Campagnolo and the aesthetics of cycling

There was a time when Campagnolo could be relied upon to provide the highest level of cycling style. Perhaps it wasn’t bleeding-edge technology, but it was almost invariably a durable yet beautiful component that anyone who fancied themselves a “cycliste” would proudly display on their Made-in-Italy wonderbike. Other companies could be relied upon to make things technically pure, e.g., Shimano and Suntour gave us indexed shifting (Remember Campy’s first attempt?), Modolo made the best brakes until Shimano figured it out (Remember Deltas? I still have a pair, and calling them brakes is simply a courtesy.) Sure, Shimano, Suntour and Mavic had a few neat parts, but Campagnolo simply exuded class.

What the heck happened?

Dressing three classic steel Italian bikes (a Cinelli Super Corsa, a Pogliaghi, and a Casati Ellisse), I immediately turned to Campagnolo, then just as quickly turned away.

Gone are the polished alloy cranks and the smoothly-rounded and engraved derailleurs. In their place are carbon fiber and painted labels.

And now, Campagnolo announces 11-speed. If the look of the new levers are any indication, it seems that the next-greatest-thing will renounce all ties with industrial beauty and swear its allegiance to all-form-over-function (as long as form is black). Now we can all look the same, no matter what components we purchase!

As it happens in most businesses, as soon as the void is created, a contender appears to fill it. Leave it to Shimano–who already bucked the trend some years back with the flowing lines of their all-alloy Dura Ace crankset–to introduce the 2009 Dura Ace line. Smooth lines, lots of shine, and clear attention to detail mark this set as the one to own for new bikes with a bit of classic style. Even better, those who want a carbon crankset can get one, but those who don’t can get the alloy. Who’d of thought of that idea? A choice!?

My money is now on Shimano. It works well–very well–and it looks good, too. The difference is now underscored with the release of 2009 Dura Ace. You may or may not have liked the last major incarnation of the Dura Ace crankset–it wasn’t “classic” by any stretch of the word–but you can’t deny Shimano is attempting a design statement with the new one. Mmmmm…alloy and curves. Admittedly, it’s still not C-Record, and there’s a bit of visible carbon on the rear derailleur, but the things still aren’t black plastic.

My Kirk and Sachs will, unless something changes down Campagnolo way, wear Shimano jewelry. And that’s something I never thought I’d say.

One thought on “Campagnolo and the aesthetics of cycling

  1. Neat blog! Yes, there is definitely something about the “art of the bike” – be it in the finish or shape. Shimano has always favored function over form until the recent past. Dura Ace is changing all that and it’s trickling through the entire Shimano family. Even the lower end Sora and Tiagra get a smooth but sculpted look. Only the 2200 remains “old fashioned” so to speak. The presence of carbon on components will only become more prevalent as time goes on. Everyone wants lightweight and the easiest way to do that is use carbon everywhere.

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