TECH: The Evolution of Bicycle Gearing

From Single-Speeds to Multi-Geared Marvels, the evolution of bicycle gearing from single-speed simplicity to sophisticated multi-geared designs reflects the ingenuity and innovation of the cycling industry. As cyclists, understanding this history not only enriches our appreciation for the machines we ride but also enables us to make informed choices about the gearing systems that best suit our needs. In the upcoming posts, we'll delve deeper into the mechanics of rear derailleurs, their adjustments, and practical guides for setting them up effectively.

Bicycle gearing, an integral part of modern cycling, has a fascinating history that spans over centuries. In the early days of cycling, bicycles were simple machines with a single gear, requiring riders to rely solely on their leg power. However, as cycling gained popularity and diversified into various terrains, the need for efficient and adaptable gearing systems became apparent. This led to the invention and evolution of multi-geared designs, revolutionising the way we ride today.

Early Days: Single-Speed Bicycles In the late 19th century, bicycles were primarily single-speed, featuring a direct drive mechanism where the pedals were directly attached to the wheel. While these bicycles served the purpose of transportation, they had limitations, especially on hilly terrain. Riders faced challenges climbing steep hills and maintaining speed on descents.

The Birth of Rear Derailleur: A Game-Changing Invention The turning point came in the early 20th century with the invention of the rear derailleur. One of the earliest designs, the 'Dérailleur' by Paul de Vivie (also known as Velocio), allowed cyclists to shift between different gears, providing versatility and efficiency. This innovation marked the beginning of the era of multi-geared bicycles.

Evolution and Innovation: From Manual to Electronic Shifting Over the years, rear derailleurs underwent numerous improvements. Manual shifting systems became more precise and reliable, catering to different types of cycling such as road racing, mountain biking, and touring. In recent decades, electronic shifting systems like Shimano's Di2 and SRAM's AXS have taken gearing precision to new heights. These systems utilise advanced technology, allowing seamless and instantaneous gear changes with the press of a button.

A visual timeline:

Rear Derailleur Examples from 1900s:

Rear Derailleur Examples from 1910s:

Rear Derailleur Examples from 1920s:

Rear Derailleur Examples from 1930s:

 Rear Derailleur Examples from 1940s:

Rear Derailleur Examples from 1950s:

Rear Derailleur Examples from 1960s:

Rear Derailleur Examples from 1970s:

Rear Derailleur Examples from 1980s:

Rear Derailleur Examples from 1990s:

Stay tuned for the next instalment, where we explore the fundamental principles behind how a rear derailleur functions and the basic mechanics that drive smooth gear shifts.

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