24 April 2017

Before EX, It Was CLB

In 1978, Shimano introduced its Dura Ace "EX" gruppo.  It was hailed (at least by Shimano's marketing department) as revolutionary.  Indeed, the gruppo included "innovations" that cyclists who didn't know much about the history of cycling (which would have included me) would have seen as world-changing.

As with most "innovations", they had been done before.  Features that distinguished this new gruppo, aside from its light weight and distinctive appearance, included "dropped" pedals with axles that were shorter but of larger diameter than others.  That was supposed to make the pedal/crank interface stiffer, and putting the pedal platform below the line of the axle was supposed to be both more ergonomic and aerodynamic than traditional setups.  I never tried it myself, for the same reasons most cyclists I know didn't:  Those pedals and cranks were not interchangeable with any others.  

Speaking of the cranks:  They were very nice, and included a one-key release, eliminating the need for a crank remover tool.  That is one "innovation" that has endured.  Another is one that many of us are riding today:  a "freehub" with a cassette carrier integrated into the hub body.  Until that time, almost every derailleur-equipped bike, as well as those with single-speed freewheels, used freewheels that screwed onto the hub body.  

Of course, the "Uniglide" hub, as Shimano would call it, was not a new idea.  SunTour made a hub with an integrated cassette carrier--the "UnitHub--a decade earlier; half a decade before that, Cinelli offered its "Bivalent" hub, which is often seen as the predecessor of modern cassette hubs.  But, in part through aggressive marketing campaigns, Shimano's cassette system is the one that displaced screw-on freewheels as the standard for bikes of any and all kinds.

One more "innovation" that wasn't was the brakes, which I liked.  The extension that held the cable adjuster and quick release was shortened, and a stiffener was added between it and the main part of the brake arm.  And the quick release was one most cyclists hadn't seen before:  It rotated and had fewer moving parts than the ones found on Campagnolo and other brakes.

CLB Professional

Surprise, surprise:  Three years earlier, CLB introduced their "Professional", a brake with a similar profile--and the same kind of quick release.  If I were a collector or simply wanted to build a bike strictly based on the "cool" factor of the parts, I would probably choose the CLB Pro.  It and the titanium-bolted Galli Professional, which came out that same year (as did the SunTour Cyclone derailleurs), were the lightest brakes of their time.

CLB Competition, c. 1950

Now, the few Americans who bought and used CLB (Charles Lozier Bourgoin, the founder of the company) Pros probably thought the quick release was novel.  Actually, CLB had been using it--though in less-refined iterations--as far back as the 1940's, when they first started making brakes.  Interestingly, the company's center-pulls--introduced  in the early '50's and based heavily on the Mafac's product--used cable hangers that included a very similar quick release mechanism.

What got me to thinking about all of this?  Well, I was looking for some parts on eBay when I came across this:

It appears to be a later or lower-priced version of the Professional.  What really struck me, though, was the "funky" (as the listing's copy aptly puts it) green and white finish. As far as I knew, CLB, being the very traditional and very French company that it was, never offered their components in color besides silver.  Actually, with the exception of the Professional, most of their brakes were, well, not finished at all, from all appearances:  They had a dull grey aluminum color.  Mafacs, by comparison, seemed like jewelry.

Although that green and white brakeset is probably 30 or more years old, it would fit right in with the graphics on many new bikes!

Apparently, CLB ceased to exist a few years after they were acquired by Sachs in 1984. Three years earlier, Sachs also bought Huret, Maillard and Sedis--three of the mainstays of the French bicycle industry.  While components were manufactured in France and marketed under the Sachs/Huret, Sachs/Maillard and Sachs/Sedis names for  a few years before becoming simply Sachs, the CLB name seems to have died not long after its acquisition.  

But CLB's designs live on, in other forms:  There are brakes with similar quick releases.  And the aerodynamic shapes of today's brakes owe something to the design of the Professional.


  1. Justine:
    As always, I appreciate your encyclopedic knowledge of bikes, and it's a treat whenever you channel your inner Sheldon Brown. I could be wrong, but I'm guessing that the EX hub was Uniglide? I've done my fair share of cursing while trying to remove the cogs from a Uniglide hub. I consider it a good thing that Uniglide was relegated to the dustbin of cycling history after Hyperglide came along.

  2. MT--Thank you. (She blushes!)

    You're right about the Uniglide: I'm glad it never became a standard. I'll amend the post to mention that the original freehub was indeed Uniglide.