Many Bicycle Quarterly readers wrote to tell us how much they enjoyed Takayuki Nishiyama’s in-depth article about SunTour in the Summer 2016 Bicycle Quarterly (above). SunTour was one of the world’s most innovative component makers, yet little has been written about this company. SunTour went out of business in the 1990s, but the company still is fondly remembered by many cyclists today.
Now Hideki Sasaki has added new books on SunTour to his “Derailleurs of the World” series. These books are the most complete catalogues of classic derailleurs. Every derailleur is shown in photos, with dates and a few specs. His latest work on SunTour is a real tour de force. SunTour was so prolific that their derailleurs require two volumes! Of course, front derailleurs and shift levers are included as well.
Paging through these volumes reminds me of SunTour’s genius and, sometimes, madness. Their first derailleurs were straight copies of the same Huret derailleurs that René Herse used on his bikes. Even though they were made from stamped steel, their quality was excellent. For the wider gear ranges of cyclotouring bikes, they worked better than most other derailleurs. Junzo Kawai, SunTour’s charismatic chairman, had decided that if he was to copy, he should copy the best.
The copying lasted only for a few years, before SunTour improved on the originals with its immortal slant parallelogram. This solved the problems of inconsistent chain gap that had bedeviled derailleur makers ever since they had started to attach parallelogram derailleurs to the dropout instead of the chainstay. Even today, all modern derailleurs for multiple chainrings use a slant parallelogram. The SunTour book shows a few fascinating prototypes, including one made from folded sheetmetal (above).
The slant parallelogram was pure genius, but what about the adjustable cage length of some models? Perhaps it was intended for riders who wanted to use a straight block one day, and mountain gearing the next? Swap your freewheel, adjust the cage length, add a few links to the chain, and off you go! Genius or madness?
Sasaki’s book are very detailed: The classic Cyclone derailleur that took the American market by storm during the bike boom is shown in no fewer than 18 variations. With its slant parallelogram, it handled wide-range gearing better than all other derailleurs of the time, yet it was inexpensive, simple and reliable.
SunTour was one of the first companies to offer mountain bike derailleurs. The Mountech GTL was SunTour’s answer to the Huret Duopar, with a third pivot that kept the chain gap constant on wide-range freewheels.
Paging through the book, I learned that the Superbe Pro rear derailleur on my bike (the Mule) is one of the last, made from 1986 until 1994. It sold for the equivalent of $ 120 in Japan – three times the price of the less expensive models.
I was amazed that the immortal Power Ratchet bar-end shifters remained unchanged from 1972 until 1985. I expected at least half a dozen iterations, but there is just one entry (above in the middle). Why change what works so well? If only SunTour had applied that lesson to their other products! Perhaps this much-missed component maker would still be with us.
The photos may not have the sparkle of the best professional studio images, but they are clear and informative.The descriptions are brief, and unfortunately for most of us, they are in Japanese. Yet the important details are easy to figure out: model number, weight, dates made, and price in Yen. We can marvel at the sheer variety of SunTour’s output, but without knowing what makes them so special, it can be hard to appreciate them. Fortunately, after having read Takayuki Nishiyama’s Bicycle Quarterly article, I recognized many derailleurs, and I was able to fit many of the derailleurs in the new book into their context. That way, SunTour’s fascinating story emerged in ever-more detail.
The “Derailleurs of the World” series now has three titles:
These books are printed in very small quantities and are difficult to find outside Japan. We are placing a one-time order for the SunTour book, as well as the earlier volumes on Simplex and Campagnolo. If you would like a copy, pre-order it by October 20. We won’t stock these books, so please order now if you want one. The books will be shipped in November.
- Compass Bookstore for ordering the Derailleurs of the World books.
- Bicycle Quarterly 56 features Takayuki Nishiyama’s article on the history of Suntour.
- Bicycle Quarterly 45 explains how SunTour PowerRatchet and Simplex Retrofriction work, with great drawings by George Retseck (above).