1950 General Motors ad

In 1950, GM’s “New Departure” division manufactured bicycle components and advertised “The most exciting Christmas gift since 1896!”

GM New Departure 3 Speed Bicycling Ad

New Departure was one of the hundreds of parts suppliers that profited with the bike manufacturing explosion in the late 1800s. GM swallowed them up in 1916 for ball bearing manufacturing expertise, but continued with bike components until GM shut that business down in 1953.

The “Triplspeed” [sic] shown here is a bit more clever than you might think on initial observation. This is not a three speed internal gear hub; the planetary gearing is contained within the sprocket, similar in concept to the planetary gear chainrings from Schlumpf and Truvativ.

GM’s “Triplespeed” was compatible with any New Departure coaster brake hub, and involved removing the old cog with the new 3 speed cog and adding cabling and a shift control to the handlebar. Triplspeed retailed for $15 (roughly equivalent to about $150 today); GM claimed installation took about 20 minutes. It had about a 60% range: Low gear was 25% reduction, 2nd gear was straight gearing (no change), and high gear was a 33% overdrive.

Some of the features GM advertised:

  • Compact and weatherproof
  • Sturdy, durable, and easy to install
  • Converts any New Departure Coaster Brake to 3 speeds
  • Back pedaling brake with each gear! (emphasis in the original ad)
  • Synchromesh action. Gears can be at any time easily and smoothly.
  • “Preselection.” Gears can be shifted automatically in advance! (I think this means you can shift while stopped)
  • Handlebar control. Your hands never have to leave the handelbars.
  • An American invention, the only unit of its kind in th world.
  • A product of General Motors.

An ad in an old LIFE magazine shows a young lad excited about this brand new Triplspeed as admiring peers and an attractive girl look on. “Now you can shift gears on your bike just as you would in a car!”

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