31 December 2014

As The Sun Sets On 2014

I guess I could say that I ended this year in a way that reflects the kind of year it's been:  rather lovely, but unexceptional.  

Early this afternoon, I boarded Tosca for a ride through familiar places to a familiar destination. Even the detours were familiar:  through backstreets lined with cute little brick houses and restaurants of various nationalities, by the tidal marshes by Jamaica Bay and up and down stretches of reconstructed, but still not reconnected, boardwalks in Rockaway Beach and Jacob Riis Park.  

Those detours, and the headwind into which I pedaled through much of my ride made it longer, timewise, than it would normally be.  Even though I did not consciously choose them, I believe that some internal guide steered me through them.  (If Thoreau were alive today, would he say write that if a person does not keep pace with his or her companions, perhaps it is because he or she is guided by a different GPS?)  And where might that internal navigator been leading me?

Where else?:  Coney Island, just as the sun was beginning to set.  Somehow it seemed just right for my last ride of 2014.

Thank you all for following me on my journeys through this blog. as wild or mundane as they may be.  I hope you will join me for more in 2015!

30 December 2014

What Do Cyclists Want?

What do women want?

You weren't expecting to read that on this blog, were you? 

OK, so what do men want?

Although I am one of the few people who can plausibly answer both questions (!), this blog is not the place to do it.  After all, this  is a family blog. (ha, ha)  For that matter, I'm not so sure I could--or would want to--answer either or both on my other blog.  

So I'll stick to a sort-of related question:  What do cyclists want?

Please, please leave your answers to that in my comments section.  I don't want to prejudice you one way or another, but I think the San Luis Obispo County Bicycle Coalition came up with a very credible and useful answer.  Two years ago, 30 percent of SLOBC members said they wanted more bicycle education.  That was, by far, the most common response.


I will not argue against that.  SLOBC idenitified some obvious venues for bicycle safety education, including schools.  They also seem to have some innovative ideas about accomplishing their goal, such as making bicycle safety education a family endeavor.  That makes sense when you realize that the county--perhaps best known for its wines (Among California counties, only Sonoma and Napa produce more.) and San Simeon, the home of Hearst Castle--is mainly rural and suburban.  In fact, one of the stated goals of the Coalition's bicycle education is to help give more moms the confidence to ride with their kids in the park.

The other policies and ideas mentioned are all laudable and practical.  But I think that it leaves out one element that, to be fair, almost no one else (at least in the US) addresses:  educating motorists and other members of the public about cycling and cyclists.  As I have argued in other posts on this blog, the understanding drivers have of cyclists is what makes cycling in much of Europe safer than it is here.  Also, one doesn't find, on right side of the Atlantic, the sort of antagonism between cyclists and motorists that scares many Americans off cycling to work and leads to the angry diatribes against cyclists one often hears and reads in American media.

If anyone from SLOBC is reading this, I don't want to seem overly critical.  It seems like you are doing a lot to make your communities more bike-friendly.  And, I want to add that I haven't been there in a long time, but I recall much of SLO county as being quite lovely and having some of the best cycling in America.


29 December 2014

The World's Fastest Bicycle

At this time of year, it's hard not to think about children, whether or not we have any of our own.  After all, we were all kids once, and most of us have memories--for better or worse, or both--of this time of year.

For some of us, those memories might involve a bicycle, specifically finding one under the tree.  "The Retrogrouch" wrote a nice post about that last week.  I responded with a comment about the time I got a Royce-Union three-speed bike when I was seven years old.  The bike was much too big for me; I wouldn't be able to ride it for another couple of years.  That bike also holds a special memory because it was the last gift my grandfather gave me.  In fact, that Christmas was the last day I spent time with him:  He died the following March.

But whatever the circumstances, I think any bicycle found under a tree on Christmas morning always holds a special place in a kid's heart, even long after he or she is no longer a kid.  Even if it's made from gaspipes, nothing can be prettier or shinier or faster than that bike left by "Santa"; if we can't ride our new steeds that day, nothing seems more worth the wait, whether for snow to melt or, in my case, to grow into the bike.

