-bad kind of guy, when I got into bikes about 10 years ago, I saw the writing on the wall and said, "Shimano, I’m yours.” (I did a similar thing with Microsoft, by the way.) But unlike Microsoft, I love Shimano.

Shimano has been truly revolutionary. Take my $200 Shimano rear hub. Expensive. Well, yeah. But the only previous internal 8-speed hub costs $1,000! Shimano parts are both high-quality and cheap. And for better or for worse, they’ve put some hand-crafter high-end people out of business.

Shimano is no Wallmart. They don’t just copy and bring down the prices. They innovate and make high-end stuff too. But even their low-end stuff is great. Take bottom brackets. In the old days, bottom brackets all had ball bearings and cones (many wheels still do). Nothing wrong with ball bearings. They’ve been the standard for 80 years (give or take few decades). But the old-school system takes cone wrenches and you have to adjust them just right and when you take them apart you have to remember how many ball bearings just fell out and you have to re-grease them every year and so on.

When I rode a fixed-gear bike in Baltimore, the reverse force on the bottom bracket destroyed the old-fashioned ball-bearing bottom bracket. Twice. Shimano, bless their hearts, introduced the “cartridge.” You just screw it in and never touch it. If it brakes, you can’t fix it; you replace it. But they’re good! I put in a Shimano hub and never had another problem! And Shimano doesn’t brake the bank. They’ve built a better mousetrap. And I, for one, will continue to beat a path to their door.

Shimano parts don’t need fixing anytime soon. They’re strong. Shimano is both better and cheaper. There’s no downside. And their dominance has even helped standardize the industry slightly (ever so slightly). Shimano also makes fishing-related products, by the way.

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