Out with the New and in with the Old! January 01 2017
You may have needed to read the title twice but rest assured it is written correctly.
We are very quick to dismiss with something familiar in exchange for a promise of something better. Do you ever feel that the pinnacle of performance has been reached in a past version and that the pursuit and development of newer (“better”) often falls short of the previous. I feel this way with bicycle gearing.
Since the appearance of derailleur gearing, the number of available gears has steadily risen with some bikes now sporting 30 speeds or gears. With this set-up comes a lot of specialized, individual parts that need to work seamlessly together but often don’t. Performance is directly related to cost.
Compare that to an Sturmey-Archer (SA) internally geared 3-speed hub that has fallen out of favour with the masses since the ten-speed boom of the early 80’s. This hub provides you with three different speed options (hills, flat roads and late for work), easy shifting (the chain doesn’t move) and years of “no maintenance required” operation. Maybe the most desirable feature is that shifting doesn't require any technique. In my opinion, these hubs are the go-to gearing choice for everyday riding. Every time I salvage a bicycle and discover a SA 3-speed hub I feel like a kid looking down and spotting a $50 on the sidewalk with no claimant in sight. The best part about Sturmey-Archer is that they are still being manufactured today.
I just finished installing a SA 3-Speed hub with drum brake on a 1950’s Sunshine-Waterloo (A full review of the restoration is forthcoming). Along with easy 3 speed shifting, this model has a lever operated drum brake. The brake is also internal meaning fewer parts to rust or get knocked around that will later require repair or servicing.
My next project is building a bicycle with a SA 2-speed kick-back gearing whereby I have one easy gear and one easier gear. I simply back pedal a quarter turn to shift from one to the other. Of course there is also the single speed coaster-brake bicycle. With the right gearing you’ll wonder if you even need gears. You would be literally fascinated with the number of very useful bicycle technologies that are out there that have been overshadowed by modern day bicycle monoculture.
I’ve noticed this trend in other areas of life as well. Although new clothes may be appealing in the short term, buying used (old) better made clothing from thrift stores is a much better investment. Often the brand name clothes found at thrift stores lasts longer and performs better than newer articles bought at department stores.
Whether it’s bicycles, clothing, furniture or most other things, there is value and economy in buying quality, previously owned items. This is to say nothing of the environmental benefits, the change in consumption patterns and the enjoyment you get from stuff that works like it should.
I prefer striving for continuous improvement in stead of resolutions. So in 2017 I hope you are able to consider each of your purchases individually and think more about the options available to you. This time next year you can reflect on the money you saved (or spent) and the difference your choices made, whether in the quality of the experience that item provided or the overall impact on your well-being, the earth or others.
Happy New Year and Take care,
Disclaimer: I do appreciate the need for multi-speed derailleur gearing for racing, touring and certain terrains. However, for everyday riding I think three-speed gearing is ideal.