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Old 12-24-06, 03:36 PM   #1
alk
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suntour road history

I've become kind of a Suntour afficionado and therefore have spent some time researching the various road components that the company produced. It's difficult to locate comprehensive information, so I am putting some of it down here. I'll focus on the higher-end road groups and also some of the interesting and esoteric parts I've come across. I'll try to do it chronologically. A useful source for me has been the article "Sunset for Suntour," although it is more of a historical overview:
http://www.users.globalnet.co.uk/~hadland/page35.htm

The invention of the slant parallelogram rear derailleur seems like a good place to start. Nobuo Ozaki of Maeda (Suntour's parent company) invented the design in 1964, and it was soon patented. The patent would expire in 1984, and Suntour's competitors would adopt the design immediately thereafter. In the twenty year interim, Suntour's derailleurs were typically superior to their contemporaries. The primary benefit of the slant parallelogram design is that the distance between the jockey wheels and rear cogs varies less as the derailleur is moved.

The first slant parallelogram derailleur was Suntour's Grand Turismo model. Suntour also introduced other early advances, such as splined freewheel sprockets.

Another interesting part came in 1966, Suntour's Spirt (not Sprint, or Spirit) front derailleur. It was a "top normal" derailleur, in that you move the lever in the opposite direction to shift up or down. Thus both shift levers move the chain to a higher gear when pressed forward. Apparently the Spirt was produced for some time (it can be found in the 1987 catalog). Rivendell sells 1978 models for $15.
http://www.rivbike.com/webalog/shift...urs/17107.html

Not much information is around from the late 60s or early 70s. I think the top model from around that time period was the Suntour V.

In 1975 Suntour introduced their Cyclone derailleurs, the new top model. They were quite a bit cheaper than Nuovo Record and shifted very well. 1975 Suntour Parts Catalog:
http://www.wooljersey.com/gallery/v/.../SunTour/1975/

In 1977 the new top group was Superbe. This year also saw Ultra-6 spaced freewheels, which allowed a rider to run a 6-speed freewheel with 120mm dropout spacing. In 1979 Ultra-7 allowed 7 speeds with 126mm. Superbe remained top of the line until 1981. 1980 Suntour Catalog:
http://www.yellowjersey.org/stour80a.html

Suntour Symmetric shifters were an esoteric piece of early 1980s Japanese engineering. They could be mounted on frames with a single DT shifter braze-on (like some of the Shimano AX components took) or with a supplied clamp-on belt. They are unique because shifting the rear derailleur automatically trims the front via a cam mechanism. Unfortunately, the trim only works as you downshift the rear derailleur, so as you go back and forth, the trim will eventually move the FD too far inward. Interesting nonetheless.
http://www2.flickr.com/photos/slchang/35285580/

In 1981 Superbe Pro was introduced. Good stuff, the early to mid 80s Superbe Pro friction group is probably my favorite. Commands a premium price on ebay (I would know, I'm selling a group on there right now). Superbe was now second-best, with Cyclone below that. ARx, AR and BL (Blue Line, which featured interesting blue details on the components) were also introduced. Brakes and brake levers were rebadged Dia-Compes, hubs were Sunshine, stems and seatposts were possibly SR, and I think the cranks and BBs were made by Sugino (all the ones I've seen come with a Sugino marked grease condom, in any case). A picture of the 1985 Superbe Pro group (bottom image, the top is Superbe from 1979):
http://www.classicrendezvous.com/Jap..._sup_grp79.htm
Blue Line:
http://www.classicrendezvous.com/Jap..._blue_line.htm

A note on Superbe Pro BBs: Suntour used a weird taper for their Superbe Pro BBs of the time. The closest match other than a Superbe Pro BB would be Campagnolo square taper, from what I understand. I think this is the approach that Phil Wood recommends.

In 1985 Shimano introduced indexed SIS shifting. Suntour underestimated the necessity of a competing product and postponed development of an indexed system until 1986, at which point SIS had become quite popular. During that year, Suntour Accushift was quickly developed.

