Can i pimp my Pashley?
June 30, 2010 4:18 PM   Subscribe

Cycling filter: can i add more gears to my 5-speed Pashley Sonnet Bliss?

I have a Pashley Sonnet Bliss, which I love dearly. It uses a 5-speed Sturmey Archer gear hub, which works fine, but i live in hilly Edinburgh, and a few extra gears wouldn't go amiss so I don't have such massive jumps between 1st, 2nd, and 3rd in particular. I've only just realised that Sturmey Archer have an 8-speed hub - is it possible that a bike mechanic could easily swap to this hub on my Pashley? Would it involve some ridiculous amounts of labour, or is it a simple thing to do? If it is possible, would I see a significant benefit from it?

Assume I know nothing about gears, because I don't. I'm the kind of cyclist that worries more about how pretty her helmet is rather than her gear ratios. And i'm sorry in advance if this is a dumb question!
posted by ukdanae to Health & Fitness (22 answers total)
The wheel is built around the hub, so to swap out your current hub with the 8-speed (which should be entirely possible) a mechanic would have to disassemble the entire wheel.

That means unlacing every individual spoke, then building the the wheel back up around the new hub.

It's certainly not impossible, but it will not be cheap—it's going to be a few hours of labor, at least. Definitely not a "while you wait" job.

You might see some benefit from it, but I doubt it would be a ride-transforming modification, and my instinct is that it would probably not be worth the hundred (at least, probably more) pounds it would cost.

My advice is to drop by your friendly neighborhood bike shop and see what they have to say on the matter.
posted by pts at 4:27 PM on June 30, 2010

Swapping a geared hub involves a rebuild of the wheel. It's certainly possible, even trivial, for someone with a lot of experience building/rebuilding wheels. Labor cost varies from shop to shop. Alternatively, you could just buy a new wheel, which would make it much easier to swap back to the 5 for whatever reason. You'd still pay to build it; the only additional cost would be rim and spokes.

The only things that may be incompatible are: your frame's dropout width (unlikely that the 8 is different from the 5) and your shifter. You'll probably need a new shift lever, indexed for 8 speeds instead of 5. And make sure that the new 8 speed hub is the hub-brake model.

Your local bike shop would be the starting (and possibly ending) place for all of this. Make sure you ask about the ratios and ranges of the two hubs, and think about whether you want a wider range (i.e., more gears on either side) or just closer ratios (i.e., more gears in the middle). You can also swap out your cog to make all the gears effectively "higher" or "lower".
posted by supercres at 4:29 PM on June 30, 2010

Short answer - probably something can be done, but how complicated/expensive it gets depends on some factors. I know a lot more about Shimano and Campy components than the british stuff you're describing, but I'll assume it all works about the same.

Most hub systems that get more gears on the wheel do so by some combination of making the cogs narrower and to some extent changing the angle of the spokes on the rear wheel (called "dishing" the wheel to accomodate the cogs).

So - some potential scenarios:
- easiest - your mechanic might just have to change the cog and retune your derailler.
- next best - he/she might have to replace your derailler and/or shifter if your shifter is what's known as an "index shifter." Does the shifter click into place on each gear, or do you gradually, smoothly move the derailler from cog to cog and adjust the lever for minimum noise?
- a bit worse - the wheel might have to be rebuilt if the cog requires a different hub and the spokes have to be dished differently in consequence. The bit about the derailler still applies in this scenario as well.
- forget about it - the 8-speed hub and cog system require a wider gap between the two brackets that hold the rear wheel on than you have. I've heard of people bending on these brackets or the chainstays to increase this gap, and you might be okay if the frame is steel, but I don't think it's a good idea. However, this is a rare scenario, as the framebuilders and component builders make this stuff fairly standardized and these dimensions only seem to change every generation or so.
posted by randomkeystrike at 4:35 PM on June 30, 2010

I would add that in this circumstance, the bike shop's approach will not be to reuse your spokes and will, instead, cut the spokes off your current hub, unscrew them from your rim, then re-lace the new hub to your old rim with new spokes. The cost of new spokes is minimal compared to the labor of having to remove them with an eye towards reuse.

Also, it's possible that an 8 speed hub might have slightly higher or wider flanges, which will require new spokes anyway. You're talking about a game of millimeters, where being slightly off on a spoke length calculation can cause problems in the wheel build further down the road.

A hundred pounds would probably be a worthwhile starting point.

