12 December 2014

Paint...I Mean, Anodize...It Black

To many bicycle enthusiasts, “classic” components come in a spectrum of colors ranging from silver mist to gleaming chrome.  Some purists—or pedants who fancy themselves as such—believe that all components worth using are polished, preferably to a mirror finish.  Cranksets like the Stronglight 93, 63 and 49, Specialites TA Pro Vis (a.k.a. Cyclotouriste) or Nervar Star are among the preferred components of those with such aesthetic preferences.  So do Maxicar hubs, Huret Jubilee derailleurs and old-style 3TTT bars and stems.  

Stronglight 93 crankset in its natural habitat:  on a Peugeot PX-10.

 They’re all lovely pieces and perfectly valid on modern as well as classic bikes.  And, oh, yes, Campagnolo Gran Sport and Record stuff made until 1985 or so.  They had a more buffed finish but took on a nice sheen that looked great on just about any bike, especially a silver Cinelli.

Huret Jubilee in its natural habitat:  a Rene Herse

But not all components made before the lava field of carbon fiber oozed across, and blanketed, the cycling landscape looked like they were chromed or polished so that you could use them for shaving or putting on your makeup.  A couple of years before I started taking rides of more than a few miles—a year or two after the ‘70’s Bike Boom ended—a cult of sorts developed around black anodized parts.  

Original Campagnolo Super Record rear derailleur, circa 1974

It seems to have started when, in the middle of the decade, Campagnolo introduced its Super Record line.  It was identical to the Record line (which included the Nuovo Record rear derailleur) but included titanium bolts and bottom bracket and pedal axles.  And, to distinguish it visually from the Record line, the knuckles of the rear derailleur were anodized black.  So were the pedal cages and chainrings.  

(The hubs and brakes were the same as those in the Record line.  The brake levers had drilled-out handles and, ironically, weighed two grams (!) more than the non-drilled levers.  Apparently, the handles were made of thicker metal to compensate for the drilling.)

Sugino Mighty crankset, circa 1975

Maillard 700 pedals.  Don't you just love rhe red dust caps?

Once Campagnolo introduced its Super Record components, other companies got onto the black-anodized bandwagon.  Stronglight, Shimano, Sugino and other chainrings were available in noir versions.  Lyotard, Maillard, Mikashima (MKS) and Kyokuto (KKT)—the leading pedal makers, along with Campagnolo, at that time—offered black-caged and all-black versions of their products.  And, once 3TTT and Cinelli started selling black handlebars and stems, Phillipe and Pivo of France as well as Nitto and Sakae Ringyo of Japan followed suit.

SunTour Cyclone rear derailleur, circa 1975

SunTour and Shimano, naturally, offered several models of their derailleurs with black knuckles, like Campagnolo, or all-black versions.  I think the SunTour Cyclone silver rear derailleur with black accents is the prettiest shifting mechanism, besides the Huret Jubilee, ever made.  

Shimano Dura Ace hub, circa 1976

And Shimano went as far as to offer all-black versions of its Dura Ace components.  I think their hubs, with bright silver oil hole covers and axle nuts, looked particularly nice.  Their silver crankset with black rings was also nice.

Original Jim Blackburn rack on a Dawes Galaxy:  verrry '70's!

When those black components—and Jim Blackburn racks and water bottle cages—found their way to the market, I—like most novitiate cyclists of the time—had never seen anything like them before.  But a very few longtime riders—like Fred DeLong, the long-serving technical editor of Bicycling! Magazine—had seen an earlier fad for black anodized components in the years before World War II.  DeLong mentioned it in one of his columns.  And he—or some other bicycle writer of the time—mentioned a still-earlier time, around the turn from the 19th to the 20th Century, when black parts were all the rage.

The mid-70s mini-craze for black parts lasted a few years.  Then, most component makers quietly dropped them.  About a decade later, black chainrings and, later, other parts, started to appear on mountain bikes.  Road bikes reverted to the polished- (or buffed-) silver look in parts.  That wasn’t all bad, especially if said components were from SunTour’s Superbe Pro line.

SunTour Superbe Pro track hub

That aesthetic—and SunTour itself—disappeared around the time carbon-fiber bikes and parts reached the mass market.   The past few years, though, have seen something of a resurgence of shiny silver stuff as cyclists (mainly non-racers) are discovering (or re-discovering) the versatility, durability, beauty and ride quality of classic steel frames, or modern frames inspired by them. 


  1. Gosh, where did you come up with all these vintage bike parts images?? I've never seen many of these. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Lucky--I just googled the names of them and looked in the "images" section. I admit, I got lucky!