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Introduction of 126 spacing and 7 speed

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Introduction of 126 spacing and 7 speed

Old 03-19-18, 02:50 PM
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Introduction of 126 spacing and 7 speed

I tried to figure this out using Velobase and other references, but could not.

Some time around 1974 racing bikes began to switch from 120mm rear hub spacing to 126. 120 was the 5 speed standard, but would also accept "Ultra 6", which is 6 speeds at what later would be 7 speed spacing.

With 126, 6 speed freewheels could have 5 speed spacing, but was expanding the 5mm Ultra 6 spacing to 5.5mm really worth it to bike makers and component designers of the time? 6mm of extra axle was likely to increase axle breakage, and that would have been an issue.

So why the switch? Was it to go to 6 speed, and Ultra 6 was just something that came later to keep 120mm hubs relevent? Or was "Ultra 7" part of the deal, even though it didn't become common until over a decade later? When did the first 7 speed freewheel become available? Or was there some completely different reason that 126 came on the scene?
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Old 03-19-18, 02:55 PM
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I believe the first 7-speed freewheel was a SunTour, in 1978. Citation pending on that...

But I think the first 6-speed freewheels were in the late 60's, so as the mid-70's progressed you saw bikes opening up to take those. Ultra-6 came way later than regular 6, so it wasn't a case of "expanding ultra-6."

EDIT: Frank Berto says that Ultra-6 was in 1977, Ultra-7 in 1979: http://pages.citebite.com/o2n1u6u4w3qui
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Old 03-19-18, 02:57 PM
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Originally Posted by ThermionicScott View Post
I believe the first 7-speed freewheel was a SunTour, in 1978. Citation pending on that...

But I think the first 6-speed freewheels were in the late 60's, so as the mid-70's progressed you saw bikes opening up to take those. Ultra-6 came way later than regular 6, so it wasn't a case of "expanding ultra-6."
So Ultra 6 was more of a bandaid for the old 120mm standard to make those bikes competitive with the standard 6 speed bikes? That makes sense.


How were 6 speeds used in the '60s before 126? Just too much dish and lots of broken spokes?
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Old 03-19-18, 03:04 PM
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Originally Posted by Kontact View Post
How were 6 speeds used in the '60s before 126? Just too much dish and lots of broken spokes?
I think the spacing was more nebulous back then... a 5-speed bike might be 120-124ish mm, 6-speed required a definite bump up to 126ish, and 7-speed freewheels generally require a little bit more than that in practice.

But yeah, concern over broken spokes must have been what kept most people (outside of racers) from adopting 6-speed. My "Rene Herse" book mentions that during the Technical Trials, some constructeurs made their own 6-speed freewheels by brazing an extra cog onto regular 5-speed units -- and that was in the 1940's!

I wasn't around in the 60's or 70's, so this is just what I've gleaned from previous threads and articles.
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Old 03-19-18, 03:13 PM
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Another data point. The Retro-Velo timeline notes that Campagnolo revised their Grand Sport rear derailleur to handle 6-speed freewheels -- in 1961! Velo-Retro: Campagnolo Timeline
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Old 03-19-18, 03:17 PM
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The swap to 126 and 6-speed was well before SunTour started making the Ultras in any form. I think the first 6-speeds were well before 1974 though I will not swear to that. I do know that the Ultra spacing started (in this country anyway) in 1978, maybe 1977 though the top end Fuji Professional with its sweet SunTour Suberbe was a 126 6-speed and had all the top SunTour stuff that was not available anywhere else until the next year. (Fuji and SunTour having a very close connection.) The word 7-speed was never mentioned. (I worked at LifeCycle in Cambridge, MA, the dealer for Fuji for the northeast.)

6-speeds before the Ultra spacing and 7-speeds after had exactly the same issues (dish and axle breakage) as the dropout spacing and hubs were identical. It became apparent very quickly that going a step further to 8-speed and 130 was completely out of hand and that (didn't start but) quickly drove the move to cassettes; allowing the outboard hub bearing.

