Re: [Classicrendezvous] Road racing and derailleur gears

Date: Thu, 02 Nov 2000 09:34:15 -0500
From: Jerry Moos <>
To: Hilary Stone <>
CC: Jonathan Cowden <>,
Subject: Re: [Classicrendezvous] Road racing and derailleur gears
References: <>

Well, you've debunked yet another myth, Hilary, one which I am this time fortunately NOT guilty of having repeated. I've read in more than one place that fixed gears were required for many years in the TdF. I was always skeptical that this could have been done with all the descents in the Alps and Pyrenees. Amazing how often myths make it into print and thereby gain the considerable credibility of the printed word. I do still think the considerable development of multiple gearing in the touring market during decades in which it was banned or severely restricted in the TdF illsutrates Joanthan's point that UCI equipment rules will not necessarily stifle inovation in the the industry generally. After all, banning a given device from Formula 1 doesn't prevent it turning up in next year's Ford Focus. And the whole mountain bike market, which now dominates the industry, developed with almost total disregard for what the UCI was doing with competition regulations.


Jerry Moos

Hilary Stone wrote:
> Jerry Moos wrote:
> Good points, Jonathan, I think this was well documented in The Dancing
> Chain, which
> > recounted how tourists were using cable operated derailleurs from very early
> in the
> > 20th century, while racers did not use derailleurs for several decades, and
> > even then
> > for several years insisted on devices like the Cambio Corsa which were very
> crude
> > compared to the touring derailleurs of the day.
> Derailleurs were banned for Coureurs (the top class and main classification)
> in the Tour de France from 1919 to 1937. Super Tourists class were allowed
> them and used them too. Road racers widely started to use derailleurs in
> other races from about 1932 onwards. Simplex had a derailleur gear that was
> specifically aimed at racers and the Super Champion Osgear became very
> popular after its introduction in 1934 and was the only derailleur allowed
> in the TdF in 1937. The next year, the Italian Vittoria Margherita gear was
> allowed too. Road racers had used derailleurs prior to WWI in the Tour but
> restrictions weere imposed some years on gears even then by the organisers.
> One year, the organisers even tried to demand fixed wheels. The riders
> rebelled and the organisers relented allowing freewheels which were
> practically essential on the long descents. Derailleurs were only used by by
> a very small number of riders (be they tourists or racers ) in the early
> years of the 20th century despite a a lot of experimenting. In the 20s
> tourists began to take to the derailleur increasingly fast and racers were
> not far behind. Even in the first British road race held in the 20th century
> at Brooklands in 1933 most of the field were using gears, with a sizeable
> percentage using derailleurs.
> The Campagnolo Corsa gear and others of its ilk were ridden by very few
> riders. Pre-WWII it was not seen I think outside of Italy. The Super
> Champion Osgear worked pretty well and had a speedy change in skilled hands.
> Immediately post-WWII the Simplex Tour de France took over which also gave a
> speedy and more reliable change. It's very easy to get the wrong impression
> by just studying what gears were available. In practice only a small number
> of different gears were widely available and used. Very few chose the Campag
> Corsa.though it was seen a few times on sponsored riders machines in the
> TdF.
> And Jonathan Cowden wrote:
> >
> >> Hi Hilary. Two points. First, I don't understand why regulation
> >> and technological innovation need be mutually exclusive. To the extent
> >> that the customer bases for the various types of road and off-road riding
> >> are vibrant but not coterminous, manufacturers retain significant
> >> market-based incentives to explore avenues of frame and component design
> >> which may advance enjoyment and/or performance in various sectors of the
> >> sport, broadly considered. Take, for instance, an example which you
> >> mention, pneumatic tires. It is impossible for me to believe that the
> >> UCI stand on such tires would have had or would now have any effect
> >> whatsoever on their dissemination within the broader community of cyclists,
> >> or on market incentives to produce them. Many of the people who came into
> >> bicycle shops have no knowledge of what the pros are using or what they
> >> endorse; and quite frankly, they couldn't care less. What they desire
> >> are comfortable point and click bikes at reasonable prices.
> >> Second, I don't think that fancy technology will have much if any
> >> effect on cycling's status in places like the United States. As a
> >> matter of fact, I think that it is the mundane aspects of cycling that
> >> deserve more emphasis: commuting, recreation, safe streets, equal rights
> >> for bicyclists, and the like. I find it disturbing that in Ithaca, a
> >> very safe place to ride, large numbers of people stick their
> >> technow....e bike on their car and drive it to the trails, club ride, etc.
> >> As long as this sort of behavior remains, for whatever reason, the
> >> predominant paradigm of cycling stateside, I see little chance for the
> >> sporting aspects to move beyond second class status.
> >>
> Bicycle and bicycle component manufacturers will not generally build
> bicycles or bicycle components which cannot be used in their intended field.
> And cycling is pretty sport led. You only have to see how cheap mountain
> bikes that will never see mud ape their serious cousins. So if the UCI ban
> sloping top tube frames manufacturers of road racing bikes will build their
> frames with horizontal top tubes whatever their merits. It would be
> commercial suicide to do otherwise. And there is no doubt that the ban on
> derailleur gears in the TdF from 1919 slowed gear development for road
> racers. If the UCI starts to regulate mountain bike sport as closely as it
> does the road sport we will definitely see a reduction in the designs
> available. For example if rear suspension was banned in downhill races would
> manufacturers continue to build downhill bikes with rear suspension? Of
> course the answer is no.
> If the UCI had banned pneumatic tyres for racing would that have meant
> that pneumatic tyres were not developed? Probably not but their development
> would have been radically slowed until the inevitable happened and the UCI
> relented.
> Cycling as a sport booms every time it becomes glamorous or cool. There
> is no doubt that Chris Boardman's Olympic medal in Barcelona in 1992 meant
> that more people outside of the sport in Britain took a look and thought it
> was appealing. And the same happenened in the US after Los Angeles Olympics
> in '84 and with Greg Lemond in the late 80s. That does not mean that they
> will instantly get on their bikes and start commuting by bike rather than by
> car. But what some will do is to buy a bike and ride it for leisure and fun
> perhaps on cycle paths. They will slowly become a little fitter and some
> will then try the odd commute. If there's other encouragement (higher petrol
> prices, more congestion, increasingly difficult parking, slower safer motor
> traffic, a few cycle routes and increasing numbers of other cyclists) may be
> tempted to give it a go themselves. Sticking their bike on the back of the
> car and then riding it is a just the first step towards greater bike use ­
> only some riders will take that next step but those few are far better than
> none.
> Hilary Stone