See also: Browning documents

Country: USA

Browning Component Inc. was based in Bellevue and then on Bainbridge Island both of which are near Seattle.

According to Chester Kyle:

“The basic mechanical system behind the Browning transmission was invented in 1974 by Bruce W. Browning and developed by Bruce and his sons Marc, David, Paul and Chris.”

As Sly Stone would say - it’s a family affair. But there’s more, Bruce W. Browning is the grandson of John Moses Browning, described on Wikipedia as “the most important figure in the development of modern automatic and semi-automatic firearms”. This esteemed gentleman held literally hundreds of patents covering hand guns, machine guns, shot guns etc. etc.. Whether John Moses ever got to say ‘Go ahead - make my day’, to visit a high school open-day in Columbine or to shake Charlton Heston by the cold, dead, hand is not recorded. But then - guns don’t kill people, it’s usually those god-darn-ornery bullets that do the damage.

Bruce W. Browning followed the family inventing tradition, and developed multiple cog sets in which one quarter of the circle is hinged along a radius. This allows a portion of the cog to swing sideways and pick up the chain that is currently running on the next door cog. There is a certain elegance to this - rather than being ruthlessly rammed across the cogs the chain is delicately plucked and remains fully engaged throughout the gear changing process. The proud claim of the Browning system was that you could smoothly shift under full load.

Initially, in 1982?, the system was offered as a chainwheel, replacing the front derailleur. This developed into a 2 speed BMX system based around a double chainwheel.

Then in 1990 SunTour introduced the BEAST (Browning Electronic Accushift Transmission) - a triple chainset system for mountain bikes. As I remember it this was a ferociously expensive option on the already pricey SunTour XC Pro groupset. It suffered from technical problems (like many ferociously expensive components) and quickly disappeared.

But Browning were not deterred. Some time around 1997 a new system started to appear at trade shows and in the cycling press. I remember this as being called ‘Red Shift’. By about 2000 the ‘Red Shift’ had turned into the ‘SmartShift’ and was available in two options, the SmartShift 400 4-speed rear cog system, and the SmartShift 1200 12-speed system which combined the 4 speed rear cog with a triple chainset - all with swinging segments articulating back and forth like crazy. I don’t believe that the Browning SmartShift models had anything to do with the alarmingly similarly named 1999 Autobike SmartShift 2000.

By November 2001 Bike Europe was commenting that bike manufacturers were not adopting the Browning Smartshift transmission because it was too expensive - and after that it faded away.

Browning Component Inc. still has a beautifully animated web site, but the text on it kind-of implies that the company does not function anymore.