Tuesday, January 6, 2015

Cheap, Effective: Pick Any Two

In my 2015 blog-reboot manifesto, I mentioned a newfound focus on parts that -- despite humble origins -- outperform expectations. Here's a little sketch to describe what I'm talking about:

(Obviously, our staff graphic designer had nothing to do with today's artwork, so don't hold it against her. And no, the makers of prescription antidepressants are not sponsoring this blog or endorsed by it... I just didn't redact them because, well, don't you often wonder if I'm off my meds based on my writing?)

What you have in this brilliant example of outsider art is a two-axis graph describing all bike things based on their cost (the X axis, increasing from left to right) and their function (the Y axis, increasing from bottom to top). Those axes lay out four quadrants: cheap and functional (1), expensive and functional (2), cheap and non-functional (3), and expensive and non-functional (4).

If I were to start putting points on this graph, I suspect most of them would cluster around a diagonal line from the lower left to the upper right, which is where the old "you get what you pay for" adage comes from: spend a little more, get something that works a little better. (I'd hazard another guess that there's a flattening of the line in Quadrant 2, where you've already bought all the performance that can be bought and you're just spending money to spend money, but that's a topic for another day.)

What interests me is good old Quadrant 1, the cheap and functional. There won't be a lot of dots in there, but the bike industry (sometimes in spite of itself) occasionally wanders into that corner. Case in point (to bring this out of the hypothetical stuff resembling -- shudder -- math), the lower-tier Shimano V-brake:

(As usual, if you shop via that link, I get a cut. Consider my devious ulterior motives disclosed.)

You'll find this thing (model M422) labeled Acera, Alivio, "replacement/repair brake", whatever. But this humble little V packs a metric crapload of performance for the price of a takeout pizza. Our tandem came with some flavor of Tektro brake relabeled as Cannondale's house brand, and it was decidedly a Quadrant 3: cheap and lousy. The thing refused to stay centered no matter what I did to cajole it. I bought two pairs of these Acera/Alivio Vs in desperation, mounted them up, and haven't had a brake worry in the world since... and this is on a tandem, mind you. Even the stock pads were fine, which has traditionally been Shimano's braking downfall.

When I was building up the new-to-me Litespeed, I decided to put very little of my money where my mouth is and use the ol' M422 again. Same result: Couldn't ask for better braking, even coming home in five inches of fresh snow yesterday. (Confession: I did use fancier pads on the Litespeed because I had them, but in a blind taste test, I wouldn't be able to tell the difference.)

Are they the prettiest thing? No, although they do come in your choice of black or silver. (And introducing an "aesthetics" axis to my graph would be well beyond my artistic and mathematical abilities.) Do they limit your choice of brake levers, especially on drop bars? Yes, but more on that in another post. Do they stop a bike reliably (whether it carries one person or two) without breaking the bank? Yup. Thus, I'm awarding the humble M422 a place in the soon-to-be-coveted Quadrant 1.

THIS JUST IN! A real, honest to goodness engineer-person has corrected my graph, which has inspired me to re-revise his revision. Thus, while the basic idea of "cheap stuff that works" is still sound and will remain a guiding principle around these parts (and the cheap V-brake recommendation still stands), pretend you never saw that silly doodle above. We have always been at war with Eurasia, we will always be at war with Eurasia...


Iowagriz said...

New Litespeed a MTB? :)

We might be able to get you off the paved path yet.

Jason T. Nunemaker said...

Hey, Griz... it's actually a 'cross bike, the old Appalachian model. So yes, you'll probably see me at least hit some gravel this year.

I need to get some photos of it and post them (Steve in Peoria's been itching to see them too), but dang, it's cold in the garage these days...

Anonymous said...

wait... isn't quadrant 1 the low function, high cost corner?

Steve the engineer in Peoria

Jason T. Nunemaker said...

Nope, cost increases from left to right and function increases from bottom to top, so upper left (Quadrant 1) should be cheap and functional. But I'll admit, you made me look.

Of course, on a real graph (as you were kind enough to remind me privately, but I'm outing myself anyway), those axes would denote zero, so large swaths of this graph would either have negative cost, negative function, or both. Because I was an English major, I'm just going to say that the axes represent some arbitrary border between "unacceptably crappy" and "good enough" on the function scale and "cheap enough for misers like me" and "exorbitantly expensive" on the cost scale.

(Note to self: Submit all math for peer review prior to publishing...)

Scott Loveless said...

You can also put the Altus CT91 cantilever in quad 1. At $10 per wheel, they're easy to set up, require little in the way of maintenance, and will reliably stop my fat butt going downhill too fast towing a trailer.

S.Fuller said...

Did someone say "gravel" ?? :D

Jason T. Nunemaker said...

Fuller's like the Beetlejuice of B-roads... you say "gravel" three times and he appears. ;-)