Just Three for Me! In Praise of the Humble 3-Speed

When I was first shopping for an upright bicycle with an internally geared hub, I made the natural assumption that the more gears on the hub, the better. But to my surprise, over time I changed my mind and developed a strong preference for the simple 3-speed. No more, no less: Three gears feel just right. I have been trying to make sense of why I prefer 3-speed hubs to the seemingly more advantageous 7-speeds and 8-speeds, and have a couple of ideas.

Internally geared hubs allow for a narrower range of gearing in comparison to derailleurs. And the overall range of the hub does not increase in direct proportion to the number of speeds.

For example:
The Shimano Nexus 3-speed hub has a 186% overall gearing range.
The Shimano Nexus 7-speed hub has a 244% overall gearing range.
The Shimano Alfine 8-speed hub has a 306% overall gearing range.

The typical 7 and 8 speed hubs do not give you more than double the gearing range of the 3-speed. They give you more than double the notches to click, while the overall gearing range is only somewhat greater. The more speeds on the hub, the smaller the differences between clicks. This requires changing gears back and forth more frequently, just to stay in the same range as the 3-speed hub would give you with less clicking. This could be why I feel that with a 7 and 8 speed hub, I am always switching gears back and forth unnecessarily.

My choice of transportation bicycles plays a huge role in the usefulness of the hubs as well. In my experience, bicycles that are heavy and put the cyclist in a bolt-upright position are simply not the best choice for trips with prolonged hills, regardless of how many gears are on the hub. If I max out a 3-speed hub going uphill on a heavy upright bike, chances are that I will also max out a 7 or 8 speed hub - in which case there is no real benefit to having those additional gears. If a route is too tough for a 3-speed, then what I prefer is a lighter and more sporty bike, ideally with derailleur gearing. A bigger hub on the same heavy upright bike does not do me much good.

While modern bicycles are commonly available with 7 and 8 speed hubs, for me the simpler 3-speed just seems to be a better solution. Your experience may differ - but before you choose a hub with many gears, try a 3-speed and compare for yourself. You might be as surprised as I was to discover which you prefer.


  1. An interesting observation about three speed hubs. I've never ridden a three speed, but on my Pashley - with five speeds - I hover between gears 3 and 4 for the most part, shifting up to 5 on long, straight stretches. Gear 2 I save for hills that I just can't do in 3rd gear, and gear 1... that's got to be a doozy of a hill that I'll probably give up on half way and walk the bike the rest. The Pashley runs a Sturmey Archer hub set, and I believe, but I'm not sure, that gears 1, 3 and 5 correspond with gears 1,2 and 3 on the Sturmey Archer 3speed hub gear set. Do I look for more gears on the Pashley? Nope. I'm lucky to use all five in a single ride.
    But... I've just ordered, and received an 8 speed Shimano Alfine hub gear set which I'm going to put on my mixte. Having ridden both derailleur and hub gear bikes for a couple of years now I have a real preference for the ease and reliability of the hub. Petunia the mixte is currently running derailleurs with 12 gears. She's light enough weight wise that I think she'll fly along with the hub set (and I'm no speed freak anyway). Will I use all the gears in every ride? Probably not. But the mixte is a more energetic ride than the Pashley and I suspect I'll use at least half of those 8 on any given ride. Time will tell (and so will I).

  2. For me, the gear range is important because I like to haul tons of cargo and I live in a ridiculously hilly city. Having lots of available gear ratios is helpful for the same reason.

    Also, using an internal hub is a huge plus because I'm busy, and I depend on my bicycle for 100% of my transportation, so I like low maintenance.

    Of course, Rohloff has a 519% gear range with 13 clicks.

    The Alfine 11 has a 409% gear range.

    The NuVinci has a 360% gear range with zero clicking.

    Just for comparison, the Ultegra triple crank with a ten speed cassette has a 441% gear range.

    If the goal is the biggest gear range, Rohloff has it. If the goal is a decent gear range with minimal clicking, the NuVinci wins.

    Either way, the derailer loses.

    If I were building a wheel right now, I'd go with the NuVinci because it is low maintenance, has a decent gear range, and has an infinite number of available gear ratios. Oh yeah, and because it's a super cool design concept. :-)

  3. My 3x9 derailleur gearing has a range of over 600 %. I’m using 14 gears out of the 27 (to reduce chain wearout) and I’m feeling absolutely comfortable with this setup.
    But if I had to choose a gear hub I would probably go for the 3-speed, too. I have ridden a 7-speed a while ago and it wasn’t a great difference compared to a 3-speed.


  4. Re: "8 speed hubs do NOT give you more than double the gearing range of the 3-speed".

    You are incorrect, but it's understandable. Based on the way internal gear hubs are usually compared, a 3-speed hub has a "186% range..." but that would mean a single-speed hub has a
    "100% range", which is just silly. The comparison is not 186 versus 306, it's a 1 to 1.86 ratio versus a 1 to 3.06 ratio. A better way to say it would be that the 3-speed changes the gear by 86%, and the 8-speed by 206%; more than twice as much.

