In Memoriam: Gleaming Metal Bits

The gleaming bunch in the Coors Classic

I posted this picture as a joke in yesterday’s Anatomy of a Photo piece, but I find myself going back to it over and over, captivated by the way the light gleams off the peloton as they race by. Gleaming metal bits – hubs, cranks, spokes, handlebars, stems, frames, toe clips, all reflecting light from a thousand discrete points as the bunch rolls by, is a thing of the past.

Something of the romanticism of our sport has been crushed under the inevitable advancement of technology, as little by little each handmade alloy component on our bicycles has been displaced by a machine-built carbon replacement. It started with the clipless pedal’s succession of the toe clip; robbing us of the shimmering vision of sunlight reflecting off the metal clips from 200 riders’ feet as they approached from the distance. Today, even the metal shifting cables on the modern bike have been replaced in some cases by the rubberized cables of electronic drivetrains.

I look at my cherished R3 and, while I fully embrace the advantages and conveniences provided me by it’s modern technology, there is hardly a silver component in the lot.  Even most of the alloy components like the stem and bars have been anodized black.  Just the hubs and spokes, and little bits of the front and rear mechs are silver, but even those pieces don’t have the polished luster of the machines I see in the photo here.  I wish I knew who took this picture because I’d love to offer him a beer. It’s a work of art: the long shadows, the bikes leaning in unison into the corner, the looks of determination on the riders’ faces, but most of all, the way the light is exploding out of Greg LeMan’s bike.

So, next time you find an old bicycle leaning against a tired wall, it’s aluminium components glistening in the sunlight, take a moment to linger and contemplate the beauty of it’s componentry.  You will be standing before a relic of a bygone era when the grace and elegance of our great sport was enhanced by the glistening light radiating from the machines that carried our great heroes.

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47 Replies to “In Memoriam: Gleaming Metal Bits”

  1. As one who can’t afford a newer bike with all sorts of matte coloured bits, a shiny, older rig is what I ride at the moment. And let me tell you, she rides flawlessly. Won’t stop riding her, even when I do upgrade.

  2. The gleaming stuff is great. I was riding last weekend and the mirror-polished rims and crankset on my old MBK were leaving wonderful infinity symbol reflections on the road as the group hummed along at speed. Honestly, I can’t think of anything sexier than a polished warbird.

  3. Those gleaming shiny bits were also a result of Campagnolo’s obsessive attention to detail and quality control (well except for the occasional broken crankarm). No one bothers to polish the back of the crank arm anymore.

  4. I hear ya. I’ve just put a carbon Chorus seatpost in the ol’ Bozzie, and I’m struggling to come to terms with it after the (albeit no-name and not very flash) silver alloy one I was using.

  5. I remember watching the Tour back in the 90’s, and with a still camera positioned at the outside of a corner the peloton would sweep by and as they did, I distinctly remember the shimmering glow of Campagnolo Bora’s (when they were high-polished aluminum). It was almost tron-like, but way more awesome.

  6. Perhaps its just me, but the sheen on all the good ole components is…well…just that. I welcome advances slowly, by admission, but one I welcomed was the first mavic open pro’s that were anondized grey, then the ceramic CD and so she went, black spokes, Thomson posts et al, to the point now i have dusted my dura-ace grouppo for sram force/red. The older stuff got a water drip on it and would loose luster, over a summers riding would need buffed like a wild dog just to go back…go back that is to how I originally had her. So, this is maybe a departure, but one I welcome. You guys can have my silver spokes, american classic shister hubs and I will take the chris kings, the mavic CD rims and thomsons any day.

    To each his own, I just don’t miss that part of our goodies and I have never looked back missing the fluffing and buffing to keep the sheen.

  7. Chapeau!

    I love the old shiny bits, and I’m glad my Wilier has shiny aluminum brakes, bar clamp and bright aluminum Salsa skewers that I bought to replace the stupid Mavic skewers that started rattling and disturbing the PoS.

    A little OG bling to augment the Carbone

  8. @sgt
    At the risk of inciting a riot of juvenile doubles-entendres, your Wilier sounds a lot like my Wilier.

  9. That’s the old cool pic for sure.

    I’ve been riding long enough to have ridden through the “gleaming bits” era, and into the anodized and carbon age. They both look great for what they represent.

    If needed, thanks to plenty of nice steel frames out there – new and used – plus eBay to search for NOS Campy or Shimano gear, you can still ride something that gleams in the sun – and in the eye of riders who still dig that era.

