DISRAELI GEARS

Cyclo

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The French Cyclo company, based in Saint-Priest-en-Jarez, was the creation of Albert Raimond, one of the giants of derailleur history.

Born in 1885, Albert Raimond spent the early years of the 20th century working for Rivolier Père et Fils (RPF) a manufacturer of quality sporting guns in St-Étienne. In 1909 the young Albert persuaded RPF to start manufacturing bicycles, and he was put in charge of this operation. At this time, many companies manufactured both bicycles and guns as they used similar technology (high strength and hardened steels), required similar levels of precision engineering and provided usefully diversified demand (sporting rifles sold in winter, bicycles in summer, military rifles were subject to the whims of government, bicycles were bought by consumers etc...).

From around 1909 to 1911, Joanny Panel also worked as a clerk at RPF, and Raimond became aware of Panel’s developing plans for the Le Chemineau derailleur. Possibly through Panel, Raimond also became aware of Paul de Vivie’s experiments. Like Panel, Albert Raimond became a friend of Paul de Vivie and a part of the small group of French cyclists, known as ‘L’École Stephanoise’ (‘The St Étienne School’), who were actively involved in experimenting with derailleurs to facilitate cycle touring.

In 1911, Joanny Panel left RPF and set up his own company manufacturing Le Chemineau bicycles and derailleurs. He made a deal with Albert Raimond to sell his derailleurs to RPF to fit on some of their bicycles. Needless to say, Joanny Panel was not a reliable supplier and Albert Raimond’s frustrations led him to explore alternative avenues.

According to Frank Berto, Albert Raimond’s first alternative avenue was to produce his own design, completed before the First World War. This was called ‘Le Routier’ and virtually nothing seems to be known about it.

A second alternative avenue was Claudius Bouillier. Bouillier was a long-standing member of ‘L’École Stephanoise’, had collaborated with Joanny Panel on his Le Chemineau patent, and had patented his own l’As design in 1920 which used a ball bearing running in helical groove on a shaft to turn the rotational motion of a control ring into the lateral motion of the pulley cage. In the L’As design the mechanism was operated by back pedalling.

In 1924 Bouillier patented the design of a touring derailleur which again used a rotating control ring causing lateral movement using a peg and a helically grooved shaft - but this time the control ring was operated by a twin cable arrangement. Albert Raimond adopted this design and commercialised it as a derailleur called ‘Le Cyclo’. The level of Albert Raimond’s contribution to the design is unclear - many sources consider that the basic design was Raimond’s, not Bouillier’s, based on a mechanism Raimond had first seen on machine guns during his military service during the war. However this story does not quite gel with the similarity to the mechanism used by Bouillier in his, earlier, L’As derailleur.

At first Albert Raimond continued to work at RPF and manufactured Le Cyclo derailleurs in his spare time. However, as demand grew, he established a factory in Saint-Priest-en-Jarez, part of the Saint-Étienne. In a derailleur world dominated by dabblers and tinkerers, Raimond ran an organised, professional, operation producing a high quality product. He was soon successful and ‘Le Cyclo’ became the dominant touring derailleur for a generation. It is hard to over-estimate the importance of the quality and reliability of ‘Le Cyclo’. Within the cycling world, it single-handedly changed the perception of the derailleur from being a flaky and eccentric item, of interest mainly to a lunatic fringe, to being a reliable, mainstream, almost normal, consumer product.

Raimond went on to develop a whole range of Cyclo products most notably including freewheels. He used the name ‘Rosa’, in honour of his wife, as the model name for many of his products. To develop the British market Cyclo formed the Cyclo Gear Company in Birmingham, England in 1932.

One feature of Cyclo’s success was the intense resentment that it generated in Joanny Panel. Panel considered that he, and his Le Chemineau company, were the true heirs to Paul de Vivie, and that he should inherit the saintly role of being keeper of the flame and champion of the derailleur. Panel also considered that Raimond had stolen many of his ideas. When Paul de Vivie died, in 1930, a grand tussle erupted over the design of the monument to be erected to commemorate him on his beloved Col du Grand Bois. Paul de Vivie had developed the idea of ‘Cyclotourisme’ and Albert Raimond suggested that the monument should celebrate de Vivie as the ‘Apôtre de Cyclotourisme’ (‘Apostle of Cycle Touring’). This infuriated Joanny Panel who considered that any mention of ‘Cyclotourisme’ was a covert advert for Cyclo, and so the monument carries the epitaph ‘Apôtre de la Polymultipliée’ (‘Apostle of the Multi-speed Bicycle’).

During the 1930s, Raimond’s aversion to dabbling and tinkering gave Cyclo the quality that made it the pre-eminent derailleur manufacturer of the time, but it also made for a very cautious, or even timid, approach to introducing new designs. ‘Le Cyclo’ was a premium product at a premium price - and Cyclo was never properly able to get down and dirty and mix it with the torrent of new, low price, Simplex and Huret designs that poured onto the market throughout the 1930s. Cyclo’s low price designs, like the Witmy were ugly, clunky and unconvincing. The parallels with Campagnolo’s various attempts to extend their domination of the premium end of the market to lower price points are striking. Starting at the top and working down (Campagnolo, Cyclo) seems to be harder than starting at the bottom and working up (Shimano, Suntour & SRAM).

During the Second World War Albert Raimond was an outspoken supporter of the French Resistance. He was jailed and beaten up by the Gestapo. His health, and his enthusiasm for business never recovered, and, with the return of peace, Cyclo began a long slow decline. Albert Raimond died in 1953, by which time the company was being run by his sons Jean and Ado. Production of models based on the original ‘le Cyclo’ design ceased in 1962.

By the 1960s Cyclo was essentially a manufacturer of freewheels. The last derailleurs to be produced with the Cyclo name were parallelogram designs made by Gian Robert and, I believe, were produced into the 1970s.

I also believe that Albert Raimond served as mayor of Saint-Priest-en-Jarez. There is a street in the town named after him.

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