Does every component on your bike have to be from a specific brand? Is your bike more color-coordinated than an impressionist painting? Do you obsess over the most minute details of your build? Then you might be a bike nerd.
You’re in good company because TPC is full of insanely obsessive bike nerds too. Our team of expert Ride Guides are the perfect example. We spend all day every day just thinking about bikes. The other week, our Warehouse Associate, Alan Williams, poked a sleeping bear by posting this question in our company Slack:
“What do you think is the most brand-agnostic component on a bike?
To give an example, when it comes to PCs, people are very die-hard about what brand they use for almost every part. Die-hard AMD fans won't use Nvidia GPUs. Some people swear by Corsair power supplies. The one huge exception though is RAM. Outside of aesthetic builds, as long as it's the right MHz and DDR type, generally, most people don't care about what brand they buy. RAM is RAM. It's all the same.
So what do you all think is the MOST similarly brand-agnostic part of a bike? The consensus back [in the warehouse] was that it might be the stem and handlebar, but we're curious to know what others think.”
Sorry, Alan, but stems and handlebars are out. The cockpit is one part of my bike where I make no compromises. I’m obsessive about matching my bars and stems and am extremely loyal to ENVE, Renthal, and Race Face/Easton cockpits (see the above photo).
So how small and niche do you need to go to find a part that bike nerds will feel “brand-agnostic” about? Just how picky are we? Let’s dive into some of the parts that TPC employees suggested might qualify as brand-agnostic. As it turns out, no matter how small and insignificant you think a bike part is, there’s a good chance some bike geek out there has upgraded it!
Some riders swear by the Specialized Zee cage.
Our Senior Designer, Nick Cai, suggested bottle cages. Unfortunately, Nick, I’m very picky about my bottle cages. I prefer titanium cages from King, Silca, or Wolf Tooth.
If I‘m riding a smaller frame that requires a side-load bottle cage, I use ENVE or Arundel carbon cages. Only the finest cages can hold my bottles. They have to look a certain way, and I do pay attention to how tightly they grip bottles. They can’t be too tight or too loose. I know many riders who feel the same. When you start getting picky about bottle cages, that's probably when you've truly earned the right to call yourself a bike nerd.
Our Fraud Prevention Expert, Charlie Madden, suggested bottom brackets. I often just buy whatever bottom bracket fits my frame and preferred crank. However, if I have a press-fit frame, I will always use a thread-together Wheels Manufacturing bottom bracket. Their bearings are fantastic, and I trust Wheels MFG BBs to never creak in press-fit applications.
I’ve also known plenty of riders who are Chris King die-hards and won’t turn the pedals unless they’re spinning in anodized made-in-the-USA BB cups. Then there are the watt chasers who try to maximize efficiency with pricey ceramic bearings like those found in CeramicSpeed and Kogel bottom brackets.
Customer Experience Representative, Andy Heuser, suggested inner tubes. Back when I used to run inner tubes (I’m tubeless now), I swore by Challenge latex tubes. They matched my Challenge cyclocross tires, plus latex tubes are lighter and they reduce rolling resistance.
Now, superlight and fast-rolling TPU inner tubes like Tubolito and Schwalbe Aerothan tubes are another high-performance option that some riders prefer. They’re definitely what I keep in my flat kit because of their low volume and weight.
I run these valves so everyone knows I'm running CushCores.
CRM Manager, Mary Metcalf, thought she had the right answer with valve stems. Too bad Andy has been raving about Fillmore valves for months.
Andy Heuser: I would've agreed before Santa Cruz came out with those dang Fillmore valves...
He actually chose them as one of his favorite products of 2022. If you don’t know about them, Fillmore tubeless valves are patented high-flow valves that make tubeless setup easier and eliminate sealant clogs. They also have a Micro-Adjust feature that allows you to dial in your tire pressure perfectly. 76Projects valves are a potential alternative, but I’m not the nerd who is willing to test them out. Personally, I stick to CushCore valves, but only because I run CushCore inserts on my bikes.
Are all lockrings made equal?
Lincoln Bradley: You dispelled that one yesterday, Andy.
Andy Heuser: I know
Bruce Lin: I put Shimano lockrings on my SRAM rotors. Call the cops
Nick Cai: one time I had to buy problem solvers center lockrings and it threw off the whole vibe of the wheelset and bike…
Mary Metcalf: "threw off the whole vibe" *laughing emoji*
Andy Heuser: @Nick Cai you need these…
Lincoln Bradley: If anyone wants to go on the centerlock deep dive Andy sent me on last night this article is interesting.
This suggestion from Andy surprised me. I always use whatever lockring is cheap and available. But it seems that some riders, like Nick, prefer to match specific brands. Apparently, lockring OCD runs deeper than I ever imagined. Check out the links Andy and Lincoln shared. It’s not just titanium and grams that bike nerds care about. They even pay attention to the splines!
DT Swiss anodized alloy nipples.
Mary Metcalf: wait... did anyone say spoke nipples? Is there really brand loyalty for spoke nipples!?
