Easier Gearing on Older Three Speeds

There’s nothing like the comfort, reliability, and just plain fun of riding vintage three speed bicycles, especially those made by Raleigh and other U.K. manufacturers.  For decades, these bikes were the transportation of choice for the working class.  They are built to last, and their utility has already spanned across two centuries.  Properly cared for, these well built machines may outlast even our children’s children, and are a wonderful treasure to pass on to the future.

However, as built, these bikes are geared high and are difficult to ride uphill.  In practice, walking steep hills was the norm, as these bikes are also pretty heavy.

My 1950 Raleigh Sports Tourist, weighing in at 45 lbs., is no exception.  Its gear inch range is 47-84 with its original 19T cog and 46T chainring.  Using the bike in my hilly neighborhood has meant being in the right frame of mind and sufficiently rested to be willing to put forth the physical exertion required.  But, why not gear it lower and get more enjoyment out of the bike given the environment in which I ride?

Well, one reason is that it is a sort of major PITA to remove the rear wheel.  Owning a bike with a full chainguard means a few extra steps to rear wheel removal.  Fortunately I’ve never had a flat in all of the 15 years I’ve had this bike, so I’ve lucked out in that regard but have of course removed the rear wheel on the few times over the years when I’ve given the bike a complete overhaul.  It rarely needs servicing, just a few drops of oil in the hub every now and then, so I’ve had this, one of my oldest bikes, in the shop stand much less often than my other bikes.

But, it’s actually not that bad once you get started.  There are two screws at the back and bottom of the chainguard which when removed allow you to remove a back section of the guard, and then the wheel can be dropped out (after first disconnecting the indicator spindle from the cable of course).

And, to remove the rear wheel I’ve found it easiest to flip the bike upside down rather than hoist it into the work stand.  You can see what you are doing much easier, and there’s less likelihood of “losing” the chain inside the chainguard.  Even so, I like to place something there to keep the chain accessible, such as this wrench pictured above.

At this point, the fairly straightforward process of swapping the old cog for a new one with more teeth would be the next step.  However, you can see from the above photo that my cog is threaded to a threaded driver.  There aren’t 3 little notches which line up to the splines on the driver.  Uh oh!

Sturmey Archer began using splined drivers in their hubs in 1951, making swapping cogs relatively easy.  Because my Raleigh was made earlier, it has a threaded cog/driver, not a splined one.  So, an easy cog swap was out.  After doing some research, I concluded that I had two options if I wanted to lower the gearing:  remove the original cog and screw on a track cog (which is said to have the same threading) or swap out the driver for a newer splined driver.

Thinking that the simplest approach would be to simply unscrew the old cog and screw on a suitable replacement, I needed to find a way to hold the driver in place while using a chain whip (as I had already removed the driver from the hub).  Thanks to a helpful tip from bikesmithdesign.com I took a couple of matching Shimano 600 headset removal tools (I needed two to make the platform wide enough) and lined the handles up in my vice so I could place the slots between the driver’s “legs” over them.  It’s probably better to use aluminum bar stock as recommended, but my hack worked fine. A better approach would have been to leave the driver in the hub so that it’s still attached to the wheel, which provides more leverage. Trying it both ways I still couldn’t get the cog to unscrew, even after soaking it in some penetrating oil. It’s been on there for 72 years and doesn’t want to budge.

So, I switched to Plan B.

I harvested a splined driver from a 1978 hub, shown above, first removing the outer nuts and then the locknut and lock washer.  I had previously removed the cog, circlip, dust cap and spacers.

Then I put the left side axle in the vise and began to unscrew the cone on the right side.  The driver sits right underneath the cone and carries the bearing cup.  Removing the driver helps you to see why you must never do your cone adjustment from the right side:  the driver’s position is controlled by the spring underneath pushing up into the cone above.  It needs to be adjusted exactly as specified by Sturmey Archer so that the correct movement of the driver when the clutch is engaged by the shifter is achieved.

Making sure not to dislodge the plastic washer atop the clutch spring, you can remove the driver, but leave the clutch spring intact along with the washer sitting on top.  The recipient hub is going to get the driver, the dust cap, spacers, and circlip.  I also transferred the cone as well, since it was in better shape the original.

I carefully installed the new replacement driver onto the 1950 hub, and screwed the cone down finger tight, then backed it off 1/2 turn as per the S.A. instructions.  From there, the lock washer and locknut are installed.  I checked the hub for free play and then did a slight cone adjustment on the left side (NEVER ON THE RIGHT!), leaving just a tiny bit of free play, as recommended.

Then the exciting part:  installing the new cog.  Not knowing how much room I would have inside the chainguard I went with a 22T cog.  I didn’t want to risk having the chain rub against the inside of the guard.  So, fingers crossed that this one will work.  After noting the dishing on my original cog:  “bubble side down” I oriented this cog the same way.  I installed the dust cap underneath first, and found I also needed an extra spacer which I fortunately had on hand, pushed on the cog and snapped in the circlip.

After adding two chain links to accommodate the larger cog I tried mounting the wheel to first make sure that I had the right chain length.  The axle should sit comfortably in the middle of the dropout, which it does.  From there I installed the outer washers and nuts.  At this point, I turned the bike over and put it into the shop stand, as it was time to reinstall the hub spindle and check that the shifting was working and that there were no other issues such as a chain line problem or chain rub on the guard.  Fortunately, all was in order and shifting was perfect once I retuned it.

1951 Raleigh Catalog

My new gearing gives me 41-54-72 gear inches.  My first test ride gave me a glimpse of the fun I’m going to have.  The 54 is a comfortable “cruising gear”, which I define as an easy cadence on flats.  The low 41 gear, although NOT a 30, is still much better than it was, and the high gear of 72 is just fine as I really don’t need to blast down the hills.

The hub on this bike has always seemed almost self propelling.  It spins very well and has little friction, especially as compared to my other Sturmey Archer equipped bikes (older is better?).  I plan to spin my way into the coming seasons and hope that I’ve given this bike a chance to keep on spinning for another 70 years or more.

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.