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I'm looking to build my own bicycle. The main thing I care about is compatibility. I've been researching around and have found various gold nuggets along the way:

It seems like building your own bicycle with reliable interchangeable parts is a trade secret with tiny insights hidden in places across the internet. I've found people who care about things being light or new. The main thing I care about is compatibility because I want to build my own bicycle, maintain it, and swap out parts. I haven't found reliable coherent source that cares about that.

Intuitively I'd rather figure out what the most reliable standards are and then buy parts that follow the standard instead of only by parts from one manufacturer. I want reliable parts that are maintainable with regular tools instead of a high performance special things that require special tools. I'm not sure how to describe what I'm looking for bicycle parts.

To use an analogy: I'm looking for a ThinkPad not a MacBook. There are a bunch of well defined standards that different Original Equipment Manufacturers can follow to make various components of a ThinkPad. If I want to swap out the DVD drive and stick a Hard Drive Caddy in there I can because the measurements for that slot are clearly defined. Further, I can buy the Hard Drive Caddy from dozens of manufacturers. The same goes for the battery. Also, if I want to change the thermal paste I only need a Phillips screwdriver to open up the ThinkPad. The MacBook on the other hand requires special tools and the battery is a proprietary technology that is glued into the machine because it's thinner or for some other performance reason. When measured by some performance metric the MacBook might be better but from the standpoint of compatibility the ThinkPad is better. So when talking about brands it's better to go with IBM Lenovo if you care about compatibility. I want to develop a similar intuition with bicycles but I'm not finding a coherent source of information.

  • What are good sources of information to learn about bicycle compatibility ideas?
  • If there aren't any brands that care about compatibility and standards is the idea to just use Shimano parts because they have the biggest market share?
  • What guidelines do you follow if you care about compatibility and maintainability?
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If you want something utilitarian and practical leaning, the closest thing to your "Thinkpad and not a Macbook" analogy is going to be something from one of the spare-parts-bin-oriented frameset companies like Surly, Soma, etc.

If you want something more mainstream and performance-oriented, you'll just want to avoid bikes with proprietary gimmick type features and proprietary standards. There are more companies doing that kind of thing than there used to be, but it's not ubiquitous. What is fairy ubiquitous now is brands adopting new standards at a rate fast enough to cause confusion because things have been changing relatively quickly in the era we're in, but they're still standards.

  • 20 years ago, there were a few resources that did a decent job at being all-inclusive compatibility references. Sutherland's Handbook and Barnett's Manual were what shops used, and sheldonbrown.com was available for free and also could answer most compatibility questions. Sutherland's was the big kahuna of these. In the time since then, the speed of change in the industry has outstripped any such efforts on seemingly anyone's part, free or not. There are no singular and definitive resources for bicycle technical information anymore. Those who used to be in that game have quit. If you're into old bikes or want to learn about some of the foundational ideas, these are still good sources however.
  • You have it pretty close; in many cases choosing the Shimano offering will keep you out of trouble as well as be solid value, but it really depends on what kind of bike you're talking about.
  • Steel bikes lend themselves the most to someone that even cares about long-term maintainability and parts interchangeability. Avoid cranks with proprietary bolt patterns unless you have good reason not to. Figure out what high gear and low gear numbers you need access to and let your component decisions flow from there. Use friction front shifting if you value the ability to do what you want with your components.
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reliable interchangeable parts is a trade secret with tiny insights hidden in places across the internet.

I disagree with that. The information is out there and is not a secret.

Shimano publishes a huge trove of information about their products including detailed specifications and compatibility, with an archive going back to 2004.

SRAM is not so great about publishing info but you can find it with diligent searching.

Sheldon Brown is a good source of info about the various standards used in the bicycle industry.

Park Tool Repair Help has a extensive set of articles and videos that explain different systems of components and how to deal with them.

Then of course the community on this site will freely provide information.

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