Monday, September 7, 2015

SunTour Vx: Old Is Good

The last few Retrogrouch posts have been pretty grouchy -- looking at questionable new technology, and scary disc brake failures. It's time to take a look at something old and good -- in this case, a SunTour Vx derailleur, or a Vx-S to be more exact.

The Vx-S was a medium-cage version that had a little more capacity than the regular short cage Vx, but a little less than the longer cage GT. Notice that it has SunTour's unique open "quick cage" design that made replacing the chain a nice easy task.
The SunTour V-series derailleurs were a serious revelation when they were first introduced in the late '60s. Mostly aluminum (the parallelogram plates were originally steel), with reasonable weight, reliable shifting across the gear range, and a bargain price, they should have swept the bicycle industry. I suppose it was only snobbery for established European brands that kept that from happening. Subtle improvements from year to year improved the shifting, the capacity, the looks, and the weight, while the price still remained low.

This Vx model shown here is the culmination of all those improvements. The Vx was all aluminum, including the parallelogram plates. It had a nice finish, and great design details. They were available in several versions -- with the main difference being the pulley cages. The regular Vx had the short cage, and was meant for closer-ratio gearing. That derailleur weighed a scant 205 grams: barely more than a Campagnolo Nuovo Record, and it shifted much better. There was the 210 gram Vx-S (shown here), which was a medium-cage model sporting the open-design "quick cage" that became a common SunTour feature. The less-common Vx-T, also had a medium length cage, but did not have the "quick cage" that facilitated easier chain replacement. Lastly, there was the large-capacity, long cage GT for wide-range gearing (it was rated for a 34-tooth rear cog -- enormous at the time), which became a favorite derailleur for knowledgable touring riders.

These V-model derailleurs had some cool stylistic touches that serve no purpose other than to show that somebody thought this little component was pretty special -- and it was. I love that engraved "V" on the front pivot knuckle.
When introduced, the V-series was SunTour's top-of-the-line derailleur model, though visually it didn't look terrifically different from the earlier Gran Prix or Competition models, but rendered in aluminum as opposed to steel. The second generation got a little more rounded or streamlined compared to the blockier-looking original edition. It gained a little weight, but was still reasonable, and it was a bit more robust for durability. When the V-Luxe was introduced, around '73 or so, it was all aluminum, including the parallelogram plates. The Vx was released a couple of years later, and really represents the peak of the series, but by that time it was no longer the top of SunTour's model range. The beautiful and impossibly lightweight (at about 175 grams!) Cyclone had been introduced around 1975, and the Superbe came out in '77. Nevertheless, the Vx was a tremendous bargain -- which ironically worked against it. It was better than derailleurs costing much more (including Shimano's Crane/Dura Ace), and was worthy of better bikes -- but the low price meant that it was often put on lower priced bikes and left some people with the incorrect notion that it was a lower quality piece. It wasn't.

Not only that, but one can still find a lot of V-series derailleurs in use on old bikes today, which speaks to their durability. Sometimes they'll be marked with names other than SunTour, though. Fuji had versions of the SunTour V-series re-branded with their name. I believe Raleigh did, too.

The "B" adjustment screw (for setting the derailleur's angle) is nicely shrouded, and the high/low adjustment screws are clearly marked, convenient to access, and out of the spray that might come from wet roads.
At the start of the '80s, the Vx was dropped in favor of the more "aerodynamic" looking ARX which was a nice derailleur -- looking at first glance a lot like the Cyclone Mk.II -- but with a fair number of steel parts, which in some ways was a step back from the Vx (though it was surprisingly no heavier). Later, in the mid '80s, SunTour came out with the SVX, which was a lot like the Vx with slightly updated styling, though much of the basic design still harked back to a decade earlier. But by that time, indexing Dura Ace was introduced, and friction-only derailleurs were doomed. SunTour tried to index much of their line with Accushift, but never fully recovered.

Derailleurs like the SunTour V-series were good workhorses that shifted well and could withstand a decent amount of abuse and neglect. Attractive without being flashy. Inexpensive without being cheap. The crazy thing, though, is the way these have appreciated in value on the vintage market. Searching on eBay as I was writing this, I found numerous examples listed for anywhere from $30 - $60. That might not sound like so much, until one considers the fact that in 1977, a brand new Vx would have sold for little more than $10! This at a time when a Shimano Crane was around $18, a Huret Challenger was about $25, and a Campy Nuovo Record was over $35. I guess people don't really appreciate something until it's gone.

11 comments:

  1. One of my favorite artists, in any genre, is Auguste Rodin. He actually charged American collectors more than their European counterparts for his sculptures. His reasoning? American collectors (especially nouveau-riche industrial tycoons) thought that a more expensive sculpture must be better.

    What if the Vx series derailleurs sold for twice or three times as much as they did? For that matter, SunTour could have charged much more than they did for their Cyclone, or even their Superbe, derailleurs. If they had done so, how might the bicycle world be different today?

    The only reason why I don't use V, Vx or Cyclone derailleurs today is that on most bikes (or, at least, mine) they can't handle more than seven cogs in the rear. I am using eight- and nine-speed cassettes because they are much easier to find than good five-, six- or seven-speed freewheels.

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    1. The low price of most of SunTour's offerings was fair and "correct" from a certain standpoint. Unfortunately, many people looked at the prices, or at the fact that derailleurs like the V-series were found on so many lower cost bikes, and incorrectly assumed it meant lower quality. Judging from the state of the industry today, and prices for high quality equipment, it seems bike companies will never make that mistake again.

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    2. Justine - News flash. I'm still using my Cyclone with a 10 speed Shimano 11-23 cassette and it works just fine. Looks super great on my custom Italian frame with Dura-Ace C24 wheels.

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    3. Chris--What shifters are you using?

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    4. Shimano 600 down tube shifters, set on friction. To be honest, I very very rarely ever shift up to the 23 tooth cog. Up on the stand it can reach there, but not with a snap.

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    5. Chris--Thank you for the info. Perhaps one of these days I'll try a Cyclone with my 9-speed setup, as I use downtube shifters that can be used in friction mode. I wonder how it would work with a 12-25 cassette and a 48-36 chainring combo.

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  2. The shrouding of the adjustment screws are probably the best thought ever. And the volume of casting allowed them to take a fall in stride. It amazes me how much side to side play today's pieces have to have to accommodate 9 and 10 speed irregularities.

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  3. I've had a lot of these "V" series derailers pass through my hands over the years. Being cheap, they were a usual suspect on Schwinn build-ups. I honestly can't recall ever having one that, barring intentional abuse, didn't work great after a clean/lube/adjust treatment. Nearly indestructable, but no "bling" factor so they just didn't get the love.


    Wolf.

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    1. I'm mildly surprised that Schwinn didn't have a version of these re-branded with their "Schwinn Approved" logo (or did they? If they did, I'm not aware of it). SunTour re-branded them for Raleigh - why not Schwinn?

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    2. I recall SunTour derailleurs with the Motobecane logo, as well as those of Raleigh and Fuji. Like you, Brooks, I am surprised Schwinn never put their name on a SunTour derailleur.

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  4. great post. do you (or any commenters) know if a VX S would have enough throw to handle a 7 speed? Thinking of switching from freewheel to freehub but can't see any 6 speed cassettes around. Thanks.

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