I think children's author Ken Nesbitt captured that feeling nicely in his poem, "The World's Fastest Bicycle."

My bicycle's the fastest
that the world has ever seen;
it has supersonic engines
and a flame-retardant sheen.

My bicycle will travel
a gazillion miles an hour --
it has rockets on the handlebars
for supplemental power.

The pedals both are jet-propelled
to help you pedal faster,
and the shifter is equipped
with an electric turbo-blaster.

The fender has a parachute
in case you need to brake.
Yes, my bike is undeniably
the fastest one they make.

My bicycle's incredible!
I love the way it feels,
and I'll like it even more
when Dad removes the training wheels.

(From The Aliens Have Landed At Our School. a book of children's poems by Ken Nesbitt)

28 December 2014

Will The New Dissidents Be Cyclists?

I have not been to China.  It's one place on my "bucket list".

Not long ago, visitors to the Land of the Red Dragon marveled a the sheer number of people on bicycles.  One old acquaintance of mine showed me photos of a traffic jam in the center of Beijing.  There wasn't a car or truck in sights:  The streets were a serpentine wall of people on their bikes, most of which seemed to be imitations of English three-speeds or Dutch-style city bikes.  On some were attached, to the sides of the rear racks, baskets that seemed almost as large as the riders themselves.

From what I've read and heard, such sights were not unusual not very long ago.  I couldn't help but to wonder what the Long Island Expressway--often called "the world's longest parking lot"--would look like if rush-hour (Isn't that an odd name for a time when nobody's moving?) traffic consisted of Bianchis, Bromptons, Motobecanes and Treks rather than Buicks, BMWs, Mercedes and Toyotas.

While millions of Chinese people still ride bicycles to their jobs and schools, and to shop and run errands, four-wheeled vehicles with motors are replacing the two-wheeled variety that are propelled by their riders' feet.  (At least, that's what I've been told.)  To me, that begs the question of whether China will become a society dominated by the automobile, as the US has been for much of the past century, and what the country will be like if it ever come to that.

I recall a time when, at least in the US,  choosing to ride your bike when you could drive or be driven--or even if you were merely old enough to have a driver's license--was something of an act of rebellion.  I remember being seen as a cross between a geek and an outlaw because, during my senior year of high school, I rode my bike when just about everyone else drove to school.  I was also seen that way, I believe, by co-workers on the first couple of jobs I worked:  They did not pedal to the job, but I did.

Could the day come when riding a bicycle in China is similarly seen as an act of rebellion, or dissidence?  Of course, being someone who defies the established order has even greater consequences for someone who does it in China than for an American who protests anything.  

One such dissident is the artist Ai Weiwei, who created this installation:


27 December 2014

Getting Away From The Second Black Friday

Some people referred to yesterday as a "second Black Friday."  Yesterday was the day after Christmas and BF is the day after Thanksgiving.  So, people went shopping--or, more precisely, pushed and shoved each other to get bargains they believed to be awaiting them.  

Of course, there were some differences.  The Black Friday phenomenon is repeated every year, while Round Two, if you will, is possible only every few years, when the day after Christmas happens to fall on a Friday.  Also, the post-Christmas shopping frenzy is fueled, in part, by people who are returning or exchanging gifts and are enticed to shop for other things.

One thing both days have in common is that, on both, I avoid the retail ruckus (which has been known to plunge into full-blown riots) that has become part of them.  Instead, I choose calmer and more meditative activities, like tea with a friend, reading and writing, playing with my feline family or, of course, a bike ride.

Today's spin took me down to Rockaway Beach.  Even though cirrus clouds swirled the clear sky and light winds blew mild air in the directions of waves that lapped lazily against the sand, only a few people found their way to the beach.  I suspect they are of a similar mindset to mine:  Although I did not converse with any of them, some of us exchanged smiles and glances that told me everything.  And,  yes, we wished each other a happy holiday.

26 December 2014

Boxing Day And Big Box Stores

Today, the day after Christmas, is known as Boxing Day throughout the English-speaking world--except, of course, in the United States.  Here, after our so-called War of Independence, we decided to toss out everything British.  But somehow or another we managed to keep the class system, although we did away with the titles.

