I have a new bike geek Web obsession.
It's called Disraeli Gears.
No, not the Cream album of the same name, although the site credits the story behind that album name. This is -- brace yourself -- an entire site devoted to one man's collection of rear derailleurs. But don't let the site's humble subtitle -- "A derailleur collection" -- fool you. This is no mere handful of common chain-movers. From old to new, bizarre to commonplace, there must be HUNDREDS of them in words and photos -- I tried to count and gave up. The site's author, Michael Sweatman, has a real passion for the rear derailleur and a true gift for turning phrases and telling stories. Sweatman pans one model by comparing the act of shifting it to "stirring porridge with a tennis racquet." Another model gets tongue-in-cheek praise for its urine-colored finish.
The gauntlet is thrown down on the site's home page. You know you aren't dealing with just another Campagnolo Nuovo Record fetish site (although Campyphiles will get their jollies here too) when the first image that confronts you is the absurdly wonderful three-pulley Suntour XC. The breadth of the collection is mind-blowing, from pull-chain plungers to the boat-anchor "Schwinn-Approved" Shimano GT100 knockoff of the Huret Allivit to the iconic Shimano M735 XT to a pink plastic Ofmega Mistral with matching pulleys. Even though the author is painfully aware of the aesthetic and technical shortcomings of many of these models, he seems to love them in spite of -- or sometimes because of -- their homeliness or clumsiness.
I think what I'm finding most endearing and enjoyable about the site (after reading everything from Altenburger to SunRun) is the voice behind it. This is no dry regurgitation of technical specs and model hierarchies. Sure, you'll get technical information along the way, but the technology just a framework for some entertaining writing. Take, for example, this laugh-out-loud introduction to the long-cage Dura Ace 7700 GS:
Finally Shimano gave in to the inevitability of having to sell its top-of-the-line groupset to fat middle-aged men who want low, low gears. The introduction of the Dura-Ace 7700 GS indicated that the portly wallets of portly gentlemen counted for more than the alluring image of speed, youth and fitness that Shimano had carefully cultured for Dura-Ace over two and a half decades. It was a triumph of beer-fueled reality over EPO-fueled fiction.
So, if you think you know a lot about rear derailleurs, I dare you to get over to www.disraeligears.co.uk and see how many you recognize. I'd be willing to bet that even the most die-hard, Berto-worshipping, Sheldon-Brown-memorizing bike nerd will find at least ONE model they've never seen before, if not entire BRANDS that they've never heard of.
Don't believe me? Then how many different Chinese manufacturers of Shimano Tourney knock-offs can you name off the top of your head? And can you tell a LandRider Auto Shift from an AutoBike SmartShift 2000? And (warning, impending Beavis and Butthead moment), did you know that Shimano once made a not one but two styles of derailleur called the Pecker?
That's what I thought.
Now, if you'll excuse me, I need to finish reading Suntour to Zeus.