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Old 03-21-18, 10:48 AM
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I recall 6 speed freewheels from European manufacturers being available in the late 1960s, though they were rarely OEM on bicycles. Originally, they were primarily an aftermarket upgrade, typically for competitive cyclists. Interest in them started spreading in the mid-1970s as the boom era buyers started upgrading their bicycles. This coincided with the 1975 bicycle sales crash, a time when manufacturers started to look for new ways to re-interest the consumers. Shimano brought out a 6 speed freewheel in 1975 and SunTour followed in 1976.

In the mid-1970s their were lots of cycling magazine articles debating the move to 6 speed freewheels. The prime concerns were decreased wheel strength due to increased dish and bent axles. The latter was definitely a problem in the LBS where I worked, especially for owners who upgraded inexpensive wheels with carbon steel axles, though even the Campagnolo owners were not immune.

Sun Tour addressed these concerns with the 1978 introduction of Ultra 6 and Shimano countered with their Uni-Balance cassette freehub. However, the Europeans were already upping the ante, with Regina introducing a 7 speed freewheel in 1978. Sun Tour followed with Ultra 7 in 1979 and Shimano had 7 speed Dura-Ace AX cassette freehubs in 1981.

Basically, my personal observations are that industry adoption of 6 speed, and later 7 speed, were technological marketing tools used by manufacturers to stimulate bicycle sales after the boom fizzled. During the boom, there was enough pie for everybody but afterwards they need a competitive edge in the smaller market and extra cogs offered that advantage.

Last edited by T-Mar; 03-21-18 at 10:54 AM.
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