Technology is science made useful – well, that’s my excuse for posting this item, and the next, about two inventions that could impact cycling. Also, it’s hard to lose the habits I acquired as a budding news hound and I’d like to think I’m the first to bring them to a wider audience.
The first technology is that most mysterious of components – the hub gear. I guess it’s only enigmatic because it’s one of the few bits of a bike that you can’t see working. Those with oil under their nails and a lot of free time have probably taken them apart to understand exactly how the cogs and wheels interact. Me? I have the nails of a dilletante and the free time of a Mayfly.
Ben Cooper, though, knows more about these things and has kindly shared some of his knowledge with my via his tweets. He’s given me some background which helps to substantiate my suspicions that a new, humungous 16 speed hub gear is on its way.
I first got curious when I came across an academic paper (as you do when you’re me) published in Applied Mechanics and Materials. It covers a broad range of topics, including the updraft power of a solar tower, packaging and hydrology – but you, as a regular subscriber, would know that anyway.
Then, in its online edition of 25 January 2013, my eye was drawn as if by sorcery to a paper by Yi Chang Wu and Pei Wun Ren. I’d never come across their work before and forgive me if it’s not new to you, the regular subscriber.
It seems that Wu and Ren have been hard at work analysing hub gears. Not just any old hub gears, but enormous ones with 16 speeds. I’d never heard of such daring. Their paper, “Mechanical Efficiency Analysis of a 16-Speed Bicycle Transmission Hub” does just what it says on the tin. You, the regular subscriber, have probably digested it already but to me it was a revelation.
It showed that people are actually thinking of cramming 16 planetary gears inside the hub of a bicycle wheel. Heavens to Betsy. That could be so helpful for commuters in hilly cities and touring tandemists. Why has nobody every thought of it before?
Actually, it turns out they have. The very same Yi Chang Wu, then working with Shi Liang Lin, had written about it some two years previously. How I’d overlooked their paper “Conceptual Design of a 16-Speed Bicycle Drive Hub”, published in the March 2011 edition of Applied Mechanics and Materials, I’ll never know. I must’ve blinked.
And this is where Twitter came to my aid, in the generous form of helicopter and bicycle builder Ben Cooper. He gave me some history – saying that there had been speculation that Sturmey Archer had been working on just such a design but it was shelved when the company was bought by Sun Race in 2000 and all assets and production were moved to Taiwan.
That, for me, was enough to fantasise wildly. Sun Race is designing and making Sturmey Archer hub gears in Taiwan. Sturmey Archer’s assets may well have included designs for a 16 speed hub gear. Two papers co-authored by Yi Chang Wu are published about research into a 16 speed hub gear. Where is Yi Chang Wu based? Taiwan.
Putting it all together, in the excitable way of someone who has never looked inside a hub gear and whose own brain cogs are beginning to jam, the future of the world seems clear. Any day now Sturmey Archer will be launching a 16 speed hub gear – if they haven’t done so already by the time you read this. Remember where you read it first.
If you got carried away reading this as over-enthusiastically as I did writing it, you may like to check back in a few days to read the forthcoming post about the second new technology I’ve found that should soon benefit cycling and cyclists.