Tullio Campagnolo established a reputation for meticulous workmanship and innovative, elegant design. Beloved by passionate die-hard Campy fans, Campagnolo components are even today defined by old-world values of artisan craftsmanship. Tullio had always aimed for the simplest, lightest, and most efficient solutions over any fortunes to be made in the mass market. It is one of the few bicycle industry companies that stubbornly resists outsourcing the manufacture of its products: they are still made in Italy.
In 1927 Tullio Campagnolo invented and patented the quick-release mechanism for removing a bike wheel. This brilliant innovation is the same taken-for-granted component that we use today to quickly remove a wheel with the flip of a lever. In 1950 he introduced the Gran Sport derailleur, a breakthrough development based on the parallelogram design first patented in 1937 by the Italian Francesco Ghiggini. Ghiggini sold the rights to Tullio who took the parallelogram concept, refined it, and then made it a brilliant commercial success.
The Gran Sport was the archetype for Campagnolo’s excellent line of single-pivot parallelogram rear derailleurs for the next 30 years and the prototype most copied: almost every modern derailleur works on the same principal. Shifting, compared to any previous derailleurs, was fast, precise and rugged. The Gran Sport went through many changes, with the definitive model, released in 1953, becoming the derailleur of choice for many professional racers. Such legendary names as Gino Bartali, Fausto Coppi, Eddy Merckx, Bernard Hinault, Greg LeMond, and Miguel Indurain won with Campy components, along with no less than forty Tour de France winners.
Today, vintage Campy gear has nearly a cult following: fans are notoriously passionate and dedicated in their beliefs in Campy as the best of all choices. The classic 1979 film Breaking Away captured that awe in the character of an Indiana kid spellbound with Italian cycling culture, while his Masi road bike was rigged with Campagnolo gear.
Tullio Campagnolo passed away in 1983, but his legacy as a racer, inventor, meticulous craftsman, and benefactor to the sport of racing lives on. Perhaps Eddy Merckx’s eulogy to Tullio says it best: “You will remain with us, riders of all ages and of all classes, as a dear and unforgettable road fellow. A good friend.”