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Old 03-19-18, 03:52 PM
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Originally Posted by ThermionicScott View Post
I think the spacing was more nebulous back then... a 5-speed bike might be 120-124ish mm, 6-speed required a definite bump up to 126ish, and 7-speed freewheels generally require a little bit more than that in practice.
True. The reality of rear OLN is much more complicated than 120 vs. 126. I have seen 120, 121 (which is really 4¾"), 122, 124, 125, 126, 128, and 130 rear OLN with freewheels.

That's because rear OLN width should be driven by freewheel width. There was no set standard for what width a freewheel "should" measure.
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Old 03-19-18, 03:57 PM
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What Thermionic Scott said.

I purchased a bike with six speed freewheel in 1967. In Chicago, USA. It was a bit of a hunt for the shop to find that freewheel, they ended up sourcing it from the Paramount Room. They did know perfectly well what I was asking for and at the tender age of 15 I knew enough to ask for it. The wheel was built to 124mm on a respaced five speed hub with not much axle engaging the dropout. Did not break any spokes. (I was a lightweight back then.)

Six speed became popular when Eddy used it. Once Eddy was on a six the entire planet had to update inventory. What year was that? I don't know for certain, but if you must know there are photo galleries. Never underestimate the influence of Eddy.

One of my main riders is a 1950 Bates, verified with current marque owner as May 1950. With somewhat less certainty I am pretty confident the bike had had no significant mechanical work done since late 1950s when I received it. The hubs fitted are Siamt/FB which makes them 1940 or earlier. The hubs and the rear triangle are set to 122mm. Neither frame nor hubs were that way when new. It could happen. People do fiddle with bikes. From what I know Regina had 6 speed freewheels from 1962. I don't know of any earlier than that but would be very surprised if there were not enthusiasts fabbing up their own before the manufacturers came around.
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Old 03-19-18, 04:54 PM
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Originally Posted by ThermionicScott View Post
I think the spacing was more nebulous back then... a 5-speed bike might be 120-124ish mm, 6-speed required a definite bump up to 126ish, and 7-speed freewheels generally require a little bit more than that in practice.
...this is more or less in keeping with my experience, and I was around.

I still have bikes that are spaced in back anywhere from 120, through 122, 124, and 126.

And it's not unusual to discover older hubs where the OLD either came originally or has been adjusted using spacers to any of those numbers, along with 122 and 125.

I just put back together a 531 framed Legnano with the dropouts set and aligned very nicely at 122, and high flange Campy Record hub in the back to match. It may or may not have come that way originally, but it fits six cogs without interference in that configuration. I think it's probably a narrow freewheel, but I didn't measure it..

Anyway, to your point, I don't recall anyone being real rigid about this. If you needed to re-space something a little bit to make it work, that's what you did. Everything was steel, and if you had the tools it was not a big deal.
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Old 03-19-18, 05:11 PM
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I remember. 5 speed 120 was most common till the end of the 70s. We called them 10 speeds... On racing bikes, 6 speed 126 began to dominate around 1979 or so. However, it was actually around for much longer than that, as others have mentioned. It took another year or two before you started to see 6 spd a lot on mid level 'sport' bikes. From then on 6 speed/126 was effectively standard until the late 80s. Dura Ace 7400 came out in like 1985 with 7 speeds, and it was sort of a game changer. Took a while for 7 spd to fully catch on.

Ultra spacing was kind of a different thing. Sort of an evolutionary side branch in a way. It was more or less a hack to get 6 speeds on a bike meant for 5, and later a way to get 7 on a bike meant for 6. IME it was more popular with the club riders, so to speak, than the racing set. The latter in my area preferred their Regina.

