Wednesday, 20 July 2016

Sturmey Archer AW3 Gear Hub Strip and Rebuild

I've been having fun rebuilding the internal gear hub on my commuter bike.

Meet "Frank The Tank".

He is called Frank the Tank because he's a Frankenstein of new and second hand bike parts from lots of places and because he's no lightweight ;) I built him up from parts scavenged from five different donor bikes and a few new parts too.

He's based on an old Raleigh steel frame that someone had stripped and powder coated in white for a project before losing interest and selling it on eBay. Unfortunately the elegant white 1" threaded fork that came with it used the old 26TPI thread standard and I couldn't find a replacement headset for it at a reasonable price so a new black fork was chosen. He's been built to be an all weather, low service reliable bike for commuting and shopping.

Part of the reliability / simplicity was to choose an internal gear hub. Three speeds is just enough for the hills around here and fully built rear wheels with Sturmey Archer AW3 gear hubs are available on the internet for quite reasonable prices. Sure the rims are heavy but they've stayed true despite the abuse!

I've used him on my commute to work for a couple of years now in all weathers and, having survived two winters of commuting, it was time for a strip down and clean, including the gear hub. What started as a quick "I'll just regrease the bearings and adjust the cones" turned into a full on strip, clean and re-oil and re-grease of the entire hub with me learning a lot about it on the way!

Sturmey Archer hubs

I've been generally very impressed with the quality of the AW3 hub. Everything is nicely machined and has stood up to 2000 miles of abuse with zero maintenance and hardly any adjustment. The history of Sturmey Archer is well documented on the Sturmey Archer Heritage site with old engineering drawings and adverts. There's even a Dutch picture from 1958 showing how the 3 speed mechanism works.

Advert for the Sturmey Archer / Raleigh 3 speed hub
Yorkshire Post, 1903. (C) Sturmey Archer Heritage
It is particularly impressive that the predecessor to the Type AW hub that I own was originally designed in 1914. Externally there is very little difference and internally there only appear to be minor changes between the 1914 version and the modern version. Most satisfactory.

L: 1914-1916 Type A hub
R: 1936-2001 Type AW3 hub

There's an amusing anecdote on the continuing production of Sturmey Archer hubs by the Taiwanese firm Sun Race on (all hail) Sheldon Brown's website
I heard an interesting anecdote from a Sturmey-Archer veteran employee, now with SunRace/Sturmey-Archer:
Back in the day, sometimes a batch of internal parts would be just a bit out of tolerance, maybe a bit too small, or a bit too large, whatever. The production people would take a sample to the engineering department, where a grey-haired engineer would check it out and often say "Well, it is a bit out of spec, but not really enough to cause failure, so let's let it go."
SunRace didn't have those engineers who had grown up with Sturmey-Archer in their blood, so when they found a batch of out-of-spec parts, they would say "That's out of spec! Melt it down, and make new ones, and do it right this time!"

Strip, Clean and Rebuild

Any numbers in brackets refer to the component in the exploded diagram / parts list.

Removing the screw in ball ring (13) was the hardest part of the process. This part has a series of inner ramps that the drive assembly (15) pawls engage in. So me standing on the pedals for the last umpteen hundred miles meant it was tighter than Gary Barlow's wallet. It looked like it needed a special tool to remove so I cut out a section of 3mm aluminium plate to fit the dents around the rim. However it was that fast in place that it just chewed up the plate when I attempted to use it to unscrew it.

I had considered using a screwdriver and a hammer to drift it round but thought that was excessive until I did some internet research and found a couple of pages and a video that all recommended doing that very thing. The official instructions say to either use a C-spanner or a hammer and punch! Sure enough it loosened it off nicely, the hardened steel of the ball ring shrugging off any damage from the much softer steel of my largest, cheapest flat bladed screwdriver.

Unfortunately the time between initial disassembly and me managing to get the ball ring off meant that I'd forgotten the order of the parts so far. So I just dumped them all into a big tub full of hot soapy water, gave them a clean and a dry and then tried to figure out which bit went where.

There was precious little oil in the hub and only a small amount of good grease. There was a fair amount of crufty horrible grease on the gear ring assembly and the drive pawls and the grease in the bearings was pretty much non existent. Definitely due a service then!

