Fixie-Killer: Sturmey Archer S2C

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:

P1000213

P1000224

Sturmey Archer S2C (with belt drive, optional):

Moulton TSR2

More pics from the Cycle Show 2009

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  • http://bikesmithdesign.com Mark Stonich

    Anyone heard anything about a new closer ratio Sturmey 5 speed? I see that Pashley showed a 5 speed version of the Clubman at the London Show. I can’t imagine anyone wanting a sporting bike with the 5(W)s ratios. An S5M sure would be sweet.

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  • Liam

    Wow, I have a couple of duomatics, one on a Moulton Mk3 and for city riding nothing else beats them in terms of simplicity. Great news that Sturmey are introducing their own version, wonder if its any lighter than the duomatic, you would hope so.

  • Barrett

    I have a Torpedo Duomatic on a 70s Motobecane Grand Jubilé, and love it, but it’s s bit worn, and I’d love a replacement, which means either sourcing a NOS Sachs (Moulton supposedly has a few on offer) or wait and see what the new Sturmey is all about. Decisions!

    - Barrett

  • EN

    From what I can see on the Sunrace-Sturmey Blog, they are simply refusing to answer questions about this suppposed S2C, which may mean they are not committed to bringing it to market – see http://sunrace-sturmeyarcher.blogspot.com/2009/09/interbike-2009.html where 3 pointed questions have gone unanswered.

    I equally asked a question on that site and the question was never approved to be posted. I sent them an e-mail and no answer either.

  • Jack

    @EN:
    I asked Alan Clarke, General Manager of Sturmey Archer Europe about the S2C, listen to what he had to say by clicking here.

  • EN

    Jack:

    Thanks for the sound clip.

    Perhaps they are keeping it a bit hush on the message boards to build excitement around the product, as oppossed to not being fully committed?

    I have the original F&S Torpedo Duomatic (42 years old) and it works like a charm after thousands of and thousands of miles. I use it on one of my city commuting bikes – often switching between 1:1 and 1:1.36 gears.

    It is all anybody really needs in the city (unless you have to attack long and steep hills). No cables to ruin the aestetic. Everybody just assumes I am running a single speed coaster brake. They are simply amazed by the concept when I tell them.

    Sturmey should do well with such a hub.

  • christian

    Does anyone know if the new gear from strumey is allready in production , and if we allready can purchase this gear hub? If not do you think the old S2C is available and any good?
    I’m in process of ordering an old school bike and i am in dubio of ordering the nexus 3-speed with cables or should i wait for the 2 or 3 speed hub from sturmey without the cables?
    thanks for the reply.

  • tom sherman

    i would rather have a cable control than kickback. i get confused
    whether i am braking or shifting with a kb. further what is so hard in shifting especially with a two speed.? in fact it is fun to me. (y do people buy stick shifts). when you have a control cable the mechnaism in the hub is simplified

  • tom sherman

    in a 2 speed i would want the direct drive gear that i use most of the time to be low & the other hi. i would not need a low to climb hill as i could use the momentum acquired from pedaling hi on the last hill

    i can also use my hi gear to get better speed on the flats than if it was a low

  • Bob

    No mention of the Bendix Yellow Band and Blue Band 2- speed kickback units Schwinn used from 1960-69? My brother had one of the Blue Band ones, (1:1 plus 1-to-1.5 overdrive– the Yellow Band ones had a 1-to-.67 low gear plus 1:1). I always took his bike when I could, instead my single-speed. The overdrive was a lot less frenetic when you’re 13 and trying to pedal your way up to 60 mph.

    Tom: It became second nature quickly, btw. The kickback motion for shifting was more of a bare-minimum “flick” of the ankles almost without interruption of leg-pedalling, while braking was a firm, sustained backpressure using both legs and ankles.

    • http://twitter.com/CharlieQuimby Charlie Quimby

      I had the Bendix Yellow Band on a Schwinn I bought with paper route money in 1960. I loved it and have lusted after another one ever since. Agree that it was easy to learn and use for anyone who’s ridden a coaster brake.

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  • http://Coasti.es Johnny

    About a year ago I started Coasties – a Coaster Brake only wheel company.

    Even though we are just now negotiating getting these hubs, there have been more and more and MORE requests for them.

    -Johnny at Coasties

  • http://www.coasties.com Johnny

    Hey –

    I wanted to update ya’ll

    We are stocking S2C in the states and people are giving us good reviews of them:

    http://coasties.com/products/2sc-two-speed-coaster-brake-hub

    We build complete wheel sets with them too, but Spike the Penguin says he wants special Penguin-sized wheels so he can get his roll on, and if we can’t get his size wheels he will haunt us ;(

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  • Mazarpurp

    The S2C is an inferior product. It failed with less than 1000 miles.

    • Jack Thurston

      Too bad to hear about the hub failure, Mazarpurp. A few weeks ago I spoke to Ninon Asuni at Bicycle Workshop here in London and she said there had been problems with the Mark 1 hub but that Sturmey Archer have solved them with a Mark 2. It might well be worth your while going back to your SA dealer and asking whether they’d replace it. Presumably the failure was within less than a year of your purchase so it would be covered by a statutory guarantee. The might well be able to swap out the internals so you don’t even have to get the wheel rebuilt. Worth a try, a the very least.

  • Flo

    Would anybody know of a good youtube video showing how to use the S2C so we can send it to our customers :) ?

  • http://www.facebook.com/Rowangoodfellow Rowan Goodfellow DeBonaire

    A year on, and the hub still is not achieving the rather fairytale sales forecasts, but those in use seem to be reliable now. i hve not had the need to buy one yet, as my two F&S Duomatics from the 60s are still working perfectly in a Moulton Stowaway and a 85 Claud Butler Majestic.It is a perfect London gear for me, although I do occasionally forget that I can’t back the pedals round at a standstill, as on my other bikes.

  • http://www.facebook.com/Rowangoodfellow Rowan Goodfellow DeBonaire

    Fixie-Killer? Well, it turns out that time, and fashion, were the fixie-killers all along. Whoda thunk it?

  • Jim Hocker

    The S2C is indeed a very bad and even dangerous product. A really inferior brake-capacity and the gearing system failed after 300 miles.