All right, enough political ranting.  I mention this holiday because I recall how, the first time I heard about it, I wondered whether people went to see fights or, perhaps, whether they fought each other.  (I'll bet some people fight, especially spouses and other family members, after something or another that didn't go as planned on Christmas Day!)  Perhaps South African officials realized other people thought as I did when, in that country, the holiday was re-named  Day of Goodwill in 1994.


In other countries, particularly England, Canada and Australia, stores offer huge discounts because most people wouldn't enter a store otherwise--unless, of course, they are exchanging gifts.  Our stores do the same, but they're simply called "Day-After-Christmas sales".

It seems that those big retail events are as much a part of small mom-and-pop stores as of "big box" outlets.  And they're part of just about every sector of the retail industry, with a few notable exceptions.

One of those exceptions is, of course, the bicycle retail industry.  The "big box" stores might offer big discounts on bikes purchased in boxes, but even those price reductions usually aren't as great as those for, say, bed linens or kitchenware, let alone Christmas decorations, gift wrapping and cards.  And small bike shops might offer relatively small discounts--say, 10 or 20 percent, in contrast to the 50-75 percent reductions typical for holiday-related items--on bicycles or even high-quality components.  Sometimes prices are slashed on bike accessories, such as computers, but the selection tends to be small.


When I worked in bike shops, people used to ask me why they couldn't find the sorts of sales they were accustomed to seeing on items like luggage and home electronics in bike shops.  The not-so-short answer goes something like this:  Profit margins on bicycles are fairly small.  Paradoxically, high-end bikes actually have even smaller margins than those on bikes sold to the masses.  

One reason for that is that the more you buy of something, the better a price you can get on each unit--and a bike shop simply cannot buy in the volume in which departments stores make their purchases.  In fact, even some mom-and-pop stores buy their wares in greater quantities than most shops will buy of any given model of bike.  The obvious reason is, of course, that bikes take up more space than most other items sold in most other kinds of stores.   

But even on components, few shops make mass purchases of, say, Campagnolo Record Ergo shifters or Dura-Ace cranksets.  That is because the market for such items is still small, and because those companies, and others, change their offerings more frequently than in times past (I still remember when Campagnolo and other European manufacturers made, essentially, the same derailleur or brake or other item for decades!), a shop might be stuck with a high-end item for years, or even for the life of the shop itself.  While such items might make for nice showcase displays, they don't add to the store's bottom line. 

If you do see large day-after-Christmas--or Boxing Day-- discounts on bikes or parts, you're most likely shopping online.  Companies like Performance and Chain Reaction Cycles buy in far greater quantities than any local shop ever could and therefore get better prices, which allows them to offer lower prices to customers.  In fact, an industry insider once told me that Performance actually buys whole boatloads of Shimano components and has them trucked directly to their giant warehouse.

Anyway--I avoid shopping for anything on the Boxing Day, St. Stephen Day, the Day of the Wren, the first day of Kwaanza or whatever you call 26 December, just as I avoid it on Black Friday.

24 December 2014

A Spin Of The Wheel Brightens A Child's Christmas

Yesterday I made light of that lie people tell kids about Santa Claus and his reindeer. 

That story may not be true. (OK, it isn't.)  But, yes Virginia, there are Santa Clauses in real life.  Some of them just happen to be in North Carolina.

Twenty years ago, two friends in the Tar Heel State started the Spokes Group.  This year, the organization will give about 3100 brand-new bicycles to needy children through its chapters in Charlotte and other parts of the state.  Over the years, more than 36,000 bicycles are so distributed.

Since there are never enough bikes and helmets to give to all of the kids who need them, recipients are determined by the spin of a bazaar-style wheel.


I salute everyone who helps out with the project--and is responsible in any way for acquiring, assembling, fixing and distributing bikes to kids through similar programs all over the US--and, I imagine, in other countries.

I also salute anyone who brings other gifts, food, clothing or companionship to anyone who is in need, alone or simply sad at this time of the year.  (I think now of a dear friend who lost her husband and brother within months of each other this year!) Their work is never done.

