3D Printing Revives 1903 Retro-Direct Drive — Pedal Backwards To Go Faster!

Retro-Direct Drive Scott Mayson's Bike Angle Profile

Notice anything odd about this bike? If you’re looking at the unusual drive-chain then you’ve spotted it. The retro-direct system is a two gear system that has no need of shifters, derailleurs, or geared hubs — just pedal backwards past the break for details on how you can make your own…

Retro-Direct Drive With Two Freewheels View 1

What appears to be an out-of-place derailleur or chain-tensioner is actually the retro-direct’s jockey wheel redirecting the chain-line back to a second freewheel.

Retro-Direct Drive Concept Diagram

What’s the point? Pedaling forward engages one freewheel, pedaling backwards engages the other. Voila, two gears!

Retro-Direct Drive French Advertisement

While earlier designs existed prior to the 20th century, it was the French bicycle manufacturer Hirondelle who supposedly patented this single chain retro-direct drive in 1903. Naturally, once the derailleur and internally-geared hub came about, the retro-direct fell from favor.

Retro-Direct Drive Jockey Wheel View 1
The Jockey Wheel — Once a 3D Printed Plastic Prototype, Now a 3D Printed Stainless-Steel Component

But what was old is new again. And while he’s not the only individual to resurrect the retro-direct, Scott Mayson has used 3D printing to take it one step further, making it possible for anyone to follow in his retro resurrecting footsteps.

Retro-Direct Drive Scott Mayson's Bike Profile

Mayson documented the development of his own retro-direct system here. Using a steel frame from the 80’s he fabricated and mounted the 3D printed jockey wheel. A handbuilt rear wheel with two differing freewheels (17t and 22t) completed the retro-direct drive system.

Retro-Direct Drive Jockey Wheel View 3

If you wanna stand out at the next pub crawl or Tour de Fat, or if you just like what you see, head over to Scott’s order page here and follow his instructions for getting your own custom 3D printed retro-direct jockey wheel.


18 thoughts on “3D Printing Revives 1903 Retro-Direct Drive — Pedal Backwards To Go Faster!

  1. This part “Naturally, once the derailleur and internally-geared hub came about, the retro-direct fell from favor.”, really makes me want to buy one. It’s well executed, but ridiculous just the same.

  2. Retro-direct gears are actually still very common in tricycle rickshaws, especially in Asia. I tried riding one once, and the combination of needing to overcome counter-steering and leaning instincts AND pedaling backwards nearly killed me. Would love to try again though.

  3. How do they mount the two freewheels to what looks like a normal freewheel hub that only has enough threads for one?

  4. I’d have thought you’d want the higher gear to be pedalled forward and the lower gear backwards, this bike seems to be set up the reverse.

  5. Bob George, the chain is a Shimano NX-01 chain from the Nexus groupset. It’s just a single speed chain (1/8″ width) with funny looking outer side plates. No advantage except looks, its a little heavier than the normal SS chain. I have it on my SS MTB for the weirdness factor.

    This thing is a neat idea. The only thing you have to get used to is the constant clicking of the freewheel that’s not being used at that moment. It sounds like you’re always coasting, on top of the noise from the chain tensioner. However, a lot of internally geared hubs click constantly in some gears as well. Just pack the freewheels with grease if you can.

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