Sturmey Archer X-FDD review

£60 drum braking, electricity pumping hub of win

The other two bikes in my house have pretty conventional front hubs – one hydraulically braked Deore disc (on the hardtail) and a featherlight radially spoked carbon rim job (on the recumbent).

x-fdd-catshot

So, with the Sturmey Archer X-FDD – a 70mm drum brake / dynamo mash-up – I crossed into two unknown voids: the creation of light on demand, and all-weather braking that never needs adjustment.

Note that I’ve also got an article on Sturmey Archer drum brake routine service

Field test

To be fair, I was lucky enough to sell myself on this hub by trying one in the flesh – probably not an option for most people who are not lucky enough to live close to Laid Back Bikes in Edinburgh.

However, David at Laid-Back has a Paper Bicycle equipped with this very hub, and while that bike is certainly a more sedate sort of vehicle than the one I planned to build, a hub’s a hub and I cheerfully hopped on for a quick whizz round Marchmont one Saturday afternoon.

lb-paper
Image from Laid-Back-Bikes.co.uk

I was mainly keen to try the hub braking – if you pop on the internet and search for drum brakes, you will find a variety of opinions spanning the spectrum of “it sucks!” to “it’s great”, probably with a healthy bias towards the former. Happily, I disagree. The lever and brake feel is very different to an Avid Elixir hydraulic or a Dura-Ace dual caliper but I found the hub had a nice predictable bite-point and was easily modulated – it also slows me down just about as fast as I’m comfortable with on the road, and I’m no shrinking violet.

The real clincher came when I decided to turn on the lights. “Okay, so there’s no noticeable friction riding around like this, but I bet it will be a different story when I turn on the juice”. I was tickled pink when I realised that the lights had been on throughout the test ride and I really couldn’t tell the difference.

It’s all very well “knowing” that a dynamo slows you down, but if you can’t tell when you switch it on and off, what on earth is there to worry about?

Spec & Build

So, a couple of weeks later I was lacing a shiny new X-FDD into a front wheel for the urban utility weapons system that is the ‘White Fright’. The hub comes in 36h only, which is fine because if you’re putting together a wheel around a hub like this, there’s no plausible reason to care how many spokes it has.

x-fdd-front

Similarly, I can report that the hub is heavier than the hub on my carbon race wheel, while confirming that it is not significantly heavy if you are interested in what a drum/dynamo hub represents in the first place.

x-fdd-side

The one downside to running a hub brake is that you get this reaction arm sticking out of the brake plate, which needs to be secured to the fork leg. Proper forks would have a custom braze-on for this to slot into, but in the absence of this you need to make do with a jubilee clip. Not the prettiest, and adds a few seconds onto a wheel swap, but not much of an inconvenience.

I guess you could look upon it as an offset against never having to think about batteries for your bike ever again.

[edit Feb 1st] I was reminded by the good people of YACF that Sturmey provide a band-on for the reaction arm that lets you remove the wheel tool-free. I forgot all about this as it was hopelessly undersized to go around a modern fork – if you have one of the slender steel jobs though, this would be great.

Performance

I’ve now been running the X-FDD for a little over two months / 500 miles. In that time I haven’t really thought about it at all, and certainly haven’t adjusted it. When I get on my bike the lights come on, and when I pull the brake lever the brake slows me down.

It’s powerful enough that I have to be careful with the lever to avoid tearing out the studs from my Marathon Winter tyres, and I’ve also ridden with a gross weight of around 180kg (bike plus rider plus trailer plus 73kgs of wood), as reported elsewhere.

wood

In my opinion it’s virtually flawless for its intended market. It cost less than a Deore front hub plus a replacement LiPo battery for my Ay-Up headlights. It will stop you without drama (in pouring rain) even if you are to bike maintenance what Philip Hammond is to transport policy. It will drive a blinding German dynamo headlight and accompanying tail-light without you being able to tell if it’s off or on.

Sure, it’s heavy, the laws of physics demand that the dynamo works by slowing you down and it’s a bit marmite in the looks department (I was unsure at first, but now love it!), but if you’re worrying about the weight or efficiency of something like this, you should either be completely reassured or give up the idea of a utility wheel completely, because you just don’t have the right frame of mind.

A real no-brainer in my opinion. I got mine from Derek Folgate at Old Bike Trader, who will be pleased to send one your way :)

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14 Comments

  1. Thanks for the write-up. Most interesting. I have no idea of drum brakes and assumed this hub was a rear wheel hub so you have an idea of my knoweldge of them, so this question may sound pretty stupid, but if you need to remove the wheel for a puncture repair does the jubilee clip need to be removed as well? Other hassles in such a situation?

    Thanks
    Andrew

  2. Dave

    You have to loosen the clip, yeah. My multi-tool has a screwdriver anyway so it’s not much extra hassle, apart from the time – a few turns is all it takes.

    In the top photo, the vertical black arm is the brake pivot lever sort of thing, which the cable attaches to – while the one pointing 45 degrees down and away is the reaction arm – it keeps the brake part from spinning around when the pads hit the inside of the drum.

    When fitted, it will be the one pointing up!

    The only other thing you need to do to get the wheel off is disconnect the dynamo wires, but that’s just a plug that you push on and off, half a second.

  3. Dave

    Also see my edit (in italics). If your fork isn’t too large, you can get a band-on which allows the wheel to slip in and out. One is actually supplied with the hub but it would only fit the nice steel classic forks, not a burly one like mine:

    http://www.sjscycles.co.uk/sturmey-archer-brake-arm-clip-7-8-inch-hsl703-prod19293/

  4. I used one of these on a fork which was too thick to use the included reaction arm clip. I thought about using the sort of solution you have, but I didn’t want the extra hassle when removing the wheel. The solution I came up with was ugly but functional.

  5. will

    Ive had a pair of these hubs but without the front dynamo since 19992…. they are still going strong, on original bearings and brake shoes, the front is virtually bullet proof. the weak point on the rear is the axle which can and does break, twice in fact whilst carrying a heavy touring load. you can carry a spare which comes with bearings and is easily fitted by drifting out the old and the new one in its place. you can do it on the roadside using just a hammer and a block of wood or tree stump or fence post to rest the hub on. Braking is very good and not affected by rain but you can get brake fade on a long descent when the hub gets very hot. I squirt water from my bottle onto the front hub whilst descending if this happens.

  6. James Craig

    That’s a good write up, just what I’m looking for on the beater bike. There is no mention of brake lever, does it work with a standard amount of cable pull? i.e. will a regular old mountain bike brake lever for canti’s do the trick?

  7. Dave

    Hi James, you want short pull (road) levers for these.

    Cheers,

  8. John

    Thinking about one of these for the rear of a raptobike – almost seems wrong, but the question is…

    Drilling out the reaction arm to bolt through the disc mounts – would they even close to fit along the frame in a sane manner?

    I suppose I could ask a similar question – is the arm the same as on other SA drum hubs? I have a couple of those in 451 rims (That would really recline the raptobike) which I could offer to test.

  9. Dave

    Hi John,

    All the various coaster brake hubs I tried on my (so-called) “maintenance free” bike had the reaction arms bent gently and bolted to the rear disc mount. Should be fine.

    Dave

  10. John

    Yes, more interested in the pure alignment in many ways… Rapto is pretty 😉
    Although looking at a couple of other drum brakes I have I could probably get a reaction arm engineered if I was really fussed 😉

    Probably still want a disc up front though, after the dual discs on the ICE trike it’s scary how damned long it takes to lose speed…

  11. John

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