In 1986 the Sprint group appeared, a friction group placed in between Cyclone and Superbe (Superbe Pro was dropped for a year). The Sprint shifters included a ratchet mechanism (Suntour Power Shift) that disengaged the friction mechanism as you pulled back. A lot of people like Power Shift levers, and they are often compared to Simplex retrofrictions. There are popular Suntour barcons that use the same design. There had been ratcheting models on lower end Suntour groups previously, and future Accushift models would also have ratchet modes. You can buy Suntour LD-4850 Power Shift levers at Velo Orange. These are Sprint shifters.
http://www.velo-orange.com/suldsh.html

In 1987 Accushift was introduced. There were technical problems. Further market share was lost to Shimano. Accushift groups included Superbe Pro, Sprint 9000, Cyclone 7000, α-5000, and α-3000. Non-indexed versions of the second- and third-best groups' RD and levers were referred to simply as Sprint and Cyclone. Superbe was dropped. The easiest way to tell the difference between the newer and the older Superbe Pro groups is the logo font. Newer cranksets used 130bcd instead of 144bcd. Aero brake levers were introduced. 1987 Suntour Dealer Catalog:
http://www.wooljersey.com/gallery/v/.../SunTour/1987/

In 1989 the lineup was changed again. From top to bottom: Superbe Pro, Sprint, GPX, Olé, and Blaze. Olé was a response to Shimano Santé and featured white details. Didn't really take off. 1989 Catalog and additional scans from around the same time:
http://www.yellowjersey.org/stour89a.html
http://www.equusbicycle.com/bike/sun...tourscans.html

Most of the problems with Accushift had been cleaned up by 1990. Superbe Pro was still top-quality componentry, but Shimano had taken over the market. Superbe Pro sealed hubs were of course excellent. Cassette models appeared in the early 1990s. Micro Drive components employed smaller bolt circle diameters to permit smaller chainring sizes: essentially an early compact crankset that was copied by Shimano two years later. This, along with other mountain-specific advances (some of which were licensed from other companies to kickstart declining sales, e.g. WTB Grease Guard bearings) failed to realize its potential due to the market already lost to Shimano. Accushift Plus and Powerflo cogs were shaped to smoothen shifting and competed with Shimano's Hyperglide system. The famous hidden spring brakeset demonstrated Suntour's engineering expertise. It is now quite collectible.

Suntour SL replaced Sprint in 1991. A bit from the 1992 catalog:
http://www.yellowjersey.org/stour92a.html
Superbe Pro BRS Hidden Spring Calipers:
http://www.yellowjersey.org/brax2.html

One last unusual piece of engineering was the Suntour Command Shifter. They were something like STI or Ergo and mounted just inside the brake levers on the handlebars. The front shifter had the ratchet mechanism, and the rear could shift in either indexed or friction modes. They worked well, save for the fact that you couldn't shift from the smaller to the larger chainring from the drops (which is when you would want to do so). If you were clever, though, you could solve this by using the Suntour Spirt derailleur I mentioned before. A picture of command shifters:
http://www.ivycycles.com/misc/Desktop-Pages/Image9.html

Suntour stopped producing components in March of 1995. The name was bought by SR, but the component designs did not survive.

Wooljersey gallery with various Cyclone, Superbe, and Superbe Pro components.
http://www.wooljersey.com/gallery/v/...ngham/Suntour/
Some Japanese pages with pictures and information on Suntour parts.
http://members.jcom.home.ne.jp/suntour/
http://translate.google.com/translat...&hl=en&ie=UTF8
Suntour freewheels:
http://www.yellowjersey.org/stfw.html

Most of this has been cobbled together through online research, so it might not all be correct.

Last edited by alk; 01-15-07 at 06:03 PM.
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Old 12-24-06, 03:53 PM   #2
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Although I am pretty familiar with the SunTour story and this article, I greatly appreciate your taking the time to start this thread. I have Campagnolo derailleurs on the Bianchi and the two Capos strctly for aesthetic and historic reasons, but I actually prefer the operation of the SunTours on my Peugeots and my mountain bike.
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Old 12-24-06, 05:07 PM   #3
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I use 100 percent Shimano components but the price on the actual sr suntour ones is appealing. Are there any compatibility issues? How is the quality compared to Shimano?