23 December 2014

On The Eve Of The Eve

This is the night before Christmas Eve.  Some time in my childhood, I heard that this is the night Santa gets his reindeer fleet ready to bring Christmas presents to everyone in the world (well, everybody who's been good, anyway) at exactly midnight.

Did those preparation involve polishing Rudolph's nose?  Checking its battery or whatever makes it shine?  No one ever explained that to me.  For that matter, I never heard much explanation of anything involving Christmas.

I'm not complaining.  I was told stranger things as a child and things stranger still--in fact, outright implausible--as an adult.  No one explained those things, either.

Whatever the story is about Santa and the reindeer, I know lots of people are getting ready for tomorrow night in various ways.  I saw a couple preparing their steeds. They did not want to be photographed, but their steeds had no say in the matter:

Any restaurant or other establishment that delivers food is going to be very, very busy tomorrow night.  That includes the guys who ride these bikes--for Sanfords Restaurant, just two blocks from my apartment.  

I actually saw one changing the battery in his "blinkie".  Would Rudolph have one on his nose if the story were being concocted today?  Would there be LEDs inside his nasal globe?  And would he need something on his tail as well?  After all, most places require that vehicles have front and rear lights.  Hmm...Is a reindeer a vehicle?  If so, would it be road, off-road or something else?  700C, 650B, 26 X whatever or a 29er?

22 December 2014

Workshops Or Boutiques For The Holiday Season?

Recently, I've devoted a couple of post to bicycles made into Christmas ornaments, or bicycle-themed holiday decorations.  And, I know that as I write, there are bike rides in progress that wend their way along streets of highly-decorated houses and stores.


All of that got me to thinking about how--and whether--bicycle shops are decorated for the holiday season.


In many shops, you'll find garland winding through wheels of display bikes, frames festooned with strings of lights and orbs hanging from handlebars and other bike parts.  A few have more creative, or at least elaborate, displays.  

In my experience, the most decorated shops are the ones catering to two ends of the bike market spectrum--kids and rich yuppies. I know, because I have worked in both types of shops.


I've also worked in shops that sold high-quality bikes, parts and accessories that were neither flashy or cheap, and were run by honest--though, perhaps, grumpy--mechanics.  At one such shop, said grumpy mechanic/proprietor gave me some small tools in a metal Band-Aid box with a red bow stuck on top of it.  I am told that I received the most elaborately-packaged gift he gave anybody that year.  Perhaps I don't need to say that his shop was about as decorated as Kim Kardashian is clothed on any given day.

It was the sort of shop in which you had your wheels built or frame prepped, if you didn't have the tools or skills to do such things yourself.  And you would go to it for advice. But for aesthetics, not so much. But whatever you bought, or whatever work you had done, there was a gift that kept on giving.

21 December 2014

The Reason For The Season

"Jesus is the reason for the season."

Now, if you're a Christian, you might say that about Christmas or Easter.  But Springfield (MA) City Councilor Bud Williams made that comment during a public menorah-lighting ceremony.  When someone pointed out his gaffe, he responded, "Jesus was Jewish."  

So, Mr. Williams, you are American, I presume.  Are you the reason why we celebrate Independence Day?

Anyway, I am not going to pick on him any more.  I've been around long enough to have heard some real howlers from elected officials, including Gerald Ford, Ronald Reagan, Bush IBush II, Dan Quayle, Michelle Bachmann and the inimatable (except, of course, by Tina Fey) Sarah Palin.

(Ms. Fey's spot-on portrayal of John McCain's assasination insurance lends credence to the adage that it takes a genius to play an idiot.)

Anyway, I will enlighten the esteemed Mr. Williams by pointing out that axial tilt and the ellipticality (Is that a real word?) are the reasons for the seasons.

But they are not the reason for this:

Believe it or not, that winsome couple was on a Winter Solistice ride.  But they were, not in Florida, but in Victoria, Australia where they don't have (except in the mountain areas) any season like our winters here in NYC, let alone in places like the northern plains of the US or Canada, or the Eurasian steppe.

The Victoria (not Victorian!) "winter" is also unlike those in that it begins in June--when the couple was photographed.  So their June is, well, our May.  

