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Re: [Geared_hub_bikes] Happy 75th Anniversary, Sturmey-Archer AW (1936-2011)

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  • jim
    Hi pj -- thanks for the great posts today, helpful and interesting.  I ve read on Sheldon Brown s pages and other places that the SA s are widely admired for
    Message 1 of 3 , Oct 3, 2011
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      Hi pj --

      thanks for the great posts today, helpful and interesting.  I've read on Sheldon Brown's pages and other places that the SA's are widely admired for durability and easy maintenance.  Are the AW's worthy of that reputation as their other models??  How are the SRF-3s fairing in the court of IGH owner opinion??

      JIm 




      --- On Mon, 10/3/11, pj <prester_john_in_cathay@...> wrote:

      From: pj <prester_john_in_cathay@...>
      Subject: [Geared_hub_bikes] Happy 75th Anniversary, Sturmey-Archer AW (1936-2011)
      To: Geared_hub_bikes@yahoogroups.com
      Date: Monday, October 3, 2011, 12:39 PM

       

      In 1936, the bachelor Edward VIII was on the throne of England and they raced single-speed bicycles in the Tour de France. Howard Hughes set a new North American transcontinental air speed record of 9 hours and 27 minutes. The Olympics were held in Berlin, Germany, Gone With the Wind was published and the last known Tasmanian tiger died. Oh, and Sturmey-Archer introduced the AW three-speed hub.

      The AW is easily the most complicated bit of cycling kit still available over such a long time period. Contemporary derailleurs were the Super Champion and Cyclo three- and four-speeds. Imagine: the Huret Allvit was still twenty years into the future. Reynolds had only introduced 531 the year before.

      You might want to sit down for this: the little hub wasn't just introduced 75 years ago - it's still being built today!

      The AW entered the world unheralded. The K 3-speed remained in production through 1938, when the revolutionary FW and FM four speeds were introduced. Sturmey's big news during the era was their sporting hubs: the close ratio three speeds and TC fixed gear used in time trialing and setting point to point records. The AW was for low cost roadsters and utility bikes, and S-A didn't waste advertising dollars on it.

      The classic AW has been criticized for being a decontented, low cost K. This was, unsurprisingly, exactly what it was supposed to be. It was always just supposed to be "good enough", and was considered so unremarkable by its manufacturer that to this day its introduction is not listed in the company's milestones. (Sturmey-Archer informed me by email that they had no plans for any mention – much less celebration – of the AW's diamond jubilee.)

      Why then, has the AW lasted 75 years and been produced in the tens of millions of units? Two reasons, I think. First, the AW contains a distillation of the important points of the three-speed hub product (which has been a part of cycling for 108 years): a reasonable compromise of gear steps and total range, low maintenance, ease of use and robust operation. Second, some twenty-five years ago the AW got its most extensive update: the NIG mechanism (the NIG was introduced only on some versions of the AW in 1984, and wasn't fully phased in until 2001).

      One aside: several cycling historians have said the AW went out of production from 1954 to 1959 or so, when Sturmey was pushing the new SW3 hub. Sturmey did push the new design, but the SW was more expensive to manufacture and for the most price sensitive OEMs Sturmey kept the unadvertised AW available (as evidenced in period Sturmey inside sales literature and those 1954-1960 AW hubs that show up on ebay).

      So the AW is not the ultimate gear hub, but rather ultimately the good-enough gear hub. As a major artifact, it's one of those things an IGHead or classic bike fan should have an example of. If you'd like one, old ones are cheap on ebay and, as mentioned, new ones are still available from the manufacturer.

    • pj
      ... It s surely the AW (nicknamed the Always Works) that s the foundation of Sturmey s reputation in living memory. The company has produced a great many
      Message 2 of 3 , Oct 7, 2011
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        > I've read on Sheldon Brown's pages and other places
        > that the SA's are widely admired for durability and easy
        > maintenance. Are the AW's worthy of that reputation
        > as their other models?? How are the SRF-3s fairing in
        > the court of IGH owner opinion??

        It's surely the AW (nicknamed the Always Works) that's the foundation of Sturmey's reputation in living memory. The company has produced a great many robust hubs in the last century+, but there have been a few clinkers, too (the SW3, StAr5 and original 8-speed design come to mind).

        I'm pretty much a Sturmey fan, but for truly easy maintenance I'll take a SRAM (Sachs) hub any day.

        S-RF3s are just the AW-NIG mechanism put into a beefy, high-polish aluminum hub shell. There have been a notable lack of complaints and a fair amount of praise for this hub.

        pj
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