The story goes that Charles Terrot and Wilhelm Stücklen founded a company called ‘Stücklen u. Terrot’ in Cannstatt, Stuttgart, Germany in 1862 to manufacture knitting machines. In 1878 the company changed its name to ‘C. Terrot’ and became an important part of the growing precision engineering cluster that would make Stuttgart famous (as anyone who has visited the Mercedes-Benz or Porsche museums will readily appreciate). Terrot GmbH continues to make knitting machines today, although it is now based in Chemnitz (coincidentally once a centre of the German bicycle industry).
Charles went on, in 1887, to open a factory in Dijon in his native France. This factory appears to have been initially owned by the German company. The Dijon factory started manufacturing bicycles in 1890 and motorcycles in 1902. By the turn of the century the company appears to have been French and called ‘Terrot & Cie’ (which I would roughly translate as Terrot & Co.).
In the middle of the 20th century Terrot seems to have been a serious player in the French markets for motorcycles, motor scooters, mopeds and bicycles. Notably, the mid 1950s saw the production of the ScooTerrot - possibly the ugliest motorscooter ever built. In 1959 the bicycle manufacturing unit was sold to Peugeot, who continued to market bicycles under the Terrot brand until the 1970s.
In the early years the Terrot cycle company was a manic innovator in the field of bicycle transmissions. They developed their own design of chain drive (with the teeth on the chain and the rollers on the chainwheel and sprocket), a lever drive system (with variable leverage ratios controlled by a twist grip), various twin chain and single chain retro-direct systems and, crucially for this web site, a number of derailleur systems. Terrot were enthusiastic participants in the technical trials held by the Touring Club de France (TCF). They won First Prize in the 1901 trial, the gold medal in the 1902 trial (held on the Tourmalet) and another gold medal in the 1905 trial held in the Alps near Chamonix. Later, Terrot actively participated in ‘Polymultipliées’, annual arduous races including heroic climbs, restricted to multispeed bicycles and designed to promote the development of effective, reliable gear systems. Today this race is known as the Trophée des Grimpeurs and is an established part of the racing calendar.
The history of Terrot’s derailleur systems goes something like this:
Finally no history of Terrot would be complete without mention of their famous adverts featuring a young woman called ‘L’Impertinente’ (which is often translated as ‘the impudent one’ but Lembit Öpik would surely know as ‘the cheeky girl’). Despite wearing several hundredweight of clothing (and a hat fit for a royal wedding) she manages to ride her Terrot bicycle, with its advanced transmission, so fast (often up a heroic Alpine or Pyrenean climb) that speeding locomotives, motor cars, aeroplanes and, of course, sweating male cyclists cannot catch her. All the while she is making her signature cheeky gesture just to let you know who is boss.