My recent overhaul of a Shimano Octalink bottom bracket made me wonder about splined cranksets and whether they had a history that preceded Shimano’s 1996 offering. I pulled out my copies of The Data Book, Rebour (by Rob Van der Plas), as well as the small collection of Le Cycle and Le Cyclist magazine in my library to review spindle and crankset design through the decades. I also checkedBicycle Design to see if it contained any chapters on crankset and bottom bracket design, which it did not. As it turned out, the best resource for my research was VeloBase.com.
Rebour drawing of 1950 Gnutti splined crankset, Le Cycle Magazine, 9 Oct 1950.
After learning from the Rebour book and The Data Book that Gnutti had introduced a splined spindle and crankarm by at least 1948 or 1949, I searched VeloBase and found several examples of this design. From the Rebour drawing above you can see that the splined portion was nice and long, and was also spliced. I have not observed these splices on later photos of Gnutti splined spindles dating from the early 1950’s. There are a boatload of splines on this spindle, and the splined area is very long – so it does seem like a robust product, especially when compared to the Shimano Octalink V1 spindle, with its very short splines.
Williams catalogue, courtesy of VeloBase.com
Another component maker to offer a splined spindle and crankarm was Williams, who were more well known for their low end steel cottered cranksets rather than their higher end alloy offerings. Their AB 77 crank and spindle was introduced in the early 1960’s or late 1950’s and had fewer splines than the Gnutti competitor, but was apparently easier to install and remove. The blog midlifecycling.blogspot.com has a nice discussionabout these cranks and their strengths and shortcomings.
Gnutti splined crank spindle, courtesy of classiccyleus.com
To add to the mystique surrounding splined cranksets, I discovered this intriguing 1967 Jack Taylor custom bicycle built for Jerry Collier, which was created by the Taylor brothers to feature components from earlier decades. The bike has a 1930’s Osgear derailleur, the earliest known cassette hub by Pallandini, as well as a splined Gnutti crank spindle, shown above.
Gnutti splined crank and spindle, courtesy of VeloBase.com
As is true of most modern cycling “innovations”, what is new was actually invented decades ago. Index shifting, integrated brake/shifter levers, bar-end shifters, and splined cassettes with freehubs are just a few examples. We can add splined cranks and spindles to the list.
Sachs Orbit 2 speed hybrid hub with 6 speed cassette
I became interested in hybrid gearing after acquiring my 1973 Jack Taylor Tourist, about 9 years ago. The bike features a single front chainring, 6 speed cassette and a 2 speed Sachs Orbit internal hub. That gives it 12 gears overall, with a good range for the kind of riding I do, as the internal hub’s lower gear is about a 33% reduction, which is quite significant. For awhile, I didn’t think much about this interesting arrangement, and instead just enjoyed riding the bike, and being able to do a substantial downshift while sitting still at a stop light.
Sachs Orbit 2 speed hybrid hub with 6 speed cassette.
There are a number of ways to accomplish hybrid gearing. You can forgo a front derailleur, and use an internal two or three speed hub to take the place of multiple chainrings. You can also use multiple chainrings with an internal hub, and forgo the cassette/freewheel. Or, you can be like Sheldon Brown and do both, achieving a 63 speed bicycle – his beloved “O.T.B.” which used a 3 speed SA hub, a seven speed cassette, and 3 chainrings. Doing the math: 3 x 7 x 3 = 63. So with modern technology, let’s calculate the possibilities: a 14 speed Rohloff hub, paired with an 11 speed cassette, with a triple chainring = 462 gears! Probably that set up would be a mechanic’s nightmare, so if you really want this many gears, I suggest you purchase a continuously variable NuVinci hub – but be prepared to deal with quite a bit more than a couple of pounds of extra weight.
Sachs Orbit hub – NOS early 90’s with two optional cassettes
There is really only one source on the internet for information about the Sachs Orbit 2 speed hybrid hub, and that of course is the Sheldon Brown site, with additional information and clarifications by bike guru John Allen. One of the things I worried about with this hub on my Jack Taylor was being able to find replacement parts, given that the hub was so rare. Fortunately, a while back I found a NOS Sachs Orbit hub, pictured above, which I could use as a replacement in case something went wrong.
1973 Jack Taylor Tourist Sachs Orbit hybrid hub
Meanwhile, the original hub is working just fine, and needed only occasional lubrication with automotive oil. I had sent the hub out for a rebuild nine years ago, and it is working perfectly, still.
Info on the box of the replacement hub seems to indicate this is a 1992 hub
Very pretty hub logo engraved into the hub shell
Be careful with these spindles!
The replacement hub I purchased is quite lovely, and has two different cassette options – for 5 or 6 speeds. The cassette cogs and spacers slip onto the freehub with tabs to line up the rings, except for the final smaller cogs, which screw onto the freehub. As one pedals, these smaller cogs with screw-on threads will get tighter and tighter.
Because this replacement hub is so nice, I have been thinking about using it to build into an interesting wheel set for a road/commuter bike, rather than keeping it in reserve for spare parts. One of the convenient features of this hub is that it can be operated by pretty much any front derailleur shifter, as there are only two positions on the hub. And, if something goes wrong with the hub on the Jack Taylor, maybe I will rethink hybrid gearing altogether.
