Friday, November 15, 2013

Three Speed, Four Speed or Five Speed?

Most Raleigh Roadsters came with a Sturmey Archer 3 Speed. Its hard to find any other gear on a stock Raleigh Sports.
I came across my first Raleigh Sports 4 Speed back in the early 70's. It was a 1954, 24" Sports that sold used for $50.00 at The Dover Country Store. Not sure exactly sure what the hub was, I went to the local Raleigh dealer and asked if they had ever seen one. They told be that not only had they seen a few, but there were also 5 peed hubs available. Dave at Needham Cyclery showed me an exploded view of the inside of the hub and assured me that the core could be removed without a problem and returned safely after inspection. He explained that it really wasent any different then a 3 speed and if the bicycle had been sitting that it would be a good idea to remove the core and give it a good oiling as well as a look.

What he did not tell me is that the 4 speed as well as the 5 speed cores could be exchanged in the 3 speed shell without having to rebuild the wheel. This was a whole new world and had me searching for hubs to swap the cores for the extra gears. Only true with the FW and the S5, The FM (Medium ratio) and the very rare FC (Close ratio) had their own hub shell.

As time went on I came across more 4 and 5 speed hubs. Experimenting with the both, I found that the most dependable hub gear was the old 3 Speed, or AW. The "Wide Ratio" would stay in gear under full load and off the saddle climbing. The 4 speeds low gear that used a different trigger control that had an extra click position. The lever extra stop was closer to the bar and required placing the shifter so that the lever could be clicked into gear and not be stopped by the handle bar. Because of the design, the shift lever had not nearly as much space that it could be placed on the bar so that it would work and stay in gear. It also sometimes required holding the shift lever to the bar while climbing or else it could slip out of gear causing the rider problem.

The Five Speed or S5 used two shifters. Most of the internal parts were the same as the Four Speed, but first and fifth gear were controlled from the left side of the hubs axle with a bell crank design. The story was that the British cycling public had modified the FW to work as a five speed before Sturmey Archer produced one. Using American made, Bendex parts, the four speed could be easily made into a five.

The cycling public here in the United States in the 30's were use to riding Fixed and Free gears so 3 speeds were more then what most cyclists needed. The 3 speed was a gear that the "Round Town" cyclists were looking for. Most bikes in the 30's came as a one speed with a 3 speed option. It wasent until after World War 2 that multi geared bicycles were offered stock. Shortly after that came the first derailleur bicycles that only offered 4 cogs in the rear. Those systems still used 1/2 x 1/8 chains, cogs and chainrings.

The "Planetary Gear" using a system of whats known as a Sun Pinion, Planet Gears and a Gear ring was first invented in the early 1900's. We have seen over the last 15 years a resurgence of the design. Hubs as the Rohloff Speedhub with 14 internal gears are commonplace. Belt drive systems make shifting cleaner and easier but not lighter. When all is said and done, the story remains he same, The Sturmey Archer 3 Speed is to me the most dependable gear system design.

100 years old and still going strong!

1 comment:

  1. Great blog post Scott!
    I find your posts very interesting and informative.
    Thanks for sharing your wealth of knowledge.