Cyclists have never had it this good!
For the last few editions of Bicycle Quarterly, we’ve been celebrating the 20th anniversary of the magazine. Back then, we were just out of college, ready to challenge the established cycling world with new ideas (and a few forgotten ones that we were rediscovering). At a time when road racing ruled cycling, we wanted to explore the gravel roads that zig-zagged up the slopes of the Cascade Mountains. We dreamed of continent-spanning adventures, and of bikes designed for them. We told everybody who was willing to listen (and many who weren’t) about the need for wide, supple, high-performance tires and sub-compact cranks, for bikes that could carry luggage and handlebars designed for long-distance comfort. For the first decade of Bicycle Quarterly’s existence, these ideas weren’t getting much traction. That has changed in the last ten years. When we look back over 20 years of Bicycle Quarterly, we realize that cyclists have never had it this good. Below is the editorial from the 20th anniversary Bicycle Quarterly.
Twenty years! Time seems to have passed quickly, and yet so much has changed since the beginnings of Bicycle Quarterly that it seems like a very long time ago. Did we really ride tires that narrow back then?
Looking back 20 years, what strikes me is how bleak the cycling landscape seemed. Racing bikes were everywhere, with huge gears, skinny tires and garish logos. Mountain bikes had given up on their original promise of go-anywhere fun; they had become specialized tools for extreme terrain. One commentator even predicted the demise of spoked wheels in favor of molded carbon tri- and five-spokes. Riders keen to venture off the beaten path were stocking up on classic parts, so they could continue to build bikes capable of more than just sprinting over smooth pavement.
Twenty years later, the cycling world is better than ever before. Today, overly focused racing and mountain bikes have been pushed to the back of most shops. (They still exist for those who love and need them.) Front and center are bikes with wide tires, useful gear ranges, and the ability to carry luggage for a weekend trip or more. One-by cranks have cleaned up the senseless proliferation of gears. To think that 3×10 was a popular choice when BQ started, as if anybody needed 30 gears! (Or worse, a drivetrain with half a dozen ‘forbidden’ gears.) Compact and sub-compact doubles provide useful gear ranges for all cyclists. Electronic shifting has finally realized the promise of brifters—easy, reliable shifting at the push of a paddle. And for those preferring a ‘manual’ bike, there remain plenty of options.
Today’s innovations are about useful things like fitting larger tires and making gravel bikes ‘plane’—even though most makers are not yet ready to admit that frame flex can be beneficial. They focus on light weight instead, but the result is the same: Today’s mainstream bikes are better than ever. They may look different from the classics that Bicycle Quarterly featured in its early years, but their philosophy is similar: create bikes that are fun and fast on any road, not just on smooth pavement.
This change is nothing short of revolutionary, and it’s made cycling more fun and approachable. Today, the cycling world is much broader than it has ever been, open to people with different aspirations, different aesthetics, different bodies… Whereas traditionally cyclists in the U.S. were either racers or college students using bikes to get around campus, today they have been joined by bikepackers, cyclotourists, randonneurs, weekend riders, commuters, and many others.
Here at Bicycle Quarterly, we are excited that this revolution has moved from the niches of the cycling world into the mainstream. Together with our readers, with our customers, with all of you, we’ll keep working toward making this a lasting change. We don’t want to look back in another 20 years and see the 2020s as a ‘golden age’ of wonderful bikes, which degraded over time as the industry started pushing new fads in the name of progress and fashion.
Let’s enjoy (and defend) what we have achieved together!