Kharkov derailleur (1st style) main image Kharkov derailleur (2nd style) main image Kharkov derailleur (4th style) main image

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Based in the eponymous city, Kharkov Velocipyed Zavod (Харьковский Велосипедный Завод which I believe translates as ‘Kharkov Bicycle Factory’) was a major volume manufacturer of bicycles in the USSR.

Alexander Leutner, a Baltic-German businessman established Alexander Leutner & Co. in 1886 in Riga (now in Latvia), to manufacture bicycles. It rapidly became one of the largest bicycle manufacturers in the Russian Empire. In 1915 Alexander Leutner and Co. were evacuated to Kharkiv to avoid the advancing Imperial German Army. In 1923, after the revolution, the factory was taken into state ownership and became Kharkov Velocipyed Zavod. At some point the the factory was named after G.I Petrovsky, a prominent Ukrainian Bolshevik.

It is possible that Kharkov’s higher spec. models were some of the better bicycles manufactured in the USSR. At its peak Kharkov manufactured over 1,000,000 bicycles a year.

As discussed on the Brands page of this site, the components are stamped with three letters. These look like ‘XB3’ (so the brand is sometimes called this in the West) but these are actually Cyrillic letters that can be romanised as ‘KVZ’. Sometimes the company is also referred to as ‘HVZ’, and Arnfried Schmitz refers to it as ‘Charkow’. Kharkov is obviously a difficult word to romanise!

According to posts on bikelist.org the company seems to have been still in business in 2003, after possibly being bought by new owners in 2001. The US visitor who posted the comments seemed to be disturbed that there were still large posters of Lenin in the company’s offices (although I have my suspicions that the pictures may have featured G.I. Petrovsky - who, as a young man, was a passable a Lenin lookalike)! It appears that, by 2003, Kharkov had given up manufacturing their own aluminium derailleurs, but it is unclear whether they continue to make steel derailleurs.

Another site chronicles a visit to the Kharkov factory that may have been as recent as 2009. This site also shows a catalogue with bikes with relatively modern parts that use Kharkov derailleurs. Finally the Kharkov factory was proudly displaying a sample wheel from the astounding Lunokhod - and apparently claimed that it manufactured the wheels for the Lunokhods.

Over the years, Kharkov appear to have manufactured a considerable number of different derailleurs to use on their bicycles:

  • A rather individual design of single pulley derailleur that is operated by a twin cable lever. You can see a photo of this in this collection of Soviet bikes.
  • A pull chain model reminiscent of a Cyclo Benelux. This can be seen in a Kharkov instruction book from 1959. This may have come in several slightly different variations.
  • A parallelogram derailleur without any branding, but generally similar to a Campagnolo Gran Sport. This can be seen in an instruction book from 1968. Again, this may have be manufactured in several slightly different styles.
  • Another parallelogram derailleur, similar to a Campagnolo Gran Sport, but branded with the word Kharkov (in Cyrillic script). There is one of these in this collection.
  • A later, steel, derailleur, branded XB3 and with both adjustment screws on the front knuckle. There are two of these, an early version and a late version, in this collection. This design may have been manufactured in two variants, one with a short pulley cage and the other with the longer pulley cage sported by the examples in this collection.
  • A version of this steel derailleur with both adjustment screws on the front knuckle, but with an aluminium outer plate branded ‘Kharkov’ (in Cyrillic script). I have only seen this with a short pulley cage.
  • An all aluminium derailleur, branded with an unidentified ‘B’ logo. There is one of these in this collection. I have my suspicions that this derailleur may really be a Perm product. This is because it is all aluminium and is heavily derivative of a Gian Robert design - all of which are typical of Perm. It also carries a logo that could be seen as В for Велта (Velta) - a Perm brand name. However I have only ever seen this derailleur on Kharkov bikes and in Kharkov literature - so I will continue to consider it a Kharkov product - at least for now.