Today was trade/media day at London’s annual Cycle Show at Earls Court. Among the most talked-about new exhibits was the long-awaited Sturmey Archer three-speed fixed wheel hub, the S3X. In the craze for all things fixed, Sturmey’s ancient ASC, a three-speed fixed hub that went out of production in the mid 1950s, has been selling for enormous sums on Ebay and for a few years now it has been rumoured that Sturmey would bring it back into production. The S3X is now ready to roll.
Mechanically it is nothing like the ASC as it is a new design based around Sturmey’s existing five-speed hub components. I gather orders are robust and the hub is expected to sell well to a fairly niche market, at a relatively high price of £200+ including the cables and trigger. Despite all the anticipation, I am not taken by the S3X. I think a three speed hub with a cable and trigger detracts from the minimal aesthetic that makes the urban fixed wheel bicycle desirable. If you want gears, get a bike with gears. If you want simplicity, by all means ride a fixed wheel or single speed bicycle. As unmoved as I was by the S3X my attention was drawn to something altogether more novel and less well-advertised: the Sturmey Archer S2C. Only one prototype exists and it was proudly on show for the first time ever at the Moulton Bicycle Company’s stand as part of an protoype of a Pashley-built belt-drive TSR2 model.
The S2C is Sturmey’s modern version of the Fichtel & Sachs Torpedo Duomatic, a two-speed hub with kick-back gear change and coaster brake that dates from the 1960s. These hubs have something of a cult following and are difficult, though not impossible, to come by. One of my bikes has one and it’s fantastic to ride. A little back-pedal changes the gear (from high to low, or low to high) and a big back-pedal engages the powerful brake. Unlike rim brakes, a hub brake works as well in the wet as in the dry.
Sturmey have built a new version and I believe it’s going to be a hit. Two speeds allows good acceleration from a standing start and a higher cruising gear than on a single speed bike. The kick-back gear change and coaster brake mean that there are no cable runs to the rear wheel. The result is a faster ride than a fixed wheel bike, with better braking performance, but all the simplicity of the fixed aesthetic. Sturmey will bring the hub into production early next year and the retail price is expected to be in the region of £60-£80. Ninon Asuni, who runs Bicycle Workshop, and knows a thing or two about hub gears, thinks they’re great. Dan Farrell of Moulton (who can claim some of the credit for getting Sturmey to develop the new hub) shares her excitement. Informed sources tell me Sturmey are anticipating huge sales of this hub: around a quarter of a million a year. And no wonder. I can see a LOT of people who’ve bought fixed wheel bicycles switching to this hub gear. Fichtel and Sachs (now SRAM) have really missed a trick in not reviving their Duomatic but three cheers for Sturmey for stepping in. Sturmey Archer, now owned and based in Taiwan remains proud of its great heritage in British cycling, are going great guns with the current revival in the popularity of hub gears. Long may they prosper!
Sturmey Archer SX3:
Sturmey Archer S2C (with belt drive, optional):
More pics from the Cycle Show 2009