Wednesday, March 29, 2017

Step Back In Time - '94 Bridgestone Calendar

While searching through eBay recently, I spotted a fun little bit of Bridgestone memorabilia for sale: a 1994 Bridgestone Endangered Species Calendar, at a buy-it-now price of $50. As of right now, it's still available. Who knows if it will bring the asking price, but I do know that I won't be buying it. You see, I already have one. But seeing the auction made me get it out and take another look.

The calendar represents month after month of vintage components and accessories to make a retrogrouch drool. I thought readers of the blog might enjoy seeing some of what's inside:

On the cover: a series of large-flange hubs. Campagnolo Record, SunTour Superbe, Zeus 2000, and Shimano Dura-Ace. Inside the calendar, the text goes on to mention how people used to claim that large-flange hubs added strength and rigidity to a wheel - something that turned out to be not really true. Still, they are very cool-looking, and even more uncommon today than they were in '94.
Zeus 2000, Huret Duopar, Simplex LJ, Mavic, Huret Jubilee, and Campagnolo Nuovo Record rear derailleurs. The text of the calendar goes on to say "In the days before indexing, rear derailleurs from different makers had distinct personalities. But with the advent of indexing, designs have been homogenized to the point where all modern derailleurs have slant parallelograms and look like the original SunTour design." That is generally true, though to be truly honest here, three of the derailleurs shown (the Zeus, Mavic, and Campy) all share basically the same design mechanically, while the differences are mostly stylistic. The Zeus was very obviously modeled on the Campagnolo Record, but with some drillium. I've always enjoyed the Erector-set aesthetic of the early Mavic derailleur. The Simplex has a similar design but with the addition of a sprung upper pivot for crisper shifting. The little Jubilee is probably my favorite in terms of its minimalistic design, but the Duopar was probably the most unique derailleur design of them all. It's also the only touring derailleur shown.
Even by 1994, lugged frames were already becoming scarce. On the left is a pair of Cinelli stamped upper and lower head lugs. On the right is a pair of Dubois upper and lower head lugs (made by Nervex - and used on Masi Gran Criteriums). In the middle on the bottom is a Nervex Professional lower head lug, but above it is sort of a Nervex-copy made in Japan, and not quite as ornate as the original (it also happens to be a lower head lug, and is shown upside down - oops).
Flat-topped fork crowns. I had featured a few of these in an early Retrogrouch article called "Lovely Fork Crowns." Upper row is Fischer, unknown maker, and a Masi double-plate. Lower row is Zeus track crown, Vagner, and Davis track crown.
Centerpull brakes were truly "uncool" in '94, though they seem to have had a bit of a renaissance in recent years - particularly in versions that have their pivots brazed directly to the frame or fork. Shown are (top row) Universal 61, Shimano Dura-Ace, Weinmann Vainqueur, and (bottom row) Mafac 2000, Dia-Compe 510, and Zeus 2000. Some of these would command good prices today on eBay.
Friction shift levers. I still use them on most of my bikes. From left to right: Zeus 2000, Campagnolo bar-end, Campagnolo  Record down-tube, SunTour Power Ratchet bar-end, Simplex retrofriction down-tube, a Simplex retrofriction bar-end (good luck finding those today!), and a SunTour XC Power Ratchet thumb shifter.
Leather saddles. Clockwise from top left: Lepper sprung saddle (from The Netherlands), Brooks Swallow, Brooks Professional, and Ideale 88 Rebour model.

Some other "endangered species" that are shown in the calendar include traditional quill-type pedals for toe clips and straps, single-pivot sidepull brakes, classic black leather cycling shoes (like the old Dettos and Duegis we all had back in the day), and thread-on freewheels.

There is a bit of retrogrouchy text that goes with each of the monthly selections that almost always ends with something along the lines of "Eddy Merckx won all of his races on ________." Whether it's friction shifting, quill pedals, or lugged steel frames. That's practically a retrogrouch mantra. "If it was good enough for Eddy . . ."

So in 1994, all these items were considered "endangered." What is the status of these components 23 years later?