    If you play around with Sheldon Brown's calculator (http://www.sheldonbrown.com/gears/internal.html), you can see that a 3 speed Sturmey Archer or Shimano hub can get you a range of 30 to 55 gear inches, while an 8-speed Shimano Nexus hub gets you a range of 30 to 92 gear inches, which is MORE than twice as much range. The Nexus 7-speed hub is just less than double the range of the 3-speed hub (and the Sturmey Archer 5 speed hub has a similar range to the Nexus 7)

    In practice, this means I can get a nice flat-ground gear in 3rd on my 3-speed, and I can get up 6% grades sitting or short 10% grades standing, in 1-st gear. But on my 8 speed I also get 2 higher gears for going faster (as with a tailwind, or downhill), and 2 lower gears for really steep hills.

    I agree that the 3-speed is great for flat to slightly rolling terrain, but for hilly urban areas, the 8-speed hubs are just awesome.

    1. 30 to 55 gear inches for a 3 speed hub? Really?? You must be using an unfeasibly tiny ring at the front and/or an absolutely massive one at the back! It's usually more like 45 to 85!

  5. "If I max out a 3-speed hub going uphill on a heavy upright bike, chances are that I will also max out a 7 or 8 speed hub"

    Are you sure the 8-speed hub bikes were set up right for hills? Some 8-speed Shimano hub bikes are set up with something like a a 42t chainring and 18t rear cog, which gives you 32 gear inches to 98 gear inches range. I feel that high end is way too high for a city bike. Instead, you can change to a 22 tooth rear cog and 38t chainring, and get a range (with 26" wheels) of 24 to 73 gear inches.

    That low gear (24 gear inches) is the same as a derailer-equiped 700c wheel hybrid, with a 32t front small chainring and 34t rear large chainring. It's really low! And the high gear is like 42/15, which is plenty high for me (I don't pedal down steep hills).

  6. I think that a three speed has plenty of range for most cycling situations and is a great choice for general cycling. However, someone with a long/hilly commute might well benefit enormously from the extra options of an eight (or fourteen) speed rear hub. A long climb in just the wrong gear every day could be a real enthusiasm killer.

    For most people who are not bike nuts (like us), switching to a different kind of bicycle for a different ride is not an option. You pick a bike that does the lion's share of your riding well, and adapt to the kinds of things it doesn't do so well. My primary reason for riding is fitness and the sanity it brings. My single speed road bike does that very well indeed. I get to use a locker room when I arrive at work after my commute and have a safe spot to store my ride. If I had to ride in my work clothes or carry a heavy load, I know I would be happy with access to a few more gear ratios.

  7. But isn't the Nuvinci something like 80% efficient? I hear it gets HOT too, just through normal operation.

    Brian Eno (musician) put it nicely, though he was speaking about synthesizers in the early 1980s I think the analogy translates well:

    "what you need is not MORE options - what you need are more USEFUL options."

    On my Legnano I have crankset with a 47 and a 50 tooth sprocket, side by side. For this bike, I find a narrow range of gears useful - for keeping cadence consistent on varied slopes *at high speed*.

    My Pashley is quite often loaded with groceries (and weighs 47lbs on it's own, with rack and lock and panniers) and so I personally enjoy the "extra" two gears.

    While I agree that the simplicity of a user interface that only involves up to two possible "clicks", or inputs (up or down one or two gears) could add to the enjoyment of a bicycle, I can't understand that having a narrower range of gears on a heavier vehicle would outweigh the extra mental effort of clicking through a few more detents on a lever.

    My mother refuses to ride a mountain bike she was given as a gift because she cannot wrap her mind around shifting a deraileur, let alone two of them at once. She'll happily pedal a three, four or five speed hub gear, though. And I agree with the OP here - intended use should define the characteristics of the machine.

    I love my friction shifting 1963 Camapagnolo Gran Sport group, but am ridiculed on group rides at my slow pace of shifting - those with "brifters" are ALWAYS in the right gear, and instantly. Nostalgia wins, for me, here. ;)

    Were the NuVinci a more efficient machine, and lighter, I would agree that it's perfect for a city bike.

    But let's not forget to bring that Shimano "autoshifting" thing, what's it called, into this discussion... ;)

  8. I absolutely LOVE the SA 3 speed hub that is on my Hercules, and actually find it quite adequate even in these Appalachian hills. Every once in a while I encounter a hill that is too steep and I have to walk up it, but even on the 10 speed derailleured mixte I still have to walk up those same hills. I don't know if that's a matter of the bicycle not being designed for that kind of hill climbing or that I'M not designed for it. :) It will be interesting to see how the Pashley with the 5 speed hub handles the topography here.

  9. "the Ultegra triple crank with a ten speed cassette has a 441% gear range"

    Not to take away from the pros and cons of internal gears versus the derailleur, but the derailleur range is not limited to the above quote. My touring bike has 46-36-24 in the front and 11-34 cassette which gives a range of 592% if I did the calculation right. And even that setup is not at the limit.

    Having said that, I do want to agree with Velouria's point. Three speeds is fine for a 'round town bike, especially in a flat place like the Charles River basin. I would want a few more gears for the hills of Newton or my typical rides through the Blue Hills. Even in the Blue Hills I seldom use the small chainring, but I'm glad to have it when I have a heavy load or I'm tired after a long ride.

