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Date: 17 Feb 1996
From: (Hans-Joachim Zierke)
Subject: Re: Sachs-Torpedo Musings?

Melissa Kepner writes:

> To compliment the Strumey-Archer thread which I have found so
> rewarding I thought I'd start a similar thread regarding the Torpedo
> multispeed internal geared hubs made by Sachs.

The question is an error already...  ;-) The original Torpedo was no 
multispeed hub. It was a singlespeed coaster brake hub, brought to the
market in 1903. It was the most reliable bicycle part ever made, and the 
part with the longest production run - 1903 - 1991.

Reason was the silent roller clutch design, developed by Sachs for the 
Torpedo hub. Typical lifecycle of a pre-1955 hub was several 
hundredthousand kilometers. Sachs produced two sizes of oversized rollers, 
so when the freewheel stopped engaging after 100.000 km, a rebuild with 
oversized rollers made it new again. Some years ago, the neighbour of a
friend of mine died at old age, and his daughter asked wether the old bike
of 1935 is worth something. The bike had seen daily transport usage since
1935, and before the 1960s, this included LONG transport journeys.
The answer of my friend was: "Yes, sure!" She rebuiilt the original Torpedo
with oversized rollers (the "last" size), put in new brakepads, polished 
the undamaged thick nickel plating, and the hub was better than any 
singlespeed you can buy new today.

Information about pre-war history should be taken with a grain of salt. The
most important information source is a company history written for Sachs in
1961. German company histories of that years were typically written by 
ex-journalists thrown out of the press in the denacification process.
They praised the company, the founder, the current boss, and their writing 
always looks as if there was 12 years of company holidays. There is no
guarantee that other information of such writers is accurate.

With this grain of salt - the hub was developed 1902, and extensively 
tested. Like modern cars, the test bikes were brought to the Stilfser Joch,
to try the coaster brake. This brake was not like those in todays kids 
bikes - a brass brakepad allows much better modulation of a coaster brake.

The only positive modification within the production lifecycle took place 
around 1910, when the Torpedo got lighter and smaller for better material.
After that, it was only made cheaper. While the black-painted war
production still had brass brakepads (I've seen a hub with a production
code from February 1945 - still brass...), the good pads were replaced by
steel in the late 1950s. Also in the 1950s the screwed-on sprocket was
replaced by a splined sprocket. This splined sprocket reduced lifecycle to
80 - 100000 km.

Production was stopped when the Swiss Army got a new army bike with a
derailleur. The Swiss Army had been the last major customer for a 
high-quality, expensive singlespeed. Even with this customer, the last 
years of production didn't earn any money for Sachs. The hub was kept in 
the program for sentimental reasons.

A copy of the Torpedo design was manufactured by Renak in the GDR (in fact 
on Sachs machinery), and by Favorit in the CSSR. Favorit, in the Czech 
republic, still produces the design today, though the quality is not 
original (but much better than standard singlespeed hubs).

The other story is the Sachs multispeed. The first was produced in 1905, 
and I don't know wether it was called Torpedo. This was a big, big metal 
block, utterly expensive, and only a few hubs for very rich persons were 
In the 1920s, a "Torpedo" multispeed worth the name was brought to the 
market. This was a threespeed with the Torpedo roller clutch. As you may 
guess, roller clutch plus planetary gears was still expensive, but if I 
remember right, it was a successful item. I haven't ever seen one of these,

The well-known "Torpedo" multispeed is different. It was invented in the 
early 1950s, and you can indentify these production runs by the blue 
shifter. This was a successful product both in reliability and sales 
numbers. But while the post-war multispeeds were _called_, and are called 
"Torpedo", they didn't and don't have the roller clutch. All the postwar 
Sachs threespeeds are of the "-1/3   direct gear   +1/3" type.

In the late 1950s, the best post-war threespeed was born, the new Torpedo 
with the red shifter. When I was young, everybody had it. There was no bike
shop without spare parts for it. It was stronger and more reliable than any
planetary gears hub in current production. Sachs was able to sell these for
an amazingly long time with the cheap junk bikes of the 1960/70s. In the
last production years, this made funny bikes. In the "great era of
bike-junk", the rear hub would have been able to outlast five bikes. Sachs
could do this for the legendary name, most people who bought junk bikes 
still wanted a Torpedo hub. 
On bulk rubbish days, there was an easy rule: "If the rear hub of a trashed 
bike is a Sachs Torpedo or Renak, take it. If it is Sachs Komet, Sachs Jet,
Sturmey Archer, or Shimano, leave it."

