DISRAELI GEARS

Columbia

Columbia derailleur main image Columbia derailleur main image Columbia derailleur main image

Columbia is the most venerable of all the classic US bicycle brands. It was the creation of Albert Pope, who is often credited with founding the American bicycle industry. Perhaps he should be canonised and appointed as the patron saint of gas piping.

Pope saw a bicycle for the very first time at the Centennial Exposition in Philadelphia in 1876, and travelled to Europe to find out what it was all about. He set up the Pope Manufacturing Company in Boston, Massachusetts in 1877 and started to import and manufacture bicycles and bicycle parts. His first ‘Columbia’ bicycle was manufactured for him in 1878 by the Weed Sewing Machine Factory in Hartford Connecticut.

Albert Pope appears to have patented the idea of the bicycle in the USA and licensed his patent to anyone wishing to produce bicycles - in exchange for a license fee of around $10 per bicycle. In the period up to 1890 Pope started to buy up bicycle manufacturers and, by 1890, his company, now based in Hartford Connecticut, was manufacturing around 250,000 bicycles a year.

Even though Pope’s empire collapsed in 1913, Columbia continued to be a major brand throughout the 20th century, although it was somewhat overshadowed by the rise of Schwinn. One famous incident in Columbia’s history was its 1963 falling out with Raleigh (and Sturmey-Archer) and its subsequent decision to use Shimano’s 3.3.3. three speed hub. This was the first major order for a Shimano component by a volume US manufacturer, and it opened the door to the US for Japanese bicycle component manufacturers.

Many Columbia derailleur equipped models were somewhat on the heavy side, with crude gas piping frames. Frank Berto comments that the 1974 Columbia Super X “was best used for a one way trip to the nearest dump”. Clearly a serious candidate for a love-in on oldtenspeedgallery.com.

Columbia Manufacturing Inc appears to still exist at the fine address of One Cycle Street, Westfield, Massachusetts, although its primary business now seems to be manufacturing tubular steel school furniture (there’s that gas piping again). It has a slightly surreal history page on its rather odd web site.

In terms of derailleurs, I think the Columbia derailleur in this collection is a rebranded Falcon model. Its interest lies in it being one of the few Taiwanese derailleurs to be properly rebranded by a Western manufacturer, following in the footsteps of Schwinn and Raleigh’s rebranding of French and Japanese derailleurs.


Columbia derailleur thumbnail


Columbia 1980?


see also TCF Rev Mens 03/1900 - Columbia ad

see also TCF Rev Mens 03/1900 - Columbia ad

T.C.F. Revue Mensuelle March 1900 - Columbia advert scan 1 thumbnail


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