  10. I don't know percentages of any i speak of but i know what's preferential for me, i live a flat city for the post part and any of my around town riding up until recently was on a single speed vintage step thru, then i got a gazelle with 3 speeds and she is great for around town and a wee bit more forgiving, but as soon as I must traverse the bridge to work which spans 2.5 miles and ascends 200 ft or so, i am riding my vintage motobecane mixte giving me 10 speeds or my recently acquired sam hillborne which has options for days :)
    As far as 3 spd vs 7 or 8, i believe for the type of riding i do around town 3 is just fine and i definitely prefer the 3 speed thumb shifter as opposed to a grip shifter.

  11. As it happens, I've been running an AW hub exclusively for the past couple weeks, after decades of not riding one much at all, as an experiment to see how I feel about them these days.

    And the answer is: I hope the next barn I'm invited to clear out is AM/FM.

    I'd prefer a smaller range if it means the gears are a bit closer together. It's the gaps that make me wish for a couple more gears, not the terrain. I don't need low, low gears, because I come equipped with an OEM continuously variable "gear range" from 0 to 24 inches. I don't need a particularly high gear because I don't go that fast on the sort of bike the hub is on, nor do I need to even if I'm feeling a bit "sporty."

    Advantages of the three over five or more is that the device is simpler. This translates into being lighter, more rugged, more efficient (yes, I'm aware of Rohloff's take on this) and school children being able to figure out how to rebuild them without a manual.

    300 Pound Gorilla - A typical wide range touring derailer setup has about a 550% range. More is possible.

    I do not believe it is the actual "click" part that is the issue.

    We're in one of those ages where everyone is back to "inventing" bicycle drives that were abandoned decades, or even more than a century, ago; because they were found to have limitations imposed by the laws of physics which made them unsuitable for bicycles.

    Certain technologies have changed, but the laws of physics have not. Shaft drives and Cone and Ball Friction drives have the same limitations now as they did back then. These too shall pass; again.

  12. I'm with you, the less gears the better, I've been trying to singlespeed on my 21 speed Carrera for a couple of months now, and it's rejuvenated my commute. Changing gear, I find at least, is a complete hassle. 300 Pound Gorilla mentions the NuVinci, which I very much like the sound of, but I can't find it here in the UK yet.

  13. Three gears would be enough for me. The TROUBLE is that none of the three speed hubs available currently are of the close ratio that would work for a fairly flat terrain. So instead, I have a seven speed Shimano Nexus on which I use second, third, and fourth gears for 99% of my riding. The number of clicks are the same, it's just that there are extra clicks that rarely get used. Upright versus road riding position doesn't factor in. It's all about cadence, wind, and terrain.

  14. Joseph E - Ha. If I am wrong about the percentages, I will happily acknowledge it. But I am not so much surprised that I got it wrong, as surprised that others - knowledgeable about bikes - explained it to me this way as well. Now I'm curious and will look into it some more - thanks!

    Joseph E said...
    "Are you sure the 8-speed hub bikes were set up right for hills? "

    Yes. In fact they were geared pretty low, so that I had to use the highest gears on flats.

    Steve - I had the 7-speed Shimano on my Pashey and grew to loathe it. None of the gears felt quite right, and I had to switch between them all the time to get the kind of feel and speed I wanted.

  15. Re switching gears and "extra clicks" - I do not mind switching gears when it is appropriate. I have 2 derailleur geared bikes that I use for touring or long distance rides over hills. They have friction shifters and I switch gears constantly when covering hills over long distances. But this is not what I want or need from a bike I use for transportation over relatively short distances. The 7 and 8 speed hubs just don't feel efficient to me, and all the shifting that I am compelled to do feels unnecessary - since I can cover the same terrain on a 3-speed without all that back and forth.

  16. If I were going to use an IG hub in lieu of a derailleur--particularly if I were doing longer rides on varied terrain--I'd want the seven- or eight-speed hub.

    The range does not increase proportionately with the number of speeds. However, the "steps" between gears are smaller. That is the reason why racers ride with more gears than they used to: Back in the late '60's and '70's, Eddy Mercx and his peers rode with five-sprocket clusters in the rear, while today's racers ride with ten (and, in a few cases, eleven)-sprocket cassettes. Their range of gears hasn't necessarily increased, but there isn't as great a difference from one gear to the next.

    For high-mileage riders, having fewer gears means spending more time in a gear that isn't quite right. Riding in too high or too low a gear, especially when riding long hours and high mileage, puts a cyclist at risk for injuries and tires him or her out. Either one will lose the race or keep the cyclist from getting up the hill, or wherever else he or she is going.

    That said, my bikes now have derailleurs, fixed gears or single-speed freewheels. No IGs are in my stable. But that's the topic of another discussion.

  17. I love my 7 speed Shimano hub on my Workcycles Azor Oma. Workcycles slightly adjusted the gearing for me when I told them I live in a hilly city, and the gearing feels just right for my commute to work. There are no doubt more efficient bikes to use for daily hill climbing but I don't find it difficult.

