Wheels within wheels

This week in the Sunday Times my horoscope* went as follows:

This is week two of high drama, and you’re getting impatient. The problem? You’re lacking seemingly minor but crucial details. Only once you’ve discovered them will things make sense to you or others.

Indeed, I am busy dealing with minor but crucial details. Like what sore of brake levers to use, and how big a drop I need to reach the rims. Do I need a chainguard? Will mudguards advertised as fitting a 28mm tyre just about fit over a 32mm? But if it’s all the same I had enough high drama on Friday night, thank you very much.

My problems all start with the rear hub, which ultimately is the current blockage as without knowing the distance to set the rear dropouts we can’t send the frame for painting. I’ve decided on hub gears, and have a preference for Sturmey Archer 5-speeds. The current SA 5-speed has a bell crank system I don’t particularly like, combined with a choice between a grip-shift, which reminds me of some of the crapier bikes of my youth, and a thumbshifter that is just ludicrously enormous due to the extra cable travel the system requires.


The previous model of 5-speed has the same kind of pull chain system I’m used to, and a two-button trigger shifter that I think would work nicely (as well as at least four other shifting options) but the first snag is it’s been discontinued. There’s two similar versions, one with a wider flange, but I wouldn’t be too fussed about that. I am a little suspicious of the mechanism inside that uses tiny ball bearings pushed through holes in the shaft to engage the gears, but I haven’t found much evidence of unreliability.


Then there’s Shimano. There’s always Shimano. They don’t have a 5-speed hub gear but they have 8-speeds (Nexus) and 11-speeds (Alfine). I hate the way Shimano has this sort of caste system in their gruppos, where a customer has to either shell out loads or knowingly buy inferior parts. They’ve even got a Di2 version just to make the everyday cyclist feel properly inferior. It’s all bollocks anyway. Tiagra stuff now is just penny-pinching versions of what was once 105 or Dura-Ace. Being a SunTour enthusiast I can’t help but think of Shimano as the implacable enemy, but my problem is Shimano won, and now my bike shop only really stocks Shimano and some SRAM, and aren’t really familiar with any other brands’ recent offerings.


Anyway, I’ve decided to bite the bullet and order the Sturmey Archer S-RF5(w), i.e. the short-flange old school pull chain version. What can I say? It’s just what I know, and what I’m comfortable with, and the shifter really is the key differentiator. It also has the advantage of sharing a few key spares (spacers, sprockets etc) with my existing AW 3-speed. I tried to get it through the bike shop, but like I say their connections to anyone other than Shimano aren’t that great, and when they rang the distributer they didn’t get much sense out of him, other than “look it up on Sheldon Brown“. Instead I’ve had to order it by post from a website, praying that I won’t be contacted to say they haven’t got one.

Someone’s been dicking around with the thermostat in Britain this last week, and everything’s (quite sensibly) grinding to a halt in the midst of some of the weirdest snow I’ve ever seen. The invoice said the order wouldn’t be processed for a day or due because of the weather. Not a problem, I can wait. When it arrives I can get the frame’s rear dropouts set to the right distance and pick up the rim and spokes so I can move on to my favourite part: wheelbuilding!


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