A Brief History of Splined Cranks and Spindles

1948 splined crankset, courtesy of The Data Book

My recent overhaul of a Shimano Octalink bottom bracket made me wonder about splined cranksets and whether they had a history that preceded Shimano’s 1996 offering.  I pulled out my copies of The Data Book, Rebour (by Rob Van der Plas), as well as the small collection of Le Cycle and Le Cyclist magazine in my library to review spindle and crankset design through the decades.  I also checked Bicycle Design to see if it contained any chapters on crankset and bottom bracket design, which it did not. As it turned out, the best resource for my research was VeloBase.com.

Rebour drawing of 1950 Gnutti splined crankset, Le Cycle Magazine, 9 Oct 1950.

After learning from the Rebour book and The Data Book that Gnutti had introduced a splined spindle and crankarm by at least 1948 or 1949, I searched VeloBase and found several examples of this design.  From the Rebour drawing above you can see that the splined portion was nice and long, and was also spliced.  I have not observed these splices on later photos of Gnutti splined spindles dating from the early 1950’s.  There are a boatload of splines on this spindle, and the splined area is very long – so it does seem like a robust product, especially when compared to the Shimano Octalink V1 spindle, with its very short splines.

Williams catalogue, courtesy of VeloBase.com

Another component maker to offer a splined spindle and crankarm was Williams, who were more well known for their low end steel cottered cranksets rather than their higher end alloy offerings.  Their AB 77 crank and spindle was introduced in the early 1960’s or late 1950’s and had fewer splines than the Gnutti competitor, but was apparently easier to install and remove.  The blog midlifecycling.blogspot.com has a nice discussion about these cranks and their strengths and shortcomings.

Gnutti splined crank spindle, courtesy of classiccyleus.com

To add to the mystique surrounding splined cranksets, I discovered this intriguing 1967 Jack Taylor custom bicycle built for Jerry Collier, which was created by the Taylor brothers to feature components from earlier decades.  The bike has a 1930’s Osgear derailleur, the earliest known cassette hub by Pallandini, as well as a splined Gnutti crank spindle, shown above.

Gnutti splined crank and spindle, courtesy of VeloBase.com

As is true of most modern cycling “innovations”, what is new was actually invented decades ago.  Index shifting, integrated brake/shifter levers, bar-end shifters, and splined cassettes with freehubs are just a few examples.  We can add splined cranks and spindles to the list.

8 thoughts on “A Brief History of Splined Cranks and Spindles

  1. Too cool! I was just reading BQ58 and noticed a Rene Herse tandem with cotterless cranks. I emailed Jan Heine to inquire as to the design. I thought the first cotterless cranks were square taper in the 80’s (date ?). You answered my question. Although the picture in BQ is of a different ring design. Maybe a different model or manufacturer. I don’t suspect there were too many cotterless makers in this era. Thanks for posting this.

  2. Hi
    This post just confirms that most of the bicycle “ideas” or technical improvements have actually been invented extremely early ( mostly between 1900 and 1930 – the book of Berto -the Dancing Chain or the one of Raymond Henry about derailleurs – are nice documentation about that) but quite often been forgotten and “rediscovered”.
    To make our italian friends jalous, the review “Le Cycliste” of November 1946 mentionned a splined crank from the french make TERROT presented at the “Salon” in 1946 ! But unfortunately no drawing from Rebour to show the details.
    “Next one” ! or shall I say – “previous one ” pse ….;

  3. Before Octalink, Shimano made an earlier try at splined spindles with their short-lived Selecta design starting at around 1979. They crammed a lot of other new features into this product as well, including an early version of outboard BB bearings.

  4. I owned a Gnutti splined crank set in the late 50’s, as did many of my cycling buddies as we wanted a cotterless crank but were too poor to buy the nice TA adapter chainsets.. These cranks were notorious for losing the Allen key bolts that held them on and the South of England lanes were littered with these bolts. To make sure we could always get home, many of us carried a spare bolt and an Allen key. for on-the-road use. Once I had saved up enough money, I replaced the Gnuttis crank set with a very nice Stronglight 49 pair of 5 pin cranks with a tapered, square end axle plus Ta rings and the required adapter set.

    • Peter, thank you for sharing this fascinating story. It is interesting that the splined cranksets were the affordable option. As you describe, the spline technology wasn’t really perfected. Stronglight and TA were the survivors.

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