High-flange hubs? Still pretty hard to find, though not impossible - at least for track/singlespeed wheels. In fact, for people who still want to build their own wheels, just being able to buy hubs at all is becoming a challenge now that everyone (except us retrogrouches) wants pre-built "high-tech" wheels with super low spoke counts, or even carbon fiber wheels.

Friction shift levers? Thankfully still available. Dia Compe is still making versions of the old SunTour power ratchet (with a really fine ratchet, like the last-generation SunTours) that are sold under a couple of different names. Velo Orange is a source.

Centerpull brakes? As mentioned, they have made a bit of a comeback, though with the proliferation of disc brakes, they're still probably on borrowed time. Paul's centerpulls are super nice. Dia Compe still makes some, and Compass Cycles has a nice updated version of the old Mafacs. With posts brazed directly to the frame/fork, centerpulls give excellent stopping power and great modulation.

Single-pivot sidepull brakes? Gone. Just gone.

Quill pedals? Still around, surprisingly, and the quality is quite good. MKS seems to be the main source for them today.

Leather saddles? Somehow these are not just surviving, but maybe even thriving. Brooks is still the main one, but Gilles Berthoud, Selle Anatomica, and Selle Italia all offer high-quality leather saddles. There are some Taiwanese-made versions as well.

Lugged frames are scarce unless one is willing to shell out for something from a custom builder. Anything "off the rack" these days is going to be TIG welded, assuming it's even metal. Lugs and nice fork crowns are still out there for frame builders, but even a lot of steel frames nowadays use carbon fiber forks . . . (shudder).

It's kind of funny to think that after more than 20 years, the situation for many of these items hasn't changed a whole lot, but I think if I were to put out a new version of an Endangered Species calendar today, I'd probably add traditional quick release levers, threaded headsets, and quill stems. Anything else to add? Leave a comment.


  1. Square-taper bottom bracket spindles; bottom bracket cups with caged or loose ball bearings; French, Swiss, or Italian threaded bottom brackets; 25x1 fork threads; 26.4mm diameter handlebars; 27x1.25 tyres.

  2. You can still get single-pivot brakes, and very good they are too...

  3. Cloth handlebar tape seemed like an endangered species for a time. But it is making a comeback. (I just wrapped the bars on two of my bikes with it!)

    Ditto for Lyotard Berthet-style platform pedals. (Thank you, MKS and White Industries!)

    Campagnolo-style two-bolt seat posts seem to have disappeared--though, frankly, I prefer seatposts with the bolts on the underside.

    Speaking of Campagnolo-style: How about the cable guides that were brazed to the top, or underside, of the bottom bracket shell? Today's guides are plastic and bolted on.

  4. Bikes that don't need to have a battery charged or be connected to a phone.


  5. mike w. seems to have got it all. Endangered they may be but I have much of that stuff on my 1970's bike which I am giving a thorough parts off clean for the first time in it's life and it is all still working well. who would have thought 27 1.25 tyres would ever be hard to find!? My Barelli pedals are getting their first ever polish, never have been lubricated and spin better after all that time than any new pedals I try to spin at the dealers. Retro rules....

  6. Non aero brake levers. I love the gentle radius the cables form when they exit the hoods.

  7. 28.6 mm front derailleur clamp. Good luck with a more modern Campag front. It does require finding an older compatible derailleur and making a switch. I never could understand why Campag gave up on the traditional steel down tube.

  8. Raleigh offers lugged steel at present.

  9. Surprisingly, I had no problems getting hold of a 7-speed freewheel for one of my cheap mountain bikes. The choice of ratios is a bit limited but it seems 6- and 7-speed freewheels are still available. I thought freewheels were long gone but it seems there's still a market for them, thankfully.

    I wonder if 3-speed hubs are on the endangered list?

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  10. +1 on the square taper, threaded bottom bracket and to take that one step further, the Italian thread bottom bracket shell. Even Colnago frames now, when you can find one with a threaded shell, is 1.37 x 24. A small part of my soul died when I discovered that.

  11. Bowden cables (brakes and shifters). They're facing an assault on two fronts: the hydraulic-actuated disc brake camp, and battery-powered shifters. (Side note: any bets on when we can expect to see battery-powered brakes?)

