£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).
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
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 🙂
- Note that I’ve also got an article on Sturmey Archer drum brake routine service