Sturmey-Archer S3X 3 speed fixed-gear hub

A few years ago when the folks at Sturmey-Archer announced that they were developing a 3 speed fixed gear hub, I was super-excited. This was tempered, however, with the worry that it would never see production due to it being something of a niche product.

Then, back in March of this year, suddenly they were actually available for purchase. Naturally, I wanted one. Bad. But, given that it’s a >$200 piece of kit, I wanted to get some first-hand opinions of it before I took the plunge and had a wheel built around one. I turned to the internet (specifically to the newsgroup) for info. Right away I got some feedback which further convinced me that I really “need” one. The only real issue anyone seemed to have with it was the amount of lash (15° at the hub seems like a lot, but when you factor in gearing, it’s not that bad at the pedals).

Then, just a few days ago, I got an email from “Rogerzilla” which was a far more detailed and technical review than I would have ever hoped to elicit. With his permission, I’m reprinting it below.
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Wishing for Gears

I was out riding the Felt today, and on my way home as I was approaching the overpass over the 35 bypass, a tractor-trailer was turning left onto Bellbrook Avenue ahead of me. I stood up, sprinted and tucked into his slipstream. I was very pleased with myself riding along in that pocket of dead air until I made a sad realization:

Once we start down the hill there’s absolutely no way I can spin fast enough to stay with him. Damn.

I don’t recall ever wishing so sincerely that I was riding my geared bike during the nearly 3 years that I’ve been exclusively on fixed gear bikes.

As I sat up and watched the truck pull away down the other side of the hill I decided that I have to get the geared bike out on the road.

Toe Overlap

I mentioned in a comment earlier that the new bike has a fair amount of toe-overlap. If you aren’t familiar with the cyclist’s dilemma of toe-overlap, and for some unfathomable reason would like to be, click here.

Anyway, on with the story. The other day I was heading out for a ride. Just as the light I was approaching turned red, the SUV behind me decided to squeeze by. Not wishing to be squeezed, I eased over and asserted my claim to next spot in the queue at the light. Putting my left foot down, I lifted the back wheel and positioned my right crank at about 10 O’clock-ish, ready to rock and roll as soon as the light changed. So far so good.

Then the light turned green and I was inexplicably stuck… frozen… immobilized. Before the realization dawned that I had managed to turn the wheel far enough to jam my toe against it, I had really, firmly planted my toe. My first instinct was just to unclip my foot and get myself loose, but so thoroughly stuck was I that this wasn’t possible. Long story short, Mr. SUV man had to wait through an extra cycle of the light while I, feeling like an ass, wished for a hole to crawl into. Thankfully there was no horn-honking, no angry words were exchanged, and I didn’t topple over like a complete spaz, though I did do one heck of a convincing spaz impersonation, in 5 O’clock traffic.

Ain’t life grand?

Bike Fit / Positioning

On previous rides on the new bike, I’d decided that my saddle needed to come down just a bit, and that its nose needed to come up a degree or two (I prefer it to be either level, front to back, or to have an almost imperceptible nose-down tilt). Anyway, before heading out today I finally adjusted the angle and dropped the seat about 1/16″. After riding along for a bit, I decided it was now too low, so I raised it about 1/8″. Continuing on my ride this felt a tiny bit too high. Apparently, it had been exactly where it needed to be before I starting fussing with it (other than the angle, which now feels just right).

Another thing struck me as odd. I was climbing easier (remember, this is a fixed-gear I’m talking about), but felt like I was spinning out at a lower speed. “It’s almost like I swapped the gear.” I thought to myself.

Upon arriving home, I checked and sure enough, I had, in fact, been riding with the wheel swapped to the side with the 17T cog, rather than the 16T. “Oh, yeah… I did that yesterday, when it was raining”, I suddenly remembered.


I was relieved to verify that my spin hadn’t actually slowed down, I’m still maxing out at my pitiful 140 RPM, at least until I can polish off the rough edges I developed over the winter.

The Maiden Voyage

I couldn’t have asked for nicer weather to take the new bike out for a spin. It made it into the mid-sixties today! I was actually a bit too warm with my lightest tights and a long-sleeved jersey.

My new Felt TK2, out for the first ride.
Click photo to enlarge

The new bike rides like a dream. I don’t know if it’s the carbon fork or what, but it actually gives a much smoother ride than the Pista (using the same wheels and tires). I really could not be any happier with it. I love my new bike!

New Bike Day! New Bike Day!

The new bike (frame) came yesterday, so today it was off to the bike shop to buy a stem, have the cranks installed, and have rivnuts put in to mount a bottle cage.

Roger got it all buttoned up today, so I picked it up, brought it home, and put on the wheels, chain, saddle and seat post (why is it that it’s a saddle, but it’s mounted to a seat post, anyway?) fiddled with the bar/brake lever position, etc. Unfortunately, I didn’t manage to get out for the inaugural ride, but holy frijoles, I can’t get over how light this bike is! It’s the lightest bike I own, by several pounds. I’m guessing it’s right at (or just under) 16 pounds, but it feels even lighter than that.

I’m planning to ride tomorrow, and I’ll probably take a picture or two (of the new steed), too; so stay tuned, Bat-fans.

