14 November 2013

It Made Our Bikes Possible

We have all had our life-changing moments, for better and worse: the first kiss, finding out that a hero or role model was merely mortal, tasting an unfamiliar food and liking (or disliking) it more than we expected, or doubting something that had always been believed or assumed.

I'm not going to tell you that I've had such a life-changing moment today, or within the past week or month.  But I got to thinking about those revelations or epiphanies or whatever you want to call them in our cycling lives.

Some of us experience such a moment upon riding a bike with dropped bars or a hard leather saddle and discovering it is actually comfortable--or, at least, not as uncomfortable as we expected.  Or it can come when we try a new genre of riding or type of bike:  For example, I never expected to fall in love with fixed-gear riding.  Conversely, some of us might learn that we do not have the time, resources or talent to become the racers we hoped to be--or that age or other changes in our bodies might mandate changes in the way we ride.

And then there are the seemingly-smaller, but nonetheless influential experiences that cause us to see some aspect of our cycling in a different way.

If you came of age during the 1970's (as a cyclist, anyway), one such experience could have come after you'd spent some time riding a typical bike from that era, which came equipped with Huret or Simplex derailleur--or the Campagnolo Valentino or Gran Turismo. Perhaps the derailleur broke, wore out or rusted solid (a common occurrence with Huret derailleurs in rainy climates).  Or you got to ride a friend's bike, or test-ride one in a shop.

Your friend's bike, or the one you test-rode, might have been equipped with the same derailleur your shop mechanic installed (or recommended, if you did your own work) when your Simplex, Huret or Campy died.  That derailleur was the Sun Tour GT--or, later, the VGT.

Sun Tour V-T Luxe Derailleur, ca. 1974.  From Disraeli Gears

To this day, I don't think I've ever ridden any other bike part that seemed so far superior to its counterparts.  Some people have described feeling that way about using an Apple computer after years of working on machines equipped with Microsoft.  Since I haven't used Apple, I can't vouch for its superiority.  However, I can assure you that the difference between Sun Tour derailleurs and anything else made during the 1970's was at least as great.

From what I understand, Apple is influencing changes in the design of other computers and electronic devices and that, in the near future, I might be using something with their imprint whether or not it's my intention.  

In a similar fashion, even though SunTour went out of business around 1995 (though its name is still licensed for bike parts marketed in Europe and other parts of the world), nearly all of us are riding a SunTour derailleur, if you will.  If you're riding any derailleur that clicks when you shift it, the mechanism will have a geometry very similar to, if not exactly the same as, a SunTour V-series (V, VT, V-GT, Vx, Vx-GT) from the 1970's.  Yes, even arch-rival Shimano adopted it for all but its least expensive rear derailleurs.  

In fact, Shimano's first SIS series of integrated derailleurs, shifters, cogs and chains came out in 1985--the year after SunTour's 1964 patent on the slant-parallelogram derailleur expired.  Shimano had made earlier, unsuccessful attempts at creating an indexed ("click-shift") derailleur system.  Turns out, they needed Sun Tour's slant parallelogram to make it work.

Ironically, when SunTour made its own indexed system a couple of years later, it didn't work as well as Shimano's.  The same was true of Campagnolo's first attempt at such a system:  the Synchro, which some of us called the "Stinkro".  SunTour and Campy both made the same mistake:  They simply retro-fitted an indexed ring to shifters they already made and didn't integrate it with the other parts.   

Campagnolo survived its mistake only because its more traditional Record (the Nuovo, Super and C- series) were still widely used in elite pelotons such as those of le Tour, il Giro and la Vuelta.  As good as SunTour's earlier equipment was, it was still almost unknown in those circles and, costing much less than Campy's stuff, didn't have snob appeal.  

People who started riding during the mid-90's or later have probably never heard of SunTour. But that once-proud derailleur maker made the bikes most of them ride possible--and changed our cycling world.

1 comment:

  1. Apple has always been an inventor and the first to put new computer technology out there. That's always been the case.