But finally, Sachs gave up, and made a much cheaper "Torpedo", that lasted 
three years instead of 30. This got a black shifter, closely resembling the 
current one. The first production years put out rather bad hubs. With the 
years, the hub grew into acceptable quality, but was too expensive again. 
In the early 80s, if I recall right, or late 70s, Sachs made it cheaper 
again, replaced the steel cage for the planets with sheet metal. A strong,
heavy rider could kill this "Torpedo" threespeed in three months.

Sachs kept this "quality standard" until 3x7 was invented. Since this 
quality won't work for low gears, they reversed their decision, and use 
good steel again. With the exception of one part, the inner of the 
"Torpedo" threespeeds and the "3x7" is identical. It would be more 
expensive to produce two versions, a good one for the "3x7", therefore the 
current "Torpedo" threespeed has better quality again.

Sorry, I can never remember the Sachs coaster brake hubs production 
numbers. Sure all these different "Torpedo" hubs have an indentification, 
but it needs a coaster brake fan to remember these.

But if you see a small red or blue shifter at the handlebar of an old 
trashed bike, take shifter and rear hub.


                          T . E . L . E . K . O . M
                     We specialize in cross subsidization
Private Customer Shafting                            Government Staff Grafting

Date: 17 Feb 1996
From: (Hans-Joachim Zierke)
Subject: Re: Sachs-Torpedo Musings?

Dieter Britz writes:

> I don't know about the history, but I can tell you that Torpedo is no more,
> so if you can get hold of this part, do so before it's too late. My bike
> shop friend tells me that Torpedo has been taken over, holas-bolas, by an
> East German firm, Renack, who now make hubs that they reckon are as good as
> the old Torpedo. Everyone disagrees...

Sorry, but the Sachs - Renak story is a little different, and much older.

Sachs is located in Schweinfurt, the home of the German bearing industry. 
In 1943/44, Schweinfurt was the No. 1 target of the US Army Airforce. They 
tried to hit the bearing industry hard enough to let military production 
decline. The city was heavily armed, the USAF lost enough lives for heated
debating in congress, and Germany still had enough bearings due to the 
special "neutrality" of Switzerland and Sweden.

Due to these attacks, most of the Sachs machinery was relocated by train. 
As the main producer of clutches for tanks, Sachs got a "Führerbefehl" for
the move, and the machinery was smoothly installed in Reichenbach, about
150 kms to the East, within a big printing company. Very few qualified 
workers from Schweinfurt followed, the rest was slave workers, mostly young
women captured in the Ukraine.

In 1945, Reichenbach was secured by US troops, and investigations were made 
for confiscating the property of major Nazis, including the Sachs 
machinery. Willy Sachs had done service in the staff of the Reichsführer
SS, Himmler, in the rank of an Obersturmbannführer. He was captured in
Schweinfurt by US military police, and imprisoned. Reichenbach, however, 
was handed over to the Soviet Union, and the Sachs property was confiscated
under the Soviet Military Administration Order regarding War Criminals.

Under Soviet Administration, the "Sowjetische Aktiengesellschaft Fichtel & 
Sachs" began producing bicycle hubs again. Of the Schweinfurt personal, 
only one man had staid in Reichenbach.
In 1952 (?), the "SAG Fichtel & Sachs" was handed over to the GDR, "as a 
present of the people of the Soviet Union", and renamed "Volkseigener 
Betrieb Renak". The VEB Renak was a successful exporter to the West in the 
late 1950s and the 1960s. In that years, Renak made the best single speed 
coaster brake hub, since they cutted material costs later than Sachs (for 
example, the brass brakepad), and the GDR Torpedo hub was the better one 
therefore. I talked to an old worker, hired in the 1950s, fired 1990, who
remembered that they loaded two trailers with hubs for the USA once a week
in the early 60s, with special spokehole tolerances for the very first
automated wheelbuilding equipment invented in the US back then (didn't
crosscheck that information).

In 1990, when I visited Renak, the machinery was in a sorry status, with 
some machinery of 1935 still in service. Like many other GDR companies, 
Renak was shaken heavily by the 1:1 exchange rate when getting the DM as 
their currency. They lost all of their East European market, did some 
contract production for Sachs, and finally closed down.

If you get roller clutch hubs today, these come from Favorit in the Czech 
republic. I _guess_ that the know-how was somehow transferred from 
Reichenbach over there long, long ago, but I don't know any details. 

The "Torpedo" brand name has remained with Sachs, and 3-speeds called
"Torpedo" are in the 1996 catalog, with a new Gripshift-style shifter, in
coaster brake, no brake, and drumbrake version. The drumbrake version comes
with an aluminum shell.


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