Sturmey Archer AW Hub Overhaul: Curiouser and Curiouser

Rainy, dark winters are the perfect time to hunker down and disassemble something.  Since I’ve been wanting to know more about servicing SA 3 speed hubs, last winter I decided to take the plunge, having two potential candidates in my parts bins:  a 1974 model and one from 1978.

I knew I needed to do more than just endlessly stare at this parts schematic.  Fortunately, Glenn’s Complete Bicycle Manual dedicates 16 pages to the overhaul process.  And, I found especially helpful the online repair guides from Sutherland’s (courtesy of the Sheldon Brown site) and from Sturmey Archer (courtesy of Tony Hadland’s site).  The Sheldon Brown site also has detailed instructions as well as some helpful illustrations.

Before going down this rabbit hole, I also consulted several video guides and read a lot of interesting commentary regarding the “right” way to service these hubs.  RJ the Bike Guy’s video turned out to be the most practical and helpful.

First up was selecting which hub I wanted to overhaul.  I ended up choosing the earlier model due to its differently shaped slot on the “ball ring” which is a threaded part that connects the innards to the hub shell.  To loosen the ring you use a drift punch and hammer, then tap away counter-clockwise until the ball ring gives.  Unfortunately, newer models of the AW hub have ball ring slots which are more rounded and designed to take a proprietary spanner tool (which appears to no longer exist except perhaps in Wonderland).  After whacking away at the newer 1978 hub, I gave up and switched to the older 1974 model and had the ball ring loosened right away.  It’s also much easier to loosen the ball ring if you have a hub which is attached to a wheel.

But, before doing that you need to remove the outer nuts and washers and the cog which is held in place with a clip, as shown above.  Immediately after that you remove the left hand side locknut, washer, and cone, but leave the right hand assembly in place.  It’s important to keep all the parts in proper order as you remove them – I used zip-ties for this purpose.  It’s also important to note the orientation of all washers, and to make sure that the cog is re-installed correctly with its spacers and dished side as originally configured.

Once you unscrew the ball ring, the whole hub assembly comes out of the hub shell, intact.  Inside the hub shell you can see the ratchets at the bottom along with the left hand side set of bearings, held in a clip.   From there, you can remove the bearings from the left hand side of the hub shell (first you remove the “upside down dust cap”) and then set the hub shell aside.  Why are the dust caps upside down?  One site I consulted suggested that the troughs are meant to be filled with water proof grease, to further seal the hub from the elements.

After the driver is removed on the right hand side, which is done by removing the cone, the hub internals come apart in stages. The above photos document the series of steps to remove the clutch spring, gear ring, clutch assembly, and planet cage assembly.  You’ll note both the gear ring and the planet cage assembly have pawls.  The final photo above depicts the sun gear, which is permanently affixed to the axle.

For cleaning and reassembly, I found it easiest to tackle each sub-assembly separately.  The above photo shows, from top left to bottom right:  the planet cage, the clutch assembly, the driver, gear ring, and the ball ring.

The ball ring is aptly named – its a ring of ball bearings.  Studying the instructions gave me a lot of pause though, with confusing references to the ball ring having a “two thread start” and therefore meaning that in reassembly you might start the threading on a different thread than as it was originally threaded which could cause the wheel to be out of dish.  After doing a lot of reading about this, I came to the conclusion that this is of no importance to me, since my hub has no rim attached.

Unfortunately, at this point in my life I became very busy at work and didn’t get back to this project for many months!  When it came time for re-assembly, after having cleaned all the parts with a citrus cleaner, alcohol, and brass brush (I do not use toxic cleaners that can’t be safely disposed of), my brain needed a refresher course.  And, as I looked at the little planet gears I realized that I didn’t really properly understand how these hubs work, so I did some further research.

I found some answers by watching this interesting video, which depicts how the gears are engaged in this 3 speed hub. This is really different from how I thought these hubs worked.  I had imagined that each planetary gear circulating around the sun gear was of a different size (an idea I developed in childhood), and that’s what created the different gear ratios, much like a derailleur shifting through different sized cogs.  How wrong can you be!  Learning the importance of the clutch position has made me much more careful about shifting when I’m riding bikes equipped with internal hubs, remembering to lighten up on the pedals for each shift.

Meanwhile, back to the torture of the reassembly process:  things went fine until I tried to reassemble the pawls and pawl springs in the planet cage.  I dutifully lubricated the pins with Phil’s Tenacious Oil (as recommended by various mechanics), but when it came time to put the pawls and their tiny springs back in I had trouble getting them assembled correctly.  The pawl springs are so small that I actually “lost” them a few times only to realize that they were still right there on my work table, just basically invisible.  It’s also important to orient the pawls correctly, taking note of the slight beveling on one side.  I proceeded on with re-assembly, following carefully the instructions from Sutherland’s and from RJ the Bike Guy’s video.

After proceeding through the re-assembly of each of the subassembly, finally the hub is back together.  I was initially unhappy with the cone adjustment, which was a relatively easy fix.  The Sheldon Brown site has a good discussion of this process.  There should be a tiny bit of free-play in the hub if it is properly adjusted, and generally speaking, the adjustment should be made from the left hand side.  Once the cone adjustment was right, I also checked to see that the indicator spindle moved freely, so that the 3 gears can be engaged.  The true test will be to build the hub into a wheel and install it into a bike, but I’ll save that project for another rainy winter day.  And, now I will feel more confident overhauling the SA hubs on the two bikes I own which feature these hubs:  a 1950 Raleigh Sports Tourist, and a 1966 Sears/Puch.  I’ve gained a lot of useful knowledge and look forward to expanding on that.

