Thursday, June 28, 2018

Man, Derailleurs Just Keep Getting Uglier

Yes, they do.  Mountain-bike derailleurs have been going that way for a while. But the latest generation of road components are doing everything to catch up. They've expanded, or swollen. Sprouted extra pivots. Transformed into complicated misshapen mechanical blobs.

Take a look at some of the newest road derailleurs:

The latest Dura Ace 9100. One website exclaims "Indulge in your love for impossibly crisp rear shifts." Oh, please. 
Newest generation Campagnolo Record 12-speed.

The SRAM Force. Looks like something out of Japanese Animé.
I suppose that part of the transformation is due to adding more cogs to the rear wheel (remember - we're up to 12 now), and the need to add more wrap capacity for the gear range that results. I assume the extra pivot that some have sprouted has something to do with keeping the upper pulley close to the cogs over such a wide range of gears. Maybe it does something to fight chain slap. Who knows?

Comparatively, derailleurs from the classic era look compact - maybe svelte. Somehow, maybe because of materials like carbon fiber and titanium, the bloated units of today don't seem to weigh much, if anything, more than the best of the past - but they sure look heavier.

Take a look at some of my favorite classics:

From my own collection - late '70s Campy Nuovo Record. No doubt that the modern version probably shifts better - but it can't hold a candle to the style of the vintage classic.
Early generation SunTour Cyclone - looked cool, and shifted about as well as anything made today.
Huret Jubilee - functional jewelry, and only weighed about 140 g. There was a long-cage version, too. (photo from ClassicRendezvous)
Shimano 600 "Arabesque" (with long cage) - worked nicely, and had some cool decorative details that existed for no reason other than to make it look special. (photo from VeloBase)

I suppose that some of the new derailleurs shift remarkably well over a tremendous range. These new designs give us racing derailleurs rivaling the range of the best touring derailleurs of the past. And yeah, maybe that's the thing that really matters. But damn, they're ugly.


  1. Aside from the horrible, horrible, look of 'em, I wonder what kind of pain in the rear it is to maintain a new derailleur? All of those nooks and crannies and whatnot... I guess they're not really meant to be kept for 50 years and simply serviced with a toothbrush and bit of grease, though.


  2. Don’t forget modern cranks. Although not retro, at least the early ‘90s Shimano cranks (Ultegra in particular, as I have one) were still somewhat classic in look. The five arm things of today are just hideous.

  3. The four vintage derailleurs you show are the ones I would choose for aesthetics. The only one of them I never used was the "Arabesque". The others were beautiful, worked well and weighed less than most of the monstrosities made today.

    I especially wonder why Campy is making such ugly stuff today.

  4. The new gen rear derailleurs look Starwar-ish to me. But I do prefer the old 5-bolt cranksets than the 4-bolt ones now.

  5. From one retrogrouch to another. I stumbled across your tubing analysis, and signed up immediately. Sanity in cycling is getting harder and harder to find. A fan.

  6. With the advent of cheap(ish) additive 3D printing, it would be possible to resurrect some of those classics.

  7. I just see it as an extension of the industries somewhat recent adoption of unfettered capitalism at all costs.

    Sure, it's always been a business, but it's become so patently rigged against anyone wanting to keep a bike for more than a season or three, it's startling.

    All these designs will be utterly gone, in two years. What comes next, is anyones guess. But the spare parts will be gone too, anything but the most basic of groups will be too, and you'll be "forced" to buy a new RD, shifter, and cassette, just because your pulleys wore out....

    Certainly far from the general mode of this blog, but Cannondale suspension forks are a prime example.

    For almost 20 years, the forks were supported with most parts still being available. Until 2013, you could still buy parts for, and fully rebuild a fork from 2005, and they were really good about maintaining cross compatibility.

    Now, in barely 5 years, they've killed all old product parts, introduced a new version, incompatible in all respects, with older ones, and in 2016 created a second version, incompatible with the 2013 version, that is a year or two old, and just introduced a brand new one that, gee, isn't in any way compatible with the 2016 models.

    Add to that, the forks now have a massive uptick in maintenance requirements, that if not done on schedule, result in the fork eating itself alive, and needing a new lower leg, for about half the cost of a new fork.