AW3 hub internals, cleaned and disorganised!
With a bit of tinkering and a pale ale or two I figured out what went where. I was most impressed with the solid feel of the hub as I rebuilt it and the engineering processes that must have gone in to developing and making it. The axle (27) is a nicely machined part with a slot for the gear selector / axle key (28) and a coaxial hole down one end for the selector chain (32).

The fiddliest part of the build is assembling the gear ring assembly (9) and the associated pawls and pawl springs. The springs are really fine and I've dropped them at least three times and had to go hunting on the floor for them conducting a finger tip search with a flashlight and a magnet.

I'd had a few goes at fitting everything together and eventually figured it out before getting all the parts laid out in order.

The assembly from here is a dry run prior to things being greased and oiled for the final assembly.

All fine up to this point but this is where I went wrong. The black plastic dust cap is meant to be fitted after the drive mechanism and cone have been screwed on. Otherwise when you tighten the cone it tries to compress the dust cap between the cone and the bearings and the whole thing seizes up. To my credit, I got this far without referring to the manual or the diagrams! Maybe I should have referred to it sooner ;)

The next thing to do was to grease it all up using white lithium grease throughout. Mistake. Error. Redo From Start+++++. Putting grease on the freewheel or drive mechanism pawls just causes them to stick to their carrier and not click back into place - the main function of a pawl. As a result it took about 5 seconds for the freewheel or the drive mechanism to click into place. Cue a re-strip and re-clean, applying nothing but light cycle oil to all of the internal components and grease to all three bearing races. Much better!

Putting it back on the bike

Upon reassembly the freewheel seemed to jam so my first thoughts were that I'd put some pawls in the wrong way round also I couldn't figure out why tightening the cones didn't stop a significant amount of wobble at the rim.

This was when, after looking at the exploded diagram that I figured out that I'd put the dust cap on in between the bearing surfaces rather than covering the drive mechanism. Idiot. I'd also put the non drive side spacer washer (25) on the outside of the lock nut and not the inside (minor error).

Lastly I realised I'd lost the non drive side axle nut so had to order a new one from the eBay store of Hopkinson Cycles in Horbury. More idiocy on my part.

I corrected these issues, had the usual round of faffing around trying to adjust the cone bearings so that they were juuuuuuust right and presto! the wheel was back in and working properly. Nice sharp clicks from the drive and freewheel pawls, smooth changing of the gears, lovely. I'll feed it some oil down the changer hole so it has something to be getting on with and away we go  :)

Further Frank-ing About

I also took the time to fit the proper diameter seatpost. I'd been using a 1" seatpost with some shims made from a coke can which meant a real fiddle adjusting saddle position, the very thing that had caused me a bit of knee pain beforehand.

After measuring up I ordered a 27.0mm seatpost (not the conventional 27.2 of modern bikes) from eBay and a nicer brown saddle I'd taken off the tandem, which is much more in keeping with the look of the bike.

I also improved the pannier mounting, removing the crappy looking P-clips and replacing it with a much nicer piece of threaded rod and some nuts between the original rack mount brackets. This moved the mounting point inboard to suit the rack I've got and it tidies up the frame too.

This means that Frank is ready for the next 2000 miles of urban pottering, commuting, shopping and general practicality.

Thursday, 7 July 2016

Bicycle Race

Took a ride up to Skipton with Munny, Lukas and Robin to watch the Skipton Bike Race Criterium. A steady ride up through Cononley following the usual, slightly hillier but much less frantic route to Skipton with a couple of diversions I wasn't familiar with. This was my 1000th ride that I've logged on Strava!

We acquired fish and chips (essential), and wandered around the course, picking up Mark from work and watching the juniors hammer it around the bumpy corner next to the fish shop. We eventually settled down just outside the Beer Engine with a nice pint of dark ale to watch the senior race, with Emma joining us in time for the start. Very civilised.

The elite men were seriously fast and spat quite a few people off the back end of the group. The guy in the white kit in this photo was the eventual winner. He seemed to bridge the gap between the peloton and the breakaway group and hang in there for the win.