  18. 3 speeds is plenty IF you install a 36 or 23 tooth front chainring.
    Otherwise you'll need strong legs.

  19. My impression on bicycle internal hub gearing is that it is often set too high.
    I can understand that in the case of the 3 speed hub, where the gearing range is more limited: the lowest speeds will be sacrificed in order to have a 3rd speed that isnt’t too slow on the flats, however some 7 and 8 speed bicycles with internal gearing come with a setup in which the 1st speed is often very close to the 1st speed of a 3 speed hub and that is a big mistake in my opinion. You end up with a bicycle in which the two highest speeds are set too high and are hardly used, unless there’s a strong wind behind you or your route has a long descent where you can max them out. Of course, a long descent might mean a long way uphill on the way back, and while going down all the saints will help you and you wouldn’t need those extra long speeds that allow you to raise your speed to almost dangerous levels, the extra 2 speeds would be far better in my opinion on the low side, where they would help climbing that hill without much effort, especially when carrying extra loads. I speak from my experience with a Pashley Roadster Sovereign, in which I wouldn’t need a speed as high as its 5th speed and would instead appreciate a lower 1st speed sometimes.
    I’d also like to point out that for internal hub gearing, a higher nr of speeds doesn’t always mean a higher range: the Shimano Nexus Inter 7 speed hub has a range of 246% from 0.63 to 1.55 while the new Sturmey-Archer X-RD5(W) that came with my Pashley has only 5 speeds but has a range of 256% from 0.625 to 1.6.
    If I’m not mistaken, the Sram 5 speed has about the same range as the Shimano 7 speed.
    One thing to consider with internal hub gearing is that the closest to the direct speed (1:1 2nd speed on the 3 speed hubs) you are the more efficient the power transmission will be and the further away you’ll get from it the more inefficient it will become and that might be a reason why 3 speed hubs feel better.

  20. Welshcyclist - I'm curious, if you find that having to select between 21 quantized gears to be a hassle, why do you suppose that having to select between an infinite number of nonquantized gears is going to be less of a hassle?

    Or, alternatively, if you enjoy riding without having to shift more enjoyable, what is it that appeals to you about a bike you shift continuously?

  21. 441% gear range is for Ultegra stock 3x10 as described on the shimano website. Of course, more or less is possible. I just thought the stock option would make for a good baseline.

    I've read some very favorable long term reviews of the NuVinci, especially for the newer version. Perhaps that's in the "you have to try it for yourself" category.

  22. I agree that three speeds is enough for most city riding. I ride in 5th gear (out of 8) almost all the time and rarely use 1-3 or 7-8. I'm not sure what that would come out to on a three speed, but one problem I've had test-riding 3-speeds is that I would never use 1st gear, way too easy, but sometimes I like to dial intensity up or down just a tad, so the ability to go from 5th to 4th or 6th is important to me.

  23. I would be fine with a 3 speed (and was with my old Raleigh) if I didn't have to cross the Williamsburg bridge with the combo of stuff and/or two year old on my bike. I love the Shimano 8-speed I have now. , I I rarely move out of 5 or 6 when tooling around Brooklyn, but I use the lower gears on the bridge and need the range, I find. NYC has a reputation for being flat but the bridges are significant and many people cross them daily. I think more gears are good for that.

    @ Jazzboy, totally agree w you re the SA-5. That's the hub I had on my old bike and I really, really do not miss how high the gearing was.

  24. What I want to eventually do is set up a fast road bike with a 5 speed Sturmey hub, ~240% range, similar to my 10-speed. I'd gear it slightly lower than my 10-speed where I almost never use the highest gear and the lowest could be a touch lower.

    My cassette, rear and front derailers, extra front chain ring, two metal downtube shifters, longer chain and rear brake together weigh a ton. Maybe not quite as much as a single rear hub (that performs all these functions, including braking), but up there... In other words, I would not be "gaining weight" on my bike by going with a hub.

    It's such a fun project, I don't know why I haven't already done it! Imagine, a racing bike with Honjo 43mm fluted hammered fenders and a Sturmey IGH. And the whole thing coming in at 25 lbs. Of course for ultimate cool it would have to be a custom frame with the hub notches for brakes and cable routing. And while I'm daydreaming, a "bigger shell" (I forget... 70 or 90mm) Sturmey front brake/dynamo hub would probably be enough braking power and winter-ready, too...

  25. @MDI:
    I think you're right. People might think that an internal gear hub means added weight, but considering the weight of the components it replaces: derailleur, cassette, brakes (if with a drum brake), hub, several chain links…, in the end I would really like to know the difference. I also don’t think there’s any significant increase in weight.

