For want of something better

About ten years ago, a friend offered me something I had been after for some time: A Campag Cambio Corsa (translates as “racing gear changer”) equipped bike. I had had the chance of getting some specimens earlier, but all of these were famous brands and being a fan of British bikes, I wasn´t prepared to pay money for an Italian name.

But there it was: A ridable, more or less complete short lever version on a rather nice frame, with the transfers saying “Dalcerri”. Some original parts had at some time or other been changed out, like the rims, the front hub and – small wonder – the front open “C” Q/R lever, but I still had all of these and so could make good the ravages wrought on the bike by some greedy collector. A moderate sum of money changed hands, and some days later a large parcel arrived, unbelievably with bare frame tubes and nothing to keep the wheels from scratching the frame. Huge shame.

Dalcerri 1

It surfaced that there were some repairs necessary, like changing the unoriginal three speed block for a four speed one which I luckily still had in my box, and a pair of new tubs, but when this was done and the wheels had been rebuilt with period correct rims, I could actually try and ride the bike. Try – not because I had un-learned how to ride, but because of the weird gear change mech.

Dalcerri 2

What happens is that when you want to change gears, you need to stop pedalling, open the top lever which is the quick release, and then derail the chain with the help of the bottom lever while pedalling backwards. When the desired gear has been selected, you pedal forward ever so slightly. This is because the toothed hub axle which engages in more teeth in the dropout will have rolled right back to max chain tension, and pedalling forward slightly will de-tension the chain equally slightly. Now you lock the quick release again, and off you go. It´s as simple as that. Racers in the forties became rather proficient at it and gear changes didn´t last for more than seconds. In my case, make that minutes.

Why this strange system, when other, simpler systems had been in use for decades when the Cambio Corsa was first seen in the thirties and early forties? Exactly because of that. Patents must have had to do with it, but the Cambio Corsa and its successor, the Paris-Roubaix changer, were also renowned for their ruggedness. Hardly a crash, and certainly no mud, would disturb the functioning of the mech. Chain wrap around the rear sprockets was very good, compared to most other derailleur systems, even at least as good as on the famous Cyclo.

Also the frame build quality on my Dalcerri is quite good, one example must suffice:

Dalcerri 3

I just love the way the seat stay top vanishes into the seat lug. Also thinning is quite noticeable.

I don´t know if Dalcerri made their own frames. I found out that there still was a cycle shop at the  address I found on the hear transfer, but my letter, translated with the help of a very kind CR member, was never answered.

BTW, good thing the French made the race for the English name for the gear change mech: Imagine the Italians had won and we´d be stuck with “deraliator”.

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