Monday, June 30, 2014

Huret Allvit

Most of the old Schwinn "10-speeds" used versions of the Huret
Allvit (rebranded with the Schwinn name) -- even as late as the
1980s, when it was woefully outmatched by the competition.
If you ever rode an old Chicago-built Schwinn 5- or 10-speed bike, like the Varsity, or Continental, or maybe even a 5-speed StingRay with the big "stick-shift" on the top tube, chances are you remember the Huret Allvit derailleur. The Allvit was the derailleur of choice on most Chicago-built Schwinns (apart from the Paramount line), as well as a huge number of other entry-level 60s and 70s "10-speeds." In fact, the Huret Allvit was probably one of the biggest-selling derailleurs ever made.

Most people who remember the Allvit probably don't have fond memories of it, and it's true that it had its flaws (flaws that became more apparent the longer it was made), but when it was first released in 1958, it represented some real improvements in derailleur design. It wasn't a great derailleur -- but it was an important one for its impact on the bicycle market.

The original 1958 version of the Allvit didn't
have the big cover over the mechanicals that
the derailleur would later be known for. 
In the 1950s, most derailleurs, especially on less expensive bicycles, were of the plunger-type. Campagnolo introduced its parallelogram Gran Sport at the beginning of the decade, but it was not for the budget-conscious. The Allvit was a parallelogram derailleur for the masses. But besides that, in some ways, it was possibly a better engineered derailleur than the Campagnolo. Take a close look at the Allvit's parallelogram and notice that it pivots out from the far end of its arm, rather than from the top as the Campy design did. The writer of the blog Disraeli Gears called it "wacky" but I disagree. Like the brilliantly engineered Nivex, the movement of the Allvit would carry the jockey pulley away from the wheel axle as it moved inward -- thereby following the profile of the cogs better, and keeping a closer chain gap across the range.

It should be noted that in those early years, the Allvit was  not necessarily considered a cut-rate derailleur. In the late 50s and early 60s, it was used by racers and cyclotourists alike, and was installed on some very nice bicycles, including those from such respected names as RenĂ© Herse.

Whether branded as Huret or Schwinn, this was
probably the Allvit most people remember. The
big steel outer plate provided some "bash"
protection for the flimsy mechanicals underneath.
The flaws of the Allvit were that its flat, stamped steel construction seemed pretty flimsy, it was not all that nicely finished, and it was relatively heavy (and got heavier with each new version). The pivots could loosen, or get gunked up, or the whole thing could just get twisted and bent out of shape. Another flaw was that it was made far too long without regard to what the competition was making.

The first version of the Allvit, shown above, was made without the familiar shroud -- its operation was out in the open for all to see. By 1961, the version most of us remember seeing and/or using was released, with all the mechanicals covered by a steel guard. Though it added more weight and made it a little harder to adjust, the cover plate did provide some "bash" protection for the flimsy parallelogram. That was one of the features that endeared it to Schwinn, and according to Frank Berto's book, The Dancing Chain, for a number of years Schwinn wouldn't spec a rear derailleur without such a feature.

Speaking of Schwinn, they are one of the reasons that the Allvit became such a huge seller. When the company wanted to move into the "adult" (or at least teen-aged) bicycle market, offering "lightweight" (a relative term, but consider the heavyweight tanks the company was known for) multi-speed bikes, their first successful mass-market offering was the Varsity. That bike was an "8-speed" with a Simplex plunger-type derailleur in its first year, but by 1961, it was a "10-speed" equipped with the Huret Allvit. Soon the company offered a full line of 5- and 10-speed "derailleur" bikes using Schwinn-badged Allvits. For many Americans in the 60s and early 70s, a Schwinn Varsity, or perhaps one of its slightly nicer siblings, such as the Continental, was probably their first "10-speed." According to Berto, for the first half of the 60s, more Schwinn Varsitys were sold in the U.S. than all other derailleur bikes combined. Add to those Schwinn numbers all the other bikes equipped with the Allvit -- from department store clunkers to more "serious" (again, relatively speaking) bikes such as those from Raleigh and some of their subsidiaries, and lots of French manufacturers, and you can see how Huret managed to sell 5 million Allvits by 1965. During that decade and through the bike boom of the early 70s, they were cranking out more than 100,000 each month.
Seen here in its Schwinn-branded guise, the Allvit
"Safety" was supposed to let an inexperienced
rider backpedal in the wrong gear without jamming up. 

Later versions of the Allvit were beefed up a bit more, which made them heavier, but no less flimsy. A long-cage touring version, dubbed the Super Allvit, was available, but couldn't compete with the SunTour V-GT in price or performance. In the mid-70s, a version known as the "Safety" (or GT-500 in its Schwinn-branded guise) had a massive shroud around the top pulley. Schwinn catalogs called it a "jam-free backpedal cage" and declared that it allowed an inexperience rider to backpedal despite being in the wrong gear. Ummm. . . OK.

In any case, Huret kept making the Allvit as long as Schwinn would keep placing it on bicycles like the Varsity, which means both stayed on the market into the early 80s, long after they were far surpassed by competition from Japan.

Schwinn Approved, made by Shimano,
the GT100 was supposed to mimic the
"best" features of the Allvit.
On the subject of Japanese competition, when Schwinn first started importing bikes from Japan and needed Japanese-built components, Shimano stepped up by producing a derailleur with a very Allvit-style shroud. It looked like the Allvit, but it shifted like a Shimano Lark, which is to say, better.

Sugino's VIC probably shifted OK, but
one has to wonder why anyone thought
this was a good idea in the mid 1990s.
Interestingly, in the 1990s, well into the era of indexed shifting, Sugino offered a completely updated version of the Allvit, called the VIC. Very rare and not commercially successful, it borrowed the Allvit's outer plate and "upside down" parallelogram action but with a less "flat," more "sculpted" design. I've never seen one in person, but according to Disraeli Gears, it was a real porker at over 450 grams.

Some people probably hated them, and I doubt anybody actually loved them, but the Huret Allvit was still an important derailleur, historically speaking. Though it was not a great derailleur, for many Americans, the Allvit was the introduction to derailleur-equipped bicycles.

2 comments:

  1. Great post. I, too, began my "serious" riding with a Huret Allvit--appropriately enough, on a Schwinn Continental. Since it was my first derailleur, I didn't realize just how much better some others, such as the SunTours that were coming into the American market at that time, shifted.

    You are fair in presenting both the good points and flaws of the Allvit. Here's another one of its problems: It ate cables. The operating tension was so stiff that almost no derailleur cable made at that time--or, at any rate, almost none with the round end Huret shifters required--was stiff or strong enough to stand up to very many Allvit shifts. I can't tell you how many broken cables I replaced on Allvit-equipped bikes I repaired in the shops in which I worked!

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    Replies
    1. Thanks, Justine. That's another good point -- I never wrenched in a shop, so the only one I ever worked on was my own.

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