Aluminum, the most abundant metal and the third most abundant element, after oxygen and silicon. It’s soft, durable, lightweight, ductile, and malleable, i.e. easily worked. It’s highly resistant to corrosion, non-magnetic, and does not produce sparks. Pure aluminum is quite weak, but, when mixed in alloy with other materials like magnesium, becomes astonishingly strong. And it is with this material that Spécialités TA, one of the designers featured in The Elite Bicycle, manufactures their bicycle components.
“The thing about TA,” the enthusiasts for the marque from early days will tell you, is that “it’s bombproof.” The Director, Mme Sylvie Breuil, grand-daughter of TA’s founder, Georges Navet, has never seen a broken TA axle or chainring in all the time she’s been involved, and only ever once a broken crank.
Like all great inventions, Spécialités TA started with an idea, one that sprang forth from a fertile imagination. That imagination belonged to Georges Navet, a french joiner/carpenter, who would go on to found TA in 1947.
It all took place in the 1930s. Citroën, an automaker, invented the front-wheel drive car, followed soon by Audi and Adler. With this in mind, Navet sat at his workbench, and he began thinking about the bicycle. What if it had a front-wheel drive mechanism just like a car?
Sadly for Navet, his “traction avant” didn’t work. But, in the course of his experiments, his subconscious mind stayed on the qui vive and the one failed dream spawned a tangential thought of sweet brilliance: the aluminum chainwheel of widely varying size.
During this time period however, the irascible Henri Desgrange, the father of the Tour de France, had forbidden the use of the new-fangled derailleur gear because it gave unfair advantage, not to mention it was unreliable. Thus began decades of the stifling of innovation in the sport of cycling.
But the year of 1939 ushered in a new ear of cycling. Desgrange passed away, the second World War began, and the development and improvement of the fairly crude gear mechanism proceeded.
After the war, cycling took on a whole new guise in both the racing and the leisurely world. In the first post-war Tour, riders were using derailleur gears, double chainrings and changers. Cyclotourism, which had a big following in France before the war, simply abounded in the post-war era, partially as a result of the scarcity of petrol. Navet recognized that these enthusiasts, with various skill sets, needed gear ratios that would help them explore France’s varied terrain. Thus, Navet’s dream took form: aluminum alloy, multiple sizes of chainrings, his own expertise, and soon, crank arms.
Today, TA offers the biggest range of chainrings on the world market. Delicate, finely machined, and elegant objects, some people compare to them to jewelry. So slender and pin bright, you’d think they’d been crafted by elves.
This brief portrait of Spécialités TA was adapted from its full chapter in the new book The Elite Bicycle. For a closer look at the beautiful, jewel-like simple machines, visit your local bookstore to find a copy of The Elite Bicycle.
The Elite Bicycle brings together intimate portraits of the world’s greatest bicycle artisans, examining the philosophies, the meticulous workmanship, and the eccentric personalities behind cycling’s most prestigious brands. Their materials and methods could not be more disparate, yet their pursuit is the same: the perfect bicycle.
In chapters featuring some of cycling’s greatest craftspeople, The Elite Bicycle offers up a conversation with the men and women who make the most coveted bicycles. Lavish, oversize photographs and personal interviews invite readers into their workshops to show the melding of old-world craftsmanship with space-age materials in fascinating studios and factories that fabricate superb machines.
The Elite Bicycle is both an homage to the bicycle maker and a collector’s piece in its own right, celebrating the stories behind the greatest bicycles and components in the world.