I believe that it was common practice back then (60's and early '70's, don't know about earlier), for many LBS people to advise against going to the six-speed freewheel because of the increased rear wheel dish, which in turn reduced the strength of the rear wheel. Remember, they were using wider 1/2 x 3/32 chains and cogs (and some of the 3- and 4-speed stuff used 1/2 x 1/8 chain), and they were not re-designing the hub flange spacing to accomodate the wider freewheel. They were just adding a longer axle, and a couple more washers or a longer spacer, thus increasing freewheel side spoke tension and reducing the tension on the left side to a point where the spokes barely had any tension at all. In addition, rims were lighter in those days, and "box-section" rims were uncommon, with the exception of those for tubular tires. They worked well with the 5-speed freewheel, but increasing the wheels' dish made the overall package less reliable.
In the mid-70's Sun Tour came out with the "Ultra-6" and "Ultra-7" freewheels and chains, and Shimano re-designed their hubs to help reduce the amount of dish required for 6- and 7-speed freewheels. Then came the "hard-anodized" rims, which were also made thicker and heavier. As time passed, rims got heavier, which allowed the use of fewer spokes per wheel, and more cogs on the freewheel or cassette. I would also suspect that those early 6-speed freewheels, when 5-speeds were more common, were probably of a more limited production. Possibly the same for the 5-speed freewheels, at a time when 3- and 4-speed freewheels were more common. People were also more resistant to change in years past. Now, in America at least, most consumers think that more gears is better, without taking into consideration the design changes which had to take place in order for such items to be available to the masses. We just want more, and don't care how it is made possible.
Like many of you, I honestly didn't know that 6-speed freewheels were available prior to the 70's. However, prior to the bike boom of the early 70's, there probably wasn't enough demand for such improvements to justify changes in production. I don't really know what the real facts were, regarding the earlier manufacturing of these freewheels, but I thought I would share with the group, some of the reasons why 6-speed freewheels were slow catching on, which I experienced while working in bike shops at the time. Just my humble opinion.
"Bicycle Mark" Perkins Visalia, CA
On Fri, 23 Feb 2001 10:03:13 -0500 "Donald Dundee" <firstname.lastname@example.org>
> According to "Le Monde De Daniel Rebour", page 176, there is a Cyclo
> freewheel (French) six speed freewheel dated 1963. I guess the French had it
> way back then. I don't have a reference for it's application (on a cycle),
> but you can be sure that someone used it.
> ken denny
> >From: "Hilary Stone" <Hilary.Stone@Tesco.net>
> >To: email@example.com, RALEIGH531@aol.com
> >CC: Classicrendezvous@bikelist.org
> >Subject: Re: [CR]Now: Six-speed freewheels Was: catalogue #3
> >Date: Fri, 23 Feb 2001 09:01:02 +0000
> >As far as I am aware the first production bike with a six-speed freewheel
> >was the Moulton Speed Six in 1964/5. Although not common it was a genuine
> >catalogued production machine built in reasonable numbers. It used a
> >special freewheel with small top sprockets and a modified Cyclo Benelux P60 rear
> >derailleur (modified by Cyclo not Moulton).
> >Hilary Stone
> > >From: Chuck Schmidt <firstname.lastname@example.org>
> > >To: RALEIGH531@aol.com
> > >Cc: Classicrendezvous@bikelist.org
> > >Subject: [CR]Now: Six-speed freewheels Was: catalogue #3
> > >Date: Fri, Feb 23, 2001, 7:40 am
> > >
> > > RALEIGH531@aol.com wrote:
> > >>
> > >> Thanks for the catalog pages.
> > >> I was surprised to see a 13-26 six speed Regina freewheel in 1964(?)
> > >> Was this intended for touring and would it have required 126 spacing?
> > >>
> > >> Pete Geurds
> > >> Douglassville, Pa
> > >
> > >
> > > Good question!!! This always puzzled me. In the mid-1950s the racing
> > > bikes came with 4-speed freewheels, even though there were 5-speed
> > > freewheels available. In the mid-1960s the bikes came with 5-speed
> > > freewheels even though there were 6-speed freewheels available.
> > >
> > > I have heard that the early 70s Raleigh Professional was the first
> > > production bike that came with a 6-speed freewheel (Atom) and I don't
> > > think 6-speed freewheels were generally in use until the mid-1970s.
> > >
> > > Seems like there was a ten year lag each time before anyone decided they
> > > really needed another gear. Quite a contrast to today's drivetrains
> > > with the number of speeds in the rear increasing every couple of years.
> > >
> > > Chuck Schmidt
> > > South Pasadena, California
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