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Old 12-24-06, 05:22 PM   #4
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Yes Superbe is very good stuff on a practical, functional level. The quality seems the same as Record (and sometimes nicer finish). I personally think Suntour stuff would be more collectable however, if they didn't copy Campy Record design so often. The same holds true for Zeus. Uniqueness counts for a few points and copying another company's design is simply admitting inferiority.

I know all the component companies took ideas from each other at some point. But the companies that strived to combine quality with unique design (Campy, Mavic, CLB, TA) are generally the most revered.

BTW: I have a very nice '76 Suntour Cyclone rear derailleur for $20 if anyone wants it.
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Old 12-24-06, 05:31 PM   #5
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Wow, thanks for taking the time to post this. I have been a big fan of Suntour for just a short time, but I think it is the best vintage componentry out there. I have had alot of enjoyment researching the history of Suntour, as you seem to have as well. I have five vintage bikes that I am either converting to Suntour, or upgrading the Suntour components already on them. I am having a ball putting everything together. One of these days I will start selling off my huge stash of Suntour "jewelry!" But not yet!
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Old 12-24-06, 05:45 PM   #6
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Quote:
Originally Posted by M-theory
Yes Superbe is very good stuff on a practical, functional level. The quality seems the same as Record (and sometimes nicer finish). I personally think Suntour stuff would be more collectable however, if they didn't copy Campy Record design so often. The same holds true for Zeus. Uniqueness counts for a few points and copying another company's design is simply admitting inferiority.

i wonder what you mean by suntour copying the record design ?
suntour developed the slant parallelogram; how much more innovative can you get ?
shimano and campy copied it as soon as the patent expired and they realized it was a superior design

how many bikes had their shifters upgraded to suntour power ratchet barcons ?
when did campy start making a derailleur with sealed bearing pullies and aluminum bolts like the superbe pro ?
what about the highly sought after superbe pro hidden spring brakeset, with ball bearing pivots.?.
or the superbe pro pedals with sealed bearings and the xc pro with built in grease guard ports ?
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Old 12-24-06, 06:50 PM   #7
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Quote:
Originally Posted by alk
I've become kind of a Suntour afficionado and therefore have spent some time researching the various road components that the company produced. ...
With your permission, I'd like to use this info as the nucleus of a major Web article on Sun Tour for http://sheldonbrown.com/...? Drop me an email if that's OK. captbike@sheldonbrown.com

Sheldon "Always Looking For Good Material" Brown
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Old 12-24-06, 07:22 PM   #8
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""i wonder what you mean by suntour copying the record design ?""

Well besides the derailleurs what Superbe parts aren't design-inspired by Nuovo Record in the 70's and early 80's? The Superbe parts I have are almost indentical! Seatposts, cranks, brakes, etc. All Campy clones.

Yes the slant-parallelogram derailleur design was innovative... as well as ratcheting bar-cons. Campy and others did take that... but hey, I'd bet that Suntour took just a bit more from Campy.

Again, it's good stuff just not entirely aesthetically original in the 70's and early 80's.
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Old 12-24-06, 07:28 PM   #9
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Quote:
Originally Posted by Sheldon Brown
With your permission, I'd like to use this info as the nucleus of a major Web article on Sun Tour for http://sheldonbrown.com/...? Drop me an email if that's OK. captbike@sheldonbrown.com

Sheldon "Always Looking For Good Material" Brown
feel free to use, re-use, or plagiarize whatever material is useful. I will be looking forward to the article.
cheers,
ashok
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Old 12-24-06, 07:54 PM   #10
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Until this year, I lacked proper education about Suntour. After purchasing several older road bikes at garage sales of which, over 80% had Suntour components, I found, despite their age, almost all Suntour components performed flawlessly. The more I learned about Suntour, the more I realized they were a worthy opponent to Shimano right up until Shimano developed index shifting. However, I did have a 93 Fuji road bike with 16 speed, Suntour downtube index shifters, deraileurs and freewheel. Once it was properly tuned it was a very reliable 16 speed.
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Old 12-24-06, 08:17 PM   #11
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Quote:
Originally Posted by M-theory
""i wonder what you mean by suntour copying the record design ?""

Well besides the derailleurs what Superbe parts aren't design-inspired by Nuovo Record in the 70's and early 80's? The Superbe parts I have are almost indentical! Seatposts, cranks, brakes, etc. All Campy clones.

