Sturmey Archer hub gear

You don’t need to know how it works, you just need to know it works

Cycling Weekly - - ICONS OF CYCLING -

At the very be­gin­ning of the last cen­tury, just as the Boer War was wind­ing down to its bit­ter end and Bri­tain and the Em­pire were still mourn­ing the death of Queen Vic­to­ria, an en­gi­neer from Hulme in Manch­ester and a cy­cling jour­nal­ist from Coven­try were ap­ply­ing for patents for a rev­o­lu­tion­ary new de­vice — an en­closed three-speed gear sys­tem built into a rear bi­cy­cle hub.

First pro­duced in 1902, the orig­i­nal hub gear gave a vari­a­tion of mi­nus 20 per cent (first gear) and plus 25 per cent (third gear) to your orig­i­nal gear­ing. The Not­ting­ham com­pany that was formed to make and sell the new de­vice was for­mally called The Three-speed Gear Syn­di­cate, Ltd., but it was to be­come known world­wide by a shorter, snap­pier ti­tle as the two patent hold­ers, John James Henry Sturmey and James Archer, do­nated their sur­names to the cause.

The first patent ap­pli­ca­tion, num­ber 15368, dated 02/08/1901 and at­trib­uted to James Archer, Cy­cle En­gi­neer, set out its stall in the first para­graph: “This in­ven­tion re­lates chiefly to the driv­ing gear of a ve­loci­pede and its ob­ject is to pro­vide a mech­a­nism by which the rider may have the op­tion of us­ing three dif­fer­ent gears or speeds, ‘low’, ‘high’ and ‘nor­mal’, and a free wheel as de­sired, so con­structed and ar­ranged that a rider may change the gears while rid­ing.”

Sim­ple and clearly ex­plained, but that’s where the sim­plic­ity ends. Read on a bit fur­ther and you get bogged down in in­ter­minable pas­sages of de­tailed tech­ni­cal de­scrip­tions that you’d need to be a qual­i­fied en­gi­neer to de­ci­pher. And don’t take one apart un­less you have the pa­tience and dex­ter­ity of a watch­maker.

For­tu­nately, given a lit­tle reg­u­lar main­te­nance (top­ping up the oil, keep­ing an eye on ca­ble ten­sion and keep­ing the ca­ble it­self run­ning free), there’s no real rea­son to take one apart as they’re very re­li­able in nor­mal use.

For nearly 100 years pro­duc­tion of Sturmey

Archer hubs con­tin­ued at the Not­ting­ham works, with five and seven-speed ver­sions fol­low­ing the orig­i­nal three-speeder. Pro­duc­tion passed the two mil­lion mark way back in 1980 — a good pro­por­tion of which are still go­ing strong. The orig­i­nal fac­tory’s long gone now though, and pro­duc­tion shifted to Tai­wan in 2001.

Sturmey Archer: rev­o­lu­tion­ary mech­a­nism that changed cy­cling

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