Monday, March 4, 2013

Flexible Bodies: The Suntour Freewheels

 Suntour Freewheel body models (L to R both pics): 1. Winner Pro 2. Winner 3. Perfect 4. Pro Compe 5. New Winner

Back in the day, these bodies were HOT.  Oh yes.  And so it remains today.  There are plenty around who still lust after these beauties.  

Their beauty lies in their design.  In The Dancing Chain, Frank Berto says, "The 1983 SunTour New Winner was the most flexible freewheel system made.  One body handled 12- to 34- tooth sprockets, 5-,6-, or 7-speeds, and narrow or regular spacing.  There were 42 different sprocketes available."  The narrow spacing is called Ultra (6 or 7 speed).  This Ultra design allowed for a 6 speed freewheel on a 120mm hub where usually it would have to be 5 speed.  Also, it allowed for a 7 speed on a 126mm hub where it was usually a 6 speed.  

Berto also states in his book, "SunTour started the trend to narrower spacers, and narrower chains, which has led us to 10 sprocket freewheels."  Oh why oh why did Suntour have to die!?  They were also the company who invented the slant parallelogram design for rear derailleurs in 1964.  This design kept the chain equidistant to the cogs as the derailleur would move from larger to smaller sprockets, providing for more efficient, cleaner shifting.  They were a smaller, non-aggressive company, and once Shimano was able to use their designs after the patents expired, it was all downhill for them from there.  

But yes, today when you go buy a new bike, it most likely has at least 9 speeds in the back if not 10 or even 11.  For me though, I don't need that many, and I am completely content using the Suntour freewheel.  My Fuji Royale II is set up with an Ultra 7 speed Winner Pro freewheel in back (12-32) and a triple crank (48-38-28).  That is 21 speeds!  Do I really need more than that!?  

I had never heard of these freewheels before that fateful day in December of 2007 when I received my Fuji Opus III via Fed Ex from an Ebay purchase.  It came with a Suntour Winner Pro "straight block."  Straight block refers to the cog set up, and that there is only one tooth difference between each.  It was set up as an ultra 6 speed with 13-18 teeth (first gear was 13, second 14, 15, 16, 17, and sixth gear had 18 teeth).  I am not a racer though,  and that set up would kill me out on the road!  

Thankfully, I learned that these freewheels had a lot of versatility built into them, and I could change my gearing without spending alot of money.  At that time, a wonderful community bike shop was available to me (Charlottesville Community Bikes), and I was able to find other Suntour freewheels at no or minimal cost.  At that time too, I was able to find some affordable ones on ebay.  Since then it seems, they are becoming more collectible and harder to find at lower prices.  Since the cogs were interchangeable with the bodies, I have been able to set up a freewheel with lower gearing so that I can handle the changing terrain of the road better (i.e. I can ride up the hills easier).  

Over time I have acquired the Suntour freewheel vise tool, the 2 and 4 pronged removal tools and the chain whip so that I can take them apart and mix and match all I want.  I have to say I have quite enjoyed doing this!  I have become very nerdy in how I draw up my gear charts to compare all the different possibilites before I make a final decision on all of my teeth counts for the rear cogs and the front chainrings.  And even though I just mentioned that it seems harder to find them affordably, it is still possible to come across some of these freewheels for free or very low cost.  You just have to keep your eyes peeled.

Two of the best web resources for these wonderful freewheels are:

1. Sheldon Brown's site (of course)...
2. Yellow Jersey (Madison, Wi) If you are using the winner or winner pro freewheels, and think you'll get into taking them apart and putting them back together, be sure to get the very inexpensive tech manual ($3.95) from Yellow Jersey.  It is well worth it.

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