Words by: Joe Graney, SCB Engineering
We work continuously to improve our bikes. There are small changes that occur to our models regularly that many people don't notice, and we don't focus on communicating the specifics. Our philosophy has always been to let the results speak for themselves - jargon isn't as much fun as riding. At the same time, we're proud of the work we do, and since you volunteered to receive more information about Santa Cruz Bikes, we've decided to dedicate a regular article in this newsletter to share with our dealers and customers more of the specific details. Keep in mind that we really spend a lot of time balancing compromises to get the best outcome. This article is intended to be an open and honest discussion of some of the technical aspects of Santa Cruz engineering and R&D efforts. Our hope is that you, our customers, can gain a better understanding of what we're working on, our thoughts on different trends in the industry, and, quite frankly, attempt to cut through some of the industry noise with open discourse all in the interest of making bikes that are fun to ride and easy to own.
Your suggestions for future articles are always welcome. Now, let's talk about what's going on with our bearings:
Q: Did anything really change or is this just a ploy?
A: Yes, things changed. No, it's not a ploy.
This guarantee is the culmination of many small changes that have taken place over a few years, but are now all finally implemented after testing, tooling, etc.
Ball diameter increase: Snicker if you must. The best analogy is that roller - skating off-road sucks. Larger diameter balls are better at turning after contaminants are introduced to the system.
Sealing: Better seals on the bearings themselves, and a second set of seals that are integrated into the pivot hardware, creates a better barrier to the introduction of moisture, and the evacuation of grease. Both of these improvements have decreased the amount of contamination from outside sources and rust, thus prolonging smooth rolling performance.
Lots of good grease: Any mechanic worth his or her apron knows that all greases are not created equal. We use copious quantities of specifically chosen hydrophobic grease inside the bearing. Simple and effective.
Q: I'm lazy and lack motivation, what can I do to prolong bearing life?
A: Stop washing your bike so much. We did some experiments with bikes that were washed a lot but ridden infrequently, bikes that were ridden a lot but washed infrequently, and bikes that were both washed and ridden a lot. Guess what? Your bike hates only being washed and not being ridden. This test group had the worst results. They became creaky and not much fun to be around, much like the people who own bikes like that. Don't get all angry (you know who you are), you can still wash your bike from time to time - and there are those times where it has to be done after every ride. Everything needs more attention during those times. BUT, maybe you should examine your priorities. It's a mountain bike. You can get dirt on it. It's OK.
Q: Do you have more things in the works in the pivot department?
A: We've got a new lower link design that will be standard equipment on most VPP bikes starting in the spring of 2007. It is forged instead of extruded. Changing the manufacturing process allowed us to keep the same weight and functional aspects, but allowed a different shape that keeps grease on the pivot axles longer. The axle surfaces are hidden away from the elements by eliminating a pocket that went through the middle of the link extrusion. These links will be available for retrofit on all Blurs, Nomads and Frees in the late winter/early spring of 2007.
Q: Why don't you [insert your idea here]
A: We don't know everything. We don't know better than you. But we do spend a lot of time working on this stuff, and we have lots of friends that ride bikes and we talk to lots of them about it. As one good friend of mine often says: "bike bike bike." Anytime someone submits an idea for how to make things better that we haven't considered before, we don't just laugh and throw it away. Honest. There are lots of good ideas, but sometimes we can't do it, and we don't always have the time to explain why. So here goes:
Designing a great bike is a tall order. Why? Because it's different things for different people - and the great taste/less filling style arguments are frequent. Our definition of improvement is to make things better with no negative side effects.
For example, let's imagine that a few months ago we developed a prototype 10-inch travel, 22 lb bike that was amazing to ride. It did everything well. It was the Holy Grail of mountain bikes - except that riding it caused anal leakage. Now, some companies might have sold you that. Without reading the fine print, it seems like such a good deal! But we couldn't do it.
Besides high laundry costs, there are other negative effects to seemingly simple things. Those effects range from the obvious (strength, weight, cost), to the practical (retrofittable, serviceable, manufacturable) and encompass lots of things in-between.
We try hard to find the balance for all things for all bikes for everyone. We consider many options before deciding. Remember, they're our bikes too. Also remember, perfection is elusive. But keep the ideas coming, and we promise never to sell you a bike that'll require you packing extra socks on your next ride.