The Innovative And Iconic Designs Of Tullio Campagnolo (1901-1983)

Remarks about the documentation :   Although Tullio Campagnolo originally applied for the patents of his creations in Italy. Unfortunately the Italian national Patent Office hasn't made many older patent documents available to be easily accessible online, so instead the equivalent patent documents from other countries (such as France) have been used to illustrate the works of Tullio Campagnolo.


Tullio Campagnolo was a design genius, who more than any other single person shaped the design of bicycle components in the 20th century, through the sale of top quality bicycle parts by the Campagnolo company based in Vicenza, Northern Italy. In the 1950s, 1960s, 1970s, and the 1980s, Campagnolo set the standard for top quality bicycle components, particularly for road racing and track racing, the brand names 'Record', 'Nuovo Record', and 'Super Record', became synonymous with style, quality, reliability, durability and top performance, just every cycling fan aspired to own a bicycle fitted with Campagnolo parts.


Tullio Campagnolo was a good  road racer in Italy during the 1920s, like many other racers of that era he tinkered with the primitive bicycle parts available back then, eventually he started to produce his own designs and to make prototypes of them.


He applied for some patents in Italy, and tried to sell his designs to aspiring road racers. His first recorded designs were for derailleur gears, where the chain was moved sideways across the freewheel to change gear, but to accommodate the change in chain length caused by the change in sprocket size, the rear wheel had to be slid backwards and forwards, to take up the slack chain. Tullio Campagnolo devised a cam action device, to lock the rear hub axle in place, or to release the lock to enable a gear change to take place. Tullio Campagnolo first registered a patent for such a design of rear derailleur system in 1933, he later refined this design of mechanism with his 'Cambio Corsa' (patented in 1943),  and 'Paris Roubaix' (patented in 1948 and 1949) models, which were used by some top road racers of that time.


Rival designs of derailleurs in the 1930s (such as the Vittoria 'Margherita') often used spring loaded pulley wheels to take up any slack chain, but Campagnolo's didn't, and therefore his designs produced less friction, and could run more silently.

Aldo Ross shifting a Campagnolo Gambio Corsa

Aldo Ross shifting a Campagnolo Paris-Roubaix

A closer look at the Campagnolo Paris-Roubaix derailleur

01 1933 Rear Axle Locking Mechanism FR 812039 A
PDF – 219,1 KB 124 downloads
02 1943 Front Hub Quick Release Axle FR 899401 A
PDF – 193,8 KB 123 downloads
03 1943 Rear Derailleur Cambio Corsa FR 899402 A
PDF – 248,0 KB 129 downloads
04 1946 Drop Out Alignment Tool FR 947368 A
PDF – 170,5 KB 125 downloads
05 1948 Pedal FR 1000056 A
PDF – 83,1 KB 129 downloads
06 1948 Rear Derailleur Paris Roubaix FR 995329 A
PDF – 374,1 KB 122 downloads
07 1948 Wheel Dishing Stick FR 1000693 A
PDF – 97,8 KB 132 downloads
08 1949 Rear Derailleur Paris Roubaix FR 998219 A
PDF – 235,8 KB 126 downloads
09 1950 Nut For Hub Quick Release Skewer FR 1036250 A
PDF – 101,7 KB 127 downloads
10 1950 Rear Derailleur Gran Sport CH 297649 A
PDF – 427,5 KB 122 downloads
11 1951 Rear Drop Out With Adjustment Screw FR 1040852 A
PDF – 111,1 KB 129 downloads
12 1952 Gear Lever FR 1078048 A
PDF – 220,0 KB 122 downloads

The problem with the rear derailleur designs of Tullio Campagnolo, was the need for the rider to precisely coordinate the release of the locking of the rear hub axle, and the sideways shifting of the chain across the sprockets, which could be very awkward to do, especially during an intense race, when the rider was fatigued and didn't want to mess up the gear change and give his opponents an advantage.


While some other people were experimenting with other designs of rear dérailleurs in the 1930s, such as those using small pull-chains to pull the rear derailleur sideways, or with hinging parallelograms (as is the most common design nowadays), Tullio Campagnolo used a more basic technology that was very simple and relatively robust in construction.


During the 1940s some other people developed the hinging parallelogram design of rear derailleur further, so it functioned better and was easier for the rider to use, Tullio Campagnolo also experimented with this sort of design himself, and registered his first patent for a hinging parallelogram rear derailleur in 1950. In the 1950s Campagnolo sold some of these hinging parallelogram design rear derailleurs, (such as the famous 'Gran Sport' model), and they quickly became highly regarded and highly sought after by serious racers.


