Author Frank Berto writes about Derailleurs


By Frank Berto

NOW IN ITS THIRD EDITION, UPDATED AND EXPANDED AGAIN.  Derailleurs, aren't they those funny things on the back of your bicycle? How could a book about them possibly be interesting, especially if you don't fiddle with them? If that is what you think, read on... Frank Berto has written a bicycle masterpiece in a style that does far more then just talk about "Derailleurs". His book has topics of interest for virtually every discipline, from racers to mountain bikers. Frank has put together more history, more people, and more photographs and illustrations than it would seem to be possible. He has artfully presented it in a way that makes it resonate with virtually everyone by showing how they are all connected through history. Better still, he has done it in a way that is fascinating and contemporary to read. His style is easy to understand and conclusions insightful. Reading this book will contribute to any riders understanding about where the modern bicycle has evolved from, and more importantly, how current bicycle riding methods relate historically. This is a great book that is destined to be a bicycle enthusiasts CLASSIC!

Cover of The Dancing Chain book about derailleur history Reviews of the 3rd Edition...

"Very possibly the greatest single publication about  the technical aspect of the bicycle ever to be published"  

"To put it simply, for those who collect and restore bikes of virtually any vintage, this book is indispensable"

"If you love stumping your friends with mechanical trivia, this is your dream book"

"This book is loaded with technical descriptions and meticulously researched by author Frank Berto"

"Bicycle industry people will praise this work"

"The Dancing Chain is as visually stunning as it is informative and it is of critical importance to cycle historians and enthusiasts.  The Dancing Chain is a must-have.  Out of my normal rating of one to ten, I give this book a 12!"

"One can only marvel at the painstaking research undertaken to produce this book and one cannot fail to be enlightened and entertained by it"

To order an autographed copy of The Dancing Chain, click here.  

GEARS2U! Frank Berto

ABOUT THIS BOOK (from the author)


Third Edition. The second  Edition was sold out in 2008, giving Rob and I the chance to add four more years (2006 to 2009) to our derailleur history and to expand on much of the material in the second Edition.  In the interval I met Jan Heine, who had started Bicycle Quarterly in June 2000.  Jan's main interests were classic French bicycles from the 1930's to the 1960's and he had ridden and tested many of them.  My experience covered bicycles and gear trains from 1970 onward. I was able to use Jan's evaluations to provide test results for twenty of so derailleurs.  I also included ten of the elegant pictures by Jean-Pierre Praderes from their book The Golden Age of Handbuilt Bicycles.

With each revision, The Dancing Chain has grown, until it is now 400 pages long.  In the process, it has changed from a derailleur history to a genuine encyclopedia of the bicycle.  I'm particularly proud of the first three chapters.  The 45 pages cover the 19th century from Von Drais to the end of the first bicycle boom.  These facts are the most accurate published to date.

Second Edition. Rob agreed to publish the second Edition. We decided to make this our masterpiece. We added everything that had been left out of the first edition to keep the cost down. We kept the 8-1/2 x 11 hard cover b&w format but we added 32 pages. About half of the editorial content was rewritten or new.

Ron Shepherd was terminally ill, so he could not participate. I was the sole editor. Raymond Henry had done a first class job of French derailleur history in the first edition, however British derailleur history was lacking and I had received numerous comments and corrections. Tony Hadland agreed to rewrite the history of Raleigh, Sturmey Archer and Moulton. Gordon Selby agreed to rewrite the history of British Cyclo, Osgear and Simplex.

I started collecting illustrations and new information. The second edition had 1600 illustrations. We added illustrations of early derailleurs so that old bicycles could be dated from the derailleur.

I love Daniel Rebour’s line drawings and I used 220 in the first edition. Daniel Rebour kept doing commercial work after he retired from Le Cycle in 1974. Bertin-Milremo was his last major account. Shimano-France had acquired Bertin and after much pleading, I obtained copies of the last surviving Bertin-Milremo catalogs for the early 1980s. These were a Rebour treasure trove. There were 370 Rebour line drawings in the 2nd edition. It’s a lovely book and I’m proud of it.  It was been well received by bicycle aficionados, and it went through three reprints.

First Edition. Published in 1999, the first edition of The Dancing Chain was the definitive history of the derailleur and the derailleur bicycle. Because publishers felt that there would be no market for a $50.00 technical bicycle book with 352 pages, 80,000 words and 1200 illustrations, I wound up publishing it myself. By 2002, all 2300 copies were sold and used copies were selling on eBay for $100.00. I financed the publishing by selling autographed copies.

The first edition had five co-authors. Ron Shepherd edited the first five chapters, covering bicycle history before WW-II. I edited the last seven chapters, covering bicycle history after WW-II. Raymond Henry wrote the French history, Walter Ulreich wrote the German and Austrian history, and Tony Hadland helped with the British history. Rob Van der Plas published the first edition and was surprised when it sold out. It proved that there was a market for a technical history book about derailleurs.


Chapter 1. The First Bicycles: 1817 – 1860. (10 pages, 30 illustrations.) I updated the section on “bicycle” for the Encyclopedia Britannica, incorporating comments of eight historians from the International Cycle History Conference. This is the basis for Chapter 1. I believe that Karl Von Drais invented the bicycle and that there is no conclusive proof to decide between Michaux and Lallement as the inventor of the first pedal-driven bicycle.