Skipton Crit 2016 winner mid pack
Standing on the inside of the fast corner was quite an experience, it was hard not to flinch as they came past, leaning over so that their heads were passing within a foot or so of the metal barrier. This video gives you some idea!

I cycled home with Emma, and managed to pick up another puncture on the rear wheel about a mile from home. Must have a bit of something still in the tyre from the last one. I walked it home as it was easier than faffing around changing it at the roadside. On the mountain bike today!

It was nice to see Munny and Lukas again, our paths don't cross as often as I'd like. Good to meet the famous Robin, I see his rides on Strava a lot and to chat with Mark from work for a bit. It's always good to catch up with Emma too and to hear about her family holiday in Portugal. A cool evening with cool people.

Lets end the blog on a musical note :)

Wednesday, 29 June 2016

Kentmere Horeseshoe

We were having a mini-honeymoon in the Lakes (more on the big day soon when we get the photos from our photographer!) so we decided to get some walking in and tick off a few more Wainwrights.

T' Wife and me at the trig on High Street
The Kentmere Horseshoe was top of my list, having had it recommended by several friends. Including the nip out to High Street, it packs in 9 Wainwrights into 13 miles of walking: Yoke, Ill Bell, Froswick, Thornthwaite Crag, High Street, Mardale Ill Bell, Harter Fell (Mardale), Kentmere Pike and Shipman Knotts.

Strava log of the route
It was a gorgeous day, much nicer than the day before when we had a tired potter up Loughrigg watching the rain sweep up Troutbeck and Kentmere. Heading up Garburn Road we saw a group of mountain bikers coming down, one of whom had a properly mashed rear derailleur that had thankfully avoided being dragged into his spokes. Not too far to trundle down the road to Wheelbase I guess for for him the ride was over.

Looking down over Kentmere
Once we'd gained the ridge it was a nice steady height gain over the first peak of Yoke and onwards to the crazy slate arrangements of Ill Bell. We could see Morecambe Bay, the windfarms in the Irish sea, what could well have been the Galloway Hills in southern Scotland, Cross Fell and Ingleborough - a truly marvellous panorama.

Steady climb up to Yoke
Panorama from the summit of Ill Bell (C) aka t' wife
First view of Kentmere Reservoir
Looking back down the ridge to Windermere
Small Water and Haweswater from Mardale Ill Bell
By this point I was starting to get a bit sunburned, having forgotten to pack any sun lotion. Time to deploy the time honoured sun hat of Englishmen abroad! MY BRAIN HURTS!

Mr. D. P. Gumby spotted in the Lakes
The last steep climb of the day onto Harter Fell
The view from Kentmere Pike
Cracking day, great route and fab views. Get on it.

p.s. hard boiled eggs are now a must-have walking food.

p.p.s. My knee high red socks and Ramblers Association membership are in the post.

Fork Service.

After damaging my freehub in the Lakes I thought I'd take the opportunity to strip my coil fork down and give it a good service as it was sticky, rattly and squeaky - all the things a fork should not be. Thankfully, Rock Shox provide a pretty detailed service manual for it. Also thankfully it's a very basic coil fork so there's not a lot to go wrong and not a lot to service.

Stripping it down took a couple of hammer blows on the bolts on the bottom of the fork legs to persuade the lower legs to part company from the stanchions. Once they were apart it was fairly easy to see that there was no grease or oil remaining in either of the legs.

I stripped the spring out and also the damper, emptying the oil into the jar of bike related old fluids that now resembles the rhubarb gin our neighbour gave us. It has a cheeky nose with a hint of apples and engine oil. A bit young, could do with laying down for, say, 35 years until it's past it's half life.

Everything was cleaned and re-greased with SRAM Butter supplied promptly and efficiently by the folks at Bikegoo (along with some 5wt and 15wt suspension fluid) and reassembled. I used a bamboo cane with tape around it to get the right fluid level in the damper leg and my set of baking measuring spoons from the kitchen to get the right volume of oil in the bottom of the damper leg. Improvisation is our watchword!

The fork in the work vice, just after filling the damper leg bottom with oil
All in all, it took a couple of hours to take the fork off the bike, strip, clean and reassemble it.

