06 June 2012

A Derailleur I Don't Miss

As I've mentioned in earlier posts, I don't do "retro" for the sake of being retro.  I like the ride of high-quality steel frames, and like the look of lugs.  I also like leather saddles and canvas bags, for looks as well as comfort (in the case of saddles) and durability (the bags).  Also, I appreciate the craft that goes into many of those items.

There are some "old-school" parts I really like, too.  As an example, I probably will ride cranks with square-taper bottom bracket axles for as long as they're available. (I went through eight ISIS bottom brackets in the three years I rode a crankset made for them!)   And, I like Lyotard-style platform pedals with toe clips and straps because they don't require the use of special shoes or cleats--and, frankly, they're better-made than most clipless pedals.  (For a time, I was replacing my clipless pedals every year, even if I didn't crash them.)  And, although I've ridden some of the exotic pre-made wheelsets, and owned a couple of pairs, I prefer handbuilt wheels with traditional (not straight-pull) spokes.

On the other hand, I don't understand the fascination with some "old-school" stuff, save for collectors and people who want to do "period" restorations.  

Here is an example of what I mean.  The other day, this derailleur ensemble sold for 170 dollars on eBay.  Granted, it is in New Old Stock (NOS) condition, meaning it had been sitting in some box or drawer for the past forty years.  

While these parts aren't as common as they once were, they haven't exactly disappeared from the planet, either.  The pieces of the ensemble were made by Huret. The shifters and front derailleurs were decent: not as good as Campagnolo's best or almost anything SunTour ever made, but competent enough, especially in their time.  However, there was no excuse for the rear derailleur, even when it came out.

The Huret Luxe Super Touring rear derailleur was scary.  When you rode it, I mean.  It shifted with all of the predictability of Lady Gaga's sartorial choices.  To be fair, the same could be said for most wide-range touring derailleurs of that time (circa 1972) that weren't made by SunTour.  The Campagnolo Gran Turismo didn't shift much better than the Huret.  But at least the Campy GT shared a trait of other Campagnolo derailleurs at that time.  Frank Berto best described that characteristic when he said, of the Nuovo Record, that it would shift poorly forever.  

From VeloBase 

The Luxe's body consisted of spindly stamped steel pieces riveted together.  Even on the "racing" version of the Luxe, which had a shorter pulley cage, the pieces would work themselves apart, destroying even the pretense of shifting ease or precision.  The long-caged version would deteriorate even more quickly because the extra length of cage and chain created even more stress on the fragile body.

For a couple of years, some European bikes (such as the Raleigh Super Course and  Motobecane Mirage) were equipped with this derailleur.  Such bikes were usually "sport" models with a wider range of gears than were typically found on such model.  The Luxe Super Touring may have been the first European derailleur made to shift onto a 32 tooth rear cog.  (The largest most other derailleurs could handle was a 28; racers in those days typically had largest gears of 21 to 24.)  It came out just as SunTour derailleurs were first becoming available outside of Japan; within a couple of years, SunTours would adorn the Super Course, Mirage and many other mid-level European and American bikes.

When it was new, the Luxe ST sold for around twenty dollars; the ensemble in the photo went for about forty.  Within a couple of years of its introduction, SunTour and Shimano derailleurs that shifted much better, and lasted longer, could be had for half as much, at least in the US. (Japanese components were significantly more expensive in Europe.)  Still, it appears that Huret made the Luxe derailleurs until the early 1980's, when Sachs bought Huret and a few other French component makers.

As I said, I can understand someone buying a Luxe or Gran Turismo for a collection or a "period" restoration.  But I would not install them on any bike I intended to ride anywhere besides an "oldies" show.


  1. OTOH, my 70's SunTour STILL works well. And probably will still do so after I depart this vale of tears.

  2. Steve-I'm, not surprised. Sometimes I think before I sold or traded my bikes that had SunTour derailleurs, I should have replaced those derailleurs with, oh, a Huret Luxe or Simplex SJ-810 GT. Then again, that might've been a "deal-breaker." (I don't recall hearing that term back in the days when I was riding SunTour derailleurs.)