In looking at bicycle derailleurs over the past couple of articles (HERE, and HERE), I couldn't help but see a similar phenomenon -- evolutionary dead ends in the line of bicycle components.
In the mid-to-late-80s, Campagnolo was fighting for its life. In 1985, Shimano introduced a new click-shifting version of Dura-Ace and kicked off the indexing revolution. Suddenly, everyone wanted click-shift derailleurs. SunTour responded quickly (though some would argue not quickly enough), while Campagnolo apparently hoped indexed shifting was a fad that would go away, and their first attempts at competing with it just could not hold their own against the competition. Not only that, but mountain bikes were sweeping the market, dominated by Japanese component groups. Between 1985 and 1990, Campagnolo introduced C-Record, Chorus, Croce d'Aune, and Athena -- each with a different derailleur design. In addition, there were two versions released of their Syncro indexing shift levers, plus Centaur and Euclid mountain-bike groups. By 1991, virtually all of them were either completely redesigned, or phased out.
|Version one of the Syncro levers.|
Note the extra lever on the right,
which switched from indexing
to friction shifting modes.
Campagnolo took a very different approach than the Japanese to indexing with their Syncro design in 1987. Whereas Shimano and SunTour designed full systems of interrelated parts -- shift levers, derailleurs, freewheels/cassettes, chains, and even cables (necessitating a complete drivetrain component upgrade, or better yet, just a whole new bike) -- Campagnolo, on the other hand, tried to make Syncro work with their existing derailleurs. It didn't work. The standard parallelogram with a single spring-loaded pivot (which essentially dated back to about 1950) did not track the cogs as closely as the dropped/slanted parallelogram architecture, had a wide "chain gap" on the smaller cogs, and required a fair amount of the overshift/back-off technique to make the shift. None of this translated to good success with indexing. Not only that, but the design and spacing of the cogs, plus the chain design, and the fine-tuning of cable tension, all contributed to making indexed shifting reliable. Campy just didn't have it.
|Diagram from a 1988 Chorus advertisement.|
|With its tie-rod actuation, the Croce d'Aune worked like no |
other derailleur before or since.
|The original Athena looked like a traditional Campy-style|
derailleur, but the parallelogram was actually canted for
better tracking down the profile of the cogs.
|This little toothed ring on the mounting bolt|
allowed one to adjust for different sprockets.
By 1991, Campagnolo decided that when it came to the Japanese competition, they were better off just copying them rather than trying to beat them at their own game. The line of derailleurs, with all its unique variations, was completely redesigned -- all across the board with dropped, slanted parallelograms, borrowing heavily from the designs being used by Shimano. In addition, they came up with specially shaped cog teeth, not unlike Shimano's Hyperglide, all to finally get indexed shifting systems that worked the way the consumers seemed to be demanding.
Looking at the parts shown above, it's pretty clear Campagnolo in those years was doing anything they could to remain not only competitive, but innovative. Not content to just copy the Shimano and SunTour designs, they tried to remain true to their heritage and make their traditional designs work in the new era. The Chorus, Croce d'Aune, and Athena, all had very different approaches to improve shifting performance, but ultimately none of the innovations would last. Sadly (to my Retrogrouch sensibility, anyhow) the way Campagnolo regained its reputation as an innovator was to start squeezing extra cogs onto the cassette -- jumping ahead of Shimano first with 10, then 11 cogs. Now that Shimano is making their own 11 speed cassettes, what else is there to do for "innovation" but to try for 12?
Something to think about: The original Gran Sport was made with few changes for about 13 years or so. The Nuovo Record was made for even longer. The basic architecture of those derailleurs was used for roughly 40 years! Today, new components are introduced almost every year, with incremental changes billed as major design revolutions. The way the bicycle industry seems intent on making our bikes "obsolete" almost as soon as we ride them, it appears that their current slogan might be "mutate or die"!