Bottom brackets used to be easy. In the halcyon days of the 1990s when bicycles were simple and Trek Y bikes were all the rage for some reason there was one thing that we did not spend a lot of time noodling on: bottom brackets.
If you needed a new bottom bracket because your current bottom bracket turned with all the smoothness of a sanding drum you went to the bike shop and had one installed. The choices were cartridge or open cup, Shimano or someone else, and that was about it. Everything was square taper interface and you just had to figure out shell size and spindle length, e.g. match what you had unless you had issues with the chain line for some reason.
Starting with Shimano’s Octalink and followed quickly by the “open source” ISIS drive, which is an unfortunate name given current events in the Middle East, on to the modern day with external bearing, MegaEXO, PF30, BB30, Giga-X-Pipe, Ultra Torque…my head hurts.
Having owned one bike with an ISIS drive bottom bracket, which was a self-destructing piece of junk good for about six weeks of hard riding, and another bike with an external bearing bottom bracket, which was good for about a season of riding if all of the bolts holding things together stayed torqued down, I can say that I miss the days of the humble square taper bottom bracket. Do not even get me started on those squeak machines that are PF30 bottom brackets.
Well, my new Breezer Radar Expert came equipped with that vestige of the past—an honest to goodness square taper cartridge bottom bracket. It is so decidedly old school it should be on the poster with Will Ferrell. I am almost tempted to head out and buy about a half dozen Shimano UN55 bottom brackets like a hipster hoarding a soon-to-be discontinued flavor of LaCroix. Seriously, six of those things should last me until the end of times.
Surely, someone out there will tell me how an external bearing bottom bracket is better because of a certain percentage increased stiffness which in turns leads to more power being put into the rear wheel. By the same token, if I lost twenty pounds and stopped drinking beer I would be that much more efficient in the saddle as well but life would be less worth living under those circumstances. The true beauty, in my opinion, of the growth in “adventure” cycling is that the singled minded focus on efficiency and speed has been replaced by a more holistic ethos that focuses on the general experience of riding a bicycle.
With a square taper cartridge bottom bracket I do not even think about the component. Should that not be the mission of something as critical as the bottom bracket? I do not want it to come loose or squeak. I want it to spin freely and keep out gunk. In which of those desires does the square taper cartridge bottom bracket not equal or exceed the more modern alternatives? Also consider that I can buy a Shimano UN55 bottom bracket for less than $20.
I am sure that I am fighting a rear guard action against the agents of “progress” when it comes to bottom bracket preference. However, it feels like a fight worth having when it seems that the “better” alternatives have done little to advance the technology while creating a slew of problems that did not exist prior.
What are your thoughts?