German Patent 624,501 - Wanderer main image German Patent 817,564 - Kreis main image German Patent 2,314,555 - Sachs main image
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The backbone of any history of the German derailleur has to be the story of Fichtel & Sachs (F&S) and its subsequent incarnations; Sachs, Sachs-Huret, and then Sachs again. F&S dominated the German bicycle components industry with its Torpedo hub-gears from the beginning to nearly the end if the twentieth century. For much of the century F&S saw the derailleur as a niche product to be used to increase the gear range of a Torpedo hub-gear. F&S introduced their first derailleur, a single pulley design in 1935.

Other German derailleur brands from the inter-war years include Wissner, J.Wi.S, Wanderer and the interestingly named Durex manufactured by Prazisions-Werke Bielefeld (PWB). All are now only footnotes in the greater history of the derailleur.

Following the Second World War F&S picked up where it had left off, producing a single pulley pull-chain design. Later, in the mid 1950’s it moved on to a twin pulley pull-chain design derivative of a Huret. Frank Berto lists other derailleur makers as Altenburger, Honer, Kreis, Alda, Bismark, Magura, Rabeneick, Rasant, Reinhold, Wissner, Velo and a company he describes as Simplex-PWB. This implies that PWB had given up their Durex brand and licensed (or been bought by) Simplex. In the DDR (East Germany) there was FuS, Renak, Optima and Tectoron.

Of all these post-war brands the technical innovator seems to have been Altenburger, with their design incorporating a parallelogram under the chainstay. With the exception of F&S, all the West German brands seem to have disappeared before the end of the 1960’s.

F&S produced their idiosyncratic Sachs Super Sport in the 1970’s and then purchased Huret in 1980. It wasn’t until the 1986 model year that the Sachs designs could be really considered to be more German than French. Finally in 1997 Sachs was bought by SRAM, and the German derailleur industry was no more.

In Britain the derailleur industry had been suffocated by Raleigh and its Sturmey-Archer hub-gear business. In Germany the same happened with Fichtel & Sachs cutting of the oxygen supply. The anomaly is Japan where Shimano has managed the rare trick of being both a volume hub-gear manufacturer and a volume derailleur manufacturer. The jury is still out on whether SunRace of Taiwan, the current owners of Sturmey-Archer, will emulate Shimano in this respect.

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