Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Duomatic on the Danube: the Sturmey Archer 2-Speed Kick Shift Hub

Sturmey Archer Front Hub
Over the weekend I rode a bicycle with a Sturmey Archer Duomatic hub - complemented with a front SA hub, which I thought looked rather nice.

Bella Ciao, Courtyard
You may recognise the bicycle as a Bella Ciao - It is a Neorealista model in "Sabbia Frizzante," which is a sort of sparkly champagne colour that just stops short of being gold.

Matthias Maier of Bella Ciao
Matthias Maier, one of the persons behind Bella Ciao, came down from Berlin and brought the bike to their Vienna dealer, Citybiker, where I was able to try it. Here is a nice picture of Matthias at one of my favourite cafes; it was nice to finally meet.

Vienna Courtyard, Gloomy Day
The unusual 2-speed hub is becoming popular for city cycling, and I was curious to try it. Vienna and Boston are both mostly flat until you get to the outskirts, but sometimes a single speed does not feel quite enough - making the Duomatic an appealing option.

Sturmey Archer Kick-Shift Hub
The hub works via coaster-brake action: You push back with your feet lightly to shift gears (both to upshift and to downshift), and you push back harder to brake.

Sturmey Archer Kick-Shift Hub
The thing that confused me initially, is that there appears to be no way to engage the coaster brake without first shifting to a different gear. That means that if you're in the lower gear already and want to brake, you will be switching into a higher gear right beforehand - and then starting in a high gear from a stop. However, I soon realised that I can simply switch back to the lower gear while stopped by tapping the pedal backwards gently with my foot. The bike does not have to be rolling in order to shift, and it takes very little pressure to do it.

Maria Theresien Platz
While cycling, shifting gears with my feet did take some getting used to. It's very easy to do - just a  little backward tap - which is actually the problem. Those who've been riding coaster brake bikes for some time are accustomed to "feathering" the brake with their feet, and this has become an automatic motion for me. However, with the Duomatic hub that feathering motion is what shifts gears, so initially I found myself constantly switching gears without meaning to. I'd try to slow down, only to find myself in a different gear, and would then have to quickly back-tap again to regain my previous rhythm.

Maria Theresien Platz
Having said that, I would describe learning how to operate the Duomatic hub as fun, rather than annoying. The fact that I was able to actually ride the bike through the very busy city center and intersections while navigating around tourists and cars made that clear. It was like nothing I'd experienced before, and of course it was disconcerting to find myself switching gears by accident - but also rather exciting to be able to both brake and shift with my feet.

Maria Theresien Platz
I did make liberal use of the front brake at first, which, thankfully works very well on this bike.

Nussdorf, Donaukanal
It took me about an hour to get comfortable with the drivetrain. I decided to ride on the Danube Canal bikepath for a while, which would allow plenty of room to accelerate. I cycled all the way to the edge of Vienna and back, and by the time I returned to the center I felt like a Duomatic "expert." Of course when I got on my own bike later, I kept trying to shift gears with my feet - but never mind!

Bella Ciao, Vienna, Nussdorf
While I found the Duomatic fun, the real question is whether it's plausible as an actual everyday system. Overall, I'd give it a conditional yes, the conditions being that (1) you like bikes with coaster brakes. If you dislike them, then you will hate this hub, since it requires using your feet constantly. And (2) you are willing to accept a learning curve. No matter what system you're currently using, it will take your brain a little while to adjust to this one. In addition, I suggest that you consider the gearing carefully. Since the hub offers only two speeds, you can set it up as standard and low, or standard and high. The bicycle I rode had the latter setup, which I thought would be optimal for me - but wasn't. In practice, I would have found it more convenient to have a standard gear and a lower gear - but perhaps with the gearing slightly higher overall. That should be as simple as replacing a cog.

Bella Ciao, Cobblestones
I know that some are considering the Sturmey Archer Duomatic for fixed gear frames that do not have a rear brake bridge. Personally I would only do this if you are planning to set up the bike with upright handlebars, as a roadbike position is very awkward with a coaster brake. It's up to you of course, but at least try it first. For myself, I see the Duomatic as very feasible for an upright city bike, and the lack of shifters on the handlebars is appealing. My feet are stronger than my hands, so this work nicely for me. But there is no doubt that this is an eccentric drivetrain, and not the sort of thing I'd enthusiastically recommend to everyone. Find a way to try it, if at all possible: You might love it - but if not, you'll at least experience something new. Many thanks to Bella Ciao and Citybiker in Vienna for making it possible for me to try the Duomatic.

39 comments:

  1. It´s some sort of remarkable that these stylish cycles were designed by a dandy-esc German. Herr Maier reminds me of Michel Houellebecq and completely approves my stereotype imagination of european bicycle makers ;-)

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  2. I'd probably take to this like a fish to water, since it was the same system I had on my first bike, a Columbia, in the early 60s. As I recall, the hub was made by Bendix. What goes around, comes around...

