Mid-Life Cycling

Mid-Life Cycling

02 December 2014

My First Piece Of Jewelry: The Huret Jubilee Derailleur

When you get to be my age, you realize that had you saved the stuff you wore in your youth, you could sell it today as "vintage."  It seems that some people are trying to do the same thing with bike parts.  I find myself shouting things they don't teach you in French 101 whenever a Craigslist or eBay listing refers to a Simplex Prestige derailleur as "rare" or "vintage."

Whenever I see that testament to French plastic technology--or the Campagnolo Gran Turismo with its scimitar-like cage or the Huret Luxe Super Touring, which looked like a disjointed crane's neck made from steel plates--I think, "They don't make them like that anymore--Thank God!"  If those things are "vintage", I'm all for the present and the future

But there are a few no-longer-made components that can be called "vintage" without making me wince.  Such parts are, of course, sought out by collectors or even still used on everyday riders.  Such parts were not only "good for their time" but still are valid today because they have some feature or another that today's stuff lacks.





Sometimes that factor is aesthetic.  Let's face it:  Most bikes and parts from the past look better than almost anything made by anyone besides a custom builder or small-scale manufacturer today.  I admit that there are some things I own and ride for that reason alone.  But some of those same bikes and parts--and others--are designed in ways that are more practical or versatile, or simply "made better", than what you can buy today.


And, believe it or not, some old parts are actually lighter. A case in point is the Huret Jubilee rear derailleur.





I actually owned and rode two--a short-cage and a long-cage version-- for a number of years.  I raced, toured and even did some "rough stuff" on them.  And I even took a tumble or two on them.





My short-cage Jubilee adorned my Cannondale racing bike for a few months.  Then it graced my Colnago Arabesque--on which I raced and trained and did a number of long rides--for another half-dozen years.  I rode the long-cage version for a couple of years on a Bianchi that I turned into a light tourer, then on my Miyata 912.


On all of those bikes I shifted the Jubilee with what is, to my mind, the best non-indexed lever ever made: the Simplex retrofriction.  And I had the "teardrop" version--to my eye, the prettiest shift lever in history--on the Cannondale and Colnago. 





With those levers, the Jubilee shifted quite well, especially given the standards of the time.  It wasn't quite as easy or accurate as the SunTour Cyclone (or, for that matter, anything in SunTour's "V" series).  But I actually preferred the Jubilee to any other manufacturer's (besides SunTour's) top-of-the-line derailleur.  For one thing, it shifted as well--or, at least, not noticeably worse than--the Campagnolo Record series, Simplex LJ or Shimano Crane.  To be more precise, the Jubilee shifted about as quickly and perhaps a bit more accurately, and definitely more smoothly, than any of those mechanisms.


I bought my first (short-cage) Jubilee from Frank Chrinko, the proprietor of Highland Park Cyclery, where I worked for a time.  He thought well of them (and used the Success, Huret's other high-end derailleur) and said he hadn't noticed any problems among the (admittedly few) customers who used them.  On the other hand, I heard horror stories about how if you looked at it the wrong way, it would explode into a million little pieces.  Such fears, I found, were greatly exaggerated: Both of my Jubilees survived falls and continued to work as well as they had been working.





I think that Jubilees lasted longer than many people expected precisely because they were so minimalist:  There weren't as many ways it could be struck or snagged.  That is the reason why, interestingly, a few early mountain bikers and some cyclo-cross riders used it.


The Jubilee also holds the distinction of being one of the few rear derailleurs that was completely disassemblable for cleaning and maintenance.  Huret actually offered spare parts, though they weren't easy to find (at least in the US).  I'll admit that, once disassembled, it wasn't the easiest thing to put back together, especially if you didn't have a diagram (which was even harder to find than the spare parts).  


So how did the Jubilee get its name?  Huret was founded in 1920 and in 1970 decided to celebrate by creating the lightest derailleur ever made.  They succeeded--the short-cage version weighed only 140 grams (the long-cage version weighed 157).  Ironically, the later "drillium" version was five grams heavier!