With the use of the cam mechanism in his early rear derailleur designs, (as patented in 1933), Tullio Campagnolo came to realise that the same cam action which he used on the rear hub, could also be used on the front hub axle too, and he registered a patent for quick release hub axles in 1943, at a time when normal life was still very disrupted in Italy, before the official end of the Second World War in 1945.


After the Second World War finished international cycle racing restarted, (including the Tour De France), and it was easier for Campagnolo to sell his specialised racing bicycle parts, both inside Italy and abroad too, Campagnolo produced some high quality hubs incorporating his innovative quick release design, but it took a little while for the design to become accepted, and to replace the previous method of using large wing-nuts to secure the hub axles in place. Initially Campagnolo had his new quick release hubs manufactured for him by the FB company in Italy, but as the sales of the hubs increased, Campagnolo brought the manufacturing in-house and didn't outscource production. With the new quick release hub design, wheel changes (such as to replace a punctured tyre) during a road race could be accomplished far faster and more easily than using the old wing-nuts, and over the space of a few years, all serious road racers adopted the use of Campagnolo hubs with their clever locking mechanism.


13 1952 Rear Derailleur Coil Spring FR 1085622 A
PDF – 174,0 KB 123 downloads
14 1953 Pump Valve Connector FR 1104341 A
PDF – 260,1 KB 124 downloads
15 1953 Rear Derailleur Gran Sport FR 1081431 A
PDF – 517,7 KB 130 downloads
16 1955 Seat Post FR 1146981 A
PDF – 312,8 KB 123 downloads
17 1956 Pedal FR 1180673 A
PDF – 338,9 KB 126 downloads
18 1956 Seals For Bearings FR 1169362 A
PDF – 269,9 KB 127 downloads
19 1958 Bottom Bracket Thread Cutting Tool FR 1238157 A
PDF – 157,2 KB 127 downloads
20 1958 Crank And Chainrings FR 1271984 A
PDF – 151,2 KB 123 downloads
21 1959 Front Derailleur FR 1271911 A
PDF – 129,2 KB 126 downloads
22 1960 Bearing Seals For Pedals And Bottom Bracket Axle FR 1295278 A
PDF – 132,1 KB 127 downloads
23 1963 Gear Lever For Handlebar End FR 1421381 A
PDF – 151,3 KB 119 downloads
24 1966 Corkscrew FR 1537226 A
PDF – 234,0 KB 123 downloads

In the 1950s and 1960s Tullio Campagnolo also worked on the design of some other bicycle parts, such as an innovative seat post design that could be adjusted very precisely, some pedals with high quality bearings and a neat rotating dirt-seal design, a stylish solid aluminium crankset with a high quality bottom bracket bearing, a high quality headset which rotated more smoothly than many of its rivals, a high quality set of side-pull brakes that were far more rigid than any other brake of their time, a lightweight and reliable front derailleur to compliment the rear derailleur, and some stylish gear levers to operate both the front and rear derailleurs with.

Each of these items had been very carefully thought through, and were the very best parts available for road racing when they were released, as well as being beautifully styled and expertly manufactured to high tolerances, from high quality materials such as aerospace grade aluminium.

 With all these parts Campagnolo was able to effectively form a "groupset" of parts, where all of the parts worked smoothly together, and also shared a unified appearance.

 To assist with the fitting of his parts to a bicycle frame, Tullio Campagnolo created some steel fixtures that could be brazed to a steel frame, such as high quality drop-outs, gear lever mounting bosses, and guide-channels through which to run the two steel wires for the front and rear derailleurs. In the Tour de France of 1963, 110 out of 130 riders used Campagnolo derailleurs.

 With this collection of pieces, Campagnolo had effectively standardised a large amount of the components of a top quality racing bicycle, and so had excluded just about every one of his competitors, including those in Italy, France, and Britain. Dispite all patents they reacted by making a lot of "look-a-likes". In the early seventies, all groupsets from Zeus, Galli, Shimano and Gipiemme looked like Campagnolo, and sometimes even had interchangeble parts. 


To complete the entire eco-system, Tullio Campagnolo also devised some innovative and extremely high quality workshop tools, to help assemble a bicycle using his parts, and for mechanics to use during races, so that they could have total faith in the quality of the tools that they were using, and could rely on them, even during the most high pressure of situations.

Tullio Campagnolo was interested in trying to use the latest and most high tech materials available to him, so he experimented with aerospace metal alloys, such as titanium and magnesium, but for bicycle parts these were rather expensive, difficult to work with, and sometimes only had a short working lifetime, particularly in the case of magnesium. While it was easy enough for Campagnolo to replace some steel nuts and bolts with equivalent parts made from lightweight titanium or aluminium, reliability was important too; often inexperienced mechanics would over tighten the fragile nuts and bolts, ruining them, making an expensive part unusable and sometimes even dangerous. The Campagnolo supplier OMAS made sets of extra-light parts.....


