‘L’As’ (‘The Ace’) and the ‘Super As’ (‘Super Ace’) were two early derailleurs that were most closely associated with one Claudius Bouillier. Claudius Bouillier is an undeservedly obscure figure in the history of the derailleur - Frank Berto refers to him merely as a ‘draftsman’ - but his story goes like this:
- He was born in 7/6/1887 in Yssingeau, 50 kilometres south west of St Étienne. In 1897, his family moved to St Étienne. By 1904 he had finished his studies and became fascinated by bicycles. At this point his family lived in Rue du Grand-Gonnet, the same street as the Audouard workshop and only 150 metres from the office of Paul de Vivie (Vélocio). Of the two, Claudius Boullier chose to follow Paul de Vivie and became a keen disciple of the tenets of Cyclotourisme. He is one of the group in the famous 1909 photograph of L’École Stéphanoise.
- After finishing his compulsory military training in 1911, Claudius Bouillier collaborated with Joanny Panel in 1912 to design and patent the ‘Le Chemineau’ derailleur (see French Patent # 439,224). While it was true, as Frank Berto states, that Claudius Bouillier was a draughtsman, and it was also true that Joanny Panel provided most of the entrepreneurial energy, it seems likely that Claudius Bouillier, a trained designer familiar with factory processes and mechanical systems, also provided technical input. Panel, at this time, worked for Rivolier Père et Fils (RPF), a manufacturer of guns and bicycles in St Étienne, but left his job to produce bicycles fitted with his derailleur. Tellingly, Claudius Bouillier did not join him - the pattern of his life was that he was always the designer, never the manufacturer.
- Claudius Bouillier served in the French army from 1914 to 1919. In 1920 he patented his L’As derailleur (see French Patent # 530,691). The patent described a three speed derailleur system with two pulley wheels, but with no control lever, rods or cables. Instead the derailleur was operated by briefly back pedalling. When the derailleur finally went into production (by Brunet & Cie of Grand-Croix, 20 km North East of St Étienne) it was simplified to be a two speed system. The production L’As was regarded as a touring model which could handle a 10 tooth difference between the two sprockets.
- A couple of years then passed, and once again Claudius Bouillier produced a new design - the 1922 Super As (see French Patent # 567,964). This was a light weight, single pulley, two speed racing model, designed for close ratio gears. Like the Le Chemineau, it was operated by a cable pulling a toggle chain. The prestigious Automoto bicycle brand, a by-word for quality at the time, had fitted some L’As derailleurs to its touring models. Automoto then decided to take on the manufacturing of the L’As and Super As and to fit the Super As to their racier models.
- Cementing his reputation as the most prolific derailleur designer of the time, Claudius Bouillier was soon at it again, patenting a new design in 1924 (see French Patent # 582,247). This was the seminal ‘Le Cyclo’ design, with its signature double cable and helical movement. This basic design went on to dominate the world of touring derailleurs until well after the end of the Second World War. Albert Raimond, who was in charge of bicycle production at RPF, was part of the same cycling scene as Claudius Bouillier. He registered the ‘Le Cyclo’ brand in December 1923 and produced Claudius Bouillier’s new derailleur. RPF then fitted them to its bicycles. Possibly shortly after this, Cyclo now owned by Albert Raimond, separated from RPF and became a stand alone producer of derailleurs.
- After a lifetime of cycling Claudius Bouillier died in 1957.
Claudius Bouillier is not a well known figure in the history of the derailleur. However he held four important early patents. More than this, two of these patents were for the ‘Le Chemineau’ and the ‘Le Cyclo’ designs - the two most influential designs of the time. Not too bad for a mere draftsman.