Future Used Electronics

I’m struggling to understand one of the current component trends among manufacturers of electronic components.

Historically - and we’re talking the past ~50 years or so - we could find parts to keep an old bike functional. It may not have been peak quality, but it could be made to work. For example, if today you own, say, a road bike from the mid-1990’s with a Shimano 8-speed drivetrain and you wore out a cassette or broke a shifter, there is a suitable replacement being made by Shimano. It’s a very basic version of the original part, but it will function and you can ride the bike.

So far, this isn’t happening with electronic parts, which is concerning. If you bought a Di2 road bike in 2009 and a shifter, derailleur, or Di2 wire from that era fails, you might have to buy a whole new grouppo. There is no “compatible downgrade” being made for that system.

I really don’t know what to tell customers when they ask about replacing a 10-speed Di2 derailleur. 20 years ago, I could find a shifter for their mid-80’s Specialized Mtb (and I still can today, actually). I can surf eBay for Di2 parts and hope for the best, but that supply will inevitably die off.

This isn’t just a Shimano problem. I have 2 bikes built with Sram 11-speed E-tap. It’s outstanding stuff. But if I need to replace a front derailleur on one of those bikes, I’m hosed. There is no replacement available. I can maybe find one used, but they’re selling for over $600 in the used market, which begs the question: Why doesn’t Sram want that money?

I don’t even see this as a long-term issue. Given that both Sram and Shimano seem to be phasing out mechanical systems, this will become a big problem for cyclists everywhere very soon.

So, with all of this in mind, I’m curious what everyone’s thoughts are. What have you all experienced with maintainability and replaceability? Does anyone know of an industry manufacturer working on functional replacement parts for older systems? Are we headed for a situation with Di2 parts and wires that resembles catalytic converter thefts? What can we look forward to?

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I think this was discussed on one of the CT pods, and I think that yes, if you break an older Di2 or eTap part, you either hit eBay or you get a new groupset.

And yes, this may just be the cost of owning a very high end group. I don’t think those groups are produced in sufficient numbers to give a huge case for Shimano or SRAM stocking replacement parts 10 years out. Campy has historically been better about spare parts (is this still true, though?), but I don’t know how the supply would be for their electronic groups.

At least the items last a long time.

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I suspect the solution component manufacturers will offer is down market versions of electronic groups. Going from 11 speed eTap (as in the example) one is hosed if a part breaks but it seems that upgrading to the new SRAM 12 speed will open the option of mixing & matching Apex to Red. (Someone please correct me if the levels don’t play well together.)

I’m curious if same generation Di2 from different levels will work together too (eg Ultegra derailleur with Dura Ace shifter).

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Yeah, and to be fair, recent AXS updates offer backward-compatibility (to 11 speed) for the SHIFTERS only, which is not nothing. Still, if you fry a derailleur, your system is pretty screwed.

Perhaps this will improve in the future if Sram continues to operate within the AXS platform. The reality is that they could offer software updates to make that hardware compatible with even 8-speed drivetrains if they really wanted to. Will they, though?

And this is one of my big complaints: Sram, Shimano, and likely Campy could offer 10/11/12 speed compatibility of their newest shifter and derailleur kits. That would solve a lot of problems. Change out shifters and derailleurs, but keep everything else? Sure. Why not? The consumer could sell the take-off parts to limit losses and get back to riding their favorite bike. They know this, too.

I honestly still can’t figure out why Sram doesn’t want to sell 11-speed etap derailleurs at $650 each. That seems nuts. I really don’t get it. And that’s coming from someone who inderstood the rationale behind Shimano’s short-lived 102mm chainrings.

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I run 6770 Di2 shifters with 11 speed DA derailleurs. Not sure if the other direction would work. The BetterShifting folks have a handle here so maybe they will jump in.

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As the market stands, electronic groupsets are still very largely the preserve of the serious, committed rider, and one with money to spend. The cynic in me suspects the companies know such a person can likely spring for a new groupset, and therefore don’t have to go to the hassle of continuing to manufacture obsolete parts to sell in small numbers, when they could sell whole groupsets of their latest and greatest.

The kinder reading is that relatively rapid obsolescence is a factor in all electronics and is rather a fact of modern life. If you have tried to repair a TV or PC more than 3-4 years old you’ve likely found it difficult and/or uneconomic.

It will be interesting to see what happens as the drive towards electronic shifting invariably continues; Rival AXS and 105Di2 (apparently due September) will make it the norm on mid-high end bikes by 2024, I’d guess, and higher-end mech stuff will be a niche choice (like rim brake builds now). My suspicion is we’ll see more backwards compatibility built in to help with spares and repairs, but that’ll still be limited (plucking a number out of thin air, 6-9 years) and ultimately, groupsets will join the heap of disposable electronics that make up much of modern life.

Moreover, will you be able to get spares for your current mechanical 11 and 12sp setups in 10 years, if everything continues the way it’s going?

