I have been considering my options for a new commuting bike and I have visited the latest LBS aka the Internet for some inspiration. I knew a couple of people who used hub geared bikes for commuting in Sydney and am interested in hubs as they allegedly require less maintenace than normal geared bikes. They may also be reasonably good for wet weather.

The thing that has intrigued me is the 3 speed bikes offered by http://www.metropolitanbikes.com.au/ based in Cronulla,http://www.metropolitanbikes.com.au/ based in Bondi & http://www.jellybeanbikes.com.au/ based in Melbourne. The pricing is good and the Jellybean option gives you a choice of colours.

The thing that makes me ask is about the gearing - is climbing easy or harder than using a deraileur bike. I notice they all seem to be using the Sturmey Archer Hubs. I have discussed my interest in hub gears with a bike mechanic who claimed that Sturmey Archer were taken over by the company who does the gearing for department store bikes. The thing was this guy was trying to convince me of how Shimano Nexus was the superior gear.

In any case I have noticed more discussions of 3 speed hubs in magazines such as Treadly. One article implied they were the next big thing in cycling. Are they?

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They might be if they offer a reasonable spread of ratios:

One gear for climbing hills

One for cruising on the flat or near flat, with no loss (ie. 1:1 ratio working like a singlespeed)

One for a bit more speed on gentle downhills.

If it means a nice low friction system perhaps with the brake built in and shielded from muck why not?

You get the reliability of a singlespeed with just a few hundred extra grams making hills less of a challenge. Great.

I'd go with Sheldon Brown's suggestion when it comes to setting up a three speed bike:

"The way bicycle manufacturers commonly set up three-speeds, the middle gear is too low for level-ground riding, to keep the top gear from being completely useless. A 3-speed hub will serve you much better if you install a larger rear sprocket or smaller chainwheel, and use the top gear on level terrain. The low and middle gears are then better for acceleration and climbing. If you spin out on downhills, then you can coast."

Sheldon's website has a lot of information on internal hubs, and I would suggest using his gear caluclator to make a comparison between what you are currently riding and the internal hubs out there to guage the difference in range, which is what will determine the ease of climbing hills. The Shimano Nexus 3 speed does have a marginally wider range than the Sturmey Archer 3 speed. Depending on what you are used to, it is likely that you will have to sacrifice some of your range (taking my current bike as an example, the only way to get a comparable range of my triple chainring (30, 39, 50), nine speed (11-34) set up would be to spend $2000 on a Rohloff Speed Hub, the best internal hub gear available, with 14 gears). If you follow Sheldon's advice, though, you can push to keep as much of your low range as possible by sacrificing the high. I know i don't spend a lot, if any, time in my 50 tooth chain ring and 11 tooth sprocket, so that may well not be so much of a sacrifice.

To emphasise, though, whether it is an internal hub or a derailleur system it is the range of gears available that will determine the ease with which you climb. There is nothing intrinsic to either system that will impact on your ability to get over the hill.

Stepping back to the overall picture, I think internal hubs are great. They are easy to set up, require very little maintenance, you get less chain wear as it doesn't get pushed around on an angle like a derailleur system does, and you can chuck a chain guard over it too to both protect the chain from the elements and your legs from the chain... like Martin says, you get the benefit of a single speed, and only need to make a minor cost/weight sacrifice in exchange for a gearing range to get you over hills. I also really like the fact that, unlike a derailleur system, you can change gear when you aren't pedalling - if you are crusing along and suddenly need to stop for a red ligh, while waiting you can flick into an easier gear while you wait for the green to come, and you can easily start riding up a hill by shifting into your lowest gear before you start. For most commuters they would be a fine choice, I'd definitely recommend trying a bike with a hub gear out (though also keeping in mind the possibility of shifting the range lower with sproket and chain ring choice, if needed).

For full disclosure, I work in a shop that has Nexus 3, Nexus 8 and Rohloff hubs on bikes in the building, my wife has a Nexus 8, my best friend rides a Sturmey 3 speed, and I'm looking at building a bike for another friend and I'm yet to decide between the Sturmey and Nexus 3 speed options. Everyone I know with a hub gear is happy with it :)

My take is that 3-speed hubs make sense for most cities, because most cities are flat. So that's why there's a lot of them out there in the market, but they don't make much sense for most people in Sydney.

The other side of this point is that most people in the world must look at 8-sp, 11-sp and 14-sp hubs and wonder what the point of all those gears are, and who could possibly need such a thing?

Like I said above, it does depend upon how you set it up a bit. A three speed with its range shifted low should be fine for most parts of Sydney, unless a combination of lack of fitness, particularly steep hills, heavy loads call for something more. If it does, a Nexus 8 is only going to add a couple of hundred dollars to the price compared to a Nexus 3.


And Sydney isn't that hilly, I do fine with a singlespeed and I'm far from being a whippet.

agreed ,singlespeed is fine and Sydney isn't that hilly , more like molehills

I suppose it ultimately comes down to how much you want to spend and how little maintenance you want to do. I have an SA 3 speed on one bike and it is fine for most trips and is bullet proof, but it is no where near as smooth as my road bike with Shimano Ultegra running gear. I would agree with the bike shop guy that Shimano Nexus would be superior to the SA 3 speed.

Alternatively you could look at something with a belt drive and internal geared hub http://www.trekbikes.com/au/en/bikes/town/urban_utility/soho/. I think they retail for about $1300 but have seen some on sale around the $900 mark.

I have the Trek District with a single speed belt drive and it is the ultimate in maintenance free. I use it as a commuter and in almost 2 yrs have done little more than jet blast it with a pressure washer. No chains to clean and lube and no gears to adjust. When I replace it I will probably look at the Soho.

I have had two bikes, or one-and-a-half really, with 3-speed Sturmey-Archer hub gears in my life. The first was my first, over 40 years ago in the cycling dark ages. It was OK until it went out of adjustment and I couldn't figure how to get it working properly again. It probably wouldn't have been too hard but I was not in the least mechanically inclined in those days.

The second was on a trailer-bike which carried my son behind my tourer. It suffered the same adjustment problems and, despite my being much more capable of maintaining bicycles then, it was still impossible for me to get it working reliably again. I guess I should have just gone to the LBS.

When the hub finally carked it on tour in Tasmania in '05, due to the axle thread stripping out so it couldn't be secured properly, I chucked it and bought a new wheel without a hub gear.

I don't know whether my experience is typical of Sturmey-Archer users (if it is the company would have gone out of business a long time ago) but I reckon if I never have another bicycle with SA hub gears it will be too soon.

Your experience may differ...

Systems vary with respect to indexing. The Rohloff is indexed in the hub, so there isn't much in the way of cable adjustment required.

Conversely the old Sturmey Archer 3 speeds were indexed at the control, and cable adjustment and free movement were critical to proper operation.

The nexus cable arrangement at the hub end is a bit fiddly. To the extent that if I suffered a puncture with one I'd probable ride home without the gubbins connected and re-assemble on a bike stand in comfort and good light.

My first bike in the 60s had a 3 speed Sturmey Archer hub.  I rode this from the age of 7 up to when I got my drivers licence.  For all of my teenage years I lived in Katoomba and there's a few hills there and I went everywhere on that bike.  I don't remember not having enough gears. However, I was pretty fit.

I also pulled it apart one winter when I also replaced every bearing on my bike, but unlike Neil I managed to put it back together again. :-)  

Yeah, but girls were just so much better with mechanical things than boys were then.

Yeah, right.  All those friends of mine who had their bikes pulled apart in their bedrooms. Not :-)  I think that was just me. 

You were just a late bloomer Neil!


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