Friday, May 19, 2006

Three Speed Dreams

In a kickoff to a bikey summer, the highly anticipated Lake Pepin Three Speed Tour was drawing near. It occurred this past weekend, but I'm going to post these blog entries with the appropriate dates.

In outline, I first read about this tour last winter and immediately recognized what a brilliant idea it was. As the motto goes, 'Three Speeds, Two Days, One More Reason for your spouse to ask, What Now?' You take old English three-speed bicycles and ride around Lake Pepin, Red Wing to Wabasha and back, at a gentlemanly pace, preferably dressed in 1930s English touring style.

My problem, as anticipated ahead of time, was to find a three-speed big enough. I'm a tall bugger, and ride a big bike. My main bike is a delicious Rivendell Atlantis in their biggest size, 27" (68cm). My winter bike is a mountain bike, too small for long term comfort. Neither bike was by any stretch of the imagination a three-speed. However, I happen to have this 27" Schwinn World Sport, an enormous red 12-speed I got at the Sibley Bike Depot last summer. I decided to make it a three speed.

I bought a 3-speed Sturmey Archer AW hub, a 1967 model, for $10 from the Sibley Bike Depot and sent it off to my buddy Paul in Cedar Rapids to build me some wheels (I also sent him a Shimano DN70 Dynamo Hub to make into a front wheel and a Shimano Nexus 8-Speed Red Band hub to build into another rear wheel, all with matched 700C rims). Paul's an old friend, dating back to grade school, and longtime biking buddy, and he also has an impressive collection of bike parts lying around, including a shitload of spokes he bought off eBay. These are in a variety of lengths not of his choosing, so when you have Paul build you a wheel you are prone to getting odd cross combinations, so that his own Rudge came with a radial-spoked front wheel and one of my rear hubs ended up 2 cross on one side and 3 cross on the other.

Friday I took off work and Paul arrived in the morning from Iowa bearing my completed wheels. Here's the Sturmey Archer AW:
Matt's 1967 Sturmey-Archer AW hub
Purists will note that this isn't a Sturmey-Archer cog on here and in fact it's kind of big. I had wanted a big cog to drop the gear range so I could grind up the promised big hills. Paul had fixed a 23-tooth Shimano cassette sprocket by grinding off three of the teeth but it wasn't working to get the right chain tension within the limits of my dropouts. The Nexus 8-speed came with a couple of sprockets, and I pulled out this 21-tooth. Not only did it work with the chain tension, it dropped directly onto the S-A hub with no modifications needed and is even dished to allow flipping it to get your chainline correct. You S-A fans out there might want to keep this in mind.

The bike, by the way, has a 42 tooth chainring, so this gave me my three gears of 40.5, 54 and 72 inches. Paul was riding a 44/24 combination, so he was riding gears of 37.4, 49.8 and 66.4 inches, sort of the Mountain Three Speed. The standard teething on a Raleigh would often be on the order of 46/18, giving a pretty brutal set of 52.1, 69.5 and 92.6 inches. Even when I was younger and fitter and riding a lightweight ten-speed, I rarely used gears over 90 inches, so those on the tour sticking with authentic gearing were in for some suffering.

I had other authentic details:
Sturmey Archer pulley for shift cable
I love the little pulley for the cable. My old 1967 Columbia Tourist three-speed, my tenth birthday present!, had one of these. I bought mine new from Harris Cyclery along with the genuine Sturmey-Archer cable and housing.

Shift chain on hub on bike
The shift mechanism on the AW hub (and most of these, I'd wager) involves a rod threaded into the interal mechanism. With no tension, the hub defaults to high gear. By pulling out the rod, done with the cable and this little chain, it pulls it into 2nd (middle gear, and direct drive) and 1st. You can adjust the tension on this with the threaded barrel and set it in place with the locknut. It's pretty straightforward. Fortunately, these hubs are dead reliable; we didn't know for sure it was going to work until we mounted it on the bike.

Shimano 3N70 hub front wheel
I wasn't all authentic. This is the dynamo front hub, which I've since ridden and which works fine. Funny thing is, when you buy it, especially as just a hub, it feels wretched and you can hardly resist taking it apart to 'fix' the bearings. I managed to resist.

Schwinn at rollout
Here's the Schwinn at rollout. Haven't got a great name for it yet, wavering between the Circus Bike due to its size or The Big Red One, after a movie I like.

The Rudge
Paul had immediately understood the potential for a good time with this Three Speed Tour when I ran it by him last winter. I'd checked the Sibley Bike Depot and Express Cyclery at the time and not found much for him in the way of three speeds, and he saw this Rudge come up on eBay and bought it, as it happened to be his size. It looked a bit rugged when he got it, but he cleaned it up. He had to relace the wheels which had broken spokes, straighten the front axle and resew the saddlebag. He got the basket, the Toto Basket, from Nashbar, and the envy of the Three Speed Tour it was, too.

Here's the Rudge:
Paul's Rudge aka The Handjob
The hub is stamped 65 and Paul has no reason to believe it's not original, so this would be a 1965 model.

Rudge's claim to fame was their handmade frames. So proud of this were they that they cut a hand outline in the crankset:
The Rudge Crankset
Paul and I have known each other since grade school and my wife (and probably his) would tell you our sense of humour is still stuck in eighth grade, so it may not be a surprise to them to know that we immediately crowned the bike The Handjob.

Rudge Headbadge
The used the same symbol on the headbadge.

The Rudge's S-A shifter
Paul's shifter gave him more problems than mine, which worked quite well once I got used to it again. In my old three-speed days, the Tourist had a twist-grip shifter, not these classic thumb-levers.

Britains Best Bicycle
Britain's Best Bicycle.

