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The Simpson Chain or Simpson Lever Chain was an English-made bicycle chain invented by William Spears Simpson in 1895. The design of this chain departed radically from the standard roller bicycle chain. The chain was composed of linked triangles forming two "levels". The inner level was driven by the chainring and the outer level drove the rear cog. Instead of teeth, the chainring and cog had grooves into which the rollers of the chain engaged.

Mr. Simpson made claims, widely discredited, that the levers of this chain provided a mechanical advantage that could amplify the energy produced by the cyclist. Racing teams were sponsored amid much fanfare as Mr. Simpson hired top cyclists, such as Constant Huret (depicted in Toulouse-Lautrec's famous advertisement[1]) and Tom Linton (of Paris-Bordeaux fame), and the Gladiator Pacing Team from France to race for high stakes in England for the Chain Matches. His teams were largely successful.

Jimmy Michael attended the so-called Chain Race at Catford track in 1896. Simpson was so insistent that it was an improvement over conventional chains that he staked part of his fortune on it.

Pryor Dodge wrote:

In the fall of 1895, Simpson offered ten-to-one odds that riders with his chain would beat bicyclists with regular chains. Later known as the Chain Matches, these races at the Catford track in London attracted huge crowds estimated between twelve and twenty thousand in June of 1896. Simpson's team not only included the top racers - Tom Linton, Jimmy Michael, and Constant Huret - but also the Gladiator pacing team brought over from Paris. Pacers enabled a racer to ride faster by shielding him from air resistance. Although Simpson won the Chain Matches, they only proved that the Gladiator pacers were superior to their English rivals.[2]

This invention would probably have been long forgotten except that:

  • The Simpson Chain is portrayed in a famous work of the French post-impressionist artist Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec.
  • The Simpson Lever Chain Racing Team employed the Belgian cyclist Hélène Dutrieu who later became a famous stunt cyclist and pioneering aviator.
  • Mr. Simpson's promotions were so widespread and effective that much of his promotional material is collected today.

Known in the German language as die Simpson-Hebelkette.

Known in the French language as la ChaÎne a Levier Simpson.


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