Chapter 2. The Search for Speed: 1861 – 1890. (19 pages, 92 illustrations.) This takes you from the Michaux velocipede to the high bicycle. It covers the first geared bicycles and the first chains and chain-driven bicycles. By 1887, the chain-driven rear wheel drive safety bicycle had taken over.

Chapter 3. The Bicycle Boom: 1891 – 1899. (16 pages, 31 illustrations.) The pneumatic-tired safety bicycle sets off the first bicycle booms in Britain and America. Exotic gear trains appear but they do not succeed. The first practical derailleurs, the Gradient and the New Protean, appear but they can’t compete with hub gears and bottom bracket gears in Britain.

Chapter 4. England, Epicyclics and Exotics: 1900 – 1907. (17 pages, 70 illustrations.) The Sturmey Archer 3-speed hub takes over in England. In France, there is competition between retro-directs (reverse pedaling), shaft drives, expanding chain wheels, lever cycles and various multi-chain systems.

Chapter 5. The First Derailleurs: 1908 – 1919. (26 pages, 76 illustrations.) Velocio (Paul de Vivie) leads the way in encouraging variable speed bicycles. Four new derailleurs appear in 1908. Joanny Panel and the Chemineau derailleur. Albert Raimond and the Cyclo derailleur. Derailleurs versus hub gears.

Chapter 6. Practical Derailleurs: 1920 – 1929. (13 pages, 43 illustrations.) Cyclo makes a practical touring derailleur. Lucien Juy begins Simplex. Vittoria makes Italian derailleurs. Shimano and SunTour.

Chapter 7. The Golden Age: 1930 – 1939. (39 pages, 251 illustrations.) Cyclo, Simplex, Huret and Vittoria compete with numerous small makers. Oscar Egg starts Super Champion. Tulio Campagnolo makes his first derailleur. Racers adopt derailleurs.

Chapter 8. The Post-War Years: 1945 – 1954. (33 pages, 152 illustrations.) Touring and racing in France. Simplex dominates the low-priced market. Coppi and Bartali dominate the Tour de France. Campagnolo makes the Gran Sport.  This chapter includes Jan Heine's tests of five old French derailleurs.

Chapter 9. Slow Growth: 1955 – 1964. (24 pages, 102 illustrations.) The Huret Allvit, Simplex Prestige and Campagnolo Record. The first Moulton bicycles. Shimano enters the U.S market. Schwinn opts for Huret on the Varsity. The SunTour slant parallelogram.  This chapter includes Jan Heine's tests of three derailleurs from this period.

Chapter 10. The “Great American Bike Boom”: 1965 – 1974. (32 pages, 127 illustrations.) The high rise “Sting Ray” leads to the bike boom. America becomes the major bicycle market. The Japanese take over the derailleur market from the Europeans.

Chapter 11. The Dawn of Mountain Biking: 1975 – 1984. (47 pages, 311 illustrations including 13 full pages by Rebour of Campagnolo, Huret, Simplex and Shimano gruppos.) This is my favorite chapter. The real story of Repack and the invention of the mountain bike. SunTour hits its peak.

Chapter 12. The Rise of Shimano: 1985 – 1994. (28 pages, 267 illustrations.) Huret, Sachs, Simplex, Raleigh and Schwinn reach the end of the line. SunTour can’t compete with Shimano’s indexed shifting and Hyperglide. Campagnolo survives with the racers. Trek, Cannondale and SRAM.

Chapter 13. Into the 21st Century: 1995 – 2009 Part I. Shimano (18 pages, 206 illustrations.) Shimano dominates this period. The switch from 7 speeds to 10 speeds.  Shimano's developments year by year.  City bikes and electronic shifting

Chapter 14. Recent Developments: 1995-2009 Part II SRAM, Campagnolo, Etc. (25 pages, 110 illustrations.)  The changing bicycle market.  Electric bicycles. SRAM becomes significant competion.  Campagnolo stumbles.  The derailleur marketplace.

Chapter 15. How Derailleurs Work.  (26 pages, 91 illustrations.) How front and rear derailleurs work. Chain wheels, freewheels and chains. Five sprockets to ten sprockets. Shimano’s key innovations. How to gear your bicycle. My favorite gearing.

Chapter 16. Nothing New Under the Sun? (4 pages, 10 illustrations.) New inventions from the 1890s.

Bibliography: (9 pages.) Index (7 pages.) These sections will be a great help to future researchers.

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From the inside cover

The Dancing Chain is the story of the modern Bicycle and the gadget that makes it tick: the derailleur gearing system used on almost all quality bicycles today. This book culminates almost a decade of work by author Frank Berto and contributors such as Ron Shepherd, Walter Elreich, Tony Hadland and Gordon Selby.  The first edition took 5 years to write.
     Most other books on the history of the bicycle go to great lengths explaining the development from hobby horse to boneshaker to high-wheeler, and suddenly stop once the safety bicycle is introduced towards the end of the 19th century.  Instead we've concentrated on the last one hundred years or, as we put it, the first 100 years of the derailleur bicycle.
     We found that the range of answers to the problem of making a bike go faster on level ground and climb better was much greater than anybody realized.  That's the reason for including some 2000 illustrations, many of which depict different stages of development of the derailleur bicycle.  


Copyright © 2000/13The Dancing Last modified: September 29, 2013

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