Like the fixed gear, but don’t like the hills? Sturmey Archer SX3 to the rescue. I picked mine up from Ben’s Cycle, which sells the hub for $179.00. The S3X is much different than most SA 3-speed hubs. It still has the usual planetary gears and suns that are clutched to the axle to engage the drive, but it lacks some of the other bits, like prawls. That makes it a bit more dependable for those of you who may have had a bad experience sprinting hard on an old three speed. This should give you a bit more confidence going into that no handed skid on the S3X.
The S3X has a 1:1 ratio in first gear, a 25% reduction in second gear and a 37.5% reduction in third. This means if you run a taller gear, second becomes your primary running gear. You can use first gear so you don’t spin out going down hills and third gear is your climbing gear. I decided to run a 15 tooth rear cog and a 50 tooth front chainring combo, for about 88 gear inches. I typically run a 40 or 44 with a 15.
I built up the S3X on my Koga Miyata “Excersizer,” an old Dutch road bike I bought about 5 years ago new old stock from my buddy Eric. The advantage of using the road bike frame is that it has shifter mounts on the down tube. The S3X comes with an indexed bar end shifter, but I opted for the cleaner cable housing free Campy Nuovo Record shifter set-up. You need to make sure the shifter is snug, but other than that, it is a pretty clean way to go as long as you have the shifter boss. You could always add the bosses with a tubing clamp like they did on the older frames if you don’t have the braze-ons.
Even in the stand, it was obvious that this is not a zero lash hub. This might bother some fixie afficianados. I used an old top-dead center indicator I had and measured between three and four degrees of lash at the crank. That is similar to what other reviewers reported so I new I had it set up properly.
Three degrees of lash at the crank feels like you are running a loose or worn chain on a regular fixie. It is most noticable when doing a track stand. Otherwise, I did not find it bothersome at all. My buddy Jason Sanchez rides almost nothing but fixed gear bikes, and he said it did not bother him when he gave it a spin.
First impressions were made on a ride with Jason to see the Labor Day Parade. The shifting was very smooth and I had no trouble using the friction shifter. There was solid and obvious engagement when shifting. There is a free-spin neutral, but if you make a very defininte shift, you should not have any trouble with it.
On my ride to work this morning, I was able to ride in second gear most of my way. Today’s route downtown was a slight downhill most of the way with a couple small climbs and bigger downhills thrown in for fun. The real test came when I hit 12th and Wells, a long bigger downhill. Without spinning like a sewing machine, I took advantage of the 88 inch 1st gear, and I was able to surf the Wells Street green wave signal progression all the way from 12th to Water St. SWEET!
I will give a climbing update later this evening since I now have to ride up all those hills into a fierce headwind to get home. So check back later.