Terrot H main image Terrot HE main image Terrot HT main image

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:

  • In 1904 Terrot bought the patents to Edmund Hodkinson’s Gradient derailleur design. This was originally a three speed system, with chain lifters, in which the chain stayed in line and the cogs moved sideways. Back pedaling lifted the chain off the current in-line sprocket, you then shifted the sprockets so that your chosen gear was in-line and forward pedaling dropped the chain back onto the newly aligned sprocket.
  • By 1905 Terrot had developed Hodgkinson’s design, notably by adding a sprung cage with two pulley wheels to tension the chain. They marketed this system as the Terrot ‘Modèle H’ (for ‘Hodgkinson’). I believe a Modèle H is shown in Shimano’s film ‘Technology Continues the Tradition’ (about 10 minutes and 5 seconds into the film).
  • 1909 saw the release of Terrot’s ‘Numéro 1’ design. This very simple design owed more to the Whippet New Protean than to Edmund Hodkinson’s Gradient. It used a conventional (in modern terms) two speed sprocket that did not move from side to side and had the larger cog closest to the spokes and the smaller cog closest to the frame. It had a metal loop, through which the chain ran, which shoved the chain sideways, moving it onto the other sprocket. This design was covered by French patent # 396,696 Addition # 10,418. In the patent drawing the chain is shown as tensioned by a cunning three pulley system. In production Terrot used a two pulley system that was very modern in style.
  • In 1910 Terrot launched their ‘Modèle HE’, a development of the Modèle H which had the modern chain tensioning pulley wheels used on the Numero 1 and a more sophisticated method of moving the sprockets using a hollow axle and toggle chain. The Modèle HE was still a three speed system, still used chain lifters and still had a rear sprocket cluster in which the largest cog was central. The design was covered by French patent # 422,255.
  • In 1912 Terrot combined the simplicity of the Numéro 1 with the sophistication of the Modèle HE and produced the ‘Modèle HT’. This 4 speed design used a rear sprocket cluster that moved from side to side controlled by a toggle chain as in the Modèle HE. However, it did away with Edmund Hodkinson’s fussy and fragile chain lifters. Instead it used a twin pulley cage mounted close to the rear hub to hold the chain laterally, forcing it to move from sprocket to sprocket as the rear sprocket cluster was moved sideways - with a derailing action much like a modern derailleur. As on a modern bike, the sprocket cluster had the cogs in order of size with the largest cog closest to the spokes and the smallest cog closest to the frame. The Modèle HT was a resilient and well respected design that stayed in production until 1939. It was also strikingly similar to the British Trivelox A1 which was ‘invented’ (and patented) in 1935.
  • From the early 1930s Terrot seem to have enthusiastically adopted derailleurs made by Simplex, who were also based in Dijon.

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.