Happy Solistice to all, whichever you're experiencing!

N.B:  Please do not try to infer anything about my own politics from my choice in the honorable elected officials I've mentioned in this post! ;-)

20 December 2014

For Ornamental Purposes Only

We've all seen cute bicycle Christmas (or other holiday) ornaments.  Some are faithful representations of racing, mountain, BMX or other kinds of bikes.  Others are just barely recognizable even as bicycle shaped objects.

While some capture our favorite two-wheelers in admirable detail, there are others that leave you wondering whether it was made by anyone who had ever seen a bicycle in his or her life.

This one, though, is truly strange:

Talk about toe clip overlap!  If an actual bicycle were designed in proportion to this ornament, I think its would-be rider would take a "header" even before getting his or her leg over the top tube!

That said, it is kind of cute.  And the woman who made it also makes some other nice stuff, bicycle-themed and otherwise.

19 December 2014

Other Decorations Can't Hold A Candle To This!

I know that during the four-plus years I've been writing this blog, I've written a few Christmas-themed posts.  I have shown bicycles used as props for Christmas lights and other decorations and, a couple of days ago, an ugly Christmas sweater with cycling reindeer.  A couple of weeks ago, I wrote a diatribe against buying your kids (or the kids in your life) department-store bikes for Christmas.

Now, I'm assuming that some of you, my dear readers, are Jewish--or, at least observe Hanukkah in some fashion. I haven't forgotten about you.  How could I, after coming across this?:

This, and other menorahs, can be found here.

Hanukkah, of course, commemorates the victory of an army of Jewish Maccabees over a Greek occupying force that vastly outnumbered them.  The Maccabees thought they had enough oil to last only for one night, but their menorah burned for eight days and nights.

Given the role that bicycles have played in the military, it's hard not to wonder how things might have turned out if one side or the other had bicycles. For that matter, would Moses have had to spend forty years wandering the desert if he had two wheels and two pedals?

All right:  I'll stop before I start offending anyone's religious senibilities (if I haven't already done that).  Happy Hanukkah!

18 December 2014

A Prewar Anglo Continental

After yesterday's serious post, I thought I'd give my dear readers a bit of relief.  Specifically, I'm going to offer something I assume most of you like:  bike porn.

Specifically, I'm offering up bike elderporn.  Here is a 1939 Claud Butler Anglo Continental bike:

The bike was refinished but, from what I've gathered in my research, it now looks something like it would've looked the day it left CB's shop.

All of the components are period-correct.  I wondered about the Bluemels fenders, but a bit of research showed that they were making plastic (celluloid) fenders (mudguards) and flaps, side guards, handlebar coverings and gear cases as early as 1908.  They also made a pump with a press-fit nozzle (like Silca or pre-HPX Zefal) that eliminated the need for a connection that needed to be screwed onto the valve.

Everything on the bike is British, with the exception of the French-made Rigida alloy rims.  One part I find truly interesting is the Lauterwasser bars.  To me, they look like inverted North Road bars with more drop--which, I would expect, would make them more appropriate for a "path racer" than North Road or moustache bars.  A few years ago, Soma introduced a bar with the same name.  It seems to have less drop, but a little bit more of a forward bend, than the original Lauterwasser.

This bike would be quite the conversation-starter, wouldn't it?


17 December 2014

The Day Begins; It Is Dawn--For Whom?

This semester, I've been teaching early morning classes.  When the term began, I was pedaling in bright, often shadowless, pre-dawn light.  But as the season deepened into fall, I was seeing sunset and, after Daylight Savings Time ended, I was getting to work just as the sun was rising.  

All of that has meant seeing what people don't.  You've seen some examples in some of my earlier posts.  Some of the sights were just lovely; others had their own grittier kinds of poetry.  This morning I saw an example of both:

Speaking of gritty poetry:  As I took this photo--with my cell phone, on Randall's Island near the Bronx spur of the RFK/Triboro Bridge--some verses streamed through my mind:

La aurora de Nueva York gime
por las inmensas escaleras 
buscando entre las aristas
nardos de anguista dibujada.

