Technology and cycling traditions seemed to stand still for decades until mountain biking came along and forced roadies to catch up…and at lightning speeds. Here are ten things that were common in cycling before the 1990s, some sadly overlooked, some certainly not…
Brake levers with external cables
Long before the advent of integrated brake and shift levers, regular brake levers were often unwieldy horns with lanky cables sticking out of them.
These were wires that rubbed into the spaces between your thumbs and fingers, sometimes leaving you raw. Brutally, they can sometimes even catch other riders when the going gets rough and personal, often causing your handlebars to tip sideways and leaving you stranded on the road.
However, some of them, notably Campagnolo’s high-end countersunk levers, were true works of art… but nonetheless, they are probably better preserved in the distant past.
Cloth and plastic handlebar tape
After riding gel and padded bar tape for so long, it breaks my bones to think of all the years I spent riding on dirty, frayed, paper-thin cloth bar tape that just wasn’t much use anymore. at the very least add grip to the classic Cinelli 65 and 66 handlebars of yesteryear.
When the dry days came you could even rub it clean, well, vaguely, and some even used Pump Whitener, um.
Then sometime in the early 1980s came the bright and colorful Benotto bar tape. Cheap, extraordinarily cheerful, completely handleless and flimsy plastic, adding a touch of Italian class to the otherwise functional and drab cockpit area.
Along with the duct tape, this is probably best remembered as well (unfortunately), although the new Benotto duct tape packs are still lurking on eBay and I find them tempting, but my hands would never forgive me!
There was a time when most cyclists also had a shoe, and many of us had to wear them too often to keep our aluminum cleats stapled or even screwed into our wooden or leather soles.
Classic black racing shoes have inspired many modern shoes of late, but when it came to cleats and “nailing” them, they were a nightmare.
> When should I get new studs?
Small thumbtacks and small hammers on a Saturday night were the order of the day, and it wasn’t unheard of for those bolts to fall off during a run or ride. I couldn’t imagine going back to that primitive process, though a pair of perforated Detto Pietro shoes in soft leather would still make my head spin…but not my pedals.
When Mars first launched their infamous Mars bar, they saw cycling as a great way to promote it and duly sponsored the all-conquering Belgian team Flandria.
The logic of the 1970s might well assume that sugar was the rocket fuel athletes needed, and for many years that Mars bar that often melts in your back pocket was indeed the savior of the era.
Mars Bars certainly still exist, and I reminisced a while back just to reacquaint myself with the clumsy, sick tastes of my youth, and, as it should, it was a one-time thing.
I think it would be fair to say that mountain biking endangered the full-size pump and introduced us to the arm- and wrist-ripping evil that is the modern mini-pump.
While premium long-leg pumps still exist, they are no longer cheap or easy to find; They also don’t come in a myriad of different sizes, and of course many modern frames have geometry that doesn’t favor a clean fit.
Sometimes they were unwieldy, they could fall over or bend in half, sometimes they served as weapons… but I for one would welcome the return of these noisy gems of yesteryear. It’s probably the only thing on this list that I would say is better than the modern equivalent.
It’s hard to tell if it was pure ego and machismo, a lack of common sense, or the fact that lower gear options were hard to find on premium bikes before the turn of the millennium.
Looking back though, it’s unimaginable how and why we struggled with the old crippling gear ratios.
42×52 front chainrings with a 13-18 rear bolt block were the norm. It would be fair to say that climbing 20% inclines while weaving and sinking your knees and back was not exactly healthy and has certainly hurt many of us in the long run, both physically and psychologically.
Although in many old-school circles wearing this type of gear is still considered daring, it’s truly crazy, at least for me, to imagine wearing them again.
In fact, there are some who have an odd fondness for the dreaded hairnet ‘helmets’ of yesteryear, and similar things are still worn in some other sports and institutions.
When tilted slightly to the side and with a Roger De Vlaeminck-esque twist, they have a kind of retro-chic aura. Compared to early container-lid hard hats, it’s probably no surprise that they’ve been delayed well beyond their reasonable expiration date.
> Check out the best bike helmets of 2022
However, from a practical standpoint, they were about as useful as a Barbie umbrella in a tornado. Sure, maybe those half-inch-thick, foam-padded, leather-wrapped strips can salvage a scratch or two, but they gave absolutely no protection from impact and were little more than pointless, regulation strains for straightening hair.
Thin nylon raincoats were popular in the 1970s and 1980s, and while they insulated well against the wind, they often offered little protection from the rain and had almost no ventilation apart from a front zipper.
A modern cycling jacket (thank goodness)
Well, as if that wasn’t bad enough, then came the thick, clear plastic raincoat, originally created as a way for professional cyclists to cover up and still show off their sponsor’s colors and race numbers when things get hot. they wet a lot.
Sure, they protected from the rain, but they were also an effective option for cyclists, and not even 10% as useful as the best waterproof cycling jackets of the last decade.
For some strange reason, these plastic scares lasted until the mid-2000s. If someone had thought of stamping decent waterproof-breathable jackets earlier, we might have been spared the simmering a long time ago.
Wool shorts with real suede
They started out as one thing, but after a couple of hot bio machine washes, they turned into something totally different and devilish: the “good” wool shorts of yore, shorts with a real, thin chamois of window cleaner.
There’s no getting around it (as merino junkies attest), the wool feels comfortable against the skin, and there’s also a certain appeal to having a good chamois rub against your prized bits. However, when they get wet, they get that soft, tight feeling in the crotch that doesn’t dry out as easily.
> Check out the best chamois creams of 2022
Then comes washing, and after a while they tended to shrink, often at a similar brevity to shorts, and suede often shrank differently than wool. Also, you almost always had a hard, wrinkled, sandpaper-like chamois between your legs that you needed to massage into a softer, more manageable shape.
Thank heavens for decent lycra and synthetic panels.
Bruises or black eyes were a normal part of cycling’s brief, pre-beam era, thanks to the not-so-great days of having to wear braces to hold up our shorts and tracksuits.
Beneath every retro-chic fleece jersey of yesteryear lay the stretchy, hidden secret of cycling, and I’m not talking about shaved legs… it was your dad’s suspenders. Orthotics were a thing of a bygone era (even then), but they were the only viable way to keep pace and protect your lower back from wind chill.
> The best bib shorts
As much as they were adjustable (unlike most bibs), the suspenders were incredibly uncomfortable, almost inevitably jumping up and catching you in the eye trying to “fit” you. But pinging and pulling the brakes was also a lot of fun, or at least for the perpetrator…
What are your nostalgic memories or nightmares? Let us know in the comments below, and also check out our list focused on bike component technology from the past (and… think we’ve forgotten how bad bike lights were? We haven’t, we just think which is well deserved. own article!)