Spacing wasn't all that sloppy. It think it seems that way now since so many hubs have been respaced and resized.
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Old 03-20-18, 09:39 AM
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As has been said, spacing was a little more freeform then. A had to have item was the campy hub freewheel side spacer with two indents rather than one. The single indent was for 5 speed, the double indent was for six speed. Number of speeds was the question rather than OLD. Add the wider spacer, and you might be able to run a six.
Dish ? Broken spokes ? Who cared ? A year for a wheel was about all this heavyweight who had a hard time staying upright in the corners could expect from his ABLA and later USCF races.
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Old 03-20-18, 11:40 AM
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Originally Posted by Kontact View Post

So why the switch? Was it to go to 6 speed, and Ultra 6 was just something that came later to keep 120mm hubs relevent? Or was "Ultra 7" part of the deal, even though it didn't become common until over a decade later? When did the first 7 speed freewheel become available? Or was there some completely different reason that 126 came on the scene?
My guess is that 6 speed worked best at 126, so that's the way things moved. People still had 120-125 freewheel hubs, but wanted to have 6 speed rear ends- so that opened the Ultra spacing. The wheels are the most expensive part of the bike- no need to HAVE to replace them if you don't have to.

BTW- my 78 Trek came with one of the Arabesque 6 speed free hub/cassette hubs.
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Old 03-21-18, 05:17 AM
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Two reference points in the house here. My wife's bikes. Her '73 Colnago was built at 120mm. That was as advanced a bike as you were likely to see in 1973. I said likely, there were 126 bikes already being made. Half the frames in her shipment of Colnagos were spread to 126 before they left the shop. Her '75 RRB custom was built to 126. That was automatic in 1975. Building a 1975 custom to 120 would be something like building a 2018 custom for 7 speed cassette.

The axle breakage/spoke breakage routine only existed for Shimano marketing. Yes, axles broke and 126 axles were marginally more likely to break. It was never a big deal. The axle cracks and remains in position, it has nowhere to go. You don't even know it until you have the wheel out. Most riders never broke an axle for the simple reason they never rode their bike enough. Those who rode constantly expected to work on their bike regularly and axle replacement is simple work on a cup and cone. There were always shortages of Campy, which usually meant shortage at prices you wanted to pay, but there was never a time when service parts were not totally available. Shimano eats dead bears at supplying service parts and was even worse in 70s and 80s. Campy always always had service parts. Raleigh and Schwinn always had service parts to send to the most bicycle-backward corner of the country.

The other point is riders were a lot lighter in 70s. Back then I was 6'1" and 160#. I was always the big rider in any group. 200 pounds just did not exist for young men. Guys who played football or rugby were probably under 200#. Mamils did not exist. All parts on a bike were under a lot less stress than they are now,
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Old 03-21-18, 08:27 AM
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Originally Posted by 63rickert View Post

The axle breakage/spoke breakage routine only existed for Shimano marketing. Yes, axles broke and 126 axles were marginally more likely to break. It was never a big deal. The axle cracks and remains in position, it has nowhere to go. You don't even know it until you have the wheel out. Most riders never broke an axle for the simple reason they never rode their bike enough. Those who rode constantly expected to work on their bike regularly and axle replacement is simple work on a cup and cone. There were always shortages of Campy, which usually meant shortage at prices you wanted to pay, but there was never a time when service parts were not totally available. Shimano eats dead bears at supplying service parts and was even worse in 70s and 80s. Campy always always had service parts. Raleigh and Schwinn always had service parts to send to the most bicycle-backward corner of the country.

The other point is riders were a lot lighter in 70s. Back then I was 6'1" and 160#. I was always the big rider in any group. 200 pounds just did not exist for young men. Guys who played football or rugby were probably under 200#. Mamils did not exist. All parts on a bike were under a lot less stress than they are now,
You certainly don't make it sound like breaking axles was a non-issue. But I was talking more about the resistance to going to wider axles when they were just becoming available - that folks would be skeptical.

Still have the RRB? I used to work for Ron.
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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.