It's the second stanza of Federico Garcia Lorca's "La Aurora" ("The Dawn") and can be translated something like this:

The dawn in New York grieves
along immense stairways
seeking among the groins
spikenards of fine-drawn anguish.

Perhaps recalling those verses was a harbinger of what I would see as I descended the ramps on the Bronx side of the spur:

I've seen him before.  Actually, I've never seen him:  I've only seen the blanket and recognize the way he swaddles himself in it.  Once, I got a glimpse of his face poking out of his bundle.  I don't think he knows:  He was still sleeping, as he was today.

Usually, he's in the corner, curled up as if he were in the womb, his first--and, perhaps, only--home.  I had never seen him unfurled until this morning.  And, even though he was less than a meter from his usual spot, it was startling to see him there.  I can't blame him for moving there:  It rained heavily a couple of hours after midnight, and spot is probably the driest place he could find outside of a building that wouldn't allow him in.  

At least it wasn't difficult to see him.  So, I was able to stop, dismount, lift my bike and tiptoe around him.  I did not want to wake him, let alone rend one of the few shreds of dignity he has left.

Unfortunately, he's far from the only homeless person I see during my commutes.  He's just the one I've seen most often, I think.

16 December 2014

Ugly Christmas Sweater For Cyclists (Pity The Poor Reindeer)

I can say, in all honesty, that I do not have an ugly Christmas sweater.  Really, I don't.

OK, I have a tacky Christmas sweatshirt.  Don't ask how long I've had it.  I think I wear it once or twice every year, before the holiday.  I make a kind of game with it:  I try to sneak through some part of my daily life--going to a store, seeing a friend or even going for a bike ride--just to see whether anyone notices.    As far as I know, no one has a photo of me donning that dreadful vestment.

I assure you that my gaudy garment is far more of an offense against any known aesthetic than this:

Available from lastearth on Etsy.

Still, whoever transposed those unfortunate ungulates onto that ugly garment should be arrested for cruelty to animals, even though the poor deer are animated or inanimate, depending on your point of view.

Oh, and the uncomely chemise is available in two other colors--Smurf blue or a shade of red even Taylor Swift wouldn't allow to be painted on her nails--if the shade of green you see in the photo is too much--or not ugly enough--for you.

15 December 2014

Fantasies On Speed, Not Steroids

The other day, and the day before that, I wrote about vintage bike parts that were (and, in some cases, still are) elite, if not sublime.

Now I have to balance it out with the thoroughly ridiculous.  Also, I feel an obligation to show that not all crazy, impractical ideas are being conceived and carried out (of what?) today.

Specifically, I am going to write about a totally ridiculous shift lever.  Having been a cyclist for four decades, and having worked in bike shops, I've seen some doozies, including ones longer and wider than railroad spikes--mounted on top tubes, no less.  (Could that be a cause of the decrease in fertility?)  They are in the category of, "They don't make them like that anymore--thank Goddess!"

So is this shifter I found on eBay:

I mean, in what universe is a shifter shaped like that?  Or, for that matter, in what reality does one combine it with a speedometer.

I'll tell you what milieu I'm talking about, because I spent part of my childhood in it.  It's the decade or so--roughly from the mid-1960s until the mid- or late 1970s--when bikes were designed for boys who, from atop their banana seats and behind their "ape hanger" bars, dreamed of driving "muscle cars" on the Daytona flats.   

Said bikes were designed by like-minded boys, some of them in the bodies of 40-something men.  And the boys of that time are now the 40-, 50- and even 60-something men who still are driven (pun intended) by such fantasies.

I'll bet that someone like that will buy the shift lever/speedometer I found on eBay.  I mean, who else would?

14 December 2014

Black And White On The Point

After the horrible deaths of Michael Brown and Eric Garner, the last thing in the world we need is more segregation.

Call me paranoid, but that's what I thought I was seeing when I got to Point Lookout.

On the south side of the cove:

and the north:

Did someone hang a "whites only" or "colored entrance" sign someplace?

Tosca is watching from a perch between the two groups.  Normally, she cares only about the ride, but she isn't liking what she's seeing.