    Buy a fork, use it for 2 years, it dies, they don't have parts for you and the repair is cost prohibitive anyway, so you just buy a new fork. Wash, rinse, repeat, till you come to your goddamn senses.....

    I want off this train. =:(

  8. I always say the new groups look like they were designed by a manga artist. Of the classics you've shown I like the Jubilee best for it's sheer spartaness. It would be great if someone made a quality reproduction. Hmmmm....maybe a good project to keep me out of trouble when I retire,hehe.

  9. New derailleurs look functional as well as modern...and definitely work really well. Much better than designs of the past. It's like an old car, looks cool and stylish while being simple in design, but it's still an old car...kind of clunky and definitely sub par compared to modern vehicles.
    Old stuff is cool and we must not forget the beginnings, but embrace the new equipment, it really is nice.

    1. But why should I embrace the new stuff, much of the old stuff (70's) worked just fine. I guess you need the new stuff if you have 12 rear cogs but again who need 12 rear sprockets. Face it, the new stuff is just another way to separated people from their money.

  10. James says the new derailleurs work "much better than designs of the past". How can anything work better than perfectly, which is how my mostly Sun Tour derailleurs work?

    Jim Townsend

    1. Exactly - I love the SunTour stuff, and as mentioned above, it shifts about as well as anything today. Get the long-cage version, and it will even handle a wide range. And as good as that was, probably the epitome of derailleur design and function was 1985 7400 Dura Ace (the original indexing version) - if anything, the extra spring (in the top pivot) made it shift even a little "snappier" than the SunTour. Like you say, you can't get something to shift better than perfectly.

  11. I can't speak to the new road derailleurs, but I am with James when it comes to mountain bike derailleurs. The "manga artist" designed Deore on my FS Giant shifts flawlessly, even when I mess up and am in too high a gear. I've been riding off-road since 1985 and can say from experience that Suntour XC Comp, deerhead Deore, etc. can not approach the performance of even my low end Deore set-up.

  12. This type componentry, it's quick obsolescence, it's lack of replacement parts, is why I am going all Retrogrouch. I own a lightly ridden 2002 Trek 800 singletrack, it's SRAM grip shifter for the rear derailleur already failed. The 1983 Bridgestone Spica I now daily ride, is SunTour VxGT, friction shift, save for the saddle on all original components save for the front tire. A new rear tire is on order, the tools needed to properly overhaul it. I've been offered a Univega Gran Turismo, same era, freshly overhauled, low miles. Which will replace the Trek, and it's maintainable and 18 speeds (all I need). Progress isn't always progress. I prefer bikes which work, which I can wrench on easily and rely on.

  13. Came across this blog a year and a half after Mr. Retrogrouch posted it. I do want to say I had a positive experience with that Shimano Dura Ace RD-R9100 rear derailleur in the photo at the top of the article.

    I built up a lighter-duty touring bike (i.e. not intended for hauling lots of self-support gear) that doubles as a road bike using Shimano's Tiagra 4703 triple shifters, and that Dura-Ace rear derailleur is compatible with the Tiagra 4703's in terms of cable pull. The Dura Ace R9100 rear derailleur's main difference from a normal knuckle rear derailleur is that the derailleur body is tucked in a lot more (in the "shadow" of the cassette I guess is where the name came from) so if the bike falls over on the drive side, the derailleur won't tend to bend/damage the rear derailleur hanger.

    That Dura-Ace rear derailleur is designed to handle cassettes with far bigger gears than the old-school derailleurs, and for an old curmudgeon like me whose legs aren't as strong as when I was 20 years ago, the easier gears are a godsend for climbing hills.

    Frankly I'm never going back to an old-fashioned road bike's difficult 53-39 crank / 12-25T cassette combo. My legs can't handle it. This is one instance where the newer technology actually does something good for an older guy like me. I'm running a 52-39-30 triple crank and 11-32T cassette on my Tiagra 4703 front / Dura-Ace R9100 rear derailleur setup and it gives me 70% easier hill-climbing gears than my 53-39/12-25T old bike. It's a life-saver.