Freewheel Hub

Similar to other factories worldwide, Estonian bicycle manufacturers started to use freewheel hubs in the early 20th century. One of the earliest freewheel hubs commonly used at that time was New Departure made in USA, soon replaced by the produce of German manufacturers.

Bicycles used in Estonia during 1910-30s had mostly Torpedo-type hubs where freewheel system consisted of five rollers and freewheel hub also contained drum brake, operated by turning the pedals backwards. Fichtel and Sachs (F&S) patented this system in Germany in 1903 and a few years later, after making minor modifications, its production continued for decades.

Majority of Torpedo-system freewheel hubs used in local bicycles before World War II were original F&S items with Torpedo logo. Torpedo freewheel hubs and inner details were equipped with year number, which enables to determine when the element was manufactured (provided that freewheel did not stay in storage for too long).

Torpedo was one of the most successful freewheel hubs, and therefore many producers started to copy it. Majority of English bikes sold in Estonia had Perry freewheel – Torpedo copy made in Birmingham. Late 1930s added another copy of Torpedo freewheel, Gamma,  and other copies. made by  several local small manufacturers. Latvians also made various copies of Torpedo freewheels – such manufacturers included Latvello (LVF), Erenpreis (GEO – Gustav Erenpreis Original), and KDF in Liepaja (Kara Ostas Darbnīca).

By the way, freewheels used in majority of typical (gearless) Soviet bicycles in the 1940s-80s were also copies of Torpedo (quality of which, however, was much inferior to that of pre-war original Torpedo).

Dürkopp freewheel was very similar to Torpedo freewheel, but instead of drum-based brake, the brake consisted of several discs. Similar to Torpedo, freewheel itself operated with rolls. Several Dürkopp bikes made for Estonian market were equipped with Torpedo freewheel.

Many freewheel systems operated by bolt and cone principle – when moving sprocket in relation to hub, a milled cone pressed against relevant internal cone inside the hub. In the 1910s-20s, such freewheels were mounted to Mundlos, Victoria, Badenia, Rotax, Astoria, etc. – all these models (made in Germany) were more or less common in bikes used in Estonia. Some of the more common freewheel models in the 1930s included NSU and Komet. For example, NSU freewheel was mounted to cheaper bikes of several Estonian manufacturers in the 1930s. Many German manufacturers used Komet (it had disc brakes, similar to Dürkop freewheel). Probably in the late 1930s (or even early 1940s), Estonia received a batch of Centrix-freewheels, which were used in several bikes made at that period in nationalised Saar bicycle  factory.

 The work of main English freewheel Eadie was also based on bolt and cone principle, and it was the most common (and virtually only) freewheel with coaster brake hub. Specific feature of Eadie was its brake drum with large diameter, equipped with brake shoes similar to car and motorcycle brakes. Unfortunately, this also turned out to be the weakness of Eadie. Due to drum brake, the distance between hub bearings was much shorter than that of Torpedo (and other abovementioned freewheels), which caused their quick wear. Therefore Estonian customers had no great interest in Eadie, and English manufacturers often equipped bike models exported to Estonia with Perry freewheels or even original Torpedo freewheels imported from Germany (with label referring to export item "Made in Germany").

In the late 1930s, many bicycles of Swedish origin (mostly Husqvarna) had Novo freewheel. Novo also operated by using bolt and cone, and drum brake, thus reminding Rotax, Astoria, and other freewheels described above.

Freewheels without rear brake were not particularly popular in Estonia in the 1920s-30s. Rear-wheel brake was operated by a lever on the handlebar, but that system often failed due to wet and muddy road conditions. Thus, although wheel brake was common in England, Estonian distributors asked the English manufacturers to make their bikes intended for Estonian market with hub brakes. However, they were occasionally present in certain bikes (especially those of English origin).

Integrated hubs with (planetary) gearing was another rarity in Estonia in the 1920s-30s. England imported a certain batch of Humbers with BSA three-speed internal gearing. There were also a few bikes with two-speed Torpedo rear hub – unlike BSAs they also contained coaster brake.

As a rule, the sports bikes in post-war Soviet times had chain transmission and USSR did not make internal gear hubs.