It’s all vaguely depressing from both a consumer and an environmental perspective.

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Microshift or Sensah? Half kidding…

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Well quite. I suspect you probably would find something, but would you want to?

Let’s face it, society as a whole has moved away from the repair/refurbish/maximise life model for almost all consumer goods. You don’t see that many pre-2010 cars on the roads. Few people have phones older than 5 years old. We have become accustomed (conditioned?) to see many of the things we buy as having quite limited and finite life cycles, especially with electronics.

Until quite recently, bikes were something of an exception to this trend (as the OP notes), and others do still exist, but increasingly only at the higher/luxury end of the market (think watches, for example).

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I don’t know where you live, but there have been a lot of 10+year-old cars driven regularly in every community I’ve lived in — even the wealthy ones.

The auto industry is actually really good about keeping the critical $12 o-ring for your 1989 dodge garbaagge in production. I can buy a wire kit for the steering column in my 2006 Nissan Quest. It’ll cost around $300, but I can get it (in fact, I’m going to - my horn and cruise control stopped working).

So why can’t a bike component maker be bothered to produce a derailleur that they will sell for $600-700 each? We may never know. I had a lengthy discussion last year with a Sram insider about 11-speed Etap front derailleurs and he was quite honest in his frustration with the problem.

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I think you’ve slightly missed my point/I didn’t express myself very clearly: it’s not (in the case of cars) that you can’t keep one running that long, it’s that most people don’t want to, and there is a societal perception (IMO) that >10 years old = an ‘old’ car.

@James_Huang, @david.rome, @Ronan_Mc_Laughlin
I really appreciate your collective response to this issue via this week’s Nerd Alert Podcast. Given the inherent maintainability of most bicycles over the course of my career in the bike industry (now spanning four decades), this is a difficult change to see (Ronan, I truly feel your pain. I’ve soldered my share of shift wires).

I foresee that the average consumer, given enough direct exposure to the issue over time, will consider this “planned obsolescence” - whether truly intentional or not - to be unacceptable.

Those of us within the industry who see this wave of issues coming may be a small minority at the moment, but as electronic drivetrains age and these technologies slowly find their way onto everyday utilities like cargo bikes, delivery bikes, etc. the replaceability of these components will be of critical importance.

It’s important that we at least start this conversation. So, Thank You.

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I wish that were the case that the general population would eventually revolt against this sort of thing, but unfortunately, I think people are just getting conditioned to accept it. It all stems from the electronics world, in my opinion.

I’ve replaced the batteries in several phones, for example, but how many people typically do that? For most, it’s just their sign that it’s time to get a new phone. Cars are heading in the same direction.

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I get that. A lot of things are considered disposable these days. Phones, TVs, computers. We all accept it. No argument there.

Technology evolves. I used to have a coworker whose young sons were in the bike shop semi-regularly, ~2003-ish. They knew “phones” and “chorded phones”. When was the last time you saw a “chorded phone”?

Bicycles have proven time and again that they’re a different animal. I’ve had people on minimum wage hand me more than double the replacement cost of their department store bike to get it tuned and rideable. A lot of people only own 3 or 4 bikes their whole lives. Bikes are just different.

I think it’s easy for us, the guys who get to play with the latest greatest hardware all the time, to forget that the bicycle is the one form of transportation that is accessible to over 95% of the world’s population. And that - unlike economics - technology actually does tend to “trickle down”.

Index shifting was cutting edge when you and I were learning to race. I still remember my first race on STI levers and now you can’t buy a bike without bar-mounted index shifting. I set up my first set of disc brakes over 20 years ago … now, we pretty much just call them “brakes”.

In another 20 years, we will remember “mechanical shifting” while we look for replacement parts for our existing “shifting”. By then, it will make economic sense for certain manufacturers to offer compatible stop-gap parts for those electronic systems. It’s just a question of when they start to realize that.

But the more we talk about replaceability (and repairability), and the SOONER we talk about it, the sooner component makers start to realize that the Tourney Di2 market is just around the corner.

I expect that if enough influential people have an experience like Ronan’s and bother to talk about it publicly, those wheels start slowly turning.

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Point the finger at both the manufacturer’s and the consumer’s. More than ever we now live in a society with more disposable income and products, consumerism is at an all time high.

Manufacturers are constantly upgrading and developing to stay in front of the competition and increase profits.

It’s all down hill from here…

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Fyi, in the US cars are are lasting longer and being driven for more years than in the past.

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The “disposable is in and consumers don’t care about keeping stuff running” is just a hot take. Yes we’ve moved that direction in the past 50 years, but if anything we’re now seeing a fairly strong backlash. Which is why the hot take is so trendy.

If there wasn’t a major market for durability and repairability then Toyota wouldn’t be doing so well right now. But cars are lasting longer than ever (despite the nonsense claim above) and people clearly value maintainability in their purchasing decisions for them.

