Tuesday, May 12, 2009

That old 3-speed charm

Much of my riding is done on a commute, and commuting calls for a specific sort of bicycle - durable, relatively swift, and protected from the elements. My Bridgestone XO that I have written much about does a good job of this. It's not road-bike fast and it never could be - the bike is too heavy and the single speed only lets you pedal so fast. But it has full fenders, racks for carrying things, and the single speed makes it simple to keep running smoothly in all sorts of weather. Its mustache bars provide lots of comfortable hand positions, but they aren't necessarily beautiful.

For the past week or so I've been fixing up an old Raleigh for my sister. It's got the old 3-speed Sturmey-Archer hub on the rear, full fenders, and elegant understated styling. Typical British bicycle, in other words. For those who don't know, the Internally Geared Hub, or IGH, is a wonder of maintenance simplicity. The gears are all inside the rear hub, which means you have a straight chainline, no derailers to muck about with or keep clean, and only a few drops of oil keeps it functioning for decades. Literally - this one was built in 1974, and shows no signs of slowing down. The downsides are that the 3 speeds aren't exactly spaced apart much. The low gear is only useful for really hammering on the pedals flat-out, and the high for going very slowly up steep inclines. This means you find yourself pedaling at a leisurely pace in the middle gear for 90% of the time. Other companies like Shimano and SRAM make hubs with more gears, and a high end maker, Rohloff, sees fit to go up to 14 gears. Those hubs are a bit beyond my budget at this point, however.

These old steel machines are also extremely heavy, which means they last a long time, but are also slow getting up to speed. The upright riding position is quite comfortable, especially on a sprung saddle, but it sure makes for rough going in wind, as I found out. So, in my view, this is a great "ride around town" bike, but not a "get me to work on time" bike. I'm not turned off by the IGH for a commuter yet, however. I have been pleading the local bike shop to order an Origin 8 3-speed commuter, but if that falls through I may just find a way to put an IGH on the Bridgestone.

1 comment:

Dottie said...

Bea-u-ti-ful! Lucky sister! I don't mind a heavy bike for commuting, I simply leave earlier :)