  26. my shogun tourer has a range of 380%, with a 6-speed freewheel and triple front setup. with slight variation, it could exceed 400%. this range is needed for really hilly riding and touring, but the point of having more gears isn't necessarily to have as wide a range as possible, but to have more gears that are closer spaced. this allows a rider to maintain close to an ideal cadence on just about any terrain. having fewer gears with a wide range doesn't allow this. back in the day of 6-speed freewheels, the only way to achieve close spacing while also having a wide range was to employ the "half-step plus granny" triple front, whereby the outer two rings are very closely spaced (mine are 45/50). this allowed the rider to have 12 tightly spaced gears, by alternating between those two front chainrings with each move made on the rear freewheel. then, when the rider needed really low gearing, he'd drop into the "granny" front ring. today, with 10-speed cassettes, the "half-step" front setup is obviated. hence the introduction of the "compact double" setups: one large chainring, one granny ring.

    i like the sturmey archer 3-speeds, but find the gearing too wide for three gears for the hills that i have to ride daily. i find i'm always "hunting" (to borrow automatic transmission terminology) for the right gear. but it's often too low or too high, not in the middle where i need it!

  27. Internally geared hub calculations are complicated by the chainring/cog combo you install. A typical three-speed IGH will give you something like 0.75 | 1 | 1.3 multiplication of your base gear ratio. Hence, in "second-gear" you will be pedaling at the gear ratio of the installed chainring/cog combo.

    The Shimano Alfine 8-speed hubs take the chainring/cog ratio and multiply them as follows:

    0.527 | 0.644 | 0.748 | 0.851 | 1 | 1.223 | 1.419 | 1.615

    If you hold the chainring/cog combo steady, you'll have a lower first gear and a higher top gear versus the three speed. You'll also have finer gradations between gears.

    You may be happy with a three speed given the terrain you frequent, but an eight-speed will give you more options.

  28. On a lighter note- there is an amazing video on you tube about two chaps that ride thier 3 speed Pashley Guvnors 205 km in "L'Erotica 2008". Evertime I watch this I am inspired about keeping things simple.

  29. LESS IS MORE!! Forgive me if this seems controversial, i don't know for sure but suspect that about 95% of cycle journeys taken in the last 100 years have been on bikes with 3 gears or less, and the human body and topography of the planet have not changed. Lest we forget, the Sturmey Archer AW 3-speed hub (177% range) has survived virtually unchanged since 1936, so they must be onto something! Personally I find that one gear is ALMOST good enough for all riding, and the AW appeals because 2nd gear is direct drive, plus I have a bail-out gear for the 5% of hills that I can't quite manage in 2nd, and a nice high gear for rolling with a tailwind and long descents. I can understand massive gear ranges for loaded alpine touring and workbikes, and I guess after a certain age knee-pain becomes a factor, but I think its mostly a bit of an indulgence encouraged by marketing hype. Professional racers need ultra-close ratios because split second advantages can win races, but normal cyclists really don't. What would be great to see would be if Sturmey-Archer were to bring back the AC and AM 3-speed hubs (close and medium ratio respectively) to compliment the AW (wide ratio), as in flat areas the AW range is too wide for fast riders. If Sturmey Archer could also improve their customer service, which is currently DIRE, they might actually give the mighty Shim a run for their money. Regarding the maths, Joseph E is correct, the first 100% doesn’t count when comparing hub with hub. As far as new technology, the Alfine 11 looks like a real game changer for those that really need more range. We may be just ten years away from derailers becoming a minority technology. After all, Andy Schleck's chain would not have skipped on the Port de Bal├Ęs in this year’s Tour de France had he been using a hub-gear equipped bike and he might have one the Yellow Jersey properly fair and square instead of the grubby shameful way it looks like he will do now. It is only a matter of time before someone (probably Shimano) produces a lightweight hub gear that rivals the best derailers. Rohloff are just too darn expensive for most people and the Nuvinci is neither a reliable nor durable enough design for serious cyclists. Oh, and one last point…no, two points – firstly less gears means one spends less time thinking about which gear one is in, and playing with ones gears, and more time enjoying the view and the sheer pleasure of riding. Secondly I have always found that with lots of gears (I have used up to 24 in the past) it is all too easy to shift down without thinking whenever faced with a hill to climb, and thereby lose momentum and end up riding slower and getting less exercise, whereas having only a few gears forces one to attack more and it is amazing what you can ride up if you have no more lower gears left to change down into!

  30. I bought my first IGH bike only last month (the Globe Daily 3 with a 7 speed Shimano). There are many things I like about it, but I find myself using mostly 2, 3, & 4th gear for my local riding. We have a few hills in the area and sometimes I wish it had a lower 1st gear, especially when the panniers are on and full of groceries. Mostly, I find myself wanting a lower gear when getting out of my neighborhood, which has a long, steep hill. This is made worse because I'm still cold when I hit it. I think I might agree with one of the other comments they it is geared a bit too high. I am considering changing the rear gear to a 22. It has a 20 on it now.

    I happended to find and buy a 1965 Raleigh Sprite today off Craigs List. It has a 5 speed derailer (not internal) that I'm anxious to try on the same hills and see how they compare.

    1. I just bought a Globe Daily 3 and I completely agree about the gearing. The crank is too large (or the rear cog is too small) for the Shimano Nexus 7 speed hub. The highest/hardest gears are *way* too aggressive for 99.99% of city cycling. I don't know what the designers were thinking. Otherwise, I like the bike, so I may try to change out the crank chainring or the rear cog to improve the gear ratio and provide more mechanical advantage on hills, but they're so integrated into the bicycle that this might be difficult.

