Hub gear systems generally come with a small number of gears (three is common). They have the advantage that you can change gear when the bike is stationery. However, since they are generally less efficient than derailleurs, a hub geared bike can require more energy from a cyclist to get it going.
NB Here we’re talking about gear systems priced at £500 or less. More expensive hub gear systems exist which overcome some of the limitations discussed on this page.
There are various makes of hub gear, none of whose components are cross-compatible since each works in a different way. Here are the three main brands of hub gear available to the UK market.
These comments are based on my experiences of owning two bikes with Sturmey Archer AW hubs.
- strongly built
- there are lots of them around so parts are easy to find
- the traditional thumb shifter is robust and suits a range of handlebars
- if ridden while incorrectly adjusted the hub innards can wear unevenly which can result in a sudden loss of drive when changing gear (‘neutral’)
- difficult to adjust the bearings which can lead to resistance – meaning you have to work harder
This comes in a 3 speed, 4 speed, 7 speed and 8 speed version. These comments are based on my experience of a 3 speed.
- quick gear engagement makes for crisp changes
- the gear shifters are the grip shift type so they are only suitable for flat handlebars and they are made of plastic
- when it is poorly adjusted, no gear is engaged (‘neutral’)
- when the wheel is off the bike, the long slim gear changing pin protrudes and can fall out or get knocked
These comments are based on my experience of a SRAM dual drive system which had a 3 speed hub.
- a range of gear shifters is available, including some that hang beneath the handlebar like rapid-fire shifters
- the adjuster that connects the gear cable to the hub (known as a click box) is made of plastic and can be tricky to reattach
- when the wheel is off the bike, the hub gear pin protrudes slightly and is somewhat vulnerable to being bent
A weakness in each of these designs, although less so with the Sturmey Archer, is it can be fiddly to remove and reinstall the rear wheel, which is sometimes necessary if you get a puncture. A single speed bike will not have these problems – and nor will one with derailleur gears, as long as the wheel is removed using the correct method.
Other types of gear