Vintage Bicycle Component Companies History

The current world of bike components is really dominated by Shimano, but that wasn’t always the case.  There used to be a lot of different brands in the game, here are a few:

Araya

Araya wheels were very popular on bikes in the USA during the 1970s and 80s.  The company started back in 1903 in Japan.  Sometime in the late 80s they stopped importing into the US and European markets but continued in Japan. There is an Araya USA now, so I believe somebody is again importing them.

Araya Road Bike Wheel

Campagnolo

Before Shimano, Campagnolo was considered the very best components.  Founded in 1933 by Tullio Campagnolo in Vicenza, Italy.  He is the inventor of the quick release wheel.  In 1949 they came out with their Gran Sport, cable-operated parallelogram rear derailleur.  This was a great improvement for shifting.  Through the 70s all the best road bikes had Campagnolo components.  Still making great high-end components for bikes.

Campagnolo Rally Derailleur

Dia-Compe

This name was very popular in the 70s and 80s.  I’ve mostly seen them for brakes and handlebars.  Company was founded in 1930 in Japan.  At lease some of the Schwinn approved brakes were made by Dia-Compe.  In 1975 Dia-Compe USA was established in NC.  They would be the first to make threadless headsets.  In 1996 the company would change its name to Cane Creek Cycling Components. 

Dia-Compe Brake

Huret

Huret was founded by cyclist Andre Huret in 1920 in Puteaux, France.  They began by producing quality wingnuts.  In the 1930s they began making derailleurs and would also be known for making speedometers.  They were a leading manufacturer of derailleurs up to the 80s.  Stopped making derailleurs in the 1990s.  Brand is currently owned by SRAM.

Huret Derailleur

Shimano

This is the company that most are familiar with and dominates the market now.  Founded in 1921 by Shozaburo Shimano in Japan.  Began by producing bicycle freewheels.  In 1957 they began making 3 speed hubs.  Shimano American corporation was established in NY in 1965.  They start becoming more popular in the 70s with derailleurs.  They really rose up in the late 80s with their SIS Shimano Index System and in the 90s with STI Shimano Total Integration shifting.  They now own about 70% of the shifting market and 50% of all bicycle components market.

Shimano 600 Derailleur

Simplex

Lucien Juy founded Simplex in France and made his first derailleur in 1928.  The company name was a shot at the competition because he thought their product were too complicated.  By 1933 they were making 40,000 derailleurs a year.  In 1962 they started making them out of Delrin plastic which seems to be when they started having problems.  As plastic is prone to do, it got brittle with age and parts began to crack and discolor.  Competition overtook them and they stopped producing sometime in the 1990s.

Simplex Derailleur

Sugino

Sugino cranks and chainrings were really popular on bicycles during the 70s and 80s.  The company was founded in 1910 in Japan.  When Shimano started making full groupsets, Sugino likely fell behind in the late 80s.  Still making cranksets and getting some new popularity with fixie and 1x drivetrains.

Sugino Super Maxy Crankset

Suntour

Suntour started in 1912 as Maeda Iron Works and manufactured freewheels and sprockets in Japan.  In the 1950s they began making derailleurs.  During the 1970s they would become very innovative and make some very high-quality derailleurs.  Lost out to Shimano who was more innovative in the 80s.  Company survives today as SR Surtour which is probably most popular for shocks.


Suntour Blaze Derailleur

Sturmey Archer

Sturmey Archer made the best 3 speed hubs for vintage bikes, they really last a long time.  The company was founded in 1902 by Henry Sturmey and James Archer as a division of Raleigh.  Mostly known for their great shifting hubs, they also made dyno hubs which generate electricity for lights.  In 2000 the company was sold to Sun Race and production moved to Taiwan where they still make hubs.


Sturmey Archer 3 Speed Hub

Weinmann

Weinmann started in 1933 in Switzerland.  Mostly known for brakes and rims that were popular through the 70s.  These were stock on many of the British bike brands.  The Swiss plant was closed in 1991.  I believe the brand is now owned by a Chinese company and you can still buy Weinmann rims today.

Weinmann Brake

Zeus

Zeus was founded in Spain in 1926.  They are probably best known for making components that were knock offs of Campagnolo during the 60s and 70s.  They also made complete bikes with all their own components.  They fell behind Shimano like others and stopped making components sometime in the 80s.  I believe the brand is now owned by Orbea.

Zeus Criterium Derailleur

4 thoughts on “Vintage Bicycle Component Companies History

  1. While some might say that “before Shimano, Campagnolo was considered the very best…”, others might say they still are. Why do most pro teams use Shimano? Maybe because Shimano is a huge industrial conglomerate and can afford to give their stuff away on a massive scale. Why do most manufacturers use Shimano? Maybe because they have a huge distribution network, being a massive industrial conglomerate (and the pro teams now use them). I am not knocking their quality – I am using 30+ year old Shimano 600 and Deore XT parts today. Are they better than Campy, or just easier to find? (I buy my Campagnolo parts in the UK, as they are hard to find in the US.) Dia-Compe became widely used when they bought Weinmann’s patent (when Weinmann improved their center-pull brake) so, while they were good, they were essentially old Weinmanns. Stronglight (France) was the crank manufacturer for most French and English bikes in the 70s. They are still around today. If I’m not mistaken, you recently built up a bike with a Stronglight crank. Suntour made THE touring derailleurs in the 70s. Why did they shrink while Shimano grew? Was it quality or just money? Orbea is a great story in itself, being a worker-owned co-operative in the Basque region of Spain. Thanks for the updates – I didn’t realize Dia-Compe had become Cane Creek.

  2. Whilst I love my Ultegra and 105 groupsets, I really do like the older (and lesser known) components. I’ve seen a couple of videos of polished old rear derailleurs (Campy maybe) shifting smoothly and flawlessly up and down the block – they really are little miracles of engineering.

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