Friday, March 30, 2012

The Quick Release

Photo credit: Velominati
I take it for granted. That shiny lever on the axle. You know, the one that you can flip open, release your brakes, and quickly remove the wheel. Or loosen, reset the wheel so it's centered on the forks or dropouts, then re-tighten. It's even a simple maneuver to take off the front wheel and place your bike in the back of your van or squeeze it in a trunk.

The quick release is also a godsend for fiddling with saddle height. Raise it a quarter inch, lower a half inch until the seat feels like primo adjustment—the sweet spot between sore knees and your butt sanding the seat.

It's a standard feature today, and as you can imagine it eases the bike salesperson's job. But for years bikes weren't equipped with quick release mechanisms. My Trek originally didn't have it, nor does my husband's recent purchase. As I recall, most bikes in the 80s didn't come with them, nor do I remember the Schwinn Varsity and Continental of my youth ever having this feature. So I was surprised to discover that the quick release has been around since 1930.

According to Cyclopedia, Tullio Campagnolo invented this gadget out of necessity. As an amateur racer he was riding over a pass in the Dolomites when he had to change gears. In 1924 it involved undoing wing nuts on the back wheel to move the chain to a different sprocket—by hand. Hard to imagine, especially when the freezing temperatures created stiffened digits, too stiff for the racer in this particular instance, to loosen the nut. Because of this frustration Tullio didn't win the race. He worked for the next six years in his father's ironmongery in Vicenza to develop the very invention that's become so common today.

So why did the quick release fall out of favor? Or did it never catch on until the late 1980s? I'm not sure. It may have something to do with economics, users not properly re-tightening the levers, or the possibility of theft. So the next time you flip that special lever, think of Tullio. I may never own any Campagnolo parts, but I appreciate the invention of this simple tool.

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Wikipedia's history and description here.
How to properly set the lever here.

1 comment:

  1. Cool bit of history (a bit I didn't know),I had no idea they'd been around so long! I have them on all front wheels,back wheels of my geared bkes (not on the SS's rear though),and ONE (out of many) seatpost (ok,3,counting the new folding bikes,LOL :p)...it's something one doesn't give much thought too when they have it,do when they don't :) Interesting read,my friend :)

    The Disbleb Cyclist

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