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  3. Sounds like you'd favor the S3X for a road geometry, particularly on a bike with two hand brakes?

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  4. If you ever get the chance, try the Moulton AM2. It had a Sachs Duomatic, and ran like a dream.

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  5. That basket is beautiful!

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  6. Very interesting post. Thank you. I also wanted to say that I love that last photo. It looks so "Vienna", with its cobblestones, lamp post, and stone staircase. And the orange planter gives it the perfect dash of color. So great!

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  7. In middle school (or the German equivalent), I had a bike with a two-speed kickback shifter. It was a 1970s Peugeot take-apart bike (Peugeot's take on the folding bike), and not having shifter cables meant that the frame could be split in two with nothing to disconnect.

    It worked OK, but I recall how annoying it was to ride with friends and having to backpedal to shift. I don't see any advantage of this system for a bike that isn't taken apart.

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  8. I've been wanting to try the Duo-matic for some time, after enjoying riding a bendix 2 speed kick-back in my youth. But I don't care for coaster brakes.
    I see SA now has the duo-matic with a freewheel option. Get your head around that!
    BTW, that is a very glamorous set of photos, the first four in particular.

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  9. I set one of these up this summer on a Surly Steamroller. They are a lot of fun, but are indeed a boat anchor....very heavy. The shifting and braking are very crisp and perform much better than the old Bendix 2-speeds from the 50's and 60's.

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  10. The complaint I've seen about that hub is that you can't tell which gear you're in, so you start off from a stop in the high gear and have to downshift after pushing off. Your experience?

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  11. Thanks for the review. I've been considering the Duomatic for a winter beater, but I'd probably get the version without the coaster brake to avoid some of the issues you've described. Do you think you would've like that better? I haven't tried either yet.

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  12. 2 gears are certainly enough for Boston.

    I'd try a non-brake version of this on a city bike.

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  13. It's interesting to read about the modern kick-back shifters. My brother had a 2 speed bike like that back in the 1960s (? - not sure, but it was a long time ago!). I remember that it was a little different to shift, but not hard to learn.

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  14. That sounds pretty intriguing. I imagine a hub like that being really popular in places like the Netherlands, where you don't have a lot of need for 21 speeds, and as Marc from Amsterdamize told us while we were there, "we prefer coaster brakes, because we like to be able to sip a coffee and talk on our mobile phones at the same time while we're riding." Seems like this would facilitate that nicely :)

    It's been a while since I've ridden a bike with a coaster brake, but I think I would like it if I got used to it again. I don't know if I'd like it better than freewheel, but I think I would be fine either way.

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  15. I am waiting for a 28inch wheel build to arrive with the Sturmey hubs you mention. I'm fitting it onto my grandfather's BSA roadster and am now thoroughly excited to have a chance to try this setup out. Hope you are enjoying Vienna - the weather looks chilly but beautiful.

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  16. This was a VERY interesting (and enjoyable :) ) post to read! I'd be eager to learn more about that SA 2 speed hub.

    See,I have this old ('50s era) CCM singlespeed I would love to restore (would that be "restify" since it would be modified a bit? :p) for a more relaxed around town rider (for like,riding with my kids,etc) than my current go-to bike (a cyclocrosser-all my other bikes being dedicated mtn bikes with 29" wheels). What had kept me from doing it,ironically* is it being a single gear (*those that know me know of my love affair with SS bikes),but a new wheel built around a SA 2 speed coaster brake hub sounds appealing!

    I'd be intersted in learning more (like where one could source them in the states,prine,etc) if you have any information on them,or know where one could find it.

    I really enjoy your blog,BTW :) Is there a way to contact you via here to give you my email address? Thanks.

    Steve

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  17. Anon 4:56 - Well the bikes themselves are Italian. It's a classic frame design, made that way for over a century.

    Visually, Matthias actually reminds me of the Smoking Man from the X-Files, only with a sense of humor. In a good way.

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  18. I actually had a wheel build up with the non-coaster SA this summer and put on my Trek Earl, which I had used this past winter as a single-speed. I switched to an 8-speed Linus Mixte for my summer riding, but the Trek is a lot of fun to ride and even more so with the 2-speed option. Its my winter and leave-parked-in-dubious-places bike. I'm about 5 minutes faster on my commute with the 2-speed than with the 8-speed. (My commute is through Somerville and Cambridge, MA).
    I can't ride in city traffic with a coaster brake so was really glad to be able to get the non-coaster option.

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  19. I wrote and article about this hub
    in the english bike magazine: Velo Vision:

    http://tinyurl.com/3emchay

    John I

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  20. Thanks johni, will check it out.