The Jubilee was first introduced in 1972 (the same year as the Simplex Super LJ and SunTour VGT) and found its way to the US a couple of years later.  The Motobecane Grand Jubile came equipped with it and other high-quality French components; so did the Raleigh Competition.  In 1974-5, Raleigh's two-steps-up-from-entry-level Super Course, with a frame that had straight-gauge Reynolds 531 in its main tubes, came with a version of the Jubilee that fitted to the non-forged dropout with a "claw" hanger.  From what I heard in bike shops at the time, Raleigh was trying to offer the lightest bicycle available at its price point (about $175 at the time), and the Jubilee shaved those few grams that gave the bike its edge over whatever the next-lightest bike was in its price category.






Sachs took over Huret in the early 1980s and continued to produce the Jubilee until the end of the decade.  Later versions bore the Sachs-Huret logo, and later simply "Sachs", in the black-and-gold badge that sported the Huret name in the familiar cursive lettering for so long.

Late in the 1980s, Sachs (which had also taken over French component makers Maillard and Sedis) became part of SRAM.  It seems that around that time, the Jubilee was discontinued as all of the SRAM-Sachs derailleurs were modeled after the Shimano models with slant paralellogram bodies and two sprung pivots.

13 comments:

  1. Very cool, in a steampunk kind of way ;) Do you have a photo of those "prettiest shift lever in history" you can share or link to?

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  2. Rebecca--I'm going to write a post about those levers and will include a photo in it.

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  3. In a way, it's pretty accurate to describe one of those plastic Simplex mechs as "rare," since millions of them shattered to pieces from normal usage. I believe the front and rear Simplex derailleurs on my first tenspeed each lasted about a year at the most. The Suntour replacements proved to be much more reliable. The rear Huret derailleur on my wife's '75 Raleigh Sprite was replaced by a Suntour many years ago, long before we met.However, during a rebuild I added a new cage to the front derailleur a couple years ago, and it still works really well. The long, delicate Huret stem shifters are still bright and shiny. They're quite lovely, sorta like jewelry.

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  4. MT--You have a point about the Simplex derailleurs. And I know the levers you're talking about: they are lovely and, given that they're stem-mounted friction shifters from the '70's, they're pretty good.

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  5. Had a Huret Svelto on falcon Black Diamond when i was at School. It took me all over the Country Touring. Never missed a change. Steel Simple and sweet. Thats all you could afford in those days. but it was a good tool

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  6. Have you found a diagram of the parts?

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  7. Paul--The Svelto was a good derailleur for its time and was the predecessor of the Jubilee, more or less.

    Anon--I haven't. There may be one on the web somewhere.

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  8. I am still running my 1982 Huret Jubilee on my 1982 Pogliaghi on a regular basis. Works like a charm. I also had a Jubilee on my previous bike, a grass-green Gitane Tour de France, until it was stolen. There was even a previous Jubilee on that bike until I took a spill, didn't realize the hanger had bent, and dumped it into the spokes. The Jubilee disintegrated without breaking any of the spokes.)

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  9. Hi Deane==Your story doesn't surprise me at all. It also wouldn't surprise me if you got another decade or two out of your Jubilee.

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  10. Jubilees Rule! I have them on both of my 1970's Time Trial bikes and they never miss a beat and they look gorgeous! Less is definitely more!

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  11. Anon--I think Jubilees have been most commonly used by time trialists because they are so light. And, as you say, they work like a charm and look great!

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  12. With the continual evolution of the bicycle every once in a blue moon an improvement to an existing component lands on earth almost like from another planet or so it seems given the JUBILEE is now 50 plus years old and STILL functions on a par with todays so called refinements , Aesthetically its beyond dating and still possesses the COOL factor so lacking with modern componentry Now that's genius ! to engineer the WOW factor , bet Campagnolo wish they could still do that ! Hats off to Huret sure you did the boring run of the mill stuff like the rest but you thought outside the box when your 50 year jubilee needed a special product , which 50 years later still serves the discerning cyclist well .

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  13. Mac Man--I agree with everything you say. If only Huret were still around--or if somebody would make the Jubilee again.

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