Classic Lightweights UK
Classic Components 

'Clangers' / front changers

Images and text by Derek Browne 
In the late 40's/early 50's new fangled devices appeared which became known as 'Clangers', due to the noises often emitted by inexperienced users.

When I started racing in 1953, 90% of riders were using manual front changers; the remaining few were using a single chainwheel. The majority chose to use Simplex with a smattering of Huret, and Cyclo Benelux (below). I personally never saw anyone racing on a Campag Sport or a Cyclo, although a member of my club, the Halifax Imperial Wheelers, had a Campag Sport on his Dilecta.
Clangers 16 Benelux
Cyclo Benelux front changer
(Image Peter Brueggeman)

There were no groupsets in the 1950's so the choice of gears was down to the individual rider. My own choice was Huret Tour de France on the rear and Simplex Competition on the front. Another example was on Ken Russell's winning Tour of Britain bike: his set up was Cyclo rear with Simplex front.

Clangers 11 T de F Clangers 12 Competition

Towards the mid-50's Campag Gran Sport cable-operated front and rear gears started to appear, but the manual front changer was still the dominant set up. I have seen a photo of a young Tom Simpson in 1957 on Campag Gran Sport riding behind Ron Coe, who is using Cyclo Benelux rear and Cyclo Benelux rod-operated front. I first used a Benelux rod operated changer only 2 years ago and I must say it is far superior to the Simplex I used all those years ago.

I have gleaned almost all of my info on manual gear changers from French Tour magazines and Brighton-Glasgow race programmes from 1945 to 1957, and of course all the "Classics" in the same era would have been won using the same equipment. Of particular interest is a shot of Jean Robic who appears to have adapted a Simplex Competition changer to be cable operated (see images below). I don't know the date of this photo but from his appearance I would hazard a guess it was taken in the mid-50's. Many riders continued to use manual changers into the early 60's.

Calngers 2 Bobet
Clangers 3 detail Bobet
Jean Robic with Simplex 'rod' front-changer which appears modified with cable from a bar-end changer

I have Included details of the three pre-war tours when deraileurs were used for the first time purely out of interest. The "tour" was suspended from 1940 until 1947. However, two French tours were run durung this period -- Le Circuit de France and La Ronde de France along with the Tours of Italy, Spain and Switzerland, but I have no pictorial evidence of whether or not double chainwheels and front changers were used.

Tour de France Timeline
1937 - Lapebie wins using a Super Champion rear deraileur with single chainwheel.
Clangers 18 Koblet1938 - Bartali wins using a Vittorio Margharita rear deraileur with single chainwheel.
1939 - Maes wins using a Super Champion rear deraileur with single chainwheel.
1947 - Jean Robic wins using Simplex Tour de France rear and Simplex Competition front changer.
1948 - Gino Bartali wins after a 10 year gap due to the 2nd world war. (Would he have been the first rider to win 7 tours? We will never know). He used a Campagnolo Cambio Corsa on the rear with a Simplex Tour de France on the front.
1949 - Fausto Coppi wins using Simplex Tour de France rear and Simplex competition front changer. Apparently the Simplex manufacturers paid him a huge amount of money to win this Tour. The following year he was back on Campag.
1950 - Ferdi Kubler wins using Simplex Tour de France rear and Simplex competition front
1951 - Hugo Koblet (shown right winning time-trial stage in the Tour de France) scores the first win on Campag Gran Sport cable operated front and rear using double handlaebar end levers.
1952 - Fausto Coppi's second win using Campag Gran Sport with double down tube levers.
1953/4/5 - Lousion Bobet wins using Huret Tour de France rear and Huret manual front changer. Huret did offer a cable operated front changer in 1955, and I think Bobet may have tried this set-up on a couple of stages?
1956 - Roger Walkowaike wins on Campag Gran Sport.
1957 - Jacques Anquetil scores the first of his five wins, and is the last rider to win using a manual front changer (see Derek's Gallery). He uses Simplex Tour de France rear and Simplex Competition front. 

Many riders continued to use the manual changer into the early 60s.

Derek would welcome any comments or extra information and can be contacted via the webmaster.

Clangers 8
Clangers 9
Above: Cyclo front changer with Campag Corsa rear with fork on bottom chain run
Left: Campag Sport front and Paris/Roubaix rear changers on Serse Coppi's 1950 Bianchi
Note the slack chainline, especially on the left image.  The P/R gear could be set to give varying chain tensions and the main reason this gear was used in this era was to satisfy the riders paranoia about tension on the chain caused by spring-loaded pulleys.

Clangers 13 Campag
1949/50 Campagnolo Sport front changer - not much used in the UK
(Image Paul Gittins)
Clangers 14 Cyclo
Early Cyclo, 'England',  front changer with fore and aft lever movement - see 'French'
version below

Clangers 20 Cyclo France
Clangers 21 French Cyclo

Two images of the 'French' version of the Cyclo front changer, compare with 'English' version above
Images: Peter Lowry

Clangers 15 Huret
Huret front changer, again with fore and aft movement
(Image Peter Lowry)


Clangers 5
1949 Koblet using Simplex Tour de France front changer
Clangers 6
1957 Anquetil with Simplex Competition front changer - the last time a Clanger wins

Clangers 10 Clangers 4
(Above left) Brian Robinson on his Hercules in 1955 using Cyclo Benelux rear & Simplex Competition front

The final rider (above right) in my gallery is of my all time favourite, Louison Bobet. He was the big winner just as I was getting started in 1953. He was a rider who could probably " dig deeper" than most and this was something that really impressed me and my team mates. In the book by his brother Jean he states that in his final win in 1955 Louison completely destroyed himself on the Ventoux stage and had to suffer for the next 10 days with open supperating saddle sores to achieve his 3rd victory, and upon completion of the event he had to retire to a nursing home to recover.  Mere mortals like us could only applaud. Note, it is a terrific shot of the Huret clanger.

Clangers 17 Advert
I.T.P. advert (1949) showing Geoff Clark, winner of 1949 Brighton to Glasgow using a Simplex T.de F. changer
The following year 1950, the winner was George Lander (below) with Simplex Competition changer
Clangers 19 Frejus team 1950
Frejus Team - Brighton to Glasgow, 1950:
Les Wade, Len West, Dave Bedwell and George Lander - the winner using Simplex Competition changer.
Apart from Geo landers winning, the Frejus team had Dave Bedwell in 6th place & Les Wade in 9th which gave them the team prize
(Thanks to Bernard Howerd for this image)