If there are any readers of ‘Cycling’ who still think variable gears want trying a little longer before they adopt them, I should like to show them my Sturmey-Archer hub. It runs as sweetly now as when, some 12 months ago, I purchased the machine fitted with this gear, and the 6000 odd miles, or, in round figures, 5,000,000 revolutions, which the back wheel has completed, have apparently made less difference to its running than any single geared hub I have used. I have not had the slightest trouble with it, contrary to the expectation of most cyclists who have never tried a variable gear …To pleasure riding, no invention, save the pneumatic tyre, has contributed so much, and riders and trade alike now view the fitting of a variable gear as they do the free-wheel, that is, as part of the proper equipment of a bicycle. Certainly no other device has added so much to the joys of the open road.
– ‘The Owl’ of Cycling Magazine, 15th March, 1905
I’ve been around vintage vehicles for most of my life. It started with Dinky Toys when I was a child. My Dad often took me to the Saturday Market (where he worked) and I would stand and stare at the stall selling Dinky Toys. I can still picture them now, around 65 years later: I suppose I must have been around three and a half feet tall at that age and I remember looking up at them on the stall and wishing the model that fascinated me at the time would find its way into my collection. They were expensive, and my parents were not rich, so not many did.
I also recall standing in our shop window to observe cars, motorcycles and motorcycle sidecar outfits as they drove past. As I learned the names of the manufacturers, I would announce them.
My first real vehicle was a well-used Capri scooter which I bought in 1968 from the boy who sat in front of me at school. It cost me 19/- 6d plus a transistor radio. I had to give it back a week later when the transistor radio broke. But I had learned to ride, and have not looked back since. I set up a garage business restoring vintage vehicles in 1980, and bought and sold many hundreds of vintage cars and motorcycles until the early 1990s. After a ten year break, when I discovered ebay in 2002, I started again.
But eventually my focus has turned beyond the invention of the automobile and motorcycle. As a vintage enthusiast and amateur historian, only the 1890s and the beginning of the twentieth century can now satisfy my interest. It was a time of such amazing innovation that I find its study truly inspiring. I often imagine myself as a young man around the turn of the century picking up the latest magazine to see what new invention has been announced to help cyclists ride more efficiently. The Sturmey Archer three-speed gear generated intense public interest when its arrival was announced in 1902. It still affects me, almost 120 years later, when I have to decide whether to ride my late 1880s cross frame bicycle, which requires dismounting and pushing uphill; or being lazy and ‘taking it easy’ on an early 1900s bike with gears.
So you can imagine my excitement when I came across the leaflet below, inviting me to order the latest invention, the Three-Speed Gear Syndicate’s new hub gear…
I filled it in, sent it off to Faraday Rd, Lenton, Nottingham, and waited with bated breath for my new hub to arrive.
In 2012, I received the following email:
Hi there, First off, I just wanted to say what a joy your site is for Bicycle nuts everywhere!!. I live in Whanganui, New Zealand and am a VERY regular visitor to it… it is my library, an amazing reference tool and a credit to its creator! I have a number of old bikes and although I have been buying old bikes since I was young I have still not found a bike from the 19th Century, things like that were snapped up here well before the 1980s and come up very rarely (if at all). As you are the Rambler Owners Club I have enclosed photos of a Rambler Bicycle I bought a while ago. Also of note, I share ownership what I believe to be a 1902ish Sturmey Archer three speed…
My partner and I often joke about the differences between men and women. For recreation, she and her pals like to sit around and talk about their problems (ie kids and husbands). While, with our mates, we blokes do business. Thus it transpired that I made a new friend and acquired a first pattern Sturmey Archer three-speed hub.
1904 Sturmey Archer 3-Speed Hub
Serial Number 3401
INTRODUCTION TO THE FIRST BICYCLE GEARS
The most informative book on this subject is without a doubt THE STURMEY ARCHER STORY by Tony Hadland. His introduction to the subject is concise and easy to understand, so rather than summarizing it, I’ve reproduced a few pages below as a taster. If this subject interests you, I heartily recommend that you purchase the book yourself.