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Le Chemineau is the brand of Joanny Panel, one of the great early derailleur innovators. Le Chemineau translates roughly as ‘the tramp’ in the sense of a penniless wanderer. The following information is largely drawn from ‘The Dancing Chain’.

Joanny Panel was a friend and disciple of Paul de Vivie, who was better known by his pen-name ‘Vélocio’. Vélocio, is generally considered to be the father of the derailleur and was the leader a 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.

Panel worked at Rivolier Père et Fils, a gun maker in St Étienne who had started to make bicycles. Here Albert Raimond (who was also a friend of Vélocio and went on to found the Cyclo company) was in charge of bicycle manufacture. Unlike many of the other early derailleur innovators Panel and Raimond had experience of how bicycle manufacturing worked.

In 1911 Joanny Panel left Rivolier Père et Fils to set up his own Le Chemineau company, also in St Étienne, manufacturing good quality touring bicycles. In 1912, working with Claudius Bouillier, he patented a design for his Le Chemineau derailleur. This was a development on one of Vélocio’s designs and the design was patented with Vélocio’s blessing. You can make a strong argument that the Le Chemineau derailleur was the first genuine modern commercial derailleur and that the Le Chemineau bicycle was the first genuine modern commercial derailleur bicycle.

Over his long career, Joanny Panel was associated with three different derailleur designs:

  • By far the most important was the 1912 Le Chemineau derailleur, discussed above. This was a low-normal, pull-chain, twin pulley, chainstay mounting design that greatly influenced many of the designs of the following decades. It continued in production in a basically similar form until 1949.
  • Next up was the 1927 Chemineau L’Izoard. This was designed to be retro fitted to any bicycle - a response to the growing demand for Le Cyclo derailleurs, introduced in 1923, that were seen as interchangeable cycle components.
  • Finally, in 1933, Chemineau showed a three speed, single pulley, racing model operated by a lever behind the saddle pulling a cable that runs down the right seat stay. I have never seen a picture of this design and I don’t know if it made it into production.

Although Joanny Panel did offer Le Chemineau derailleurs with fitting brackets, and did, belatedly, make a L’Izoard derailleur that was specifically designed to be retro fitted, his first priority was always to sell Le Chemineau derailleurs as part of Le Chemineau bicycles. Because of this he left open the market for derailleurs that could be retro fitted to existing bicycles, or indeed fitted as original equipment to other manufacturers models. Albert Raimond stepped into this gap with his Le Cyclo derailleur. As ever in the bicycle trade, this led to a bitter feud. Although the Le Cyclo derailleur worked with a helical mechanism, Joanny Panel harboured a burning hatred of Albert Raimond because he considered that he had stolen his ideas.

Panel was an accomplished rider, as was one of his employees, Benoit Faure. Both competed in the Tour de France, and used Le Chemineau bicycles fitted with the Le Chemineau derailleur. Through these, and other antics, Joanny Panel, a larger than life character, did much to establish derailleur gearing as a viable mainstream alternative to epicyclic hub gears.

I believe that Joanny Panel finally sold the Le Chemineau business in 1958, and died in 1970.