Retro Direct: Something Old is New Again

Revisiting one of the oldest forms of multispeed bicycle and giving it a modern twist.

Retro-Direct Bicycle: Orange and Grey...Bold Yet Demure. Retro-Direct Bicycle: Uniquely Styled Josh Bechtel's Retro-Direct Bicycle Retro-Direct Bicycle: 1890s and 1990s converge in 2015. Retro-Direct Bicycle: Double-Crossover chain--Two Speeds in One Josh Bechtel's Retro-Direct Bicycle Josh Bechtel's Retro-Direct Drive. One Chain, Two Directions, Two Speeds, No Pulleys, No Derailleurs.

Overview Video


Interactive Demo (Pedal to Begin)

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Retro-Direct: First patented in 1869 by Barberon and Meunier and later refined by the 1903 Hirondelle Rètro-Direct.

What had I gotten myself into?

For nearly a decade, I've been on a quest to simplify the bicycles in my life and have taken a few different approaches to that end. In my explorations, I came across mention of the "Hirondelle Retro-Direct" two speed bicycle from France in the early 20th century. Rather than an overly complex shifting mechanism, it relied on the otherwise unused backpedaling motion of the rider to engage a second gear.

The notion fascinated me and as I dug deeper, I found several modern interpretations of the same concept. They all are great, but each of them uses an idler pulley of some sort to manage the chain. I wanted to see if I could get the retro-direct concept to work without the idler.

The end result of my experimentations is this bike--my own interpretation of the retro-direct.

- Josh Bechtel, Designer

Retro Direct Chain Icon

References & fellow retro-direct riders:

The Details

double-crossover chain

A derailleur-free two-speed bike. Pedal forward for low gear and backward for high gear.

  • The frame, fork, stem, headset, bottom bracket, crank, disc brake, and seatpost are all secondhand.
  • An early 1990s elevated-chainstay mountain bike frame was modified with horizontal dropouts and a front disc brake mount. Cable guides and brake mounts were cut off & ground down.
  • All parts powdercoated metallic grey.
  • Pedal forward = low gear.
  • Pedal backward = high gear.
  • A single chain serves both forward and backward pedaling.
  • A custom-formed polycarbonate chain guide eases the chain crossover.

Josh lives and works out of Bellingham, Washington, USA