Andy Heuser: Yes
Bruce Lin: DT ONLY
Bruce Lin: Brass though
Nick Leng: I'm all about DT Squorx, all-day
Andy Heuser: wheel fanatyk splined nipples
Duncan Benning: Sapim spokes and nipples are superior.
Mark Moser: Brass Pro Lock nipples on all my builds.
Mary Metcalf: hahaha! I knew you guys would have opinions on that.
I’ve trusted DT Swiss brass Pro Lock nipples in my wheel builds for years. Many others feel the same. It’s either that or Sapim, which Customer Experience Representative, Duncan Benning prefers (though he didn’t specify brass or aluminum). Andy likes running “wheel fanatyk splined nipples,” which are an interesting option if you prefer to run aluminum nipples. Either way, if you’re the type to build your own wheels (many bike nerds are) then yes, nipples matter.
Ti bolts add instant bling.
Mary Metcalf: I got it... bottle cage bolts
Andy Heuser: Silca. Nice try. Hahaha
Bruce Lin: Wolf Tooth. accent the frame.
Mary Metcalf: rotor bolts?
Andy Heuser: betterbolts.com
Nick Cai: your wallet is in trouble if you go down the ti bolt swapping rabbit hole lol
Topher Patino: But that's a lot of weight to spin up and brake!
I’ve never fallen too deep down the “bolt swapping rabbit hole,” but I do know many who have. The most common victims are weight weenies trying to squeeze every gram out of their bike build by replacing every steel bolt on their bike with titanium. I’ve even seen some of the crazier ones run only 4 bolts on a 6-bolt disc brake rotor. Madness! Upgrading bolts also opens up anodization options for those looking to add extra accents to their build.
Cables and housing
Some fancy Alligator iLinks housing.
Nick Cai: cable housing?
Nick Leng: or cable crimps (for those of us lowly peasants still riding bikes with mechanical shifting and dropper actuation).
Andy Heuser: ok, maybe cable crimps. But what color?
Nick Leng: black cable crimps of course
Nick Cai: crimps should match your bolt color unless you have an anodized color theme going on, then match it to that
It’s rare, but I know some riders who swear by Nokon, Alligator, or other segmented aluminum cable housings. They look rad, and supposedly they improve performance by reducing compression and friction. Cable crimps though, as our External Compliance Specialist, Nick Leng, suggested... if you really care about crimps, that would be some next level nerdery!
Top caps and headset spacers
Anodized headset spacers anyone?
Mark Moser: There are plenty of things I'm not particular about (e.g., top caps), but somebody, somewhere is.
Bruce Lin: I will ride any headset top cap. plain black. Or crap I found in the garbage at TPC
Dan Hanafin: Headset spacers.
I generally don’t care about headset top caps, but some people do. The Radavist founder John Watson is a massive Dune fan so he has to rock his custom “Fear is the mind killer” top caps on his bikes. I have a good friend who puts a donut top cap on every bike.
You also have utilitarian mountain bikers who want the top cap to house their hidden OneUp EDC tool.
Then our Creative Director, Dan Hanafin, came at us with headset spacers — the spacers that reside under your stem to adjust bar height. No one had a response to this. Sure many of us prefer carbon fiber spacers, but we’ll use any black carbon spacer we can find. Some riders like anodized spacers (like Wolf Tooth or KCNC) to match or accent their build, but none of us fell into that category. Dan might be onto something.
Bar end plugs
Cork — when you just need that classic look.
Our Customer Experience Support Team Lead, Lincoln Bradley, suggested that no one cares about bar end plugs. As with headset spacers, no one was willing to claim that they nerd out on them. So maybe he’s onto something too.
Do fancy bar end plugs exist? Sure. But I don’t use them. I just use whatever comes with my bar tape (which I am picky about). Surely though, some bike nerd out there cares more about bar end plugs than me. Are there weight weenies who weigh their bar ends? Downhill mountain bikers who like protective aluminum bar ends? Or maybe vintage bike lovers who prefer old-school wine corks?
Andy Heuser: It's funny, as I read every one of these, I can think of an uber high-end brand that sells their "better" version of all this... bar ends, lockrings, valves, tubes even. Wild world we live in.
Nick Cai: the correct answer is that there is no brand-agnostic component. everything must be obsessed over and put under the microscope.
Lincoln Bradley: The finer the detail that folks obsess over, the more stories about them and their bike.
Duncan Benning: I think we should petition to change the Customer Experience team name to just "Nerds."
Mary Metcalf: You guys can find a reason to upgrade EVERYTHING.
Duncan Benning: It is actually a sickness...
So what have we learned? Well, bike nerds can get crazy about the smallest details. Sometimes, being picky about bike parts serves a purpose. It can enhance performance or remedy an annoying issue. Often though, we just choose pricey, weird, or obscure parts just because it's fun. It's why we like bikes!
Can you think of any potentially brand-agnostic bike parts we might have missed? What parts are you brand-agnostic about? Let us know in the comments!