Pinstriping on the Rudge chainstay
A bit of pinstriping that had been covered up by the cable clamp shows how lovely this bike must have looked when new.

Radial spoking on Handjob's front wheel
Not your traditional British Roadster spoke lacing.

Carbon fibre components from the 60s
Also not traditional, a carbon fibre spacer on the headset.

Rudge Downtube badge 1
One downtube badge, then another:
Rudge Downtube badge 2
A comment left about this post noted that Ace Wheelworks is still in business though Rudge is not longer one of their brands.

The Handjob's Brooks saddle
The bike has the original Brooks B-72. I gave Paul one of my tins of Proofhide; I buy one every time Brooks goes out of business, so I have a modest collection.

After screwing around with my bike all day long (the Handjob was all ready), we had the wheels installed, gears shifting and, in the biggest challenge of all, fenders installed. I had bought some luscious red Soma Fabrications fenders which tragically didn't fit. We ended up going down to Hub Bike Coop, from whence I'd got them, and exchanging for these boring black Planet Bike fenders. OK, I guess, but not as cool as those red ones. I also got a bell for the bike, one of the big brass Incredi-bells which made a delightful jing-jinggg noise. Paul had brought a black aluminum one but I mocked him so badly for it he didn't use it. If you get a bell, make it brass. There's a reason you never see aluminum handbells.

Late in the evening I mentioned how I wanted to do a camera mount to mount on the rear rack. I had a spare Topeak Super Tourist rack sitting around. I had seen this idea originally on the website of a guy named Josh Putnam. I happen to have a motorized Nikon FE/MD-12 film camera I thought would be appropriate. After a quick bit of discussion, Paul talked me out of the idea of carving a custom piece of wood and instead just mounting my tripod head on the rear rack. The Super Tourist rack has a pretty hefty center plate, so we just took it into the basement, chucked up a bit in the drill press, and cut a 1/4" hole. I have a number of 1/4-20 bolts lying around, he carved up a flat tube for a bit of padding, and we bolted the tripod directly to the rack and then the rack to the bike.

We decided to test it out with my digital, a Minolta G500 (no longer made). There is no remote release cable (a big advantage of the Nikon) so we tried self-timer. This worked, sort of. The Minolta could do 3 or 10 seconds. I had to lean back and press the release, then stabilize the bike in three seconds, which is a remarkably short time. We tried 10 seconds, but on that setting, my Minolta would do one self-timer shot and then you'd have to click through all these menus to do another.

Debugging the tail camera
You get some goofy results trying to sort this out.

Testing the tail camera
That was more the idea.

Still, this Minolta had its frustrations. I know, time for me to buy a camera, said Paul, and we headed off to National Camera Exchange. It turned out that what we wanted, a point and shoot with a remote release cable, didn't exist. Some had infrared remotes, but the camera would be aiming the wrong way for the rider to trigger it. With some more time, I could build a servo release like I do for my kite aerial photography, but it was past 8:00 and the ride was in the morning. We finally struck on the solution, a Canon A530 with a programmable self-timer. We programmed it to do a 6-second delay, then take two photos in quick succession. This should allow me to trigger the camera, stabilise the bike and then get two cracks at the shot. Cool.

At the last minute, about 10PM, we moved the Ortlieb front bag mount to the Big Red One from my winter Marin Pine Mountain and then we were ready to pursue our Three Speed Dreams.


Anonymous said...

Great post, and sweet bikes, especially the Rudge. Do you know what year it was produced? I loved the photo of the original shop sticker. That shop is still around; it's now called Ace Wheelworks, and is one of my great LBSs. I shop there all the time, when I'm not riding out to Harris for specialty parts, like Sturmey-Archer widgets.

Looking forward to hearing about the ride.

Andrew in Cambridge

The Donut Guy said...

I agree.....sweet bikes.

When I was a kid back in the late 60's-early 70's I had a bike similar to the Rudge-I could wheelie on that thing for hours:-)

Sadly, since I was a kid at the time, I rode the bike right into the ground.....I guess English 3 speeds weren't designed for motocross.

Frostbike said...

I recently was given (no strings attached!) a Raleigh Robin Hood three speed. I might need to polish it up and do the Pepin tour next year...

Anonymous said...

The picture of the housing stop has the stop installed backwards.

It should be flipped around, and the ferrule on the end of the housing should fit halfway into it. This will give a smoother cable run.

Sheldon Brown

James said...
I have two Rudge catalogues on here and a Rudge shop manual for SA hubs that Is scanned but not up.

Anonymous said...

Did you see the Three Speed Sturmey Archer Shifter we have for auction … thought some of you might be interested. Thanks for taking a look.
justine94501 at

Unknown said...

i've got two three speeds now, one older sturmey AW fitted onto a mongoose 20" bmx frame (no modification necessary to fit into the dropout!) and a newer model srf3 fitted onto a pierce-arrow rebrand of a motobecane folding bike. i ADORE internally geared hubs... i believe they are the future-past of bicycling. down with derailleurs!

diavolillo said...

the ACE Bicycle Shop referred to in the downtube badge photo is not related to the current Ace Wheelworks. I grew up (and still live) 2 or 3 blocks from the original ACE, located in the Ball Square section of Somerville; in fact, my folks bought me a Raleigh 5-speed (internally-geared 5-speed hub: 3 speeds actuated from the drive side in the standard manner, the remaining two from the static side) Stingray-style bike from the original ACE. There have been 3 bike shops in the area that were named Ace: the aforementioned original that closed in the early-mid 70s; a second shop in a different location in Ball Square, that closed early 80s, and the current Ace Wheelworks, still in Somerville, 2 or 3 blocks from Ball Square.