One of the most eye-catching, noticeable components on a bicycle is probably the crank. But so many of them now are bloated to match the fat, swollen-looking carbon frames.
|The latest Ultegra has taken cues from its more expensive sibling. The satin/matte black finish doesn't improve the look, and the extra-thick, hollow chainrings draw attention to the line where the rings meet the spider.|
|SRAM's Red crank uses carbon fiber to keep the weight down, and it's also supposedly hollow (for durability and reliability?). The graphics-heavy design and the over-styled chainrings look like something out of a Japanese animé cartoon.|
I know I'm biased, but alloy cranks of the past just look much more elegant to me. It's possible that the swollen, hollow carbon-fiber designs of today might weigh less, but the classic designs of the past look lighter.
|Campagnolo's Super Record -- late 70s through mid 80s. Cold-forged, beautifully finished. It looks industrial yet delicate at the same time.|
|Campagnolo's less expensive crank, the GS, was somewhat simplified, with details that aren't rendered quite as crisply as the more expensive Super Record, yet it still had a healthy dose of "class."|
|Stronglight made some really gorgeous cranks in the 70s, like this model 93. Notice the huge cutouts in the spider arms, and how the angles between the crank and the rings suggest a perfectly symmetrical pentagram.|
|Early Dura-Ace illustration (by Daniel Rebour). In general, the crank takes some styling cues from the classic Campagnolo cranks, but with a slightly smaller bolt circle diameter, allowing smaller chainrings than one could get with Campy.|
|The mid 80s Dura-Ace crank was clean and simple. A real classic.|
Another focal point for any component group is the rear derailleur. But again, derailleurs have taken such a swing into ugly territory -- looking overly large and tacky, a complement to the oversized frames so common today.
|SRAM's Red rear derailleur, like other SRAM components, goes overboard with graphics and logos. The derailleur is a mini billboard. The unit is huge, but with massive cutouts making it look almost skeletal in a Terminator T1 sort of way.|
|Another SRAM rear derailleur -- this one is a mountain bike model. Again, it's hard not to notice the overbearing graphics -- logos on almost every surface.|
|The latest Ultegra Di2, looking not terrifically different from its more expensive Dura-Ace sibling. Matte black, and massively bloated, both versions look as though they have a malignant growth, or some kind of goiter.|
|The classic Campagnolo Super Record might not have shifted as well as slant parallelogram derailleurs, but it was compact and tidy in its appearance. Slightly industrial-looking, but classy.|
|The Huret Jubilee was the lightest rear derailleur in its day, and beautiful in an interesting steampunk sort of way. The exposed springs, and all its joints and pivots out in the open, it was a minimalist marvel.|
|Along with the Jubilee shown above, the SunTour Cyclone was one of the lightest derailleurs one could buy -- and also one of the best shifting. Best of all, it was bargain priced. A long-cage "GT" version was also available for wider range gearing.|
Today's components might complement the oversized proportions of carbon frames, but then I think it's pretty clear how I feel about those, too. Swollen frames, bloated components, deep profile rims -- and all slathered in overblown graphics, bikes end up looking like rolling billboards. Give me the delicate, elegant proportions of the classics with their buffed and polished alloy finishes anytime. No great insights today -- just a retrogrouch-y rant.