The quick-release mechanism was invented in 1927 by Tullio Campagnolo (Vicenza, 26 August 1901 – Vicenza, 3 February 1983).

It was during one of Tullio Campagnolo’s races as a young amateur racing cyclist that he confronted a problem that often faced cyclists of those days: removing a wheel (see notes 1). On November 11th, 1927, with snow covering the roads of the Italian Dolomite mountains (that’s him in the photo below, on that very day!), Tullio was riding over the Croce D’Aune Pass in the Gran Premio della Vittoria race and needed to remove his rear wheel to change gears.

At the time there was but one cog on each side of the rear hub, so gear changes necessitated stopping, dismounting, removing the rear wheel, rotating it horizontally so that the opposite cog is engaged by the chain, and finally reinstalling the wheel.

Because the large wingnuts that held his wheel on had frozen and his hands were too cold to budge them, he was unable to remove his wheel to change gears and lost his chance at the victory that day.

Tullio Campagnolo invented the quick-release mechanism.
Young Italian racing cyclist Tullio Campagnolo (26 August 1901 – 3 February 1983) invented the quick-release mechanism in 1927. He was a professional racing cyclist between 1927 and 1930. He participated in numerous important races such as the Giro di Lombardia (today Il Lombardia) or the Milan-Sanremo, but only managed to win one edition of the Astico-Brenta and one pre-Olympic time trial.

As Tullio struggled to free his wheel, he muttered five words to himself that changed the history of cycling:

“Bisogno cambiá qualcosa de drio!” (can be translated as “Need to change something from the scratch!”)

He had been well-placed prior to the gear change but lost valuable time and the possible victory. This prompted him to develop the quick release.

The solution: quick-release mechanism

 In 1930, Tullio Campagnolo patented the cam mechanism quick-release skewer that became the standard for the industry. In 1933, the first quick release hubs were produced by Campagnolo.

In 1933, the first quick release hubs were produced by Campagnolo. Also in 1933, he patented the sliding hub, dual seat-stay rod-operated, back-pedal derailleur, ultimately known as the ‘Cambio Corsa’. Later, in 1949, he introduced the “Gran Sport” twin-cable, parallelogram rear derailleur at the Milan trade show, the first modern derailleur.

This quick-release skewer, which is still widely in use today (see notes 2), enabled a bicycle wheel to be removed and reattached very quickly and easily.

Quick-release skewer
Quick-release skewer, removed from a hub, in the closed position

Quick-release mechanism was the first of his many inventions of Tullio Campagnolo. His creativity knew no limits and he reached into different sectors, his best ideas flourishing in times of difficulty. For example, in 1966, Tullio had another stroke of genius, just like he’d had for his invention of the quick release.

While toasting a victory perhaps, or drinking a glass of wine with some champion or other, he hurt his hand opening the bottle. This triggered not only his rage but also his creative flair. It took him just a few minutes to design a new kind of corkscrew, one that over the years was to become a cult object and collector’s item. This was the birth of the Campagnolo BIG corkscrew.

A Campagnolo quick-release
A Campagnolo quick-release
Tullio Campagnolo, the inventor of the quick-release mechanism.
Tullio Campagnolo, the inventor of the quick-release mechanism.
Tullio Campagnolo with NASA satellite
Tullio’s company, Campagnolo event built chassis for NASA satellites in 1969. Tullio Campagnolo (in the middle), in front of NASA satellite OSO 6.

Notes

  1. Cyclists had to stop, dismount and flip the wheel to change the gears in the early years of bicycle racing.
  2. Quick-release mechanisms tend not to be used on certain types of bicycles, such as utility bicycles (with a single-speed, fixed-gear, or hub gears) or track bicycles, partly because of tradition and partly because there is less need for quick removal of wheels without using tools.

Sources

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