New Bike Day is Coming! (via UPS)

As some of you (my imaginary fan-club) may recall, I’ve been going on and on for some time now about buying a new fixed-gear bike, and was crestfallen recently when I discovered that I wasn’t going to be able to order my Bianchi Pista Concept frameset from I-pro.

Well, happy days are here again. Earlier I was perusing eBay and I found a Felt TK2 frameset, my size, with a very reasonable “Buy It Now” price, so that’s exactly what I did. The Felt was one of the bikes I was seriously considering before setting my heart on the Pista Concept. One factor in that decision was the Felt’s MSRP being about $200 more than the Bianchi’s. That reasonable “Buy it Now” price I mentioned earlier? Over a hundred dollars less than a Pista Concept!

More to follow.

Heartbreak at the Bike Shop

So, today was the day. I gleefully gathered my various components and headed to the bike shop to have Roger order and build up my long-awaited Bianchi Pista Concept frameset. I’ve been eagerly anticipating this day for nearly a year; “Ordering a New Bike Day” is second only to “New Bike Day“. My warm happy glow was quickly quenched, though. For what ever reason, Bianchi has decided to unceremoniously drop I-Pro as a dealer.

I looked through some brochures for his other track-offerings, but my heart wasn’t in it. I really wanted that Pista Concept.

I’m really conflicted; I suppose I could buy the frameset elsewhere and have Roger assemble it, at least that way he’d get paid for the labor, and I’d know it was done right, but damnit; I really wanted to buy my new bike at the shop where I’m greeted by name when I walk in the door, not at some anonymous place 30 miles away.

Oh well, I suppose there’s always the next bike.

New Bike Update, Redux (or Hooray for eBay)

So, the last time I was at the bike shop I asked Roger about the 2007 Pista Concept, specifically, how soon can I get one. He rings them up and they say that they should be shipping framesets in late January, early February. This sounds good; just in time for my income tax refund.

Then we had our annual ’employee appreciation’ brunch for work and I got my bonus, which will actually cover the cost of the frame! Time to hit eBay and look for some components!

I already have the brake, brake levers, wheels, seatpost, saddle, and another Madonna del Ghisallo medallion (this has become like a rabbit’s foot to me, both of my other bikes have one). So, I go cruising eBay for a crankset and pedals. Without even breaking a sweat, I score myself reasonably good deals on a Miche crankset and bottom bracket (see pics here and here) and a set of Speedplay X-2 pedals (see pic here).

Now all I need is a stem and some handlebars. Oh… and the frame, of course.
I can hardly wait for new bike day!

New Bike Update

As you may remember (click here for a refresher), I was planning (and saving) to buy a Bianchi Pista Concept frameset. I had basically made my mind up to wait until next Spring and then get an ’07. Then Providence intervened, the exhaust fell off of my car, and the repair bill wiped out my new bike savings, thus making the decision for me.

I just got a look at Bianchi’s 2007 lineup on their website, and boy, did I like what I saw! I’ve never been a huge fan of Bianchi’s trademark Celeste color, but the most recent pearlescent incarnation did grow on me, after a time, and I decided that the Pista Concept in Celeste was a pretty sweet-looking ride. That being said, I’m so glad I waited for this:

2007 Bianchi Pista Concept

‘Athena White’ with Celeste decals!
Plus, it appears from the picture that they’re going to stop putting the model year on the top-tube. That was the biggest gripe I had (and a major factor in my decision to wait, rather than get a 2006 model late in the year); I really hope the picture is representative of the actual production decals.

Looks like I already know where my Income Tax refund is going!

eBay! Save Me From Myself!

So, my eBay “shopping” seems to come in bunches; nothing for a while, then ‘zip, bang, boom’, I’m buying stuff!

When I resigned myself to the fact that I have to buy another fixed gear bike, I knew that this meant I’d need a few components. I’ve found eBay to be the place to go for good deals on such things.

When I bought the Pista, I got the brake levers, front brake, pedals, and chainring from eBay.

So, anyway, I’m looking around for such things when I come across a Campagnolo “peanut butter” wrench. Naturally I decide I must have this. I’ve been needing a 15mm wrench for the Pista’s track nuts anyway. My stubby Craftsman combination wrench is perfect for carrying along, but something with a bit more leverage would be nice when portability isn’t an issue.

So anyway, I decide to bid on the wrench, it looks well used, but functionally fine. I decide I’ll go as high as $22.00 for it. I make my bid, then do a little research. The first place I find that has them wants just under $30, so I’m feeling pretty good about my bid, but then I discover that Excel Sports has it, brand new, for $21.95.

D’oh! I should have looked first. This puts me in the position of anxiously watching the auction, desperately hoping to be outbid. Which, mercifully, I was.

So, I dodged that bullet, plus, I bought a set of brake levers ($25) and hopefully I’m about to get a really good deal on a set of Dura Ace (7700) brake calipers. Why a set, you wonder? I can swap the rear brake’s fixing bolt with one from a front brake and have D/A front brakes on both fixies!

New Bike Bug Still Biting

So, I had hoped that buying the new wheels would keep the dreaded New Bike Bug at bay, but no such luck. I want need a new, lighter fixed gear bike!

Unless (or until) I change my mind again, I’m leaning toward the Bianchi Pista Concept. “Pista” is, of course, Italian for “track” and the Pista Concept is Bianchi’s serious track racing bike.

2006 Bianchi Pista Concept

Of course, mine will be rolling on the new wheels.