Best of all, it's now like a new fork! It sags gently when I sit on the bike and bobs gently with pedalling. Taking it down through the old Riddlesden golf course it ate up all the bumps and more. It has also delayed my decision to change to a better air fork now it has some new life back in it. I should have done it sooner and it will certainly be on the regular servicing list in future. Happy bike fixing times :)

Wednesday, 22 June 2016

Lakes MTB: A Grind Around Grizedale and Some Pass Bashing (Got Bashed)

Grizedale Grinder

It would be rude to go to the Lakes and not take in a bit of the fantastic biking to be had in the region. Spending a bit of quality mini-moon time with The Wife (need to get used to saying that!) meant heading over to Grizedale for a potter around the fire-roads with the odd excursion onto the red trail singletracks.

Of the bits that we did there was nothing massively challenging although Louise was surprised by a step down in the boardwalk at one point causing her to utter a naughty word before falling, very gracefully, into a tree. A slightly scraped arm was the only damage.

Tis but a scratch!

They'd been doing some logging so we did get some nice views down across Coniston Water and up to Coniston Old Man and Dow Crag allowing us to trace the route of a walk we did a few winters ago over Wetherlam way.

View good. Malt loaf also good.
We were startled at this point by what looked like a bloody big hornet, causing us to head off in short order. Later research led us to finding out it was in fact a Great Wood Wasp and is in fact entirely harmless. Phew!

The threat of rain meant we headed back early instead of exploring some of the sculpture trails in the area. I think I prefer the Blue single track at Whinlatter, the fire roads are a bit boring to be honest even though the views are much better.

Pass Bashing (Got Bashed)

Last day of the holiday and Louise wanted to see the Beatrix Potter house in Near Sawrey and to catch up with a family friend. I'm not National Trust Man yet as my beige elasticated waist corduroy trousers haven't arrived from my tailors (soon, soon) so sooner than part from the mountains my love, I went for a bike ride instead.

A short sharp rocky climb on tired legs out of Ambleside up to the top of Jenkin Crag was rewarded with some pleasant views over Windermere and Bowness.

View from Jenkin Crag
The track contoured around the hillside, maintaining the view over Windermere until I dropped sharply into Troutbeck village down a slightly rocky but fun bridleway. A short road section led to the bottom of Dubbs Road and the long steady climb up Garburn Pass.

Garburn Road Climb
This got steeper and looser the nearer I got to the top, requiring the odd pause for lungs and legs to recover, before it finally flattened out. Food stop!

Top of Garburn Pass. The joys of the descent were to follow!
The descent from here was brutal. Despite dropping the seat to its minimum height and hanging my arse off the back of the bike I struggled to keep the bike pointing in the direction I wanted to go. A bike with a slacker head angle, better suspension and wider bars would have made life easier. So would being a bit stronger in the upper body, too much champagne and fine dining this week obviously. I now know how the ball in a pinball machine feels!

Down into Kentmere and then out again on High Lane heading for the next pass and the descent to Sadgill in Longsleddale. Another rocky climb but not quite as steep which was good as my legs were beginning to struggle. The descent wasn't as rocky as Garburn but made up for it in steepness. More hanging the arse off the back of the bike to remain in some semblance of control.

The exploratory climb up Gatesgarth Pass was too much to hope for as far as my legs were concerned so I bailed just at the start of the steep bit and turned around.

Don't be sad, Sadgill. you are lovely.
Time was running low, I was hungry and my freewheel had started making a clunk every revolution. Time to head back down Longsleddale to Staveley for a well deserved feed at the lovely Wilf's Cafe (lentil and black bean bake with sundried tomatoes and olives, a coffee and a big slice of chocolate cake since you asked) and good old browse at Wheelbase.

Nice waterfalls at Garnett Bridge
I bought a couple of Lakes MTB guidebooks in the bike shop and was slightly pleased to see that the route I'd taken gets a "very hard" rating in the book for the descent of the two passes I'd done. I'll come back when I'm fitter and better and smash it out properly next time. The broken freehub has been replaced and I'm servicing my fork ready for round 2!