  31. 1938 time trial record set on a 3-speed hub:
    27 mph average for 3 hours 45 minutes, not bad for an old 3-speed eh?

    1. That's very impressive! 3speeds are the most efficient igh hubs since they only have 1 set of planetary gears. If one can live with 3 speeds they truly are a simple joy.

      Gary Skriba

  32. I'm with Neighbourtease -- "NYC has a reputation for being flat but the bridges are significant and many people cross them daily. I think more gears are good for that. "

    I have a Shimano 7-speed on my Dutch bicycle; If all I did was run errands in Brooklyn (or Manhattan) I would be more than fine with three speeds; for those purposes, I'm almost always in 4 or 5. But for the Brooklyn Bridge for my daily commute, I'm in lower gears -- with a headwind and a load, I have been in 1st gear. And going up the Hudson River Greenway with a headwind, the lower gears are also useful. With the wind behind me, I'm sometimes in 6 or even 7. So I use the range and would -- for my purposes - find a 3-speed inadequate. In a flat city, though, I'd love it.

    Even in Amsterdam, I am told, 7-speeds are on the increase, because of the many canal bridges and the wind factor. I do not know if that's statistically true but a bicycle shop manager told me that, so I pass it along as an anecdote that may be relevant.... :)

  33. I had a 5-speed Sears bike, made in Austria from junior high through high school that I loved. One of my favorite bikes of all time. I lived in a hilly city and the extra gear range made a big difference over the 3-speeds I tried. However, the old 5-speeds required double shifting. The second shifter changed it from close range to high range gears which I only used on hills, if I remember correctly

    On derailler bikes, I think the current craze for 3x9 or more is ridiculous for us non-racer sorts. As long as I have a good granny, I think 5 in the rear are probably enough.

  34. More recently this 1938 Bates did a 10 mile TT at 25 mph:


    Not bad for a three speed breathing down the homestretch of antique. I might have to put Lauterwasser bars on my retro TT bike.

    Bear in mind that these TT bikes have a hub that myself and a few others in this thread have been whinging you can't get anymore.

  35. those with "brifters" are ALWAYS in the right gear, and instantly

    I was wondering if anyone would mention brifters. The experience of using brifters on my racing bike has also changed the way I shift on my commuter bike; I'm less willing to be in a less-than-ideal gear. And it's a self-reinforcing cycle, as the more often I use the friction shifters the smoother and more intuitive it becomes.

    And as for the suggestion above that shifting too much takes away from the enjoyment of one's surroundings: I actually like shifting a lot! Operating my bike as efficiently as possible and being really in tune with the mechanics of it. (As you might guess, I'm also one of those people who really enjoys driving a manual transmission car.)

  36. Sausend, thank you.

    Cadence matters, to some of us, even when we're on short trips riding heavy bikes!

    To anyone who has not tried a NuVinci, if you are someone who values a consistent cadence, give it a shot.

    I tried one about two years ago (on a Batavus Personal) and it blew my mind.

  37. I have had mountain bikes, road bikes, cruisers, ect.
    I have sworn off derailleurs for good. I have always found them too finicky, easily smashed and generally messy.
    For my purposes, an internally geared hub does what I need and when I build up another road bike, it will be internally geared. Any mountain bike I build will probably be single speed.
    The area of Florida I live in is excessively hilly. As long as I keep in shape, the weight of the DL1 is no issue and I can pull the steepest hill.
    A three speed would be my default choice.

  38. sausend said: "(As you might guess, I'm also one of those people who really enjoys driving a manual transmission car.)"

    ha! the only kind of car i'll buy!

  39. Hmmm, I have no practical experience with internal geared hubs other than test riding an Azor oma with shimano 8 speed alfine. I am hoping to get an 8 speed sturmey archer hub to set up a winter bike with, but need the bike fairy to help out. Sometimes I wonder if a 3 or 5 speed would be enough with the hills I encounter. I do have a 5 speed(derailleur) raleigh that was considered a 'tourer' back in time. People must have had incredibly strong legs back then! I had to change the freewheel and now I can get up very steep hills only a few of the gears even work, so it might as well be a 3 speed. It's not how many gears, but what the gears are that matters. I spend too much time shifting on my 3x8 derailleur bikes.

  40. My commute bikes are a single speed with flip-flop rear wheel (16,18) and a fendered 1x5. The 1x5 gets pure chain alignment right over the middle rear sprocket. I shift +/- one. So effectively it's a 3 speed, but a close ratio one. I can clean the freewheel, oil it, inspect it and generally stay on top of it better than an IGH. But if I had the road salt and freezing temps that most have, and if I were to RIDE them, I'd probably go with an IG hub.

  41. When I was a kid I had a sting-ray with a 2-speed kick-shift hub with a coaster brake. You didn't need a shifter cable. You didn't need a back brake. My brothers had them too. We rode them from dawn to after dusk for years, very reliable. Build a lightweight cycle around that hub for a simple commuter.

  42. The two speed kickback has to be about the most under-revered bit of bicycle kit in history and the Bendix red band is high on my list Things I Hope to Find at a Flea Market.

    In the meantime Sunrace is making them again in a "blue band" version (low is direct, high is overdriven; the opposite of the red band). Unfortunately the coaster brake version is 120 spaced only, so it won't fit older or traditionally spaced single speed frames.

