Huret Allvit Rear Derailleurs

1966 Huret Allvit Advert

Despite being about the right age to have experienced a Huret Allvit rear derailleur in my youth (they were standard equipment on Schwinn bicycles and were manufactured in the multi-millions by the mid-1960’s), I missed out on the now well-reported unpleasant experience.  Due to my parents purchasing proclivities, I ended up with Sears’ (Puch) internally-geared bicycles, and then eventually a Shimano-equipped Volkscycle, that latter of which I put many miles on before figuring out that something better was out there.

Late 60’s to early 70’s model

I’ve been recently working on the restoration of a Robert Ducheron machine whose date of build has yet to be determined.  The bike was equipped with components dating from the 1950’s to the late 1960’s or early 1970’s.  It arrived with a fully matched group of Huret Allvit shifters and derailleurs.  R. Ducheron bicycles come highly prized, he being one of several artisanal French builders from the golden era.  So, if Allvit derailleurs were spec’d by Mr. Ducheron, it would indicate confidence in their performance and reliability.

I had started to disassemble the mechanism, while noting that the spring has two notched positions for controlling chain tension.  I also noted that the pulleys have adjustable cone ball bearings, rather than bushings.  Not something expected on a low-end product.  I also recalled that I’ve set up a few Allvits on bikes I’ve sold over the years, and remember being surprised at how well these “low-end” derailleurs shifted.

1962 Rebour drawing showing parallelogram

The above drawing, from a 1962 copy of Le Cycle magazine, shows the Allvit in all its glory, and with no less than 4 chain tension settings on the pulley cage.  You can also see that the parallelogram is positioned at the bottom of the arm, which means that it can match the height of the freewheel cogs to engage them without tons of chain gap.

1962 Rebour Huret Allvit

But, here is another 1962 Rebour drawing from the same edition of Le Cycle showing 3 chain tension positions.  It would appear that there were several configurations of the Allvit, even within the same model year.

1966 Huret Allvit Advert

And, here is a 1966 advertisement from Le Cycle magazine, with this version showing 4 chain tension options. 

Here is the full page of Rebour’s drawings in the Le Cycle 1962 edition, with accompanying text.  According to the narrative, at this point in history, the Allvit had been equipped on a number of racers and tandems, winning the Poly de Chanteloup on numerous occasions. If this derailleur is truly low-end, how could these results be possible?

And the answer is nuanced.  As time went on, the derailleur was cheapened, a process typical of the economics leading up to the 1970’s bike boom.  The steel arm, now covered, proved to be flimsy and easily bashed out of adjustment, and the pull required to move the parallelogram proved to be very high, causing cable failure.

So, with that in mind, I plan to continue my overhaul of the Allvit, aided by the above instructions, courtesy of disraeligears.co.uk, an English language version well worth having.  I’m hoping that with plenty of lubrication and adjustment, I just might get performance worthy of the Poly de Chanteloup!

Huret Rear Derailleurs

1980 Huret Challenger rear derailleur

There are some vintage components which I have never taken a liking to. Huret parallelogram rear derailleurs are one example.  These rear gear changers were introduced in the 1960’s.  The Huret rear derailleur line of this era ran the gamut from  the lower end Alvit models to the very lightweight Jubilee models.  In between are the Eco, Challenger, various Luxe models, Svelto, and the titanium version of the Challenger – the Success.  In my experience, the lower end Alvit models can actually perform quite well, even though they are fairly heavy and unattractive.

Huret Titanium Success rear derailleur

This titanium model (one of many Huret models in my parts bin) is very visually attractive, but is essentially exactly the same as its Challenger counterpart, engineering-wise.  One feature of both the Challenger and Success models is the ability to move the cage pivot to accommodate 24 or 28 teeth.

This is accomplished by screwing the cage pivot bolt into either the 24 or 28 tooth drillings on the parallelogram.  That is all very well and good.  Apparently, these derailleurs can accommodate a 31 tooth gear range, so they can be adapted to touring applications with the right set-up.  Frank Berto’s book The Dancing Chain has a comprehensive discussion of these derailleurs, along with commentary regarding his own experience using them on his bikes.  While noting their obvious shortcomings, Berto states that he has successfully used the Duopar models (which have TWO parallelograms), on his friction shifting touring bikes of this era.