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Old 03-21-18, 11:45 AM
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I remember the Fuji ads boasting about their 12-speed bikes. I think that was in about 1978, maybe 1979.
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Old 03-21-18, 11:55 AM
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Originally Posted by noglider View Post
I remember the Fuji ads boasting about their 12-speed bikes. I think that was in about 1978, maybe 1979.
I remember that too - from about 1979. 12 speeds would have been unusual in a sport bike then. 5 speed/120 was still dominant. 6 speed was an extra trick set up that a few racing bikes had - kind of like 700c training wheels...

FWIW- my 78 Masi was originally a 10 speed (so I was told), but had been re-spaced by the time I acquired it about a year and a half later. By then pretty much every one with a racing bike was using 6 speed/126.

I re-spaced a whole lot of frames from 120 to 126 back in the early 80s at my after school LBS job.

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Old 03-21-18, 12:21 PM
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Shimano's freehub and Maillard's Helicomatic could be seen as the answer to the 126mm broken axle problem, though looking back we usually regard well built 126mm freewheel hubs as sufficient even for MTBs. I don't know if there was some metallurgic magic that went on in the '80s or if the move to 126 from 120 just exposed low quality axles that were barely sufficient for even 120mm duty.

An awful lot of improvements in metal were made during the '70s.
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Old 03-21-18, 12:48 PM
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As Peter Kohler points out in his article on the Raleigh Professional and corroborated by a glance at the Raleigh catalogs, the Pro was listed as 12-speed as early as 1973 with a 13-24t Regina Oro rear cluster.
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Old 03-21-18, 04:16 PM
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RRB #62 is at my left elbow. Not mine, the better half has it.

I remember no sales resistance at all to six speed. On the contrary, everyone wanted to be like Eddy just as soon as possible. The store was definitely thinking about the inventory problem but no one at all was thinking about axles or spokes. That would be later and I just can't recall anyone making the least issue out of it before Shimano started selling cassette hubs. Which was much later.

Yes axles will break simply from fatigue. More likely the dropouts are not parallel. Or there is a bit of slop in the cone adjustment and then the QR bends the axle a bit when clamped tight .These things will happen and they will happen more to those who are a little sloppy and to those with lower end bikes. If you had a late 70s basic Gitane or Nishiki you were not as fussy about dropout alignment or even aware of it and maybe it was a problem for those bikes, I don't know. My axles never broke before having 5000 or more miles and I was bigger than average. From some points of view 5000 miles is short service life. From other POV, 5000 miles doesn't even happen to any but a small sample of bikes. Right now I am too big and am running an FB QR axle that is 80 years old without problem. And yes I have done over 5000 on that ancient part.

Broken spokes should not happen on a six speed with 32 or 36 spokes. It is a well braced wheel, fabulously well braced compared to a 130 wheel with 11 cassette sprockets. Wheels just weren't built as well in the 70s as they are now. Tension meters only arrived at the end of the period we are talking about and there was huge resistance to using them. Unless you were lucky enough to have a wheel by Ron or built your own and just had the touch, 70s wheels were pretty bad. It was not the fault of the OLD dimension. Consistently well built wheels are recent. 32 and 36 wheels are massively overbuilt and understressed when done well. As you must know, Ron built a lot of 12 spoke wheels that had decent service life. And 20 spoke rears built with 70s parts. Or in the case of 20 spoke Scheerens, parts that might have been 30s and definitely not newer than '66.
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Old 03-21-18, 04:31 PM
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Originally Posted by 63rickert View Post