  10. The bikes’ bling is like the lingerie that addorns our Velomihotties. Eye candy for the beholder and from what I understand in my most humble opinion, it makes them feel sexy too. My bike likes being clean and kept. She observes the rules…

  11. @Souleur
    This reminds me of an argument we have in the army about the new digital pattern and the old green uniforms. I miss the way freshly pressed uniforms and mirror shined boots make a soldier look sharp as a tack. However, it’s so nice to not have to iron and spit shine boots for at least an hour every single day.

    Good reason for multiple bikes I say! (Besides that I must have n+1!)

  12. That’s what I like about DA 7800, it is the last high performance metalic shiny groupset

  13. Gillis:
    I remember watching the Tour back in the 90″²s, and with a still camera positioned at the outside of a corner the peloton would sweep by and as they did, I distinctly remember the shimmering glow of Campagnolo Bora’s (when they were high-polished aluminum). It was almost tron-like, but way more awesome.

    I think you must mean Shamals.

  14. @Joe: I have to say no doubt. My bike shed has one more slot available, and always has.

    I do love the retro stuff, actually, I rode much of it and in some ways it is superior, many ways not. In terms of sheen, the metallic gleam that is in memorium, I could handle and I shouldn’t say I totally would throw it under the bus, its just if I had one today, she would have to be a prom date only. Not my daily driver. The utilitarian aspect of the gleam is hard upkeep and a very high maintanance girl.

  15. I’ts like the auto industry – show me a car with a nice chrome grille and you’ve got my attention. The black is so commonplace in the bike industry that they’ve started introducing such crap as white, red and the of course the “New Black” known as “Wet Black”.

  16. I raced that event, the Coors Classic, for the Shurfine Team. I was so cooked, there was no buffing of steel. The team worked our asses off keeping it together from stage to stage trying to be relevant. The Euros were at such a higher level than most of us. The handmade bikes and components were pieces of art that glistened unlike today’s cookie cutter molds of plastic.
    And damn! the bikes may have lost their art, but so freaking fast now! I loved the past, but i love what’s made now!

  17. @Souleur

    Yeah, my old Schwinn has a lot of shiny metal bits, including the rims, and it’s a lot of work to keep clean. The rims especially, what a pain in the ass to get looking really sharp…if the cleaning rag is dirty at all, it just smears the surface rather than making it cleaner. They then get dirty again very quickly.

    My Felt on the other hand is almost entirely matte-black, and wipes clean much more quickly. It has a few pieces of bling, like the rear derailleur and hanger, and the spoke nipples, but everything else keeps looking rather clean, and cleans up easily when dirty.

  18. The gleam is something to be revered and to mourn, but really only in the sense that we don’t get to see it anymore. The image of the glistening bunch rolling along was magical.

    But with everything that passes, something new takes it’s place. These days, we get to hear the hum of the carbon wheels, which I think is one of the coolest sounds around – not that the sound of 200 tubs on metal box rims was anything to scoff at, but the growling hum of a carbone wheel…ohmeohmi. Sometimes I look for a climb with a concrete wall next to it and climb out of the saddle, just to hear my wheels…

    I love my steel bike, and am going to build it a pair of 3-cross tubs, put all alloy Campag 10-spd Chorus on it, and polish it fortnightly, just to do it. But it will remain Bike #2, never Bike #1. That’s for a simple reason, too: Carbon is stiff, light, fast, and low maintenance.

    I ride the steel regularly, and every time I do I start to wonder why I even bother with the R3 – the ride of the steel is so pure and so nice. And then I swing my leg over the R3, stand on the pedals, and think to myself, “Oh, yeah. That’s why I bother with the R3.”

    I put an alu seatpost in the steel recently because I had it laying around and it would get my position to within 1mm of what I have on the R3. Man, I gotta say…I love how that thing looks on there…

  19. @frank
    You really need a matching stem on there now, maybe even the headset.

  20. @frank
    Yeah, that looks sweet mate; I love that bike.

    My carbon post is growing on me, but when the Bozzie gets rebuilt with older Campy, it will go back to a shiny post.

  21. @Brett

    It’s amazing that you managed to match your bike to that spot of grass the the nice blue water behind that.

  22. Cool bikes guys. I certainly love the look of a polished warbird. On last weekend’s group ride my old MBK was leaving bright infinity symbol reflections on the road from the mirror-polished rims and crank. That put a smile on my face.

