Monday, January 5, 2015

What's A Parallelogram? Don't Ask Velo News.

Velo News has a feature currently about the "Top 10 Technical Innovations of All Time." Here they are from last to first:

10. Power Meters
9. Foam Helmets
8. Shimano Electronic Shifting
7. Compact Cranks
6. Digital Bike Fit
5. Look Clipless Pedals
4. WADA Biological Passport
3. DuPont Lycra
2. Shimano STI Brake/Shift Levers
and at #1, Parallelogram Derailleur.

Of course, any time someone compiles a list of Top Ten Anything there are going to be disagreements. And if you're talking about "Technical Innovations" you can bet that a Retrogrouch will roll his eyes at some of the items on the list.

Come on. Power Meters? Just another thing for mid-pack-finishing Freds to blow money on with promises of "secret weapon-like" performance improvements. Electronic Shifting? Toys for rich people. Digital Bike Fit? Meh.

What about that number one? The Parallelogram Derailleur. No argument from me, except for this:

Not a parallelogram derailleur.
That is a Simplex Champion Du Monde from the late 1930s. Velo News uses that as the example of a parallelogram derailleur -- one of the first, in fact.

Here's the text:

"Simplex introduced a cable-actuated parallelogram derailleur in 1938 and the sport never looked back."

The problem is the Simplex was not a parallelogram derailleur. It was a pull-chain, plunger action derailleur, and it was probably introduced in 1935.

In 1938, Nivex produced a parallelogram derailleur that had some success with cyclotourists. It also very likely helped inspire Campagnolo's Gran Sport which was first shown to the public in 1949. The Gran Sport was the derailleur that swept through the sport so that it "never looked back."

The article goes on to explain why the parallelogram derailleur is number one. "The argument for the derailleur's place on this list is as simple as it is obvious: no other piece of cycling technology expanded the versatility and terrain range of the bicycle like the parallelogram (and later the slant parallelogram) derailleur. It brought the bicycle, and bicycle racing, into the modern era." Great!

By the way, Simplex wouldn't introduce a parallelogram derailleur until 1961, with the Juy Export 61 -- a unit that looked somewhat similar to the Campagnolo design, but with some key improvements that actually made it work better. Then they went and blew it by converting their derailleur line to "Delrin" plastic the following year.

Would I agree that the parallelogram derailleur deserves the top spot on a list of the "Top 10 Technical Innovations of All Time"? Yep.

Too bad the folks at Velo News don't know what that is.


  1. That's a big fact checking fail for Velo News. All the rest of that stuff on their list has the value of Crackerjack prizes compared to the parallelogram derailleur.

    1. Seriously -- what about pneumatic tires? Are power meters and electronic shifting bigger "all time" innovations than that?

  2. I think pneumatic tires were the most important technological innovation, ever. Think about it: Automobiles, let alone bicycles, would not be any faster or more versatile than horse-drawn carriages, and modern aircraft could not take off or land, without pneumatic tires.

    Also, pneumatic tires have made wheelchairs more comfortable and easier to propel---no small consideration for the people who use them.

    In the world of cycling, I'd put the parallelogram derailleur second. Then, perhaps, foam helmets. The other stuff on the list were refinements at best and marketing gimmicks at worst.

    1. You're so right about the importance of pneumatic tires in applications far removed from bicycles. Apart from things like sea-planes, just try to imagine landing aircraft without them! Or the space shuttle? I hadn't even thought about their importance to wheelchairs, but you're right there, too. Yeah -- most of that list was a crock.

  3. 10. Power Meters- NOPE.
    9. Foam Helmets- ARGUABLY OK
    8. Shimano Electronic Shifting- NOPE
    7. Compact Cranks- "ALL TIME"? Definitely overstating its importance, for sure.
    6. Digital Bike Fit- NOPE
    5. Look Clipless Pedals- NOPE
    4. WADA Biological Passport- I'll be honest, I have no idea what the hell this is. I can still ride a bike, though. How important can it be?
    3. DuPont Lycra- *Snickers* uh, no
    2. Shimano STI Brake/Shift Levers- I'll begrudgingly accept this, though I don't personally care for 'em.
    1. Parallelogram Derailleur- Finally, this is one I whole-heartedly agree with.

    Also, it's funny that you mention pneumatic tires. That was going through my head the whole time I was reading this article.


  4. Is there a place for this current "fat tire" bike phase that people seem to be buying? Since we are speaking of tires.

  5. A list from a dirty hands perspective:

  6. Well now you've done it. Make a list. It will read like a manifesto. I vote for rim brakes and the freewheel.

  7. Replies
    1. I liked some of the items on the list suggested by zundel. Modman's right about high-strength steel alloys. Crmodgeon -- yeah, I'll probably need to put out my own list now.