This is a summary, dating from 1959, of a presentation made at the headquarters of the Société des Ingénieurs de l'Automobile (Section Cycle et Motocycle) - by Jean Raimond, on February 9th, 1953, in Paris. It provides a brief history of the early years of the derailleur. Jean Raimond is the son of Albert Raimond - the founder of Cyclo and developer of the Le Cyclo derailleur.
A rough (and rather bad) translation of the text might go like this:
"Before exploring the origins of the derailleur and its evolution, it is useful to classify the different systems of variable gearing that have been created.
They can be divided into two groups:
1) The first or 'superimposed' group includes hub gears, geared bottom bracket systems, and geared shaft drive systems.
2) the second or 'juxtaposed' group is the most important; it can be broken down as follows:
a) Flipping the wheel. - The rear wheel hub has a sprocket on each side, with the sprockets having different number of teeth. This system requires you to dismount the machine. It was adopted for many years by racing cyclists.
b) The 'bichaine'. - This goes back to 1880, when it was used on Sparkbrook tricycles whose weight varied between 50 and 80 kg. Paul de Vivie (Velocio) adopted this system in 1890 for his bicycles.
The system uses two chains, one on the right, the other on the left, with a clutch at the crank which allowed you to use one or the other transmission, each of which gives a different gear ratio. This system enjoyed considerable success between 1900 and 1906.
c) The floating chain. Used around 1911, this was a very simple device consisting of a double or triple chianwheel and a simple freewheel at the rear; under the freewheel a roller or pulley, fixed onto the hub axle, guided the lower run of the chain so that it engaged the freewheel.
The chain was moved between the chainwheels either by hand or by using a 'chelloise lever', which can be considered as the forerunner of the front derailleur.
d) The retro-direct. - The retro-direct, for which the first patent was filed in 1868, appeared in 1900. It was operated simply by pedalling backwards, without any control lever. The high gear was obtained by turning the cranks in the normal direction and the low gear by turning them in the reverse direction. The rear hub had two independent freewheels screwed on the right hand side, a reversing pulley was mounted under the chainstay. A single, longer, chain connected the chainwheel to the two freewheels and looped around the reversing pulley. This gear system was still on sale in 1938.
e) The progressive gear change. - The progressive gear change, first marketed in 1901, was an expanding chainwheel made up of a set of articulated levers.
f) The lévocyclette. - A type of bicycle equipped with lever arms, propelled by reciprocating, rather than rotary, movements. A wide range of gear ratios could be achieved by moving the attachment points.
g) The Derailleur. This system, which millions of cyclists use today, starts with a freewheel with several sprockets. The key element is the device that moves the chain across the sprockets, this device is includes a chain tensioner. The movement of the chain can be controlled by cable or rigid rod.
After English experiments that did not lead to anything, in 1895 the Frenchman Loubeyre filed a patent for a device which moved the chain between two sprockets fixed to the hub, by means of a lateral push from a derailing device which included two tensioning pulleys, one acting on the lower run of the chain, the other on the upper run.
In 1901, an Englishman commercialised a system using a freewheel made up of of two sprockets with different numbers of teeth; the mechanism consisted of two pulleys, one connected to a spring loaded arm to tension the lower run of the chain, the other moving the same chain run from right to left in order to align it with the desired sprocket. The movement of the chain was controlled by a lever fixed to the frame. This system was not held in high regard in England, where there was a preference for elegant mechanisms over rougher but practical solutions.
In 1904, Terrot, from Dijon, produced a 3 speed machine.
In 1908, Boizot, from Puteaux, produced the 'Bidirect' derailleur with a single cable control, lateral displacement of the lower run of the chain using a guide pulley and including an independent tension pulley assembly.
In 1910, Hervier, of Rive-de-Gier, introduced his bicycles with a derailleur using lateral displacement of the freewheel; that same year, a bicycle was shown at the Salon that was equipped with 38 speeds, this impressive number was obtained using a hub gear, multiple chainwheels, derailleurs and a multiple freewheel.
At the 1911 Tour de France, Henri Alavoine used a derailleur. In 1912. Albert Raimond, the founder of 'Cyclo' presented his first derailleur, called 'Le Routier'. At that time, derailleurs that were available included the P'DA, Le Chemineau and Audouard.
From 1904 to 1912, there were two popular systems of derailleurs, one with lateral displacement of the freewheel with the mechanism remaining fixed, the other with lateral displacement of the mechanism and the freewheel being secured to the hub.
On April 6th, 1913, the first Critérium de la Polymultipliée was organised by the newspaper 'Le Cyclotouriste' using the same format as is used today. Of 62 registered competitors:
In 1913 more than fifty models of derailleurs were in circulation and at the 2nd Critérium de la Polymultipliée in 1914, out of 44 riders, more than 30% were equipped with derailleurs; the first world war halted all activity, but from 1920, new models appeared: L'As, the Super AS, Le Cyclo in 1923, operating using a helicoidal ramp and double cable, Le MontagnardLe Montagnard, Le Crack and L'Izoard.
At the Critérium de la Poly in 1926, more than 70% of the starters used a derailleur and at that time, it was noted that regional riders who used a derailleur, regularly beat national champions who did not. The success of the derailleur was assured and all the necessary elements for its spread were in place. These are:
In 1926, the Touring Club of France awarded Albert Raimond of 'Cyclo' the 'Constant Bezier' prize for the device which contributed the most to the development of tourism (in a competition which included Motoring, Aviation, etc.).
New models of derailleurs appeared alongside the existing ones: Funiculo, Caminade, Grigri, Veletrick, Le Lautaret, Rota, Nivex, Westminster, Pelletier, Super Champion, Le Simplex, Super Leader, Huret and Spirax.
The summary, above, has concentrated on the rear derailleur, but it should be emphasised that during the same period, from around 1904, front derailleurs were used with double and triple chainwheels, and chains of 12,7mm or 25,4mm pitch.
In the case of triple chainwheels, steel sprockets with a thickness of 3 mm or 4 mm were used at that time. They were attached to the crank using bolts, threads, rivets or crimping. Spiders with 4, 5, 6, and 7 arms allowed the use of interchangeable chainrings with different numbers of teeth.
When considering the origins of the derailleur, manufacturers and the users should not forget that the French cycle industry owes its rise, both at home and in export markets, to the efforts of the pioneers and advocates of the derailleur, in particular to Paul de Vivie (Velocio) of the Touring Club de France, organizer from 1904 of numerous Concours de Cyclotourisme, founder of the magazine 'Le Cyclotouriste', and organiser, in 1913, of the first Critérium de la Polymultipliée."
Despite the, typically French, utterly incomprehensible, total nonsense about superimposition and juxtaposition, despite the slightly odd description of what I take to be the Whippet derailleur, and despite calling Paul de Vivie's magazine 'Le Cyclotouriste' (I think it was called 'Le Cycliste'), despite all this, this is an interesting and credible history of the early years of the derailleur - from someone whose father was a very active protagonist.