    Wait, are you people saying there is a non-coaster version of this hub? So it shifts every time you backpedal a little, but doesn't brake? I need to investigate.

    Don't know very much at all about the vintage versions of this hub, but would love to try one.

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  21. I actually like the vintage versions
    (the F&S duomatic) more than the new S2C.
    The older ones have smoother brakes and have more "backlash" - so you have to rotate the pedals further before engaging the brake or shifting gears. This suits me better.

    I have been using a 40 year old duomatic
    on my daily bike for about 3 years, and the gear shifting is so natural I do not even think about it. The riding position is not particularly upright, but it works great for me. The bike also splits in two and has a centerstand, so that the rear of the bike stays upright while the front half is removed.

    http://tinyurl.com/33brm5j

    John I

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  22. Clearly this bike needs an ashtray and I need a lesson in how to re-drink my bike coffee.

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  23. V, I was fortunate to score a couple mint Bendix Kickbacks around 1981 still in their original boxes. I built one up on a cruiser wheel, but it was drilled for massive thick spokes and the hub itself was a beast (STEEL) on top of that! It worked O.K. I don't recall having to re-engage the proper gear after braking as the braking action and shifting action (although seeming the same) were actually different. I could indeed ride it and brake without shifting gears (as I recall it's been 30 years) I eventually sold it off, not because it did not work well for me, but because they were so gosh darn heavy and at the time Cruiser guys would give you $160 to $200 for one in the condition that mine was! One thing I remember is that mine had a handful of extra "springs" for the internal mechanism. Apparently, going from shifting to braking to shifting rapidly would stress the internals and the mechanism spring would break, so having a ready supply of spares was a must and an added selling point! From what I have seen of the SA's they look quite a bit smaller and getting the version with no coaster brake might save quite a bit of weight!

    I am intrigued by the SA and would like to give it a spin, but in the back of my mind I still have images of the old Bendix!

    Masmojo

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  24. The hub seems v interesting to me. It would be sufficient here in Brooklyn, too.

    How does the Neorealista compare to the Superba?

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  25. Yes V., the non-coaster version of this hub does exist. I even mentioned it in a comment here a few days ago and wondered why you didn't catch it.

    The S2 hubs come in 110 and 120mm widths and you can backpedal them like any freewheel.

    I ordered mine from Harris because the Canadian distributor only had the 110 size and I wanted the 120.

    I think the hub cost me $80.00ish and H's service was prompt.

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  26. It might be interesting to compare and contrast the Swiss-made Schlumpf Mountain Drive which offers two speeds (direct and 2.65 reduction), but sits where the bottom bracket normally is. It's reputed to be strong like bear and quite efficient in direct drive.

    I think that you change gears by clicking your heel against a button in the center of the chain wheel. Didn't Dorothy have to click her heels to accomplish something in the Wizard of Oz?



    It very pricy, maybe $600 in the aftermarket, but possibly more reasonable if OEMed with the bike. Strida offered a belt drive version on their little folder and might still.

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  27. the coaster brake version is the S2C, the no brake is the S2 they are both direct drive in low and +135% in high. several years ago they made one that was the other way around, direct in high and geared down in low. the hub several people referred to from the 60s was the Bendix 2 speed coaster brake. I think the S2 would be brilliant as the basis of a flip-flop hub, fixed on one side and 2 speed freewheel on the other.

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  28. Look no further:
    http://www.sturmey-archer.com/products/hubs/cid/7/id/57
    S2 Duomatic with freewheel
    S2C and B2C Duomatic with coaster brake

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  29. Oh, and the late Sheldon Brown has a list:
    http://www.sheldonbrown.com/sturmey-archer.html

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  30. Can you generalize as to how people lock or otherwise secure their bikes in Vienna?

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  31. Steve A - I don't think I'd want the S3X on one of my bikes; I'd prefer either fixed single speed or 3-speed freewheel. It was fun to try, but I didn't feel it was for me.

    Anon 6:27 - In a variety of ways from cable locks, to u-locks, to freestanding but locked to itself, to nothing. And you don't typically see the really heavy chains that you see in Amsterdam.

    Frits - Thanks for the links!

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  32. "folding bike... not having shifter cables meant that the frame could be split in two with nothing to disconnect."

    Of course! I hadn't even considered that angle.

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  33. they have been used on detatchable bikes a lot in the past.I`ve got several, on such bikes and just as a hub waiting to be built into a project. Been thinking of a two speed folder, only one front brake cable. I wonder if any of them can be built into a newer alu shell? A bit hilly around here for two speeds. Could it work with belt drive to be really light?
    badmother

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  34. My great LBS in San Francisco carries Pashley (where I got my own Guv'nor, which I mostly love) and they were telling me they encountered some serious defects in the Taiwanese made Sturmey Archer kickback hub. Apparently a loyal customer bought a Duomatic-equipped Guv'nor. The Duomatic broke shortly after the purchase. They replaced it with a new one. It too broke. A third one failed before they somehow acquired an English-made one, and Bob's your uncle! No problems since.