 

1973 Jack Taylor Revisited

While I’ve been working on other projects, my 1973 Jack Taylor Tourist bike has been languishing in my storage area, along with far too many other bikes.  I thought it was time to bring it back out again for the coming spring weather, and that meant assessing why I wasn’t riding it so much anymore.

When getting the bike up into the shop stand I realized that I still hadn’t solved the ergonomic issues resulting from its large frame (for me).  Back in 2015 I had replaced the moustache bars with a more upright style, and a short reach, tall stem. But the bar shape didn’t really work for me, and I ended up setting the bike aside a few years back.

I needed some bars with a more swept back profile and with more rise, so I tried out these Sunlite Northroad bars, a set I haven’t tried before.  I cut them down about 2 cm, which turned out to be just right for this bike.  If I were using these bars on a smaller bike I probably would have cut more, but on this bike these bars look well balanced.  As part of the bar swap it was necessary to install new brake housing, which needed to be a little longer due to the swept back shape of the bars.

I made a few other changes as well.  The original Soubitez front lamp was held together with electrical tape and needed to be replaced.  I was able to find an exact match on eBay, shown above.  In the same purchase I acquired a NOS Soubitez dynamo from the same era. This one works more reliably that its predecessor and seems to have a little less drag.  I also replaced the pedals with a vintage Phillips French threaded set.  The pedals are very grippy, more so than the Lyotards previously installed.

When I threw my leg over for a test ride, I was reminded just how tall this bike is.  The bottom bracket height is a whopping 11.5 inches (29.2 cm).  That’s mountain bike territory, and definitely different than many of my other bikes.

This bike features 27 inch wheels rather than 700c. The rear wheel is laced to a Sachs Orbit 2 speed hub which takes the place of a front derailleur.  The big wheels roll smoothly and absorb road shock very well. They have never gone out of true since I acquired the bike 15 years ago.  I have found this to be the norm for any well built wheel, including wheels I have built myself.

The Sachs Orbit hub offers about a 25% drop from the direct drive gear.  As originally equipped, the bike had a 34 tooth chain ring on the front.  That was a bit low for me, so I replaced that with a 36 tooth version.  Gear inch range with this hybrid set up and the 14-28 cog set is 25-70.  Still pretty low, but with the bike’s front and rear racks, the low gearing makes it easy to feel comfortable hauling stuff and climbing hills at the same time!

I had previously changed out the original saddle for this vintage Ideale Model 75.  The leather was very stiff and unforgiving, which made for an uncomfortable ride.  After applying some Brooks saddle treatment and using a hair dryer to heat it up and work it into the leather, the saddle is now more supple.  With the newly installed upright Northroad style bars, this saddle style is perfect.  The springs do a great job at absorbing shock without being bouncy.

So, will I ride this bike more often?  I do think so.  Now that the ergonomics are right for me, the smooth ride quality and easy gearing will make it appealing.  It can handle any kind of weather, and even though I dislike sidewall dynamo lighting, getting caught in the dark will not be an issue for this bike.  This is a bike that can handle a lot of different riding requirements. The Reynolds 531 fillet brazed frame makes it responsive and light weight.  It’s also a beautiful bike and gets a lot of complements wherever it goes.

1951 The Bicycle Magazine U.K.

I recently purchased two editions of The Bicycle, a U.K. publication.  Both date to 1951. The May 30th publication, pictured above is the “Northern Edition”, and features cycling tours of Exmoor in Somerset, as well as racing results from the myriad competitions occurring at that time in Northern England.  The cover page above shows two riders on their Phillips Reynolds 531 bikes with Dunlop tires and “racing” hubs.

In perusing both editions I discovered that this photography column was a regular feature.  Written by Frank Newbold, these columns discuss a variety of basic but perplexing concepts for the film photographer of the day.  Using exposure meters correctly is covered in the 5/30/51 edition, and depth of focus is covered in the 4/11/51 column.  The concepts presented here still hold today, even with our digital cameras, and I found the discussions a helpful review.

The advertisements are also especially interesting.  The page above features a Reynolds 531 Elswick step through frame, as well as the stunningly beautiful lugs from Hetchins.  These are the “Magnum Opus” lugs used for the highest quality machine that would be offered at the time.  In addition, there’s an ad for a “lightweight” camping stove called The Monitor which was fueled by paraffin and weighed under 2 lbs.

The April 11, 1951 edition’s front page shows a rider on a Reynolds 531 BSA model.  Clearly Reynolds 531 was the gold standard of the day, as it is now.

This Sturmey Archer ad is for an FM 4 speed model.  This was a close ratio model used by racers.  It’s interesting to note that the AW model, which is considered the most useful for all-around cycling, is not even mentioned in the above advertisement.

Here are some advert pages from the April 1951 edition. The Jack Taylor ad features a step through frame.  I’ve noted from these ads that the drive train was not specified.  Instead, you would select whether you wanted an internal hub, fixed/free, or a derailleur gear model.  This practice continued well into the 1970’s, but is not an option today for new bicycles.  You’ll also see the advert for the gorgeous Resilion cantilevers  – probably the most elegant brake design I’ve seen.  These cantilevers were clamped to the stays, so it didn’t matter whether you had braze-ons or not.  You could use them on any bike.

I’ve found great pleasure and knowledge in vintage cycling publications.  I am continually amazed to see that cycling lore from days gone by still holds today.  The above back page advert shows a Miller dynamo system.  While dynamos have now migrated to hubs, the concepts remain unchanged.  And that’s true for much of the cycling industry.