  43. @MDI
    My daily commuter is similar to what you describe. The bike is a late 80s Japanese sport tourer and the hub is a '74 Sturmey Archer AW.I chose the gearing for speed with a slight concession for hill climbing, as there are few long steep hills in my area which can't be avoided. Gear inches are 50ish, 70ish and mid 90's, which neither leaves me walking up hills nor wishing for a taller gear to push. While I have never weighed the bike, my sense is that the weight was reduced slightly during the conversion when the "extra" gears and chain were removed along with the two derailers and shifters. The result might have been different if the bicycle had started with lightweight components, but mine began with heavy, low quality stuff.

    The original aim was to see if I would like a bicycle with hub gears, but the balance of speed, reliability, easy maintenance, simplicity and tolerance to outright neglect has me thinking that I might just keep this one for a while.

  44. @kfg & Phil Miller -- if you like 2 speed kickback bikes, you might want to check out the new 2011 Torker KB2:


    Looks interesting!

  45. I've already got a Redline 925, so all I need to do is build up a wheel to have a "premium" version of the Torker.

    That's one I'll no doubt be recommending to others though. I keep me eye on Torker. They're doing interesting stuff and delivering it at the most bang for the buck.

  46. The Torker has no front brake though - yikes!

  47. I considered Torker when I was first shopping for bikes. There were a few interesting commuter step-throughs (similar to the Cargo-T, but not as hard core) with chaincases that I tired. Didn't like; they just felt cheap and had weird features I didn't need (suspension on the fork??) while lacking features I did need (lights). The Cargo-T is the bike I like best on their current line-up, though I have not ridden it.

  48. I agree with Velouria here.

    I've had two 3-speeds in the past (and will have 2 more soon!) and found them perfectly adequate for around-town riding. I was in "2" about 90%-95% of the time, only switching to 1 on steep enough hills and 3 on downhills/powering through flats. While Portland ain't no SF/Seattle/Pittsburgh in hilliness, it ain't totally flat either, and I would use these three speed bikes to get up Mount Tabor frequently (grades 5%-10%, depending on how you attacked it.)

    I can understand if one's commute is hilly, really long, or if knees aren't what they used to be. But a 3-speed is totally viable for getting around town. For touring and longer rides, that's when I hop on the LHT.

  49. This is a really interesting thread. I've got a 21 speed derailleur trekking bike which I use daily and I'm getting fed up with the fragile, fiddly, temperamental nature of derailleurs. So I am considering getting a hub gear bike instead.

    But here's the debate... do I get a 3, 7 or 8 speed? The 3 speed appeals because of its innate simplicity -- there's a robust minimalism to it. The maths has an elegance to it too – you change up by a third and down by a quarter. The 7 and 8 speeds would have more range, though, and I do live in a hilly area (in Kent, South-Eastern England).

    When in London I've recently been hiring the Transport for London Cycle Hire bikes, aka "Boris Bikes". They are 3 speed, but low geared, because of the larger rear sprocket. They cope just fine in flat Central London and I really did like the simplicity of the 3 speed set up.

    However, before committing, I wanted to see how I could get on with three speeds in the hillier terrain just south of Maidstone, where I do most of my riding. A few calculations showed me that the standard 38 front teeth and 18 rear teeth on a bike with a 3 speed Nexus would equate (roughly) to riding on my derailleur bike with only the 2nd chainring, and only using 1st, 4th and 7th gears on that ring. So I've been trying this for the last few days and to my surprise I've coped just fine with only those options. This afternoon I went for a 9 mile ride out in the country and found I enjoyed taking things at a steady pace and going with the bike just as it was, rather than trying to force more power out with the intermediate gears.

    I tried a 16% gradient (about 1 in 6) and I got off and walked pretty soon! Even in the lowest gear on my 21 speed I know I would have struggled -- but would have probably stayed on and done the hill on two wheels. But why not get off and walk when it gets too steep? Who said you had to fight and struggle? It’s actually liberating to have fewer options.

    And so the more I think about it, the more I am with the “three-speed” camp. Not sure yet what I’ll get but it will almost certainly be something Dutch – probably a modern style city bike.

    Love the blog, btw. Those bikes are real beauties.

  50. I recently bought a 2011 Raleigh Detour Deluxe with the Nexus 8 IGH. I agree that for the most part, a 3-speed Sturmey Archer would be just fine. But before I bought my bike, I had a 1969 Raleigh Superbe that I thought I was going to be able to use for commuting. I did a mechanical restoration of this bike and rode it all over town for weeks. I absolutely loved it. But, I tried to use it to commute, and ran into trouble. Granted, this bike had a 48T chain ring instead of the usual 46, but even so I found that I could not get up the long bike lane on the Gold Star Bridge (between Groton and New London, CT) even in 1st gear when carrying my laptop, clothing and lunch. I considered swapping out the chain ring and rear cog, but then the top end would have been too low. So, I bought this new bike and it's been working out great. True, i can't seem to spin any faster than 24 MPH, but it's a commuter, not a racing bike.