    There may be various morals to this story, but one of them may be that paying $1700 for the simplicity of an anachronistic two-speed coaster brake bicycle may not be so simple. Another may be, "buy English when you buy English."

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  35. Velouria, this is another factory take on the theme. I think you could call it a "cheater fixie." It's gotten some good reviews.

    http://www.torkerusa.com/bikes/commute--recreation/2012-kb2-

    Also, the Worksman "light duty/Dutchie" cruisers have a choice of hubs, including the S2C,

    http://worksmancycles.com/shopsite_sc/store/html/page63.html

    I've been researching this hub for about a year. I keep toying with the idea of installing one on my Trek cruiser. Someone above mentioned that it would be great for Brooklyn; I agree.

    What's funny about this is that I'm used to the coaster brake on my Trek; very natural to use. But I also have an old Schwinn Speedster with an SA-AW 3-speed. Being an AW, it does balk some at shifting under load. I've found that best way to shift on the move is to back off the torque between shifts by (you guessed it) a slight backpedal. This has also become completely natural, so I figure the S2 or S2C would be a fairly painless transition.

    By the way, the S3X hub doesn't have to be used as a fixed gear drivetrain, so you may want to take another look at that set-up. It has a driver to which you can attach a freewheel cog:

    http://www.sturmey-archer.com/products/hubs/cid/3/id/47

    It does have a slightly narrower range than the classic AW, and the gearing changes in the "wrong" direction. I think the S3X steps down from direct high in third gear to two lower gears. A freewheel equipped S3X is probably a good option for those who ride in hilly areas, but still want a top gear high enough to make speed when things flatten out.

    A Mercier Kilo TT or Windsor The Hour, etc., with North Road bars and an S2C hub would be a VERY interesting set-up. And there is the existing Kilo TT S3X: Add a freewheel to the hub and you have a lightweight (and, possibly, very swift) 3-speed.

    (Insert mad scientist's cackle here): One of these days...

    Rudy

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  36. as a result of this review I clicked thru the Bella Caio ad and then to the UK distributor and now I find myself coveting an £1100 bicycle that I cannot begin to afford....I did not need this!

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  37. If you don't like the kick-back for shifting, SRAM have released the "automatic" version of this hub. The centrifugal force of the spinning hub causes it to automatically shift between high and low gears at certain speeds. This prevents the problem of unintentional gear shifts.

    The intention of the original duomatic design was that you would use low gear to get started off and shift up for most riding. You would then brake and at the same time downshift, ready to re-start.

    I recently bought a vintage Dawes Kingpin folding bicycle and I plan to use this hub when I finally get it in my hands and rebuild it!

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  38. S2c lasted me aprox 2500km's. I was riding it daily, even in -25 degrees celsius, in salty snow, heavy rains...
    Before that I did 2000km on original Sachs duomatic... S2C has better brakes, no question about that. But, as someone metioned, to kick shift pedal movement is much shorter than on old duomatic. That was very annoying while I got used to that.
    First surprize was that bearing adjustment came very loose at around 100km. Axle nuts was tight, so, bearing races had settled down. Readjusted.
    Next problem was that when you stopped, pushed pedals back to cause shift and after push bike back, hub was locking totaly- wheel didn't turn at all. Only after heavy kicking to pedals I could get out of that... Seems that both gears where engaged somehow in same time.
    After ~2000kms hub needed bearing readjustment again, now much less. In winter I started to face problem that gears where not switching anymore- I could kick 10 times to get gear changed. This was not very related to temperature and in beginning of summer I have to go back to original Sachs Duomatic, which works like charm...

    In general seems that built quality is not very good. I have not yet disassembled this hub to see that went wrong... But many other user's of newer Sturmey hubs had similar conclusion.

    Now thinking to try SRAM automatic. :)

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    Replies
    1. I've a Vanmoof which has the S2C and when it works it is just brilliant. However after a few months mine also had the problem of not shifting gears, usually shifting from high to low would not work. Vanmoof dealer was great and gave me a brand new wheel but unfortunately that one eventually had the same problem and I'm now onto my third wheel/hub. My one year warranty on my bike is about to expire so I'm hoping this one will last. My riding was fairly modest, 50km/week along bike tracks to work and back so I'm not sure what causes this problem. My theory is that the brake engages too soon and thus preventing the degree of back pedal needed to change gear. Pity, it is an excellent hub when it works. It anyone has a fix please let me know.

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