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Is there a "rule of thumb" for how fast new technology "trickles down" from higher-end to lower-end bike models? Can you for example say that a mid-end bicycle frame or suspension fork is as good as the previous high-end, or does it usually take more than one generation for the technology to spread?

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Too fast, in my opinion. Most "new technology" in cycling is more for show than function (and more to produce sales than to provide value). And kids buying department store bikes are attracted to the bling. –  Daniel R Hicks Oct 28 '12 at 14:04
    
I agree with @DanielRHicks I bought my bike, a 2012 Merckx EMX1, for half price because its end of season and they are getting ready for the new models to come in. I find it unlikely that I will need to replace the technology on my bike for many years. –  robthewolf Oct 28 '12 at 14:44
    
I think it depends a lot on the technology and on the kind of bicycle. For example, I don't expect high-end internally geared hubs such as Rohloff on supermarket bicycles, nor belt drives. I think it's mostly the useless stuff that trickles down. –  gerrit Oct 28 '12 at 14:52
    
I'm generally agree with Danial, however I use the phenomenon robthewolf describes. As I see it, those guys riding around on "this years" model (Usually not much more than a color change) are subsidizing me into a better bike than I could otherwise afford. For instance I ride last years XT equipped Mountain bike, but in my budget, it would have been this years Deore/Acera. –  mattnz Oct 28 '12 at 21:09
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They say that this year's Tiagra is generally last year's 105, which is true to an extent. You'll see things like 10 speed cassettes move down the product line at a rate of one series per year or so.

It's not entirely true though. Features creep down, but quality stays about the same. The different series will maintain their relative build qualities year after year. I.e. a higher priced series will have better materials used throughout.

Having said that, I don't believe that build quality is really a deciding factor in most groups. I've put 20000km into a Sora group that is still running just fine. You just need to keep up the proper maintenance.

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I really question to what extent "quality" is better on higher-priced models. The manufacturers will tend to use the same manufacturing line for all versions of their parts, with the main difference being finish -- maybe they tumble the diecastings before finishing, maybe they color-stain the machined aluminum, maybe they add a colored washer. Of course, there will be a difference between a steel frame and a carbon one, but likely the derailers are the same quality, with only finish differences. –  Daniel R Hicks Oct 28 '12 at 15:18
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They definitely use different materials across the different lines. E.g. the brifters on low-end series are way more plastic, which affects durability. The higher end ones use bearings instead of bushings in the rear derailleur, which probably makes very little difference. I certainly wouldn't know it from the way I ride. –  user973810 Oct 28 '12 at 15:23
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I put 15000 km on a hybrid with an Acera derailleur. Probably could have used a new chain and a new cassette but other than that it was fine. Even the lower end stuff can last a long time if you take care of it properly. –  Kibbee Oct 28 '12 at 16:13
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High-end models often can have less durability than lower-end, too, simply because durability is sacrificed in order to shave off quarters of a gram here and there. –  Stephen Touset Oct 28 '12 at 18:39
    
Also along the lines of what @StephenTouset said, on the higher end models you notice when things start to wear down more because there is very little room for error when you have things such as an 10 or 11 speed cassette. In cases like that, fractions of a millimeter can make a difference. Whereas my 7 speed cassette could be quite badly out of tune before I would notice a problem. –  Kibbee Oct 29 '12 at 0:32
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My knowledge is mainly about downhill mountain bikes. Firstly I don't think the technology has really gone very far at all. Secondly you need to buy the top, or middle model bike for the good components, that's always been the case.

Most downhill mountain bikes still do not have a gearbox inside the frame. The price for this bike of gear box bike has not gone down one bit.

There are still plenty of single pivot frame designs around.

A lot of bikes come with DT swiss cheese wheels, which are notorious for bending.

Forks like Fox and Rockshox still require a lot of maintenance (oil seals). The suspension will have fewer adjustments. If you buy the bottom model the suspension will probably be rubbish. Marzochi still have ridiculously bad dampers on their low end forks.

Can you for example say that a mid-end bicycle frame or suspension fork is as good as the previous high-end

No, it doesn't work this way at all. There is no moore's law like computer hardware. Just like cars, the bikes will sometimes improve when a company ditches their old frame design and releases a new model of bikes. The suspension companies are always going to reserve their best technology for their premium model products. That technology hasn't really improved much so there is not much trickling down going on. Usually they just fix flaws in their previous products.

Avid now make brakes that have problems with air bubbles. Their old brakes were perfectly fine. Still, at least we have moved on from Hayes, that is definitely an example of technology trickling down.

Shimano now make disk brakes with a crappy sline attachment. Hope ditched their spline design years ago.

If anything the technology is going backwards in some ways.

The new price has come down slightly. But the second hand market is a lot better now since there are plenty of bikes around. This wasn't always the case when these downhill bikes were a new technology. I always get a top end bike, but I never buy it brand new. It has to be a few years used or

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