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My first geared bike had a Sturmey-Archer internal gear hub, it was probably a similarly styled shopper bike. I don’t really think I gave it much attention at that early stage, I just remember that I couldn’t reach the brakes. What I now find interesting is that in a young, naive way our judgement of a bike often boiled down to how many gears it had (unless of course it was a BMX and then you were super cool). I knew the Sturmey-Archer name, I knew it as an old way of offering a hi and low gear to a bike that would otherwise only have one and I knew it as heavy duty, and pre-derailleur. A real bike had 10 gears, obviously much needed on the flat roads of west london!
Now, this little bike that I’m working on has a Sturmey-Archer 3-speed internal gear hub and what I’ve been learning about SA is very interesting. First of all, every Sturmey-Archer hub is stamped with the month and year of its production and so gives a pretty good idea of the age of the bike. Mine is stamped with 79, 6 (June 1979). This particular hub is a type AW (also stamped on the hub), this is the most common Sturmey-Archer hub, literally millions and millions were produced especially as they were fitted on most Raleigh bicycles with internal hub gears. Brought out in 1937 but based on an original design dating back to 1904, the AW hub was a low maintenance, sealed and durable gear mechanism whose long existence speaks for the quality of its design. For most utility bikes the Sturmey Archer AW internal gear hub was exactly what was required. SA was owned by Raleigh however and while this hub was being fitted to most of their bikes there was little effort or resources offered for design development. Raleigh had a stifling effect on SA through its lack of interest in innovation, holding back patents and resources despite the company’s growth. Hence as derrailleurs became slicker, easier to maintain and more durable, SA could not keep up. Even the start of the mountain bike market which lead to a resurgence of cycling was not considered important yet drum brakes, disc brakes and internal hub gears might have suited this market perfectly had the SA engineers been encouraged to follow it. What should have been a story of great British engineering ended up being sold off with the name and equipment being bought and shipped out to Taiwan by Sun Race.
Internal hub gears have not signified in my cycling I knew nothing about them, but the more I learn the more suited they are to the streets of London. There are no oily appendages vulnerably dangling from the rear frame. The gears can be changed at a standstill, perfect for having stopped in the wrong gear at a traffic light. Internally sealed and with less moving parts means less maintenance. I’d quite like to get this 35year old hub gear working on my little bike…. but I also want to have a look inside!
Oh dear, I have an admission to make.
Having taken on a little bike to renovate and get back on the road in a slightly simplified and lighter style I wanted to be quite economical about it all. But I got a bit carried away. After stripping her down I was left with a tiny little frame, it’s good, solid, but I was starting to feel quite nauseus after having to look at that awful regurgitated brown colour for so long. In my defence, it had been hand painted at some point so it wasn’t an original Kingpin colour. I could see the original gold on the fork steerer, a classic gold brilliantly presenting the gaudiness of the seventies, that I could have lived with. But this dirt brown made it look like it had been dragged out the canal, and the thought of rebuilding newly renovated parts onto it was too much to take.
Now in three parts I took little bike under my arm and across London on the tube to Armourtex in Hackney. I left her for four days and collected a freshly powder coated and highly lacquered beautiful deep blue, three part frame. See for yourself… Beautiful! 🙂
Next job was to dismantle the head set, again everything came away nicely. Some gentle easing with a large flat headed screwdriver generally worked all round. For some reason I didn’t expect the the bearings to be so exposed as I released the top race and of course classically managed to drop one, well I think it was one! Having learnt my lesson, a washing up bowl caught the two stray bearings from the bottom race. They were all well greased and on initial inspection I didn’t notice any pitting, once clean we shall see.
So, last but not least, the bottom bracket and cranks. Pedals off fine, now cotter pins, this job I was not looking forward to. Having propped the bike up appropriately on various planks of wood I attacked the cotter pin with hammer. I was relieved to see it budge but I hadn’t managed the single forceful blow that Sheldon Brown describes, and I could see how the thread would be lost all to easily. Using a peddle spindle it took maybe 4-5 careful strikes and I think I avoided thread damage. Now thinking I understood what I was dealing with I struck the left cotter pin with a hefty blow but caught the lockring on the way down. Damn.
So, the bottom bracket was all that was left. Without a lockring wrench I tapped at the notches in the lockring. A small movement meant I could then grasp them with a rag and manually twist them off avoiding any further damage. Likewise, the ends of two fine metal files gently eased the adjustable cup off in place of a pin spanner and the flats on the right cup gave just enough purchase for the other side. The grease was looking pretty manky but it had definitely done its job. Well, one little bike stripped down and good sense of satisfaction.
I’ve been trawling the net and getting carried away with beautiful renovations of both the Kingpin and the Raleigh Twenty which has arguably less quality but is the more common rival. Converted into tourers and racing bikes there seems to be little to limit these little folding frames. Here’s one beautiful conversion which I’ve taken the liberty of reprinting from here http://www.fareham-wheelers.org.uk/builtnotbought.shtml by Dave Palk.
How could you not start dreaming, its so tempting! But I must stick to the plan of a practical, folding bike, that I can easily take on the tube therefore also weight conscious. I’d like to try and use as many original fittings as possible, also as a financial consideration. And this renovation could also give me an opportunity to investigate two intriguing factors ; internal hub gears and wheel building. Right, on with the plan.
After recording as much of the little bikes detail as I could on camera I set about dismantling her. The wheels came away, the stainless steel mudguards, the carrier and the dynamo lights. I wasn’t finding too much rust and most bolts seemed to move nicely having been greased, all be it a long time ago. Weinmann brakes looked very familiar, I’m sure these were on an old Falcon I had in my late teens. The seat post is not going to come away easily, I started dripping oil between the tubes. The steering tube position has been marked with electrical tape this little bike must have been being folded away till not very long ago. The handle bars came out and now I was left with what I thought would be the problem pieces: headset and bottom bracket, but all was going smoothly even the seat post had gradually come away with regular dripping of oil and some easing with the vise grips. Releasing each part, easing each nut over its thread and inspecting each piece for rust, wear or brandings builds an understanding of the quality of the parts, the working pieces and a vague glimpse into the little bikes own history.
Here she is…. a 1979 Dawes Kingpin. A folding bicycle with Sturmey-Archer 3 speed hub gears, dynamo lights, chain guard and perfectly proportioned carrier. Little did she know that rather than being allowed to retire gracefully, she was only just starting her latest adventure. An adventure that would redefine her character, change her outward appearance and give her a whole new role in life. The only down side being that she doesn’t have any choice in the matter! So, let’s get on with it.