A possibly cheaper alternative, if you don't mind losing a bit of speed at the top end, is to have a bike mechanic swap the cog on your hub or on your front crank to use something a little more optimum for climbing. A larger cog on the hub (or conversely a smaller cog on your crank) will make hill climbing easier at a cost of limiting the amount of power that you can generate at higher speeds and is much less complicated than building a new wheel.
posted by bl1nk at 4:36 PM on June 30, 2010

On modern japanese kit like Shimano, some cog changeovers can be done without dropping the hub out, IIRC. Ex. going from an older 7 speed to a newer 8 speed. Overall cassette width sometimes the same because they got the additional gear in by making all the cogs thinner. Dunno if this applies here.
posted by randomkeystrike at 4:37 PM on June 30, 2010

You'd need a new wheel with the new hub and you'd need to replace the shifter. Not impossible, but those internal hubs are expensive. Assuming you have rim brakes and need the brakeless hub, the hub+shifter alone is about $200 USD. Building a wheel around it is, I dunno, maybe $100? I have no idea. Installing it is probably another $50-$100. So I'd guess $400.
posted by GuyZero at 5:01 PM on June 30, 2010

randomkeystrike -- I think your advice is ignoring the fact that the questioner is using an internally gear hub, not a cassette. These don't use derailleurs or necessarily worry about dropout widths. Think of it more like a singlespeed with multiple gears built inside the hub.
posted by bl1nk at 5:14 PM on June 30, 2010

I work in a bike shop. This is NOT a trivial task -- the bike you have is not meant to be easily customized. The easiest (and, in my opinion, only worthwhile) option would be to replace the front chainring with something smaller.
posted by randomstriker at 5:15 PM on June 30, 2010

Wow, these answers are surprising me. If the hub is the same width I can't see why a wheelbuilder couldn't just clip the spokes and relace it with the 8sp hub. All of the Sturmey Archer 5sp hubs are 36 spoke, as is the 8sp in question. You might also need a new 8sp shifter if the one you have is 5sp-specific. I'd estimate US$300 tops.
posted by rhizome at 5:28 PM on June 30, 2010

Also, pimpwise: consider the 14sp Rohloff Speedhub.
posted by rhizome at 5:31 PM on June 30, 2010

Here's where I hope my nearly decade-out-of-date Scottish cycling information is still useful: Talk to Al Gow of Wheelcraft - 01360 312709 - if he's still in business. His little shop in the impossibly scenic Clachan of Campsie is all about the wheels. He builds wheels for customers worldwide. He makes the strongest coffee in christendom. He rides an original Sturmey-Archer 3-speed fixie, and has done for decades. He has opinions.

There might be two difficulties fitting the S-A 8-speed to your bike:
  1. the axle length seems to be longer on the 8 than any of the 5-speed options. I mean, they used to be able to wedge a Sturmey Sprinter 5 into the weentsy spacing of a Brompton, but the 8 is a bit of a beast.
  2. The 8 speed's direct drive is in 1st gear, so your Pashley's existing chainweel will result in stupidly high gears.
A smaller front chainweel, or larger rear cog, might be a better option. The larger rear cog might not mess with your chainguard so much.

Congrats on your Pashley! They are made of solid awesome, and you will love the ability to stop in all weathers, and never have to deal with the abominable footeriness that is the derailleur. I used to bomb along the Forth & Clyde on an old Pashley delivery bike, and it was built like (and weighed only slightly less than) a tank.
posted by scruss at 5:35 PM on June 30, 2010

I second randomstriker on the chain ring switch. If you can switch out the chain ring (the cog attached directly to the pedal/crank) it's the difference between hours and minutes of work. Do you spend much time in 5th gear? If not, it gives that much more weight to switching chain rings. Those internal gear hubs are closer to car transmissions than the shimano/campy/etc open cassettes.
posted by Carbolic at 5:37 PM on June 30, 2010

I agree with scruss but beware of fixie riders with opinions. (Which means all fixie riders. /not a fixiest)
posted by Carbolic at 5:41 PM on June 30, 2010

You can indeed "pimp your Pashley." Here is the blog of a woman who did just that, whose aesthetic appears to be compatible with yours, and who did exactly what I think you should do-- replace your rear wheel entirely with one incorporating a Shimano seven speed hub:

Just to be clear though, those adjustments were not because anything was wrong with the bike. They were done because I asked for a Shimano 7-speed coaster brake hub to be installed instead of the stock hub when I was buying my Pashley. So naturally, this involved rebuilding the rear wheel, re-attaching the chaincase, and all sorts of other modifications. Whatever they did to it, the chaincase is "like buttah".

As the Sonnet lacks a chain case, the job will be much easier on your bicycle.

Then you will have two very nice rear wheels, each adapted to different conditions and in case one becomes damaged, as they are wont to do.
posted by jamjam at 5:52 PM on June 30, 2010

Carbolic, Al is not one of those fixie riders. He looks like a hibernating bear pulled out of its den, shoved into mouldering bib tights, then sent on his way on a classic Reynolds/Brooks/Sturmey-Archer steed - yet will blaze past you on the road. He builds wheels for everyone from DH kids to Graeme Obree. Al Gow is the Chuck Norris of the spoke key.
posted by scruss at 5:56 PM on June 30, 2010

OK. You have what they call in the trade an "Internal Gear Hub" or "Internally Geared Hub" - either way it's shortened to "IGH."

