Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

21 April 2016

The Cosmos, By Zeus

Last year, "The Retrogrouch" wrote an excellent article about the Basque component (and bicycle) maker Zeus, which was based in Spain.  They began manufacturing in 1926--a decade before Campagnolo--and seem to have continued until the late 1980s, or possibly the early 1990s.

Zeus is interesting for a number of reasons. One is they made almost everything on their bicycles:  Apparently, only the tires, tubes and spokes were not made by them, or one of their subsidiaries.  Perhaps only Raleigh, at least before the Bike Boom and on their three-speed models, manufactured as much as, or more of, their bikes than Zeus did. ("Schwinn-Approved" components were made by other manufacturers, e.g., Weinmann and Dia-Compe brakes, and Huret and Shimano derailleurs.)

Another reason why Zeus is worth looking at is that, while they developed a reputation for copying the designs of other manufacturers, they added their own touches and enhancements.  For example, their centerpull brakes were patterned after Weinmanns but were made with tighter clearances, tire guides (like the ones found on high-end sidepull brakes of the time), recessed allen bolts in the pivots--and a nicer finish.  And other components, such as the cranksets and derailleurs, used their Campagnolo counterparts as their starting points but departed in some details that didn't change their function but gave them character--and, often, made them lighter.  And perhaps no components more conspicuously exemplified the "drillium" trend of the 1970s than the "2000" line of components.

The funny thing is that the more Zeus came up with their own designs --they accumulated over 100 patents in their history-- the more they were criticized as "Campy copies".  Or so it seemed.

Even more ironically, those who made such criticisms probably never saw the Zeus part that was, perhaps, the nearest clone of the Campagnolo part that inspired it.  Actually, most of those critics didn't even realize the part in question--and others of the "gruppo" of which it was a part-- were made by Zeus because they were sold under the name "Alfa".

(The Spanish language doesn't have "ph" and "gh" diagraphs, as we have in English.  That is why it's spelled "Alfa", not "Alpha".)

Now tell me this "Alfa" derailleur doesn't look like the first version of the Campagnolo Valentino Extra:



Zeus Alfa


Campagnolo Valentino extra, first version

About the only visible differences between the two are the toothed pulleys on the Alfa, and the finish on the pivot bolts and adjustment screws of each one (black on the Alfa, chrome on the Valentino).  I never tried the Alfa, but I imagine that it doesn't shift much, if at all, differently from the Valentino--which was unexceptional, even for its time.

At the end of my first paragraph, I said that Zeus seemed to have continued until the late '80's or early '90's.  I could not find any information on when they succumbed (If Nietzsche were Greek, would he have declared that Zeus is dead?), but I had long thought that it was in the early or mid-80s, not long after they produced the 2000 series, their most renowned components.  Yet, while trolling eBay, I came across this:



European derailleur makers began to copy Shimano and SunTour designs during the early and mid-1980s, when those Japanese companies' patents started to expire.  Now, for all I know, Zeus may have made the "Cosmos" derailleur before that, as Spain was notorious for its lax patent laws.  Then again, it may have been made for them by someone else, although Zeus wasn't known for contracting other manufacturers.

Whatever the case, I never saw a "Cosmos" derailleur before.  Perhaps they were not produced for very long, or were not exported to the US.  If nothing else, it--ironically enough--belies the stereotype of Zeus as a "Campy copier".

15 comments:

  1. Hello my friend. I knew I would find one of your blogs. I don't know if you remember me but you taught me in college. Would love to catch up. Email me at Safeena.khan@live.com

    ReplyDelete
  2. I restored a Zeus-equipped Raleigh Competition for a friend, and boy was it an adventure. I ground down a 16mm socket to where its walls were thin enough that I could pull the crank bolts. I think the cranks had never been removed because the bottom bracket was bone dry and full of rust. For the life of me, I couldn't get the rear derailleur to shift onto the big cog. Perhaps the 5-speed freewheel had been changed out to provide lower gears. At some point, somebody had removed the center-pull brakes and replaced them with Shimano 600 sidepulls. But I changed the brakes to long-reach Tektro R559s because the Shimano pads rubbed on the tires. Not a good way to stop your bike. Also built new wheels using Sun CR18 rims and Quando sealed bearing hubs. This bike originally had sew-ups and my friend was happy to be riding clinchers. OK, so it might not be period correct, but it's a good rider and we didn't spend a huge amount of money to get it rolling again.

