New Departure Triplspeed Hub - Decalomania?

If you have a bicycle, chances are its got a few gear ratios you can choose while riding. Also, it probably manages this by pushing the chain laterally from cog to cog with a "derailleur". As you can guess from the word, we have The French to thank for this invention. There is another way, however. A heavier, more reliable, more limited way, and that's with an "internally geared" hub on your bike. And, yes, apparently, in 1950, you could have one of these retro-fitted to your bike without replacing the hub. Crazy talk, I know.

The New Departure (That's a brand name.) Triplspeed was an add-on three-speed internally geared hub attachment that, at the time, was probably of pants-moistening desirability to any kid who dreamed of riding his bike up near-vertical inclines or at speeds beyond his ability to avoid personal tragedy. As we can see from the illustration in the ad, the boy pointing in wonderment at the rear hub is probably having his first-ever tumescence. Ah, youth. You never forget your first bike boner.

Planetery gears, and magic.

"So what's the big deal with an internally geared hub?" you say. "My Wal-Mart bike has eighteen speeds that I almost never use." Yes, you don't. But, your Wal-Mart bike is probably neither assembled or adjusted right, and hasn't been, ever since it came out of the carton, because that's Wal-Mart for you. Also, a bike engineered down to a Wal-Mart price point probably has gears that basically almost work properly sometimes, no matter how deftly it is adjusted. But most of all, it's a derailleur transmission, and they are, yes, lighter and cheaper than an internally geared transmission, and are also capable of more gear ratios than an internally geared transmission.

But, there are a few compromises with a move-your-chain-from-gear-to-gear type transmissions.

1) They tend to misbehave if you shift while honking down on the pedals, instead of just gently rotating the pedals.

2) They are open to the elements, and need to be regularly cleaned and lubricated. After one mountain bike race on a rainy day with the course ankle-deep in peanut-butter mud, I had about $200 in parts replacement to look forward to. Cables, bearings, derailleur, etc.

3) If you don't understand what you're doing, you will probably shift into a gear combination that it wasn't meant to handle. The biggest cog at the cranks and the biggest cog at the rear wheel are what is called a "crossover gear", and is a redundant gear ratio that can be reproduced by using different, more mechanically appropriate, cogs in different combination. Also, the smallest-with-smallest combination is another useless crossover gear. There are couple of them on any derailleur transmission and about half of the people on any casual bike trail are probably using one.

Basically, without going into too much detail, a derailleur bike is finicky and delicate in comparison to an internally geared bike. Old transmissions like New Departure, Sachs, and Sturmey-Archer were pretty much indestructible and fool-proof. Yes, they only had a few speeds, but you simply couldn't make them go wrong. You could shift while pedaling, even with the chain under load. You could shift to a new gear while not pedaling, and the hub would shift once you did start pedaling again. Since all the moving bits were inside a sealed unit (hence, "internally-geared"), they generally were maintenance-free. If you somehow did manage to get the internals contaminated, you could probably fix it by taking off the end cap, flushing it with lots of oil, and spinning it for a while.

So, why'd we abandon internally geared designs? We didn't. You can still get one, and they still offer all the benefits outlined above. They still are capable of fewer gear ratios than a derailleur, but all of the gears are useable ones. If you feel like paying for it, you can get an internally geared hub with nine or even as many as fourteen speeds. A nine-speed Japanese unit will probably cost about $300, but there's always the model made by Ze Chermans at the top of the heap. A Rohloff fourteen-speed hub goes for just under $1200. Yes, way.

If you read this 1950 New Departure ad, you'll notice that you can send away from a free sales brochure and also a free... "decalomania"? Double you tee eff is a decalomania? PAG Research and Googling Team, ASSEMBLE!

Decalcomania, from the French d├ęcalcomanie, is a decorative technique by which engravings and prints may be transferred to pottery or other materials. Today the shortened version is "Decal".
"Decalomania" is short for "decal"? Holy crap. I have never heard this before. Thanks, Wikipedia!

Anyway, this ad can also be mined for a few clip arts. Here are three of the kids' heads ready for use as your new avatar in whatever chat system or forum or whatever you use, if that's what you're into.

Last but far from least, there's the bike boner boy, boggling at his lucky friend's new transmission. He could be pointing at anything you want, if only someone would lift him out of the crowd of kids and drop him on a transparent background. PAG Graphic Blandishment and Photoshoppery Brigade, get you asses in here!

Boom. You're welcome.

Click for big.


Anonymous said...

during what years and how many units were manufactured? They must be incredibly rare.

Randylou said...

As a kid, I had two bikes with this transmission and rode others. Second gear almost never worked, which was too bad because it was often the optimal gear. And I mean NEVER. I was desperate to get a five-speed at the time, and we very happy when I finally got my first 10-speed.

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