There are three parts to an IGH system on a bike like yours, the hub, the shifter and the brake. Swapping out the hub is fairly straightforward - you swap the rear wheel for a new rear wheel with a new hub built-in. The local shop can do this for you, or you can buy a new wheel with the hub already built in.

Once that's done, you have to swap the shifter - and this is generally a very easy job. The local bike shop can do it for you, but if you're handy enough to put together Ikea furniture, you're more than handy enough to swap out the shifter and cable.

The third bit is tricky - the brake needs to be built into the hub. You can't upgrade to a disk, as there are no attachment points for a disc brake caliper on your frame. You can switch to a traditional rear brake, but you'd need to buy and install the brake and re-route the brake cable. Another option is to switch to a coaster-brake, but the braking motion - pedaling backwards - is unacceptable to many riders.

Sturmey-Archer makes an 8-speed IGH with a built-in drum brake like the one you've got - and they're the only ones.

Rolhoff makes a 16-speed IGH, but relies on disk brakes. (And it's very pricey, tho worth it in terms of performance and reliability.)
SRAM's iMotion9 is a 9 speed IGH, but your choices here are disk or coaster brakes.
Shimano's 8-speed Alfine is also dependent on disc brakes.

So, I would recommend upgrading to a Sturmey-Archer 8-speed hub with drum-brakes, and I'd look at swapping the chainring (the gear attached to the pedals up front) for a size or two smaller. This will help cure your hill problem.

If you have a bike shop do it, it will be expensive, but nowhere near as expensive as a new Pashley.

A much cheaper option is to do it yourself - buy repair lessons and rent shop time at the local bike co-op (and some of them will let you pay with sweat-equity - volunteer labor, and they'll trade you shop time), and have some of the resident mechanics help you if you get stuck. (They won't do the work =for= you, tho.)

Once upgraded, your bike will see you through a few decades of service with basic maintenance. Pashley makes a nice bike.
posted by Slap*Happy at 8:30 PM on June 30, 2010

The 8-speed would give you a wider gear range (325% versus 256%) and more points along that range, but it won't necessarily change what the lowest gear ratio is.

Do you use your top gear much? If what you really want isn't more gears but a lower first gear (and I do think the Pashley's is much too high), you can get a rear cog with more teeth, which will shift your existing gear range downwards. I don't believe this is difficult or expensive.
posted by parudox at 8:53 PM on June 30, 2010 [1 favorite]

Wow, all of you are completely awesome. Thank you so much for such detailed, helpful advice. I can't mark a best answer, because you would all get it!

I didn't realise that replacing the front chainring would also be an option, and to answer Carbolic, i hardly ever use 5th gear. For me, 5th gear is a downhill gear to get some extra speed. 1st gear is only used for massive death hills (the queen's walk, for anyone who knows it), and I spend most of my time in 3rd, 4th for completely flat, and 2nd for hills.

scruss, thank you for the recommendation for Al -- i will look him up!

I think my plan of attack will be a) speaking to a bike shop about the whole project, but b) focusing on the front chainring to see whether changing that alone will improve my ride. It's good to know that if i want to do the whole project it's not going to cost me the whole cost of the bike again.

Again, thanks everyone - you're brilliant!
posted by ukdanae at 12:14 AM on July 1, 2010

(it's also worth noting that 1st gear doesn't entirely get me up the massive death hills - just to be 100% sure, am i understanding correctly that replacing the front chainring would make that low gear (and all the other gears) even lower, and help with that?)
posted by ukdanae at 1:58 AM on July 1, 2010

bl1nk - okay. As caveated, I'm more familiar with modern, typical, Japanese stuff. Wow, haven't personally encountered the internal hub gear setup on a bike since I was riding around on my mom's 3-speed as a kid.
posted by randomkeystrike at 6:34 AM on July 1, 2010

Slap*Happy, Shimano also make the 8-speed Nexus that takes a roller brake - uses the same clamps as a hub brake. Keeping the same chainring, it would basically give one slightly lower gear than the S-A 5, and couple of closer intermediates.

To use the 8-speed Sturmey-Archer, you'd need to use one of the tiny compact S-A chainsets; keeping the one that's currently on the Sonnet would turn its 35-90" gear range to a bone-cracking 56-183". Not even the track stars at Meadowbank go that high.
posted by scruss at 8:14 AM on July 1, 2010

ukdanae: "am i understanding correctly that replacing the front chainring would make that low gear (and all the other gears) even lower, and help with that?"

yep, if it's a smaller one!
posted by rhizome at 2:38 PM on July 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

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