Broken spokes should not happen on a six speed with 32 or 36 spokes. It is a well braced wheel, fabulously well braced compared to a 130 wheel with 11 cassette sprockets. Wheels just weren't built as well in the 70s as they are now. Tension meters only arrived at the end of the period we are talking about and there was huge resistance to using them. Unless you were lucky enough to have a wheel by Ron or built your own and just had the touch, 70s wheels were pretty bad. It was not the fault of the OLD dimension. Consistently well built wheels are recent. 32 and 36 wheels are massively overbuilt and understressed when done well. As you must know, Ron built a lot of 12 spoke wheels that had decent service life. And 20 spoke rears built with 70s parts. Or in the case of 20 spoke Scheerens, parts that might have been 30s and definitely not newer than '66.
126 and 130 hubs have the same bracing angles and flange locations. That was the point of 130 - to add 2mm on the outside while the cassette allowed the low sprocket to be 2mm closer to the flange than a freewheel could get.
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Old 03-21-18, 05:57 PM
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Originally Posted by nlerner View Post
As Peter Kohler points out in his article on the Raleigh Professional and corroborated by a glance at the Raleigh catalogs, the Pro was listed as 12-speed as early as 1973 with a 13-24t Regina Oro rear cluster.
Yep. The '73 and later Pro and the '73 RRA were both 6 speed standard spaced freewheels. The '72 Internationals and Competitions were still 5 speed.
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Old 03-21-18, 06:57 PM
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@63rickert, also, spokes are better now than they were then. I remember when DT spokes came to the bike shop where I worked. Wow, they were nice.
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Old 03-21-18, 08:49 PM
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You can say that again, about the iffy quality of older wheels and spokes!

But I also recall seeing quality issues with hubs, such as the sort that Chas recalled about cones not sufficiently hardened, but also things like the slot in the axle being cut through to the core!
So I am sure that the quality of parts played huge in terms of some 6s conversions working well and others falling apart.

I tension the spokes of just about every wheel that enters my wheel service area, I look for bent axles, loose driveside cones and just about always find sloppy tensioning.

This was an interesting thread to read, I think a lot of the info is not so widely known.

I can add a few data points:

Campagnolo hubs left very little in the way of extra axle extension on their hubs, so even an Ultra6 freewheel usually needed at least a 1mm washer to be added to their 5s hubs.

Normandy or Atom hubs left a ton of extra room for wider freewheels, U6 was no problem and even standard 6s would fit on the 5s hubs with just a thin washer added to the driveside axle spacing (I've done this many times). These hub makers weren't so concerned about strong wheels and axles apparently!
Schwinn used 126mm spacing very early on in conjunction with 5s freewheels sporting an outer derailment shield/disc.

Space needed for a wider freewheel can be stolen by the nut used to secure a claw-type derailer hanger (or axle spacer), especially when a smaller top cog is used. I have "massaged" this type of stepped nut with a dremel stone to clear a freewheel body and/or chain's path. I have fitted freewheels with as little as 3mm from the outer face of the cog to the inside of the dropout when the frame's seatstay attachment and lack of claw mounting permitted, depending on use of narrow chain however.

The early-70's Peugeots seem to all be spaced at 121mm, and I have built crazy-strong 7s wheels for use with such frames by minimally increasing the axle spacing to just 124mm. Pictured below is one such wheel with 7s freewheel, note the minimalist axle/locknut protrusion, all that is needed with modern 8s chain!


Last edited by dddd; 03-21-18 at 10:55 PM.
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Old 03-22-18, 09:04 AM
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Originally Posted by Kontact View Post
So Ultra 6 was more of a bandaid for the old 120mm standard to make those bikes competitive with the standard 6 speed bikes? That makes sense.


How were 6 speeds used in the '60s before 126? Just too much dish and lots of broken spokes?
I think Ultra-6 was a way to sell the 6-speed innovation to owners of 120 mm bikes as the lowest cost upgrade - no cold-setting or axle replacements, just change the cluster and chain, which were seen as wear items, anyway.

As a side benefit it let SunTour lead the way in getting field experience with narrower chains and narrower rear pitch.

Sorry, no experience with 6's specifically in the '60s. What I will say, is that the racing community was very conservative, because broken bicycles don't finish races, and one cannot win a race that one does not finish. So the racing world was not the agent for change across the board. I doubt that axles and spokes were weaker by much than what we have now - stainless was an available as a material, as was CrMo for axles. So upgrades to stronger spokes and axles were available to the industry. Perhaps dishing was an issue before the pitch of a 6 was reduced to fit the total width of a 5, but I really don't know.
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