The Head, Heart & History of the Bike Chain

“Few realise how extensive is the influence of Renold’s inventiveness on both civil and industrial life throughout the world.”

The Institution of Mechanical Engineers  1879

Volunteering on an HLF-funded project ‘Made In Greater Manchester’ at Archives+  in the magnificently refurbished Central Library was a no-brainer. When asked to catalogue Renold Chains  however…  deflated… came to mind! It took a week, even less, for all that to chain… err change.

As a cyclist, I soon discovered that my bike chain is a ‘Bush Roller Chain’ and that this common bike chain was invented and patented by Hans Renold in Manchester in 1880! After name changes the company trades as Renold PLC   www.renold.com  still with its HQ in Greater Manchester, making transmission chain & gearing for the engineering, agriculture, construction, domestic market, forestry, transport and many other industries in 23 countries!

It started in 1873 when the Swiss engineer Hans Renold found work in Manchester with a firm of machinery exporters, age 21. By 1879 he had purchased a textile-chain business in Salford leading to his invention of the Bush Roller Chain a year later. Also in 1879 the first ‘Safety’ bicycle was developed from the Penny-farthing but with a chain unfit for purpose.

The Bush Roller Chain transformed bicycles from the Penny-farthing of 1869-1893 (track racing until 1930s):

Credited to British Pathe to the ‘Safety’ bike of the 1886-1900s

bike

Credited to The Online Bicycle Museum

The ‘Safety’ bicycle, invented in Coventry by JK Starley, allowed riders to safely sit lower on the frame with greater control of speed, manoeuvrability and stopping-power (penny-farthings had no brakes!). But it was not until 1886 when Renold’s Bush Roller Chain revolutionised its use by men, women and children and for generations to come.

chain

Credited to The Online Bicycle Museum

The  modern bike we know today,  with a structurally similar chain set design!:

img_0184

Credited to Total Women’s Cycling

The Bush Roller Chain provided the wear and durability of the transmission chain industry. For the chain nerds, these later 1954 hand-drawn designs show the historical development of chain types from 1864 -1927:

Credited to Manchester Central Library

One final historical reference goes to Dame Vivienne Westwood who incorporated bike chain into her clothing designs of the 1970’s revolutionary punk collection!

A month into my volunteering  I love chain history, have acquired skills in digitisation and blogging, been enthralled by Renold Chains and gained  inspirational insight into  yet more of this great city’s historic legacy with Made in Greater Manchester at Central Library. Want to get involved? Sign up today and get inspired! https://madeingm.wordpress.com/2016/06/27/call-for-archives-volunteers-in-manchester/

RENOLD CHAINS in a nutshell:

  • the chain industry, contrary to popular belief, is fascinating!
  • the BUSH ROLLER CHAIN, the king CHAIN of bicycles and industry, was invented & patented in Manchester in 1880 by HANS RENOLD
  • the ‘Safety’ bicycle was invented in Coventry in 1879 by JK Starley but perfected by RENOLD’S BUSH ROLLER CHAIN
  • CHAINS continue to drive much of the mechanical world and RENOLD PLC marches into the 21st century
  • RENOLD CHAIN is the oldest transmission chain company in the world
  • IME was prophetic back in 1879 but is the RENOLD story widely known today? Perhaps a little bit more now!
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5 thoughts on “The Head, Heart & History of the Bike Chain

    • Thanks so much Amanda! I most certainly will… as I read Tripp’s book and continue through the 200! boxes of the archive =) It’s really so interesting!

      Like

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