The days of the proper head badge, I’m afraid, are numbered. It seems it used to be that any road bike with a pedigree that was really worth riding was festooned with an artful adornment on the head tube. By that I mean something made with a bit of heft, stamped or cast of alloy and riveted front and center. More and more though we’re seeing what amount to head decals put on bikes. This isn’t anything new, head badges have been suffering a long, slow demise. More like religion, instead of the relatively quick and painless one like dinosaurs. Yes, decals are put on bikes with pedigrees that are well worth riding. But these bikes, I would argue, would have a modicum more panache with a proper head badge.
I suspect that this tradition is giving way to “progress”. Economies of scale would suggest that it’s cheaper for mass producers of bike frames to use decals over badges. Material, labor, and production costs must all be considerably higher per production run when using a badge. But when you’re clearing an easy few grand per individual frame would a few extra cents really matter all that much to the buyer? Then there is the question of weight. When bike manufacturers are all clamoring to declare that their frame is 10 grams lighter than the next it wouldn’t surprise me if eliminating a proper badge was one way they got there. That being said, it’s a fine hair to split and there isn’t one of us in this community who couldn’t stand to drop at least the corresponding weight of a head badge from our gut in order to climb faster. After all, it’s not my kit that makes me look fat, it’s me. And what of the aesthetics of badge vs. decal? You won’t find a compelling reason there for me to opt for a decal.
Now there are a number of manufacturers still using proper badges. Bianchi and Pinerello come to mind as common high-end frames still using badges. The badges they use may not always be made of alloy or robustly riveted onto the head tube but at least they are raised and give the illusion of tradition. Other companies using them are often smaller brands striving to carve a niche or stand out among other brands. I commend all these frame builders for holding to the small but significant tradition of branding their frames with a proper badge. Then of course there are the handful of small artisans who fabricate custom badges, made to order, with your own design. I’ve always thought a V-cog head badge would look rather nice on a bike.
Sadly, none of my bikes have a proper badge. Not surprising given bikes one and two are high-end modern carbon tech-weenie steeds. But bike number 3 is a Serotta, a boutique brand one would think would be worthy of a proper badge. Like many of you, I’ve come by my bike frames through the mysterious happenstance of being in the right place and the right time with just enough money and dedication to Rule #11 and Rule #12 to pull the trigger. I wonder though, all things being equal between ride quality, cost, purpose, pedigree, and performance, if I wouldn’t choose a bike with a proper badge over one with a decal. I’ll probably never know.