30 May 2014

From Stealth To Flash

Late in the 1970's Bike Boom, black-anodized parts became popular.

Well, some black-anodized parts, anyway:  specifically, chain rings (especially with silver drillium), pedal cages and, to a lesser extent, shift and brake levers, brakes and hubs.  You see, around the time the '70's Bike Boom began, Campagnolo introduced its Super Record gruppo.  It was really the same as the Record gruppo (often mistakenly called the "Nuovo Record" gruppo because its second and most popular iteration included the Nuovo Record rear derailleur, an update of the Record), with a few upgrades.  The silver steel cages on the Record pedals were replaced with black alloy ones on the Super Record; the SR crank had black chainrings and its bottom bracket could be purchased with a titanium spindle and the slotted SR brake levers could be purchased in black. The rear derailleur got black accents and, later, a body with smoother lines and more streamlined graphics.  (Later still, the derailleur could be had with titanium bolts.) As far as I know, the Campy's hubs or brakes of that era were not offered in black.

Ironically, the SR group was actually a few grams heavier than the plain-vanilla Record set because the brake lever handles and chainrings were made with slightly thicker metal to compensate for the drilling and slotting.  Still, aficianados (Italian for "snobs" or "blowhards") associated Super Record with lighter bikes because Eddy and other Tour riders used it.  So, when Shimano and other Japanese makers began to offer their wares in black, it seemed that consumers with more daydreams than money couldn't get enough.

Mind you, those black Japanese parts were perfectly good stuff:  I used some mainly because I thought they looked good on whatever bike(s) I happened to be riding at the time.  But even though some of their parts (e.g., SunTour derailleurs) were arguably better than  their Campy counterparts, the Japanese makers seemed to believe they had to emulate the eminent Italian components maker in order to enhance their image with the (American, anyway) cycling public.

The rage for black bike parts seemed to fade somewhat by the mid-'80's--ironically, as that same color became de rigueur in the couture of that era.  But it picked up again later in the decade and into the '90's, as the "stealth" look became popular. 

It almost seems counterintuitive, really:  Red cars get more speeding tickets than cars of other colors because they are more likely to be monitored for speeding.  But on bikes, tout noir is associated with vitesse and elan.  It's almost as if people believe that bikes that can't be seen will go faster.

But I don't recall any attempt to give the rider a "stealth" appearance--until now, anyway:

From Barn Door Cycling

Here, it's hard to tell where the rider ends and the bike begins.  Will that make him pedal faster?

Now that I've asked that question, I must say that I've always liked the look of Banesto team kit.  In fact, I had one of their jerseys in the team's early days, and it remains one of my favorite bits of graphic design in bicycle racing garments.


  1. I have to say I'm a real fan of black components but unless I'm looking in all the wrong places, I can only find cheap nasty ones. Black derailiers front and rear would look so cool on my cross bike.

  2. Paul--I'm afraid you're right: The newer black components are lower-quality. I guess manufacturers figure that people who want high-end stuff are going to buy carbon fiber. (In fact, the better Campagnolo parts seem to come only in carbon.)

    I think the new Shimano 105 and XT, and some SRAM, derailleurs are available in black. They're decent quality, but ugly (to my eyes, anyway).