Spinal Tap's Nigel Tufnel succinctly summarized the glamor of going to "11" with his Custom guitar amplifiers. What will live in infamy was this conversation where Rob Reiner his pseudo-Biographer in the Mockumentary asks him why the amplifier maker doesn't just make "10" the top volume increment, and make "10" the loudest. (e.g. the increments of volume from 0 to 10 would effectively have the same effect, achieve the same output, albeit with a tighter scale). "But this one goes to eleven"... This famous rock-star retort could be applied to bicycles if the wilderness of patents weren't so difficult to navigate. It could easily be said that the "Ten-Speed" bike was the first increment in the arms race that stretched everyone's imaginations toward an ideal range which everyone could get on board with. Two gears up front, and five (non-indexed) gears in the rear. Both shifted with two levers on the down-tube, a simple fresh innovation that ushered in the first massive boom in bicycling since the 3 speed. More gears, meant more speed right?, after all we soon came to fondly endear them in our lexicon, as "10-Speeds", and not as '10-Gears' It seems that the "10-Speed" term of endearment, would stick around for some time, and nothing really so monumental came when 11 speeds came to market. Our elders will recall freewheels from Rigida, with removable cogs, and gear ranges that could be adjusted, You could select your ratios, and place each of the gear on a spline and then screw that onto your threaded hub. Another innovation came with "Maxi-Cranks" putting the free-wheel mech in the Bottom-Bracket, so the pedals wouldn't move whilst the wheel spun. All innovations landed us in the same place... "Ten-Speeds", became the gold standard for more than a few decades. Indexing may have made shifting more slick, but for some it meant constant adjustments & compatibility issues amidst index standards. It's really laughable when you consider that a Campy lever couldn't index a Shimano Freewheel, but it could shift a Sachs, at least most of them... The challenge is much like Big Data, who have all decided that they won't share anything, so each tries to re-invent the same gadget using borrowed parts, and stolen ideas.
SRAM products used to really suck, (that is they were plagued with corollary issues provoked by the Titans at Shimano who seemed to throw a spanner in their works at every turn. Seems that they owned a lot of tech, and sharing was not their strong suit. For SRAM, nor was the idea of licensing. Since the first smooth "Grip-shift"). When SRAM, a tiny enterprise in Old Town, Chicago came to market with 'grip-shift', the gears were barely 21. A grippy plastic Cylinder with some teflon grease would pull the cable of your Shimano Derailleur up and down the cogs in snappy little clicks. Grip-shift showed Shimano, that there was a new idea out there which could work with their stuff. The crucial element was the innovation. Had Shimano bought them right then, instead of making their own twisty, the world would be a far different place.
The truth is that SRAM never did like the front derailleur, and they always struggled with making their front mech shift well. Before Red, SRAM hired an outside firm to help them tip-toe through a mine-field of patents to finally land upon a functional version which worked almost as well as Shimano, and Campy. When eTap arrived Shimano felt the shock-wave of the wireless bomb-blast, which would rob them of millions in high-end revenues for a few production years. eTap wireless shifting works pretty well, and it "...goes to eleven". The trouble with going to eleven, brings one simple question: Would you rather have Eleven gears which shift pretty well, (perhaps a click or clunk here or there) Or would you rather "make Ten the loudest", and have every gear index so smoothly that you could do it under full load on the uphill, and scarcely notice the transitions?
"But this one goes to Eleven"...
I'm not saying that innovation is not the engine that makes Cycling fun, but it is not necessarily the engine that makes it go forward. We could have all ridden internals from Rohloff, or NuVinci, and never known that 12 was coming. In fact Shimano's internals are amazing, range notwithstanding, and internals are clean and nearly flawless. Could we not have fit them all in a hub?... We would have been fine.
Now, by good ol' American ingenuity we have arrived at the narrow solution for that pesky problem of making the front derailleur work... One company's answer was to just remove it. It's almost difficult to imagine the simple ingenuity of this idea, and yet it seems that it was due. Not so long ago we had three gears up front, and 8-9 in the rear. More gears is a bit like more speakers in 'surround-sound'. Dolby doing the industry a solid by incrementing the need for more speakers each year, until the consumer got so tired of the complexity that they gave birth to the 'sound-bar'. Generally this "arms-race" for gearing was the "innovation" that was driving sales. More gears, more speakers, and we all tabled for a moment our apprehension that all of it was merely making us miserable. Shifting became more complex, chains narrowed, and people drank the Kool-aid sunning themselves in a splash pool in the yard revering their fickle bike in the background with a chewed up chain-stay, which they seldom rode.
When 'Eleven" came, SRAM created the first real important innovation which was less that of tech, and more that of Marketing Lexicon, and necessity. "One-by" or '1X', became the new "Ten-Speed" (10-Speed).
Then came '12'... Fuck!! Really? Do we need another cog?, a wider spread?, deeper dish?, a wimpier chain?
Alas I won't lament about the pros and cons of 11 vs 12, 1X vs 2x... but I do have to say this one thing that has been nagging at me. If I embraced eTap, I bought it, I own it, and it's paid for -- It is wireless & 11 speed, and I wanted to go to 12, why do I need new shifters?
The shifting is virtual right?, it is a virtual digital index sending a wireless signal to a derailleur to increment, and as such, If I pay SRAM for a new cog-set, chain, and derailleur, then why do I need to bleed my brakes, buy new shifters, re-wrap my bars, and change-out the whole mess? The upside to 'Going to Eleven", When we forget all about our old kick-ass stereos, and our 'ten-speeds", skip right through Surround-Sound, we are left with an empty feeling and a single sound-bar, (sort of Like "One By") It's simple right? Now that 12 is the new normal, and '1X' the new "10-Speed" can we get some relief?
Well... if you want that single gadget to work properly, you'll have to pay the man.
I think we all know why, and in response to a reasonable request for a totally do-able thing, Nigel from "Spinal Tap" summed it up succinctly, "But this one goes to eleven".
If you are not the least bit upset..., then perhaps you are not paying attention.
Age and Treachery will overcome youth and skill.