Yes the slant-parallelogram derailleur design was innovative... as well as ratcheting bar-cons. Campy and others did take that... but hey, I'd bet that Suntour took just a bit more from Campy.

Again, it's good stuff just not entirely aesthetically original in the 70's and early 80's.
I feel like there wasn't all that there wasn't much room for innovation in seatpost or crank design
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Old 12-25-06, 02:31 AM   #12
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Thanks for the info... and congrats on being sorta immortalized on The Captain's site . I'm a Suntour nut too and have been collecting information and pictures for some years now but I've yet to put anything nearly as coherent in print. I was also kinda fuzzy on the whole Sprint/Accushift thing and thought that the only Sprint levers made were the Accushift ones with the little rubber inserts so thanks for that reference material as well. And since I'm such a sucker for rare/unusual parts I won't be right in the head 'till I grab a pair to go with my '86 Sprint derailleurs .
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Old 12-25-06, 09:15 AM   #13
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actually if someone has a 1986 suntour reference I would like to see it. as I understand Superbe Pro disappeared for one year in 1986 but Superbe was still around, and I think there was a 1986 Superbe friction ratcheting lever model. probably pretty elusive. in 1987 Superbe was dropped, Superbe Pro returned, and Sprint 9000 was indexed. but there was a non-indexed model, only referred to as Sprint. same thing with Cyclone 7000 and Cyclone. see the '87 dealer catalog.
edit: information added to original post.

Last edited by alk; 12-25-06 at 09:36 AM.
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Old 12-25-06, 12:02 PM   #14
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I don't quite understand M-theory. In the 70's and very early 80's everybody was copying Campy. Zeus was practically a clone. Mavic, Suntour, and Shimano cranks from that period looked very similar to Campy. By the early 80's Suntour and Shimano crank designs and derailleur designs started to deviate from the classic campy design.

The Superbe Pro seatpost was different from theNuovo Record with the two bolt design. It was tightened with two allen head bolts from the bottom of the clamp. That Superbe Pro design is copied by many seatposts today. I have a six and seven speed Superbe Pro indexed downtube shifter (from 20 years ago)that is far superior to the nine speed Shimano Dura Ace downtube shifter from just a couple of years ago.

Try putting together a mid 80's Superbe Pro Group and you will find how collectible Superbe Pro is.
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Old 12-25-06, 03:06 PM   #15
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Good Article. I too am interested in Superbe Pro stuff and tend to somewhat agree with you on the 1986 drop of Superbe Pro but can add a little. I'm not sure though if it was a complete drop but in my opinion more of a decision making period as to what to put together for a complete group for Superbe Pro sales continued through 1986. Schwinn as well as a couple others were still outfitting their bikes with Superbe Pro. I know because I purchased a 1986 Schwinn Peloton which was the top of the line off the shelf Schwinn at that time. It had a complete Superbe Pro drivetrain as well as Superbe Pro hubs on Araya sew ups but ironically it carried the other components you mention. Brakes were Royal Compe, Sugino 75 Crankset, and Tange sealed roller bearing headset. All nice equipment and in some cases (headset) superior to Superbe Pro. The Sugino 75 crankset is similar to the Superbe Pro but the the forging is different where the crankarm meets the five spokes, Superbe Pro smoothed it out. I would tend to believe that Suntour was pulling these groups together and trying to market them as complete groupos to bicycle manufacturers such as Schwinn. The problem though is I would think that by pulling these groups together during 1986 it cost them for they couldn't compete with complete groups by Shimano being offered up for less. By 1987, Schwinn which from my experience, was one of if not their largest purchaser moved over to Shimano for their high end road bike group. I know this because I also have a complete 1987 Prologue which was the next high end off the shelf by Schwinn and it came with a complete 105 indexed group from one end to the other. This is just my mid '80's amateur racing knowledge as I hung around a bike shop in south Texas.
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Old 12-25-06, 04:22 PM   #16
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. . . and Tange sealed roller bearing headset. All nice equipment and in some cases (headset) superior to Superbe Pro.
I would beg to differ that the Tange was superior to Superbe Pro (headset).
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Old 12-25-06, 07:01 PM   #17
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I would beg to differ that the Tange was superior to Superbe Pro (headset).