Monday, 30 May 2016

Bikepacking 2: Kettlewell Trip

This is a slightly belated blog from the other weekend's bikepacking adventures. Chris put a shout out on Facebook for anyone wanting to join in on a trip up to Kettlewell, a camp over and a ride back the next morning. Jonny was keen, fabricating a bracket to fit a rear rack to his old Raleigh and Adam packed his panniers with samosas. Having a free evening, I jumped at the chance as I wanted to try out my new bikepacking bags from Alpkit. We met at Steeton train station on the Friday afternoon, ready for off.

Jenny loaded up with camping things. Bloody Alpkit fanboy...
It was a very pleasant spin up through Cononley into the back of Skipton and then out on the Grassington road, light sunshine and cloud. Traffic wasn't too heavy and was mostly respectful and well driven. It was good fun riding in convoy and with everyone loaded differently we looked like a proper travelling circus.

We took the road through Linton to Grassington and then the back road all the way up through Conistone to Kettlewell, this last bit proving especially quiet which allowed us to ride side by side and chat.

Tim (Full Of Win) had pointed us to the campsite in Kettlewell just behind the church on the back road, saying it had the poshest toilets he'd ever seen on a campsite. He wasn't wrong; nice sinks, underfloor heating and in very good condition! For the princely sum of £7 each we had a pitch for the night at the top of the field.

The Travelling Circus: Chris, Jonny, me, Adam
We knew it was forecast rain later so Chris and I took some time setting up our tarp properly. We were quite happy with the results too.

Tarp for two.
What did it look like inside? Have a look!

We meandered off to the Blue Bell (on another hot tip from Tim) in the search of pies of legendary status. We found them.

The meat and potato pie, which we all ordered, was marvellous. As were the pints of local ale, even the one we liked the least was pretty good. No room for pudding afterwards

It was drizzling outside so, tired and full, we quickly settled down and fell asleep, our tents and tarps resounding to the various sound effects that accompany a big tea and a few pints...

The rain kept me awake a far bit through the night, and I occasionally had to push the tarp to remove the accumulated puddle to stop it pressing on me. I got a the odd splat in the face which wakes you up very suddenly!

Adam left early to meet his family for his daughters first birthday, I unashamedly pulled my buff over my eyes and got a another hour's kip ;) It wasn't long before Chris and I roused ourselves, packed up, then stood around whilst Jonny faffed around a bit (plus ca change...) before we headed into Grassington to find a cafe for breakfast.

The roads were still damp but it was warming up and drying off quickly.

Grassington furnished us with a small bakery with some fab looking cakes but a bacon butty and tea was high on the agenda. We sat in the square, squeaky styrofoam cups of life giving tea, rustling paper bags with baked goodness inside, swallows singing on wires.

The ride back to Keighley was punctuated (ha!) by a shard of glass from a broken mirror by the roadside making it's way through my rather underinflated Conti Gatorskin tires. New tube, a higher pressure and we were off rolling again, back through Skippy town and down to Keighley.

We stopped in the cafe by the bus station for toasties where I bade Jonny and Chris farewell for their return leg to Huddersfield. I headed home, unpacked and promptly fell fast asleep on the sofa for a couple of hours, the lack of sleep the night before taking it's toll. Louise tried to rouse me to no avail, the cup of tea and apple went untouched!

A most enjoyable adventure.

Bikepacking Lessons Learned

  • The tarp needs to be tensioned enough on the edges to ensure it sheds water and doesn't accumulate a massive puddle. By the time it was wet the tarp weighed about twice as much
  • Try the bivvy bag outside of sleeping mat so I can sleep on my side, I cant sleep properly on my back!
  • Tire pressures, make sure you've got enough in there youth!
  • The Alpkit Koala setapack does woble around a bit unless you pack it super tightly and cinch the straps up really well. Once packed properly and strapped down firmly it's brilliant.
  • Packing the sleeping bag inside the bivvy bag, whilst very easy to get everything out and set up, makes for a larger pack size. Sort it.
  • Smaller tarp for solo adventures would be a good purchase.
  • As would a comfier saddle for longer adventures, the stock Genesis one is a little hard on one's posterior