And phones? Well yeah they’ve been treated as disposable- until a few years ago the tech was advancing so fast that within 3 years a phone was truly obsolete and couldn’t take basic OS updates or get new apps. But about 5 years ago US carriers moved from the subsidized phone model to a zero interest finance model. Why? Because people were sick of paying for a new phone in their cell plan regardless of whether they got a new phone or not. They were sick of the fact there was no reward for taking care of their device and making it last past 2 years. So when sprint broke ranks on the contract game the other companies had to follow and fast. That was driven by consumer distaste for disposablism.

Now I’m not saying every consumer is woke to the danger of disposal consumption, but there are plenty of people who care, and the market ignores them at their peril.

I think S^2 is making a major mistake and leaving the door wide open for a competitor to disrupt the duopoly. Shimano in particular seems to be losing the plot in their relationship to consumers. Like not making firmware to downgrade 11 speed to 10 speed. Or the hammerhead thing. It’s just downright shitty with almost no benefit. Their mountain bike stuff is great and much more cross compatible so there’s hope they come around, but they need to focus on keeping customers from regretting their purchase rather than forcing them into a 4 figure upgrade.

It takes a while for these things to sort themselves out because earlier purchasers (like myself) had no way of knowing what future support would look like. But now we can see how previous customers are treated, and make purchasing decisions based on it. And as more and more customers are pushed into obsolescence the issue will gain critical mass and put a lot of goodwill on the line. At some point they will simply have to issue firmware to allow backwards compatibility.

The real consumer cancer in this story is the obsession with the latest and greatest with virtually no regard for actual need. It’s not that we like or accept disposability but that we just can’t help ourselves when someone says “better” or “faster” or whatever “______er” the marketing department came up with. So we buy first and ask questions later.

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I’ll be honest. As irritating as the transition to ubiquitous electronic shifting is going to be, I think it’s gonna force a few folks to realize that your product only makes money if it’s useable. People see their bikes as vehicles. And vehicles get maintained. You make it possible to maintain the vehicles you’ve sold, or someone else does that for you.

All it’s going to take is a new competitor who makes a shifter that makes a Di2 derailleur go “joop”, and they’re gonna have a decision to make. Either defend their territory, or just let someone else make the money off of the long-term maintenance.

At some point, it becomes more profitable to just sell a mattress to the guy who who only wants to buy a mattress instead of telling him he needs a whole bed and effectively sending him to your competitor, who happily sells beds marketed with “new, replaceable mattress!”

If I were a recent engineering school graduate with an interest in the bike industry, I would be looking at the rapidly developing market for modular electronics in cycling. Sramanolo may not want the money, but somebody does.

It’s just a matter of time.

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One aspect of this obsolescence and the whole conversation around it, that has not been mentioned in any of the comments, is the prospect of legislation. And it’s not really just a prospect, it’s already happening with “Right to repair” bills being introduced in both the EU and US. The interesting thing with these is that in the EU it is definitely seen as more of an environmental/waste issue, whereas in the US it is seen as a consumer freedom issue and breaking a manufacturers monopoly on repairs. However you view it, it seems that enough people are pissed-off with the current situation that legislators are moving on it.
Also, most comments have only really mentioned Sram and Shimano equipment; the situation is no different for Campagnolo, unfortunately. I recently trashed a Record EPS 11 rear derailleur and the only option was looking at some crazy prices for a replacement on eBay. I figured it was new bike time (shockingly, I did manage to find a new bike for sale) and so I bought a new bike with Rival Etap AXS and split the old bike up to sell on eBay.
With regard to Campagnolo and their lack of any new electronic groupset for some time now, I have recently wondered if they are conscious of the way the EU legislation is going and are working for any new electronic gruppo to be compliant with future legislation? Although it’s just more likely that they are waiting til 2023 for a 90th anniversary introduction.

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Slightly OT, but it strikes me there’s a split in/at Campag. On a few US forums, a few Campy NA guys pop up now and then and talk about how they beg for a Chorus EPS or equivalent. But Campag Italy won’t budge on it.

There’s talk that Vicenza are waiting to see/betting on a backlash against increasing electronic, especially as mech Ultegra looks dead or dying, and 105Di2 is coming, but may well fundamentally reconfigure the product line in 2023-2024 to keep probably 2 ‘heritage’ mechanical groups (1 around Centaur level, on splitting the difference between Chorus and Record) with the rest moving to a wireless electronic model (under a new model name).

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The inability for shifters to work with other series mechs for Shimano seems ridiculous to me, they’re just switches when you get down to it.

Maybe you need a new junction box for the cables and a software update but at least you could keep some bits going.

As a vague idea since mechs move a set amount via motors surely if you crashed and broke your 10 speed mech Shimano could offer a 12 speed with new cage for 10 speed sizing then just tell the software what speed it is.

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