Many may differ on that opinion but IMO the Tange I am refering to is the G master which has the needle or roller bearings. Tange had the roller bearings both top and bottom (overkill kind of) and creates more surface area for shock, especially on the bottom which handles the most weight. A pretty indestructible and maintence free headset. I've heard bike shops comment both then and now about a G Master's quality. I've taken apart both headsets after years of riding and the races of the Superbe Pro ball bearings looked more worn then the G Master. The alloy finish is also right up there with the best of them and still is after twenty years. Again, IMO, the best headset would have roller bearings on the bottom for more surface area, weight distribution and longevity and then ball bearings on top for less rolling resistance where there is less load. I've even thought about mixing one up and throwing it together if it makes since.
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Old 12-26-06, 12:00 AM   #18
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Thanks! Excellent Thread!

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Old 12-26-06, 12:16 AM   #19
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Grant Peterson, of Rivendell, thinks that the Sun Tour friction shifter was about the best shifter ever. So, he got a supplier to copy it, and he sells it at Rivendell.com. This shifters can be used as either downtube shifters, or as bar-end shifters. They work well with five cogs or ten cogs, and everything in between.

So, a design that Sun Tour perfected in 1985 is still in production two decades later, and is still making people wonder WHY the world needs STI shifters.
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Old 12-26-06, 01:07 AM   #20
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Quote:
Originally Posted by rcevans
Again, IMO, the best headset would have roller bearings on the bottom for more surface area, weight distribution and longevity and then ball bearings on top for less rolling resistance where there is less load. I've even thought about mixing one up and throwing it together if it makes since.
FSA used to offer one of those, don't know if they still make it.
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Old 12-27-06, 06:18 PM   #21
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Thankyou for your article, I appreciate the effort and time you have put into the article. I can only imagine the many hours you have spent on your interest in Suntour.

Personally, I have many bikes all based on Campagnolo components of the 1950's to 1990's eras. It has been relatively easy to follow the Campagnolo intricacies due to the vast amount of knowledge available....But....I have always had a secret interest in Suntour Supurb Pro. I recently purchased an old (late 1980's) team Colnago equipped with Suntour Supurb Pro (my only non-Campy bike). I don't know the team and the paint job is a horrible bottle green and light mauve so I will probably paint it a solid colour in the future.

I have not had the support of an availability of material and knowledge of Suntour to spark the impetus to get another project on the go. You have given me that impetus; thanks. I will use your threads and timeline to understand the components and I am very greatful to you.
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Old 12-27-06, 09:09 PM   #22
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Great article! All my derailleur bikes are SunTour with the exception of the the two Varsitys. I have no complaints about them whatsoever. In fact, if I ever do get that Paramount or Volare or Premis, I'll build it with SunTour parts just to hear the moans and groans. And it will probably shift better.
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Old 12-27-06, 10:54 PM   #23
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Loved the article - I went SunTour Honor/Compe V/rachet downtube shifters on building the Magneet because I remember them as being the absolute best low-buck stuff available in the early 70's, and being all steel gave incredible strength for a long-haul tourer.

Happily, the final product showed that my memories were still accurate.
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Old 12-27-06, 10:55 PM   #24
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i added a few sentences concerning early 1990s technology, such as micro drive and grease guard. there was a lot of new stuff right before suntour went under. interesting.
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Old 12-27-06, 11:19 PM   #25
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If there's anything I like about late 1980's Suntour components more then anything else, it is their distinct uniqueness and quality finish (much like Campagnolo); and equally important, their general rarity. When was the last time you saw a nice machine decked out in full Sprint 9000, Ole, GPX, SL, Edge, or Radius (GPX and Sprint 9000 are both my favorites)?

Sure, you sometimes see a rear derailer or two, but a full groupset? Never. Breaks the monotony of seeing nothing but Campag Nuovo and Super Record.

-Kurt

P.S.: IMHO, the '80s Superbe Pro is just a overrated in comparison to its mechanically identical cousin, Sprint 9000. Furthermore, Sprint 9000 carries that unique, tasteful, and masterfully done grey anodized appearance that helps to pop every chrome detail out - especially on the Sprint brake calipers.
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