The Sturmey-Archer Story
In the summer of 1887 a bronzed, perspiring Englishman bent low over his gearless bicycle as, in the pursuit of health, he toiled along the hilly road from St. Geours to Bayonne- over the foothills of the Pyrenees in the south-west. of France. Time after time he was forced to dismount when towards the end of his 20-mile trip the route became increasingly hilly, walking his machine in all some three or four miles. Frank Bowden was the Englishman's name. Alternately on his ride he soundly blessed the bicycle which was so speedily helping to rebuild his body, weakened after 15 years in the debilitating climate of the Far East, and equally strongly cursed the hills. From those twin emotions were to come both the Raleigh Cycle Company and Sturmey-Archer gears.
Soon after his discovery of the beneficial effects of cycling, Bowden acquired a financial interest in a small bicycle work shop in Raleigh Street, Nottingham-which he was later to form into the Raleigh Cycle Company. He foresaw the possibilities of the bicycle, but ever since his hill trips in France he had in mind the desirability of a variable gear on the machine to help cope with gradients if cycling were to become a popular pastime and not simply the plaything of health and physical fitness addicts.
\ All that manufacturers could then offer to help the gearing problem was a detachable chainring, made in the Raleigh Street works. Bowden took full advantage of this and on his cycling business visits around the country he would study beforehand gradients along each route and fit the most generally suitable chainring. But this, he knew, was not the solution and when, in 1889, there was brought to him one of the first variable two-speed gears, the "Collier", to be fitted to a bicycle, he gave it exhaustive trials. He turned it down finally because its top gear, an 80, was not high enough, compared with the 71 he normally used, to take advantage of down-grade or following wind riding whilst the Collier's low gear, a 62, was no good for climbing a steepish hill, particularly with the rough surfaces which at that date were the rule rather than the exception.
He felt similafly unenthusiastic about the "Eadie" two-speed hub gear introduced in 1899 since this he found had too wide a variation and was also unsuitable on badly surfaced roads.
Enter Mr. Sturmey
Bowden remained constantly on the look-out for something better, and in the following year he welcomed a visit from a Mr. Henry Sturmey, who claimed to have solved the problem. Sturmey was a Somerset schoolmaster and journalist with an elementary knowledge of engineering; he had evolved, in conjunction with a London cycle dealer, Mr. Arthur Pellant, a three-speed which, although crude, was found by Bowden to be practical.
About the same time Bowden also became acquainted with James Archer, who had invented a three-speed gear on somewhat similar lines. Bowden realised the strong commercial possibilities of a combination of these two inventions, and in 1902 the first Sturmey-Archer three-speed gear patents were taken out.
A new department was formed in the Raleigh factory, with Archer as foreman to overcome teething troubles, and the first three-speed gear offered to a receptive cycling public.
The first three-speed hub made use of a single epicyclic train with constant mesh gears and was enclosed in a shell not made from an iron casting but - drawn from solid steel. The gear gave ratios 25 per cent. above and 20 per cent. below normal and was described in the Raleigh catalogue as "the most important novelty of 1903".
The new unit was unique in providing a free-wheel in all gears. One of the drawbacks of the two-speed hub, apart from unsuitable ratios, was the fact jhat the lower gear was fixed, permitting the rider to enjoy the then luxury of a free- wheel only when top gear was engaged.
A Gear for a Guinea
The Sturmey-Archer team was a strong one, reinforced as it was by other cycling experts, particularly Mr. William Reilly, who had earlier invented a two-speed hub gear, and Mr. 0. P. Mills, Raleigh works manager, and one of the greatest racing cyclists of the day. From this combination was to come in the next few years a constant flow of new patents and modifications, culminating in the famous "X" hub. This period also saw the invention by Mills of handlebar instead of crossbar control for the gear for safer travelling on rough and hilly surfaces-an idea which had come to Mills during a fortnight's tour of atrocious country in Scotland.
The popularity of the new gears grew rapidly. Increased production brought prices of the hub unit down from the original £3 3s. to £1 is., and by 1913 Model "X" was being produced at the rate of 100,000 a year.
Another popular development was a three-speed gear and coaster hub combined. First produced in 1908, the "Tri Coaster", as it was called, was to remain exclusive to Sturmey-Archer for many years and, although its production was interrupted for two decades, a new, improved version, the "TCW", has been introduced to mark this Jubilee year.
The "K" hub made its bow in 1918. Simpler in design and lighter than its predecessor, it still retained the single train constant mesh features of the "X" unit. The new gear gave ratios 33 1/3 per cent. above and 25 per cent. below normal.
In 1922 a new coaster single-gear hub, type "CC", was introduced, while improvements were made to the "Tri Coaster"-the "KC"-making it dustproof and waterproof.