  23. Tip for polishing hubs – gleaming silver or otherwise: for one ride tie a small strip of rag (say 1-2cm wide) into a small but loose loop around each hub. As the hubs spin the rag ties stay relatively stable just moving from side to side and effectively buffing the hubs. Looks silly for that one ride but at the end of it you will be surprised at how much shinier your hubs are. Unfortunately doesn’t work as well on convex hubs.

  24. @Brett
    I just opened that picture of your bike in a new window and stared at it in full size for like 10 minutes. That is a real beauty. Your cranks are at the wrong angle, though. Are those your new bars, or still the older ones from the original build?

    Loving the crown on that fork, too.

    Thats a great tip. Giani sent me his old Super Record front shifter and I polished that baby up. Amazing how aluminum gleams after several hours of rubbing it with a cloth.

    Sweet new avatar, dude.

  25. @James
    WOW. That is one tight looking bike! WOW! I love it! I love the DT shifter, and the converted SRAM levers. What a beauty!

    And it’s hard-wired to the big ring! Please tell me you live in a really hilly region.

    Here it is in-line, for those of you who missed @James’ post due to it being in the spam queue for some reason.

  26. Not to hijack the thread, but how does one obtain an avatar?

    Isn’t it great how everyone who starts a sentence out like that, does exactly the opposite. Not to be a jerk but…

  27. @frank
    geez, I went to the troble of getting the valve stems at the bottom, the chain in the dog, the fucking grass, water and horizon perfect, and you pick me up on a +\- 5 degree crank infraction? Tough marker…

    The bars are the originals still, I have a set of Ritchey Classic bends coming next week, $30 off TradeMe! They will be teamed with the ITM 130mm stem, and Fizik tape. Also have a San Marco Regal saddle on its way, then we’re done (except for a front Campy skewer).

  28. @michael, @Brett
    Yeah, we use gravatard like most other sites. It’s one of those technologies that’s so genius it was inevitable. When I was studying Computer Science, one of the hot topics was the best approach for finding a globally unique identifier, which is logically a challenge because you have to come up with an approach for picking a value that no one else will ever pick ever again in the history of time. Gravatar is genius because an email is necessarily unique globally. It’s not a GUID because every time you pick the email address it’s the same as the time it was before, but it’s a good place to start. Anyway, I digress, and I’m already afraid I’ve opened up the nerd can here and am going to shut up.

    Synopsis, go get a Gravatar at and you’ll have a sweet avatar.

  29. @frank

    No fair. I had to figure it out on my own by searching for information about avatars in the WordPress technical documents. I figured it was some sort of obscure right of passage.


    That is pretty sweet! When I someday (hopefully) have the cash to vacation in bicycling-specific destinations, that type of thing would be super fun.

    I was actually thinking of the Tour of Flanders today, as I was riding around in the West Hills of Portland and I kept spotting yellow “Lion of Flanders” stencils on the pavement. Once a year there is a Ronde PDX ride, covering 76 km and 1406 m of elevation gain. I’ve never done it because I’m perpetually two months from peaking, but it seems pretty damn brutal.

  30. Well let me tell you about my gravatar experience, I had apparently registered there years ago with a long dead email address that was forwarding to another long dead email address and eventually I got logged in after about an hour of dinking around.

  31. I watched the Aspen Circuit race that year…your photo brought back lots of good memories. thanks.

  32. I love the performance of my modern carbon bike, but the looks of it, and the components, don’t do much for me. Eh…it’s nice looking, but I never find myself staring at it.

    On the other hand, checking out my Tommasini with C-Record, silver everything, now that gives me serious carbone

    This love of shiny metal bikes and bits actually isn’t that bad, it just gives us all a reason to own one modern carbon bike and at least one classic steel bike.

    I absolutely hate black hubs, spokes and rims. Eck. Give me silver all the way!

  33. Just read this. Brilliant. Want more shiny bits! At least on one bike of the n+1!

  34. I fully support the weakness for gleaming metal bits polished with great care.  I may never again see the likes of my 1970 Cinelli fully bedecked with the period’s best Campy and Cinelli components.  Modern carbon-based bike forms have moved in the wrong direction, but””then again””I’m old.

    I do have one minor objection to the excellent photo…  Surly with appropriate digital accessories it is possible to eliminate the, ahem, Coors sign?  Such a weak brew is unseemly among such saintly relics…

  35. @RobsMuir

    Coors may make crap beer, but they did put money into cycling. Hell, the race was big enough for Hinault to schlep himself overseas for it.

    That said, here’s a bit of revisionist fantasy:

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