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Lack of Parts Interchangeability Ultimately Costs the Rider

by John Neugent

Tech articles | Commentary articles |

Bill & Carol McGann's book The Story of the Tour de France, Vol 1: 1903 - 1975 is available as an audiobook here. For the print or Kindle eBook versions, just click on the Amazon link on the right.

John Neugent probably knows more about bicycle wheels than anyone else alive. Maybe more about bikes as well. He's spent his life in the bike business, at every level. He now owns Neugent Cycling, a firm devoted to delivering world-class equipment at the lowest possible price. If you are in the market for a set of wheels, please, check out John's site. He really knows his stuff. —Chairman Bill

John Neugent

Author John Neugent

John Neugent writes:

I remember it like it was 30 years ago, which is probably pretty accurate. I was in a conference room at the Sachs factory in Schweinfurt Germany and I had finally set up a meeting with Trek. John Bradley, a Trek product manager, came as a part of a European trip, but none the less, getting him to visit Sachs was not easy. While Sachs was a dominant brand in Europe, primarily for their internal gear hubs, it was pretty much unknown in the US.

John’s first question was, “Are your derailleur drive train components compatible with Shimano?” I said, if they are not I would leave the company. Unknown to John was the internal battle we had between sales and engineering over that very issue. The engineering department said they can build better components using their own standards and if we went to the Shimano standard we would be admitting their specs were better.

I got to know the head of engineering very well and liked him but I could not agree on his opinion. Shimano was the industry standard. Months later after much intercompany disagreements, the engineer was transferred to the automotive division. As it turned out, that decision was one of the major battles that got us a foothold in the US market, but that’s another story.

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For decades, the industry followed pretty much agreed upon standards. It made everyone’s life easier. From the manufacturer to the riders, parts were easier to get and switching components from one bike to another was straight-forward.

About 20 years ago a few things changed. Disc brakes were just starting to be accepted (on mountain bikes at first), and Shimano didn’t offer a disc brake. Shimano’s strategy in offering new components is often to wait and see that there is a healthy market for the product first. They did the same with wheel systems, Mavic was dominant for decades before Shimano introduced complete wheels. But this lack of a dominant player allowed many companies to offer their own versions.

Two other things happened at the same time. Trek, Specialized, Cannondale, and Giant became the dominant brands and their dealers bought what they sold. In addition to offering complete hubs, DT Swiss focused most of their product line in making internal hub parts. The bike brands would design the hub shell and end caps and combine those with the DT internals.


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This unleashed the bane of all big brands, the ability to make their own specifications. These are all done under the claim of “better,” but in reality the real world difference in performance is minor. The result is now we have rear through axles that are 9, 10, 12, and 15mm diameters with 135, 140, 142, and 148 widths. All in either spline or 6-bolt disc mounts. Front hubs are 100, 110, 120mm widths with 9, 10, 12, or 15mm diameters. Currently, lead times are in the range of 6–20 months.

The person who pays the most is always the rider. Switch bikes? Sure, but you have to get new wheels and finding them is often not easy. Not to mention you pay more because of all of the extra costs to everyone in the system because of the numerous options (which add inventory).


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About 5 years ago, I ran into the head of DT USA at The Sea Otter. We got to know each other well because he was in the purchasing department of Cannondale and Cannondale was one of Sachs’ first major customers in the US. I asked him what was going on with the various disc and thru axle sizes and he just said “It’s nuts.”

It has gotten much worse since then.

John Neugent was was one of the first to establish quality hand building in Taiwan around the turn of the century. He now owns Neugent Cycling, a firm devoted to delivering world-class equipment at the lowest possible price.