    Conversely, one thing that is in no danger of dying out is the half-inch chain pitch. Somehow, that standard has persisted from the earliest days of cycling up to the present day. That's rather astonishing when you think of all the recent bike "innovations" and the bike component industry's fervent attempts to stamp out old tried-and-true tech.

    1. Battery-powered whatever (shifters, phones, GPS, yadda, yadda, yadda. It's all fun and games 'till the batteries run out.

      I always carry a map and compass in backcountry. No satellites for GPS (heavy trees, deep canyons)? No problem!

    2. I agree with you about battery-powered shifters. They're expensive nonsensical toys that are trying to solve a problem that doesn't exist. Mechanical shifters are reliable and don't need electric power to work. The powerful electric motors of the battery-powered variety may allow you to shift while pedaling uphill, but to what end? A broken chain after only a few rides and aggressive shifts? Whatever happened to choosing the right gear at the bottom of the hill and riding it up to the top?

      I do carry a smartphone and battery-powered lights; I'm a skeptic, after all, not a luddite. Phones and lights have proven their worth to me on countless rides and in daily life. I haven't yet lost a GPS signal while riding along forested roads in my area. That sort of thing was quite common with my first GPS device back in 2002, but nowadays, that's a thing of the past for me. GPS devices really have improved a lot over the years.

  12. Already gone, but probably a niche product -- the "ultra" spaced 6-speed freewheel. Originally by Sun Tour allowed a 6-speed cluster on the (way back) then default 120 mm rear spacing. Can still find 5-speed freewheels, but takes some looking.

  13. Oddly enough, those old components are cherished by cycle tourers. Their robustness and simplicity makes them both reliable and easy to service all over the world.

  14. A lot of the things people here have mentioned seem to be relatively easy to find in college towns. I'm a graduate student at UW-Madison, and I've been commuting on a 1979 Sekai for the last couple years. At different times I've replaced the chain/cranks/chainrings/freewheel, bottom bracket, and wheels. So far I haven't even had to wait for parts to be ordered - I was able to pick them up at my LBS and put them on that night. It also has 27x1.25 tires and I've been able to either find them online (Conti makes good commuter tires) or at an REI garage sale for $4/tire (Kendas that I've been riding for about a week).

    I think as long as people continue using the older technology for bikes they commute on, there will thankfully always be a good supply of classic components for those willing to look. Even if they aren't being made in the same numbers as they were 30 years ago, it's not like they're wearing out quickly. I know the late-70's SunTour components on my Sekai have been amazing despite daily commuting through snow, slush, salt, rain, and sun, something I can't imagine newer, high-performance components surviving for three years with virtually no maintenance.

  15. Round and butted spokes. Tubes and rim strips. On the other hand, most of the parts mentioned, including thread-on freewheels, live on in the world of inexpensive bikes. It's unlikely that we'll ever see much more than cosmetic carbon on department store bikes because it doesn't make sense. It does nothing to either reduce cost or to make the bike more reliable, providing the opposite effect on both counts.

    How about a list of these changes that have truly improved cycling? I would include cassette hubs, profiled cog teeth, 130mm dropout spacing (allowing 8 & 9-spd cassettes while reducing wheel dish), 1.125" threadless steerers, open-front stems (even if I still prefer the look of most quill stems), sealed insert headsets, clipless pedals (at least ones that dont creak), anatomic saddles, inexpensive but effective sealed bearings, and indexed down tube shifters. All of these have made cycling easier, more comfortable, more trouble-free, and bikes easier to maintain. On the framebuilding side, I'd give the nod to TIG welding, which allowed inexpensive bikes to be made with lighter tubing while improving quality control. Did anyone ever replace a top tube on a Raleigh Grand Prix?

    As the first foray into reducing cog spacing to increase cog count, Suntour's ultra-6 most definitely lives on. In fact, it will remain a fundamental feature until internal hub shifting improves to the point when it can take over. My crystal ball says that in 20 years, most bikes will have internal-geared hubs and maintenance-free belt drives.

    1. I get the idea of threadless steerers but where in the thought process did they decide that the have to be ugly and clumsy as hell?

      Sadly I do not think that I shall live long enough to see efficient sealed wide range IGH drive system, odd when you glance back in bicycle history... European commuter cyclists take these things for granted and cycle in all seasons almost maintenance free.