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Derailleurs are all very well, though I distrust any design that relies on bending a chain against its intended rigidity, and indexed derailleurs are a pleasure … but I miss the slow, gentle ticking of a Sturmey-Archer hub.


The French are not without achievements when it comes to civil engineering, but show them anything mechanical and their Gallic clarity of spirit turns to mush and confusion. Not for nothing do they call something as basic as a spanner a clef anglaise, and when it comes to their idea of transmission-systems the early car-builder Panhard said it all. His eager engineers showed him what they'd cobbled together to do duty as gear-box, and you can hear his shrug as he pronounced «C'est brutal – mais ça marche.»

Which is about all you can say for the Derailleur system. The earlier implementations that required the rider to take a hand off the handlebars and manipulate a small lever with millimetric precision were, surely, somewhat over-delicate and impractical into the bargain. I'll concede that newer indexed systems with a twist-grip are considerably easier to use, even if the basic idea remains dubious. No motor-cyclist would thank you for deliberately flexing the chain in the direction it's supposed to be stiff.

Sturmey-Archer, on the other hand, designed a totally enclosed sun-and-planet system whose construction is a mystery to me while its operation remains a source of delight. Molewheel, my current push-iron, does well enough with an indexed six-speed set; yet there is, all the time, something missing. Like the faster clicking when you press button A or the singing rattle of change-on-wires, the leisured, deeply familiar, "honey yet for tea" or Janet and John Cycling with Mother tick, tick, tick just is a powerfully evocative noise no longer in my everyday life.

Perhaps I should get out more.

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