The chicken or the egg?

Bicycle components are peculiarly attractive operational devices, or strikingly ugly, clunky, disfunctional – or some combination of all these characteristics. Very few vintage components server multiple purposes; the vast majority are “specialists,” in charge of one job or function which is all the more reason that said job be well done, else a cyclist fail to stop, turn, shift, etc., as anticipated. We presume that our components will do their job – and surprises at 25 miles per hour are not especially pleasant, particularly when they involve a sudden collision with pavement, curbs, or trees!

Bicycle frames and forks get most of the attention when it comes to discussing aesthetics. Beautifully painted tubes, polished chrome lugs and forks, tasteful geometries, and combinations of striping, contrasting colors, and applied or painted graphics tend to be the things that catch one’s eye. Bar wrap can be tastefully understated or a garish adornment. Harlequin-style wrap fails to impress me at all, but I rather like the look of Benotto tape for some strange reason.

I like how some components have been made “special” with ornamentation that does little or nothing to improve functionality, whether that be through engraving, pantographing, or other additional decoration (like the Arabesque designs of early Shimano 600 or the filligree of a Carnielli stem), or the simplicity and streamlined design of a Campy stem.

As I my own collection of components grows – and with it, my fascination for their separately functioning, yet collaborative nature – I find myself holding some “in reserve,” waiting for the “right” build to come along. Like the Dia Comp Royal Gran Compe brake levers pictured at the top of the page, for which I’m waiting around to see if I can score a matching set of calipers – and for which I’m also waiting for the “right” frame – I’m not sure whether the brake levers or the frame will drive the eventual build. It’s unclear to me whether the Royal Gran Compe levers are the chicken or the egg.

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