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Opinions about Bike Parts

Today's bike components work great, much better than most of the bike parts from the seventies or before. We're talking about function, not details. The top parts back then tended to be slender and beautiful. It's hard to write about aesthetics and beauty without coming off as a weird snob on a high horse, and I hope I'm not that, so I'll just say that the metal-shapers back then seemed to care a lot and have good eyes, and they didn't let anything leave the drawing board (real, not virtual!) until it looked as good as it could. Some modern parts still look good, but up until about 1984, everything tended to look really good. Downhill after that. It hasn't been a continuous decline, and it's peculiar to bike parts. The Cheapening, as  it's been called, has affected many industrial metal objects. Cameras come to mind.

If nobody will see the back side of a rear derailer's parallelogram, should it be polished as well as the visible front part? You may like the idea of somebody doing that, but lots of the polish that makes you feel warm and classy for appreciating it came from tedious human labor that by today's standards borders on inhumane, and would make the part cost more than you'd want to pay for it, anyway.

Most of the superb and luscious "hand-buffed and clear anodized" finishes on professional quality aluminum cranks and brakes from the '70s thru early '80s resulted from somebody standing at a high-speed buffing wheel. It's dangerous work, since the wheel can fling a part or grab a hand, and the buffing compound used blackens the guy standing there.

Even if he (or she) wears a full-body suit to ward off the flying, blackening buffing compound, there's something less than happy about robotizing a human in a spaceman suit for hour upon hour, doing tedious and unforgiving and thankless, functionally unnecessary work, then ending the day with sore feet, sore back, and blackened literally from head to toe with polishing compound fly-off.

One of the ways assembly line workers survive the tedium and get through the day is the camaraderie they share with other workers. Just seeing them and the occasional smiling or rolling eyes, sometimes over a face mask, is a way to share the load and survive the work, and it's not part of the parts-buffer's life. You can't afford the lapse in concentration, so you don't look up, and the noise and the suit rule out talking and gestures, anyway.

Some time in the late '70s or early '80s, most Japanese factory workers simply wouldn't do this work, and so the factories paid Filipino workers to do it. I'm not saying it's slave labor, or that it can be compared to any of the hundreds of truly mean uses of human beings to make something. I'm just saying that it's work only the desperate do, as opposed to a quality-conscious/uncompromising craftsman lovingly polishing nooks and crannies to a soft-satin lustre.

So, give up the Polishing Prize to the past, and be happy with today's best parts being polished well enough, and working better. It's one of those "mixed feelings" situations.

Today's inexpensive and middle-priced parts work great. The makers want you to have a good entry-level experience, so they make sure their cheap stuff works nearly as well as their pro stuff. Shimano doesn't want you to have bad memories of lousy shifting or braking on your cheap bike, because when you upgrade, they want you to still be loving Shimano parts. This is a fantastic thing. 

And inexpensive parts look fine, too. 

Overall, our approach to bike parts can be summed up thisaway: Silver looks better than black. Satin looks better than shiny. The parts should work, but not take you out of the equation. Light is fine if it doesn't compromise safety and is marketed honestly. Selling "race-light" parts to recreational riders who weigh 50 pounds more than racers and won't get free parts every year is not honest.

We don't stock superlight parts made for racers, because we don't cater to the racing market. Everything we sell works really well. We don't stock popular things because they're popular, and we don't not stock something that works just because it's unfamiliar. That's about it!

One more thing, last but not trivial:  The components that matter most are those that affect riding position and safety. Those are stems and handlebars. Tires are next, because they affect comfort so much, and how the bike works over a variety of terrain. Things like derailers (note continued use of the Sheldon spelling) are the least important parts on the bike. Even low-end cheap derailers work great, even if they're made with crummy materials and look ugly and weigh too much. Big deal...worry about the things that matter.