Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Today's History Lesson: The Portacatena

Offered for a short time in the 1980s, the "Portacatena" (chain holder) was offered as a way to make it easier to get the rear wheel in and out of the frame. Think of it as an automatic chain hanger.

Here's how it worked: The stock righthand (rear) shift lever and frame stop (the washer with the square hole) were replaced by the Portacatena units. The shift lever, as shown in the photos below, added a small, spring-loaded release button that let the lever go past the #1 (smallest cog) position when the button was pressed.

At the rear dropout, the semicircular piece was bolted to the inside of the righthand dropout. It creates a resting place for the chain.

To use the Portacatena, the rider would shift first to the smallest cog and then, pushing the button, would shift the chain onto the holder. With the chain on the holder, the wheel could be removed easily without touching the chain. Putting the rear wheel back in was easier as well, because the chain was held in position.

Key to using the Portacatena was to remember to pedal lightly and shift back onto the cogs before trying to accelerate. Otherwise, you could rip the chain holder off the dropout and wreak all kinds of havoc on your frame.

Racers who used the Portacatena learned that they could put it to another use on downhills. Shifting to the chain holder on a long downhill, they could silence their bike, since the freewheel would be free to spin. Thus silenced, they could sneak up on the riders ahead of them.

And now, photos of the Portacatena from the CampyOnly collection. Note that this was made to fit Campy's 1010/B dropouts, which were available with pre-tapped holes to accept the Portacatena's mounting screws.

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