Bicycle components are getting really ugly. Every time I look through the current magazines, the websites, and the showroom floors, I'm struck by how bloated everything looks. I suppose it shouldn't come as a surprise that with carbon frames continually swelling, with expanding dimensions for head tubes, steerers, handlebars, and bottom brackets, that the components would follow suit.
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.
|Current edition Dura-Ace: massive, fat arms, and thick, heavy-looking chainrings. Hollow (even the rings) to save weight, but the whole package just looks like it needs a diet. I'm sure Shimano has some technical justification for the asymmetrical 4-bolt rings, but all it means to me is total incompatibility with anything else, meaning that one can only use the Dura-Ace rings. Don't worry about replacements, though, because by the time the rings wear out, they'll have probably been rendered obsolete by a new version with a different bolt pattern.|
|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.|
|Proof that mountain bike derailleurs weren't always tacky (I'm lookin' at you, SRAM). Though not strictly a mountain bike shifter, the early Deore started out as a touring derailleur (top photo), and changed focus with the rise of mountain bikes in the 80s. The third generation (not shown), a slant parallelogram design, made for even better shifting. Overall, a pretty simple, nice-looking wide-range derailleur.|
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.
My fave crankset is the mid 90's Dura-Ace 7410 low profile cranks (http://www.bikepro.com/products/cranks/shim-roadcranks.shtml). They were modern, well designed, and elegant. I still have a pair on my road bike. Though not Shimano replacements, I can still get a wide variety of chainrings at a reasonable price for them.ReplyDelete
That's a good one, too. I prefer the slightly more "creased" edges on the previous generation -- but the 7410 is still nice, and as you point out, one can still get replacement rings for it.Delete
Once again you have clearly explained the problem issues with modern bike design. Essentially a 19th century invention, the classic bicycle has that steam punk visual ethos you described with the Jubilee. All the forces involved are mechanical and can be clearly seen and traced within the functionality of the frame and the components. For example,pull a brake lever and watch the forces transmitted into the housing and then the caliper arms. Can't do that with a hydraulic disc brake, the "magic" is concealed.
Modern bike design is, at its core, baroque in style, graphics and function. Its over elaboration of features (11 speeds?!) and labels makes the equipment goiterous in appearance and remember, goiter is a disease.
I like what you said about the "magic" of being able to see how things work. Nicely put.Delete
New Campi groups look pretty sleek though. And the cheaper, the better looking.ReplyDelete
I'm less offended by Campy's modern groups, apart from the electronic versions that I think are pretty ugly. I like that the Athena is still available in a silver alloy finish.Delete
Nice post brooks. I agree the new components are ugly. Soul-less almost I think. Like the current automotive design themes. Here's a pic of my older Ultegra crankset on my road bike. I'll most likely keep turning this one till the end.Delete
Even more beautiful for their elegant, Audrey Hepburn-esque lines and perfect finish were the best of the old steel cottered cranks:ReplyDelete
... at least until they rusted. The Duprat even had hollow arms and, IIRC, was, at least for the arms alone, as light as many modern cranks.
These would look odd on a modern mold-formed carbon fiber frame, just as the Sram Red would look odd on a normal-diameter-tubed classic road bike -- rather as short-back-and-sides looks odd with flowing medieval robes or plains Indian fringed tunics.
I almost included an example of one of those steel cranks -- talk about delicate-looking. Thanks for mentioning them, and including the link. And I totally agree about how odd the classic parts would look on a modern frame, and vice versa. That's kind of what I was trying to say -- how the swollen, bloated parts complement the oversized proportions of today's carbon bikes. Thanks for the comments.Delete
I just scored a 7410 crankset for $65! It will complement the 7400 series drivetrain on the classic-looking Rambouillet, my sole multispeed road bike. I am debating whether to continue the system by purchasing matching 8 speed shifters (currently I have 7 speed shifters) or simply use a nice, silver friction set.ReplyDelete
Good deal -- I'm a big fan of the bar ends, myself. 8 speed versions can still be found, NOS or lightly used. The silver friction levers are nice (I assume you mean the silver brand -- micro ratchet levers). I have a pair and like them. The little nylon washer on the outside of them tends to crack but replacements are available.Delete
A few years back, I caved and bought a "modern" Shimano 10-speed system with a compact crank for my mid-80's Bianchi so I could see what all the fuss was about . All Tiagra-level (first year the Tiagra level was 10 speed). While not brag-worthy, I deemed it expensive enough for my needs. While I have no specific gripes about the quality vs. price ratio, I did discover that I was totally unimpressed with it all when compared to the Sakae/Suntour components it was already sporting, particularly the "brifters". I did switch it to a Tiagra triple very soon after, and was much happier with how that worked out for me.ReplyDelete
Cosmetically, I didn't mind the derailers, but they certainly lacked the class/bling that the neat older stuff had. The crank was "modern" but not obnoxious. I don't want any more of them, but I guess I don't mind it on my go-fast bike. If there's an advantage to the external crank bearing system, it's the ease of use and maintenance.
I really like the older cranks that are reminiscent of a four-leaf clover, they look so nice on the thinner tubes of classic steel bikes. The old Dura Ace have that look. Velo Orange's new stuff has it, too, but they are a way too spendy IMO.
For a really top-notch Fuji Touring Series that I've just gotten, I'm looking at a new Sugino XD crank. Modern, but nicely styled. It's either that, or see what turns up on Ebay that's interesting. Probably run Suntour ARX derailers on it, to start with. They shift great, and I already have a set in really great condition.
For shifting, I favor the bar-ends for simple ergonomic reasons. I don't have a beef with stem shifters either, though I know that's horribly gauche. My current favorite out of my brifters/bar ends/ stem shifts/ clicky- mtn bike trigger shifters is my Ultegra 8-speed bar ends that I run in Friction mode on a 6 speed wheel.
Has anybody used the Dia Compe/Gran Compe bar end shifters? I like the classic styling of them.
Also: I'm firmly in the "Sram is tacky" camp. They may work just fine, but man is it ugly stuff.
about the bar ends, I have used the "Silver" brand ones with the micro ratchet mechanism, and I do like them. The Dia Compe ones are styled a little differently, but mechanically should be the same, as far as I know.Delete
I keep hearing stories of the Silvers needing regular tightening, sometimes with frustratingly regular frequency. What's your experience with them?Delete
I have not noticed that to be a problem, myself. There is a little nylon "washer" just below the D-ring screw, and those can crack. I would imagine if that is cracked, one would need to tighten them. Replacements for the nylon piece are available. If someone is having problems with them loosening (and the nylon piece is intact) they might want to try a dab of loctite on the threads -- or beeswax.Delete
Anybody remember Shimano's Sante group? It was interesting IMHO.ReplyDelete
I remember them -- painted in soft white and grey -- very "smooth" looking. Functionally they were supposed to work pretty similarly to 600 (Ultegra) or 105, but they were going for a kind of "fashion" look. As I remember, it didn't last long. The real "do you remember" group would be SunTour's "Olé" group. It was painted and styled to compete with Santé, but died pretty quietly.Delete