Friday, January 10, 2020

Old is Good: A Quartet of Cyclones

It's no secret to anyone who's read this blog for a while that I've always been a fan of SunTour. When I was young, impressionable, and had only the most modest of budgets for bicycles and parts, I lusted after Campagnolo - but I rode SunTour. Their derailleurs and other components were among the most affordable, and functionally (for the derailleurs, at least) among the best available at the time. Up until Shimano took SunTour's slant parallelogram design (immediately after the patent expired) and turned the world on to "index shifting," SunTour had been the best thing going. The brand's demise was one of those developments that probably started a lot of cyclists down the road to becoming future retrogrouches.

I've written before about one of my favorite SunTour derailleurs - the Vx, which was an attractive and durable workhorse for a bargain price. Today I want to take a look at another favorite, the slightly more upscale Cyclone.

One of my first nice bikes, a Schwinn Super Le Tour, was equipped with a Cyclone, and it made a good impression on me. One of my favorite vintage bikes currently uses one, and I have several more examples waiting for the right projects to come along.

When the Cyclone first came out, around 1975, it was a revelation: beautifully finished, shockingly light (about 175g), and functionally flawless. One of the unique things about its design was the "hidden" cable routing which went straight through the parallelogram. It looked cool, and made for a very direct path for the pulling forces that would actuate the unit - which I would expect would somewhat reduce the torque that the parallelogram pivots are normally subject to. The downside was that it made cable replacement a little more complicated. I've found in my experience that there is no re-using old cables, because any little kinks in a used cable make it almost impossible to feed through to the body to the fastening bolt. As long as you have a nice, new, unmolested cable, it is actually easier than it looks.

The first-generation Cyclone had a cool embossed logo on its face, some "shadow lines" and other neat visual details. There was also a black and silver version (think Campagnolo Super Record) if you're into that sort of thing. Technically speaking, I think this example would be a version 1.2 (in today's parlance). It can be distinguished by its slightly longer upper pivot arm, which drops the parallelogram a few more millimeters as compared to the first iteration. I'm not sure exactly when that little change happened, but I'm guessing many people never noticed.

The Cyclone also came in a long-cage touring version, the Cyclone GT. This would have been one of the lightest touring derailleurs available. Yes, the Huret Jubilee was also available in a long-cage touring version, and was lighter than the Cyclone, but the Cyclone would have shifted better over a wider range, while costing significantly less.

Here's a Cyclone GT from my collection, and it's in gorgeous condition. One thing I've noticed about the GT is that the pulley cage is almost identical in design to the cage on the Vx-GT, which was the gold-standard touring derailleur of the time. The split or open design allowed for easier chain removal. One might also notice that, unlike the short-cage version, the upper pulley is concentric with the cage pivot point. Most other wide-range derailleurs did not do it that way - but the benefit is that the distance between the upper pulley and the cogs (the "chain gap" that is) doesn't change when shifting gears at the crank. So the shifting across the rear cogs was consistent whether the rider was on the big ring, the small ring, or the granny ring.

Around 1981, the Cyclone got a complete redesign, which reflected the trend towards aerodynamics. The Cyclone M-II was attractive, and beautifully finished, but also a little bit "generic." Gone were the embossed logo and other visual interest points.  Everything was smoothed over and sculpted. Logos (while minimal) were screen printed on. No doubt this was a response to the introduction of Shimano's Dura Ace AX aerodynamic group, but unlike Shimano, SunTour didn't spend buckets of cash marketing the supposed aerodynamic benefits (which were questionable anyhow). Shimano's aero groups never really caught on, and were quietly dropped after a couple of years - but the smoothed out, almost featureless aero look stuck around for the rest of the decade. One thing about the M-II generation is that it was even lighter than the original. Many sources put the weight somewhere around 165 grams!

Here's a beautifully well-preserved long-cage example. It's really hard to find used examples from this period with the logo fully intact like this. Normally they get scratched and worn off to the point of being pointless. I've installed a few of these on bikes over the years, either for myself or for others, and I often end up just polishing off the remains of the logo. No need for that on this one, however. Notice that the M-II retained the unusual cable routing, but the pinch bolt was moved into the front face plate. I also want to point out that I've never seen another Cyclone with this particular pulley cage. Most of them have the same basic GT cage as the 1st gen. version shown above, with the concentric pulley and cage pivot point. On this example, the axis of the upper pulley is slightly off from the pivot point, and the cage has a more modern look, but I was shocked to discover that it is steel! So much for being the low-weight leader. I'm curious if this was maybe a short-lived experiment intended for mountain bikes? It doesn't appear in any catalogs. I've seen some ARX models that used a cage like this, but no Cyclones. What an oddball!
In 1984, the Cyclone was redesigned again (making the 2nd generation a very short-lived one). I don't know what the designers and SunTour intended, but it would appear that the focus for the 3rd generation design was different from the previous ones. It's almost as if perhaps SunTour decided that racers weren't going to use Cyclone anymore, so their Superbe became the weight leader. Cyclone bulked up a lot, both visibly and measurably (growing to nearly 210 grams). Acquiescing to demands of the mass market, the unique cable routing was ditched for a simpler, more "normal," mechanic-friendly attachment.
This example from my collection is in overall nice condition - but in typical fashion, the logo is mostly worn off. Most of the 3rd gen. Cyclones I've seen were all silver. I've occasionally seen some black and silver versions. On this one the upper and lower pivot arms seem to have a slight "slate gray" anodizing, while the front face and the pulley cage are polished silver.
One odd thing about the 3rd generation Cyclone is that they got rid of the long GT pulley cage. There was a "racing" version, and a "mid-range" version with cages that appeared to be the same length (??). And for touring, they had a bizarre "weight-penalty-be-damned" 3-pulley cage (the pulleys were in something like an "L" arrangement) that I guess was supposed to wrap a lot of chain without extending as low as a normal long cage derailleur. SunTour offered a bunch of derailleurs with that design. One doesn't see them in the wild very often, and I'm guessing that serious touring riders were probably starting to look more closely at mountain bike derailleurs like the Deore.

The next (and final) generation of the Cyclone would be the indexing-compatible "accushift" version, which was a very nice derailleur - and a little more svelte than the 3rd generation, but I don't have an example in my collection. Accushift never worked as well as Shimano's SIS, and it was only a matter of time before SunTour would end up buried. Such a shame, really. 

Of the three Cyclones I have shown here that aren't currently attached to any bike, one of them will be installed on a bike soon - but I have to decide which one to use. I'll have to keep you posted.

That's all for now. . .

1 comment:

  1. I worked on a bike shop in the pre-SIS days and we replaced so many Euro derailleurs with Cyclones and VX shifters it came to be a joke. I've owned a lot of bikes since but think I could have saved a ton of money and avoided a lot of hassle if I'd just bought a couple Superbe groupsets and stuck them on a couple of high-end Japanese frames of the era.