    ReplyDelete
  3. (If Nietzsche were Greek, would he have declared that Zeus is dead?)

    GROAN. (said with a smile)

    ReplyDelete
  4. I'll be the first to admit that all I know about Zeus bicycles is just what I've read. I've never actually seen one in the flesh. I do however have a little experience with basque firearms. The quality ranges from excellent to bloody awful. The best basque birdguns can rival their English and Italian counterparts, the worst ones make really nice tomato stakes. What the heck does this have to do with bikes? Well in many companies that made guns the bicycle was a natural companion product. The British firm of BSA comes to mind. The problem with the Basques is that for most of the 20th century they relied heavily on a decentralized cottage industry. This was often quite literally some poor guy filing out a bin full of parts by hand at his home. Quality control was pretty non existent. The infuriating thing is you can't condemn any certain make or model as one may be very good and the next terrible. It just depended on exactly who made the parts, who assembled them and were they hungover that day. I'm going to guess that that it was the same with bikes (or motorcycles,tractors,washing machines etc). In the last 20 years or so many Basque companies have seen the need to modernise and now turn out a good product so please don't think I'm bashing.

    ReplyDelete
  5. Safeena--I'll be in touch soon.

    MT--Even though I like and appreciate period-correct restorations, I don't do them myself, mainly because I don't have the time, money or space needed for the collecting that would be involved. And, if the bike is a good rider, I am happier to see it ridden than hanging. It sounds like you did well with that Raleigh. (Is it an Competition? As I recall, that model actually came equipped with Zeus components for a couple of years.)

    N/A--I'm glad to oblige.


    Phillip--In an earlier post, I wrote about BSA--which stands for Birmingham Small Arms--and the connection between the bicycle and firearms industries. I remember reading somewhere that Miyata made rifles before they got into bikes; I'm sure there are other companies that have made both bikes and guns. Also, the freewheel, as I understand, was invented by a WWI veteran. He got the idea for the ratcheting mechanism from machine guns, which were one of the new high-tech weapons (along with mustard gas) in "the war to end all wars".

    Also interesting what you say about Basque manufacturing. When you mentioned their "decentralized cottage industries", the fact that they made firearms made perfect sense to me: If nothing else, the Basques are about being, well, Basques. If you ask them their nationality, most will say they are Basques and mention, in passing, where in Spain or France they live. It always seemed to me that firearms-making was a province of people who want to do things their way, if not loners or hermits.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I think you've nailed down the Basque national identity very well. They're one of if not the oldest ethnic groups in Europe. They've always had to struggle most recently with Franco. I find their history fascinating.

      Delete
    2. I must have missed your blog on BSA. I'll go back and look for it. Cheers

      Delete
    3. Phillip--I wrote about BSA a while back: http://midlifecycling.blogspot.com/2012/12/gi-bike.html

      The Basques really are interesting. According to linguists, their language is not related to any other in the world. Until recently, they have resisted influence from most of the cultures around them. Yet they have been, traditionally, some of the most devoutly Roman Catholic people in the world.

      Delete
    4. Yes I've heard some scholars say that the Basque language has some similarities to Finnish but the connection is tenuous at best.

      Delete
    5. I've heard about that, too. Interestingly, Finnish is related to, of all languages, Turkish.

      Delete
    6. Yep, one of the early Competitions. About 1971 or 1972. It has a blue-white color scheme similar to the Gran Sport models of that era.

      Delete
    7. Yep, one of the early Competitions. About 1971 or 1972. It has a blue-white color scheme similar to the Gran Sport models of that era.

      Delete
    8. Ah, yes, I remember that blue-white color scheme. One year Raleigh offered the bike in two color choices: blue ("lagoon blue", I think) with white panels, outlines and decals --or the "negative" version, which was white with blue panels and such.

      Delete
  6. Thanks for the plug ;) I have to say that I've never seen that Cosmos derailleur either.

    I do understand that Zeus is now part of Orbea, which uses the Zeus name on some components - stems or seatposts mostly. I'm not sure when that happened exactly, though.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Brooks--I'm happy to plug your blog.

      No one seems to know when, exactly, Zeus stopped being Zeus and whether they were absorbed by Orbea or whether Zeus ceased doing business and Orbea bought the rights to the name.

      Delete