Secretly, she's rooting for one side.  So she's happy when it starts to make an incursion.

Could this be the beginning of a white flight?  If so, it won't be the first on Long Island!

13 December 2014

In Living Color

Black-anodized components, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post, have waxed and waned in popularity during (and before) the four decades I’ve been a cyclist. I hope I did not convey the impression that all components were black or silver.  At various times during my years on two wheels—and throughout the history of cycling—bike parts have been anodized in a spectrum of colors. 

Today, most of the parts available in a rainbow of hues are intended for fixed gear or single speed bikes.  While cranks, chainrings, pedals, cogs and even chains are available the Roy G. Biv range for bikes designed for the velodrome or urban hipsters.  But cranksets with more than one chainring, derailleurs, brakes and other parts made for road, touring or mountain bikes are usually made in either silver or black, with the latter shade becoming more dominant as carbon-fiber bikes gain popularity.  One of the few notable exceptions to the hegemony (or tyranny, depending on how you look at it) of silver and black in road and off-road bike parts is Velocity rims.

Weinmann Vainqueur 999 brakes.  Red and blue were offered only from 1961 to 1964.

However, in decades past, parts for road, touring and sport bikes have been finished in other colors, red and blue being the most common.  Weinmann and Mafac made their center-pull brakes in those colors for brief periods during the late 1950’s and early 1960’s.  Mafac, in their last years (the early 1980’s), also made their cantilever brakes in a variety of colors.

Modolo Professional brake, circa 1983.  And you thought white components were sooo 2009?

Ofmega Maglia Rosa rear derailleur.  You can't make this stuff up!

The component makers that became most noted for their color palettes were Italian and offered the greatest variety during from the late 1970’s until the mid 1980’s.  Perhaps the most prominent of them were Modolo and Ofmega.  The former finished their “Professional” brakes—found on otherwise all-Campagnolo bikes—in red, blue, green, gold and white, as well as the traditional black or silver.  The latter company finished their derailleurs, which were essentially Campagnolo Records rendered in plastic, in the rosa hue of the Giro d’Italia leader’s jersey as well as the jaune of its Tour de France counterpart, and just about every other color imaginable.

Colnago C60 with 24 karat gold-plated Campagnolo parts

Other companies did not offer such a wide range of tones but nonetheless parted, at least to one degree or another, from the silver/black binary.  I have ridden gold-anodized Mafac 2002 and Galli brakes; Zeus, Sugino and SunTour also made derailleurs, cranksets and other parts with gold anodizing.  Of course, if really wanted bling, you went for the gold-plated (24 karat) parts Campagnolo briefly made before the price of the precious metal skyrocketed around 1980.

Galli rear derailleur in "midnight blue"

In addition to gold, Galli offered one of the most distinctive finishes in the history of bicycle componentry:  “midnight blue”.  It was, of course, darker than most other blue parts but was more complex and richer than navy or black.  In addition to brakes, derailleurs, cranksets, hubs and other traditional “gruppo” parts, Galli offered rims (made for them by FIR) and retrofriction shift levers (manufactured by Simplex) in midnight blue.  Galli were even finishing 3TTT stems, bars and seatposts in their trademark finish.  Such an ensemble looked absolutely fabulous on a white Olmo of that period, but it also looked great on celeste Bianchis and just about any silver bike.

Kooka crank, circa 1992

Probably the last time components made for bikes with more than one gear or to be ridden by anyone besides Keirin racers or hipsters was the early- to mid-1990’s, when it seemed that every twenty-something in California whose father had a lathe in his garage was making parts, mainly for mountain bikes, that were lighter and more expensive than everything else on the market.  Kooka and Topline crankset, which I mentioned in an earlier post, are examples of that genre.  Interestingly, survivors of that time, like Paul Components and White Industries, are now making their (admittedly fine) stuff in silver and black.  Chris King may be the only exception:  His headsets, hubs and other parts are finished in even more colors than they were two decades ago.

These days, all of my bike components are black or silver.  Part of the reason is that most of the stuff I use is available only in those colors.  But another is that I don’t want parts that detract from the kinds of finishes I like on my frames.