1973 Jack Taylor Tourist
The bike’s rear wheel was an alteration from its original 1973 build, and whether or not this rear wheel was built by the Taylor brothers is unknown. However, I have noted that British bikes built in the 60’s through the 80’s sometimes featured hybrid gearing. This was especially true for the boutique manufacturers of that era. Sachs internal hub gears are considered on par with Sturmey Archer, and I will say that is true, based on my experience with riding this Jack Taylor. The hub has been totally reliable.
This early 90’s Sachs Orbit 2 speed hybrid hub has 36 holes, so it could work with a number of possible rims. It needs a bit of lubrication to bring it back to full glory, and if I end up needing to rebuild it, John Allen and Sheldon Brown will come the rescue.
Drooling over gorgeous vintage bicycles is one thing, but appreciating their enduring ride quality is another thing altogether. This 1973 Jack Taylor Tourist has been with me for over eight years, and while I rode it quite a bit initially, I eventually set it aside. The bike is larger than my usual size, and I did not adequately assess the lack of comfort associated with a 55 cm top tube length, given that I normally ride a 51.
Adding to that are the big 27 inch wheels and 29 cm bottom bracket height. Throwing a leg over this bike is like mounting one’s 16 hand steed for a ride in the country side. However, the very tall riding position is great for commuting. It puts your head up above the fray and helps make you more visible to the car driving masses. So, in order to enjoy this bike I needed to make some ergonomic changes. Back to the drawing board.
I needed to bring the bars closer to me. The tall Nitto Technomic stem came to the rescue. Drop bars or mustache bars would push my arms out too far for this top tube length, so I located a vintage city style bar that had the right clamp size for the Nitto Stem. I used Velo Orange levers to complete the vintage look. Even though new, they are quite a bit more sturdy than the Weinmann and DiaCompe flat bar levers made in the 70’s. Their only downside is that the levers sit out pretty far from the bar, so they are not the best choice for smaller hands. I couldn’t resist using some bright yellow Benotto bar tape, which when wrapped three times over fit perfectly on the grip side of the bars, and which brings out the bike’s vibrant yellow highlights.
This bike is unique in many ways, and one of them is the rear wheel which features this Sachs-Fitchel 2 speed Orbit hub. The internally geared hub takes the place of a front derailleur and extra chain ring. I had sent the hub out for a rebuild 8 years ago, not daring to do it myself at the time. It still feels smooth, so I resisted the very faint urge to tear it down. The internal gears can be lubricated by removing the spindle and squirting in a bit of automotive oil. Easily done. The spindle broke apart a number of years ago, so I did my own repair job using a tiny brad which I banged into the chain links. The repaired link is slightly bigger than it should be, but hasn’t caused any problems. One of the nice things about this gearing arrangement is being able to shift to a lower gear when stopped. That’s not something you can do with a 100% derailleur equipped bicycle.
Whenever a bike sits for a while, all kinds of things go wrong. Grease congeals, one kind of metal fuses itself to another kind of metal, bearings embed themselves into their cups and cones, and rust seems to form everywhere.
So, there were lots of other issues to address: pitted bottom bracket cups, which I replaced with an exact and pristine match that I happened to have in stock; broken wiring for the sidewall driven Soubitez dynamo; and various rusted areas on the frame which needed to be sanded and then painted (I use clear Testor’s paint). I had considered replacing the dynamo with something newer, but it is actually working just fine, and I can use it as a back up to my battery powered light if needed. (P.S. I hate dynamos).
Soubitez dynamo headlight is working!
Testor’s Paints – I use clear paint for touch ups.
Inelegant wire routing. Oh well.
Perfect for commuting – Lyotard pedals with reflectors and cage tabs to keep your shoe in place.
Frame touch up – sanded and painted.
Very tight clearance due to low tread Stronglight 99 crankset.
IRC Road Winner 27 x 1 1/4 tires
I really like these IRC 27 x 1 1/4 inch tires. I purchased them eight years ago and unfortunately, they can no longer be found. Not not only do they have a nice appearance, the sidewalls are very supple and the ride quality is even better than the much beloved Panaracer Pasela’s I have ridden. I hope to ride these tire until the bitter end, and replace them only when absolutely necessary. One issue with these older rims is that they cannot tolerate high pressures, due to their design. So, I have blown these tires off the rim more than a few times. Finally, I have settled on 70 psi in the rear and 65 psi in the front, and have had no blow outs since.
In addition to rebuilding the pedals, front hub, and bottom bracket, I also replaced the straddle cables for the Mafac Cantilever brakes. The brakes, while very powerful, are noisy under hard braking, partly because I am using these Kool Stop pads which not only don’t allow for toe-in, they seem to provide for the opposite of toe-in. Even so, I would rather have these strong and reliable cantilevers for commuting in Portland.
And finally, I sourced an exact match for the taillight with the broken reflector. I kind of miss the look of the bare bulb, though.
Now it’s time to get back out on this bike into this Fall’s windy, rainy weather and ride the leaf strewn avenues of Portland – hopefully in comfort!