While Campagnolo's Gran Sport was a breakthrough design, particularly among racers, and was the design that spawned many copies and imitators, another, superior parallelogram derailleur was introduced more than ten years earlier: the Nivex.
|Classic Nivex parallelogram derailleur. This example has a clamp |
for mounting to the right chain stay. Other examples mounted
directly to the stay without the clamp, for a more secure attachment.
Jan Heine, of Bicycle Quarterly, has praised the Nivex as one of the best-shifting derailleurs ever made. In a test of a 1962 Alex Singer, Heine wrote: "The Nivex derailleur shifted as precisely as always, but I had to adjust my technique. . . I had to stop 'over shifting.' With the Nivex, you move the lever until the new gear engages, and that's it. No fine-tuning necessary. The compensator lever on the spring keeps the chain tension constant, so every shift is exactly the same, no matter where you are in the gear range." (Jan Heine) Heine's respect for the Nivex is such that when he had a new, custom-built randonneur bike built in 2011, he had it built to use a vintage Nivex derailleur.
Notable frame builder Alex Singer was also a fan of the Nivex design. On Singer's bicycles, the derailleur was chrome-plated and prettied up. Unfortunately, however, apart from its use on some very nice cyclotouring bikes in the 40s and 50s, the Nivex derailleur just didn't catch on. Berto's book points out that it was first introduced during the economic recession that came just prior to WWII. Of course, the war years would have hampered the company's fortunes as well. Ultimately, the company didn't have the resources to market it to its full potential and production was ended some time in the 50s. According to Jan Heine, the French constructeur Dujardin purchased the remaining stock of parts and continued assembling derailleurs until the late 60s (Bicycle Quarterly, Vol.2 No.2).
Years after losing its marketing power, SunTour took a look back to the Nivex when it designed its doomed S-1 in the early 90s. Like the Nivex, it mounted to the right chain stay, with the parallelogram pointing backwards towards the rear axle. It really was, in many ways, an updated, modernized version of the Nivex. Interestingly, it had an indexing mechanism built into the derailleur, rather than in the lever as in most index-shifting systems. Unfortunately for SunTour, it was introduced at a time when the market was clearly dominated by the Shimano juggernaut. Furthermore, it required a special mounting boss on the chain stay so it couldn't be simply retrofitted to existing bikes. As far as I know, the only company that specified the derailleur on any of its models was Schwinn, on its '93 Criss Cross -- a touring/hybrid model. Without any other OEM support, and no aftermarket demand, the S-1 faded into obscurity after only a year or two.
Obviously, most derailleurs since the 1950s took their design cues from the Campagnolo Gran Sport design which mounted to a hanger on the rear dropout. Different manufacturers made incremental improvements to the design over the years, such as adding spring-loaded top pivots, or the drop-parallelogram which oriented the body in a more horizontal fashion, or even the slant parallelogram that canted the body so it pivoted downward as it moved inward for more consistent chain gap. All of those changes improved the shifting, but all of those incremental improvements did nothing more than to finally bring the "modern" rear derailleur up to the shifting performance available on the Nivex since 1938.
I look for your posts right after, even sometimes before, NYC Bike Snob. You have replaced Lovely Bicycle in my reading. Thanks for taking the time to write your blog. Readership will increase as word gets around. Informative and funny, that's what you are. Jim TownsendReplyDelete
Very interesting, and a cautionary tale for those who buy modern bikes with proprietary fittings. I'm probably the only person who looks at even modern carbon bikes and thinks "will those parts be available for replacement in even five years?"ReplyDelete
It's actually worse than that. I sprung for a lightly-used SRAM X1 wide-range MTB cassette with "replaceable" alloy large cogs. I thought I'd pick up a spare cog while they were available, but guess what? While they are replaceable (in that they can be taken off and put back on...) SRAM never made the individual cogs available as separate parts. Nice one!
Replaceable -- but not available. Yeah - that figures.Delete
I'm curious about the "constant chain tension"... What shifting problems or inconsistencies crop up with derailleurs with varying chain tension?ReplyDelete
Momentarily, the chain is loose before the spring recovers and absorbs the slack. In the interim, you get chain slap and a tentative shift.Delete
I have one of these CrissCrosses, good bike and some of them like mine came with butterfly bars, they are a bit heavy. It's a real nice derailleur actually and a pleasant bicycle. I'm sure I'd be able to put some kind of regular derailleur on it if the rear one ever breaks down. It's cockeyed taking the rear tire out and putting it in, I had to do it for them at the LBS even and at that, even when it was up in a mechanical stand. Pretty sturdy bicycle.ReplyDelete
I have a neighbor who has one. I saw him riding it around the neighborhood park, and I noticed the "backwards" derailleur. When I was talking with him about it, he had no idea that it was so different from most derailleurs. He apparently never tried to take the back wheel out, either. They are pretty nice bikes -- probably good commuters.Delete
Brooks: Thank You for your response! Tip of the hat.Delete
One issue with this type of derailleur is shared by the Kleins that had a dropout behind the derailleur hanger, and that is in trying to get the wheel out without having to handle the chain. This can be done without too much difficulty with standard dropouts, whether vertical or horizontal, but you're bound to get some serious grease on your hands pulling the real wheel out of a bike with this style derailleur.ReplyDelete
Yes - that's what made the special dropout and hub that Alex Singer used such a nice innovation - but not all bikes had it.Delete