  51. i laced a shimano 3 speed into an old clunker to ride to work years ago. gave me the range i needed and simplified my bike heaps. good thing .

  52. @ KFG....who are you! What is your blog? Mr. Know it all!!!! Well, I've said it and want to just make the point that you do have a wide knowledge on a variety of subjects and are entertaining. You have popped up on this and copenhagenize. Where else can I find your witty commentary?

  53. Hi I'm kinda 2 years late to this blog. I have a Batavus with Nuvinci hub and after two years ownership I really wished I'd gone original Batavus 3-speed. Couldn't agree more with the comments. Living large city on the Great Lakes and thanks to the last ice age ride in to work is all downhill. Ride home is uphill. A heavy and upright Dutch bike is not best suited to this kind of commute. I've had issues with the hub cables and rear spoke breakage. I feel they're related. The spokes not only handle 2/3 the weight of the rider but also hub torque.

    I agree simpler is better.

  54. I'm a new cyclist, and I'm wondering about gears. My question is: if you have a bike with 6 gears, is it like a 3-speed with half-stops in between? I.e. Would gear 4 on a 6-speed be like gear 2 on a 3-speed?

    1. ' if you have a bike with 6 gears, is it like a 3-speed with half-stops in between?'
      A 6 speed is more like a 3 speed with 2/3-stops in between, along with an extra lower gear and 2 higher gears.....

      'Would gear 4 on a 6-speed be like gear 2 on a 3-speed?'
      Yes, middle gears 3 or 4 on a 6 speed should be very similar to middle gear 2 on a 3 speed.

      Welcome to the wonderful world of bicycling btw.
      I've been into bikes for 45 years and I am still excited by them.
      Along with the internet, may I suggest you also drop into a local bike shop when they are not too busy, and ask more questions like that.
      Hopefully there will be a bicycle enthusiast on duty who will discuss your situation and interests, and maybe start you on a lifetime passion for biking.

  55. I commute daily on a 2 speed SRAM automatix fitted in a 700c x 23 wheel with the change point adjusted to allow me to spin in low. Its great not having to think about changing gear and its proven reliable. Its running 60 gear inches in low, 82 in high.

  56. I have a question. I bought a bike for weekend biking around Williamsburg/Brooklyn. I haven't decided if I am going to go over the bridges yet. I got the Linus mixte 3 and after reading all this I am left a little more than confused. Did I make a mistake? Should I have gone for mixte 8? (8 speed/gear)? Sorry I am new to biking.

  57. To better compare and visualize the various gear ranges it can be done by using Gear Inches (GI). Example: A S-A three speed hub. The middle gear is direct drive and the wheels are 26". Divide the number of teeth of the rear sprocket into the chainring's # of teeth. The sum is the ratio number. Multiply the ratio number by the wheel diameter. Now, the final number is the "gear in inches" (Gear Inches). For first gear the GI is 25% smaller and third gear is 33% bigger. Use math to find the GI range from low gear to high gear. Many "ten speed" bike have a GI range of 34" to 102". A three speed's gear range can be modified by changing the size of the chainring and/or the hub's sprocket.

  58. I am just learning how to ride a bike and am considering buying a Citizen 3-speed 20" alloy folding bike. My BF thinks 3 gears are not enough. I have no intention of climbing a mountain on my bike. I just want to enjoy the ride without giving too much thought to shifting. Would someone please explain in plain English what speed bike would be better for me and why. Thank you.

    1. I work in a bike shop now and we always tell people that if you have the choice between 3 and 7 or 8 speeds, go for the 7- or 8-speed. It isn't the number of gears, it's that on most three-speeds they are so far apart.

      Imagine if you had a volume control on your phone but only had three options (besides off): low, like a whisper; medium, like talking; and loud, like shouting at the top of your voice. Most of the time medium would do, but if you were in a busy place you might want it to be louder, but not as loud as shouting. You'd want more in-between options.

      That's what you get with more gears. If you are going up and down different hills, more gears lets you get just the right amount of resistance that you can still feel yourself putting some effort in instead of your legs just going round for nothing, but it's still easy enough that you don't have to to get off and push.

      I have 18 gears on my bike, but I only ever use about 8 of them, and even then most of the time I hover around the lower middle ones. I do live in a hilly place (York, England) but even when I lived in a flatter place I used the same gears because there are winds and different road surfaces, and days when you feel faster or slower. Some people like having one or three gears, but personally, I wouldn't want any fewer than seven speeds. I hope that helps. :)

    2. I have been getting around almost exclusively by bike for a couple years now, and I used a simple 3-speed steel bike. Three speeds have been plenty for me. I recently carried 55 pounds of groceries 3.5 miles home from the store (including going up and down a few highway overpass ramps), and the gear range was fine for me. (Granted, I'm a younger guy with healthy legs, but it sounds like you won't be carrying groceries, so you won't have to worry about heavy loads.)

      Most of the time I'm just commuting to work or around town, and I REALLY appreciate the simplicity of only having 3 gears to think about. Sure, there are times when more gears would be nice, but I'd rather have a simpler hub that is going to last longer than a complicated one more prone to failure (and more expensive to repair). Just my two cents' worth. :)


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