Non “bastard” dropouts on the Meral…Huuureet!

Baffling complexity for what should be a simple attachment to the dropout. The black (not silver) bolt turns out to be one clue not to ignore.

Fortunately, the dropouts on the early 1980’s Meral Rando bicycle that I am currently working on are NOT Huret style dropouts.  They are standard Shimano/Campy so can accommodate pretty much any kind of rear derailleur option.  That set my mind at ease, in case something went wrong with my urge to disassemble the Huret Challenger which is original to the bike.

If you are into overhauling rear derailleurs, RJ the Bike Guy has a wonderful video showing the overhaul and reassembly of a Huret Challenger rear derailleur.  As it turns out, the process of overhauling is very straightforward.  The pulleys run on bushings which just need cleaning and lubrication.  The body also needs to be cleaned, with the pivot points lubricated.  The pivot spring on this derailleur was kind of kinked up, so we’ll see how well it performs once it has been cleaned, greased, and re-installed.

Huret rear derailleur instructions, courtesy of http://www.disraeligears.co.uk/Site/Huret_instructions.html

Now to the most challenging part of the overhaul process:  installing the Huret derailleur into the dropout.  This step would normally be something no mechanic would ever even discuss, except to recommend torque settings for the installation bolt.  Not so with Huret rear derailleurs.  There are all kinds of parts, including bolts, washers, clamps, and b-screw adjusters to be considered.  I found myself really questioning my sanity as I attempted to mount my freshly overhauled derailleur to the dropout on the Meral.  Fortunately, disraeligears.co.uk came to the rescue.  As it turns out, the BLACK mounting bolt is very important – signifying the method which is necessary to secure the derailleur to a non-Huret drop-out.  This also determines the line-up of the b-screw adjustment piece, which can be put into two different positions – see above.  If you don’t have a headache by now, you are to be commended!  I will circle back around once I have the Huret Challenger installed and tested.

1950 Huret Competition Rear Derailleur

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This Huret Competition rear derailleur was equipped on the Mercier Meca Dural bicycle I have been restoring.  When I removed the derailleur from the frame, I wondered whether it was original to the bike.  And, I really didn’t like it – with it’s rigid connecting arm and weird large upper opening which is supposed to connect to the space above the frame’s vertical drop outs.  Perhaps I am a Simplex snob.

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This plunger/pull-chain derailleur is similar to the Simplex TDF and Simplex Juy derailleurs of this era.  But there is an important difference:  there is no upper pivot on the derailleur arm, so it cannot move under chain tension.  During this era, Simplex offered this extra feature on its plunger/pull-chain derailleurs, and I have enjoyed restoring a number of fine Simplex derailleurs from the early 1950’s which work well out on the road.  Instead, this Huret derailleur mounts with a rigid arm extending from the chainstay.  But because this Mercier Meca Dural has vertical dropouts, is the derailleur in the correct position?  The Daniel Rebour drawing shown above shows this derailleur mounted on a frame with semi-horizontal dropouts.  The position of the upper pulley in Rebour’s drawing, allows for more chain wrap, as opposed to my project, with its vertical dropouts pushing the derailleur down, with less engagement of the freewheel cogs.

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Even so, I decided to overhaul the derailleur and keep my misgivings at bay.  The pulleys have ball bearings – a really nice feature – which I overhauled by removing the pulleys from the cage, and cleaning and lubricating them. Each pulley has a set of cones under which the ball bearings reside, which can be tightened or loosened.  I decided to leave the cone adjustment as found, but I did note that one pulley’s cones were quite a bit looser than the other’s.

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I also cleaned and lubricated the pull chain – removing it completely from the derailleur and, cleaning and greasing it,  then re-threading it.  The re-threading is a little challenging – it takes patience to get the threads to re-engage.

One of the challenges with these types of derailleurs is to get the pulley cage in the correct position.  Simplex even offered a drawing in its owner’s manuals to help cyclists install these derailleurs correctly.  Generally speaking, the derailleur should be installed so that the monikers appear upright and/or readable, as shown below:

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I’m not enamored with this derailleur, but after researching its origins, I believe it may be original to the bike.  Even so, I may decide to replace it with a nicer Simplex model from this same era.  First, I’ll test this derailleur to see how it performs.