Nowadays, precise torque wrenches are common, but way back in the 1960s and 1970s, no bicycle mechanics used any torque wrenches, and it was entirely down to the skill of the mechanic as to how carefully they tightened the fragile lightweight parts. Back then in the 1970s it was thought that the key to producing a fast bike was to make it as light as possible, rather than as aerodynamic as possible, as is the case nowadays.


Gradually over time Tullio Campagnolo developed his designs, such as by substituting lighter aluminium parts to replace the heavier steel and bronze parts, so with each iteration of the design the performance improved and the reputation of Campagnolo increased, until Campagnolo became the universally accepted reference standard for high quality.


Whilst Tullio Campagnolo himself devised several different types of disc brake during the 1960s and the 1970s, (especially for use with motorcycles), he did not himself try to sell any disc brakes for bicycles, presumably because he believed them to be too heavy compared to rim brakes, and he didn't anticipate the use of fat bulbous tyres (such as on mountain bikes or gravel bikes) which are not well suited for use with rim brakes.


25 1966 Guides For Derailleur Cables FR 1533652 A
PDF – 185,4 KB 123 downloads
26 1968 Brake Pivot Bolt Centering Flats FR 2016556 A 7
PDF – 174,2 KB 124 downloads
27 1969 Brake Cable Adjustment Nut CH 488590 A
PDF – 134,1 KB 120 downloads
28 1969 Brake Pad Tyre Guides CH 488589 A
PDF – 194,9 KB 119 downloads
29 1969 Brake Pivot Bolt Centering Washer FR 2069323 A 5
PDF – 248,7 KB 122 downloads
30 1969 Corkscrew Bottle Fitting FR 2037357 A 6
PDF – 205,9 KB 120 downloads
31 1970 Nut And Bolt To Clamp Seat Lug FR 2114585 A 7
PDF – 172,7 KB 122 downloads
32 1970 Pump Fitting For Frame Tubes FR 2091718 A 7
PDF – 212,6 KB 122 downloads
33 1974 Seat Post With Single Bolt FR 2267232 A 1
PDF – 710,3 KB 120 downloads
34 1975 Front Derailleur FR 2322512 A 7
PDF – 260,8 KB 125 downloads

The 50 years anniversary groupset of Campagnolo, first sold in 1983, the year of Tuillo's death, marks the end of the era of Tullio Campagnolo, and shows the highest level which the designs of Tullio reached. 


The Campagnolo company struggled after the death of Tullio (in 1983), to keep up with the fierce competition from Shimano of Japan, and to keep up with changing trends in the cycling world, such as off-road riding, and the desire of bicycle brands to constantly have new models of groupsets on their bikes, to give an incentive for bicycle users to upgrade to the latest equipment.


While in the days of Tullio Campagnolo it was common for a top quality bicycle to be made entirely from parts sourced from Italy, nowadays such a situation is very rare indeed, with even the most famous and historic Italian bicycle brands making their bikes thousands of kilometres from Europe. With the moving of the production of nearly all bicycles to the Far East and far away from Campagnolo in Italy, it has become much more difficult for Campagnolo to keep on top of the pulse of what the big bike factories are looking for, and to be able to supply them easily from Italy.


While Tullio Campagnolo produced the most advanced parts of his era, he didn't live to see some of the modern developments in racing bicycle design, that have surpassed his efforts, such as indexed gearing systems, spring loaded pedals that do not require toe-clips and toe-straps, combined brake levers and gear levers which allow riders to change gear without taking their hands off the handlebars, gears that are controlled by a micro-computer and are moved by a small electric motor, or cranks fitted with tiny electronic strain-gauges to measure the power output of the rider every fraction of a second.


Despite all of the changes and developments since the time of Tullio Campagnolo, it is still possible to see many similarities in the design of modern bicycle parts to the things that Tullio first came up more than half a century ago.

1954 Campagnolo Catalog 12
PDF – 2,1 MB 129 downloads
1955 Campagnolo Catalog 13
PDF – 1,5 MB 128 downloads
1960 Campagnolo Catalog 14
PDF – 4,9 MB 131 downloads
1967 Campagnolo Catalog 15
PDF – 6,8 MB 129 downloads
1969 Campagnolo Catalog 16
PDF – 2,8 MB 131 downloads
1974 Campagnolo Catalog 17
PDF – 3,2 MB 132 downloads
1982 Campagnolo USA Catalog
PDF – 3,3 MB 129 downloads

Links via internet:

A YouTube video about the development of Campa derailleurs:  

The Campagnolo time-line: 

The official Campagnolo website: