Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

22 February 2011

A Bike Boom Baby: Weyless

I first started to ride long distances at a very interesting time, at least for cycling.  The so-called Bike Boom of the early-to-mid 1970's was in full swing. I, like other Americans, was learning about the differences between various drop-bar bikes and what made one derailleur better than another.


Adolescents like me could only drool and dream over bikes with Campagnolo kit.  However, there was a small group of cyclists who were engineers or machinists by profession and believed that Campagnolo's products could stand improvement.  In fact, Weyless** founder Bill Tabb was said to be envisioning an entire line of components, all of which would have had more advanced design than any others that were available at the time. 




The first products Weyless (Aren't their graphics sooo '70's?) offered were their hubs.  They weighed about 25 percent less than Campagnolo's counterparts.  And they cost about that much less.   They were made with sealed cartridge bearings.  Today that seems commonplace; however, when those hubs were introduced around 1974, it was exotic.  So was the mirror-bright finish that was anodized with a clear coat. 


That same year, Weyless came out with a pedal that was orginally designed and made by Bob Reedy.  If it looks familiar, that's because a number of pedals that came into the market, and which are in use today, were inspired by--or are outright copies of--this simple, elegant design.




Soon afterward, Weyless came out with a two-bolt seatpost that served as the inspiration for SunTour's Superbe post as well as other designs.  So far, so good.  Right?


Well, a couple of things happened that neither Tabb nor anyone else in the company anticipated.  The first was the Oil Shock of 1974.  That should have gotten more people to ride bikes and use their cars less.  But, for reasons no one has explained, things didn't work that way.  


By the time the Oil Shock hit, most people who were inclined to buy new bikes had already bought them.  As good bikes are durable items, their owners would not be on the market for another any time soon after buying their first (or only) bike.  Plus, many people bought bikes and rode them once or twice before giving up.  That's why some of you have been able to find some nice vintage bikes in good condition.


That also meant fewer people were in the market for bike parts, let alone cutting-edge ones.  And, instead of going ahead with the rest of a component lineup--which could have found a niche market--they decided to make a line of bike clothes out of what may have been the first high-tech Merino wool.  


That in itself might not have been a problem save for the fact that those garments were guaranteed not to shrink.  And guess what happened?  What the company had to pay in replacements and reimbursements for their jerseys alone was enough to sink it.  It seems that, all told, Weyless was in business for no more than five years.


Today Weyless is one of those names that's been relegated to the footnotes of cycling history.  But, whatever the faults of their clothing or business model were, their parts--which were made in Rochester, NY--would serve as models or inspirations for other bike parts made decades later.


**The Weyless company I'm discussing in this post bears absolutely no relationship to a line of parts  and mountain bikes by the same name that was marketed by the mail/online retailer Supergo during the late 1990's and the first years of the 21st Century.  Supergo would be acquired by Performance Bicycles, which apparently killed off the Weyless and Supergo brands as well as Scattante, Supergo's house brand of road bikes.

2 comments:

  1. Thanks for the interesting bit of history, I had not heard of them before.

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  2. Thank you for the history of Weyless. Where did you obtain the information? I was thinking today about trying to buy something that was made in the USA and not in China and got a bug to look for Weyless and Hi-E products and was unpleasantly surprised to discover that both are out of business and have no entries in wikipedia. I hope American manufacturing can make a come back.

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