Hub gear

Hub gear
A Sturmey-Archer AM bicycle hub gear mechanism with the ring gear removed to show the compound (stepped) planet gears.
Epicycle gears as implemented in common bicycle 3-speed gear hubs: the sun gear (yellow) is fixed, the sprocket drives either the ring gear (red) or the planet cage (green), and the hub is driven by either the ring gear (red) or the planet cage (green), depending on the gear selected.[1]
This belt-drive on a Trek Soho is fitted with a sprocket too.
Traditional 3-speed thumb-lever shifter.
A modern SRAM Spectro S7 twist-style seven-speed indexed shifter uses the same bowden cable as the older lever.
SRAM Dual Drive combination derailleur gears and hub gear
14-speed hub cutaway diagram
Rohloff 14 speed internally-geared rear hub

A hub gear,[2] internal-gear hub,[1] or just gear hub[3] is a gear ratio changing system commonly used on bicycles that is implemented with planetary or epicyclic gears. The gears and lubricants are sealed within the hub-shell of the bicycle's rear wheel, as opposed to derailleur gears, where the gears and mechanism are exposed to the elements. Changing the gear ratio was traditionally accomplished by a shift lever connected to the hub with a Bowden cable, and twist-grip style shifters have become common.

Hub gear systems generally have a long and largely maintenance-free life though some are not suitable for high-stress use in competitions or hilly, off-road conditions. Many commuter or urban cycles such as European city bikes are now commonly fitted with 7-speed gear-hubs and 8-speed systems are becoming increasingly available. Older or less costly utility bicycles often use 3-speed gear-hubs, such as in bicycle sharing systems. Many folding bicycles use 3-speed gear-hubs. Modern developments with up to 14 gear ratios are available.



Before epicyclic gears were used in bicycle hubs, they were used on tricycles. Patents for epicyclic hubs date from the mid-1880s.[4] The first patent for a compact epicyclic hub gear was granted in 1895 to the American machinist Seward Thomas Johnson of Noblesville, Indiana, U.S.A.[5] This was a 2-speed but was not commercially successful.

In 1896 William Reilly of Salford, England patented a 2-speed hub which went into production in 1898 as 'The Hub'.[6] It was a great success, remaining in production for a decade. It rapidly established the practicality of compact epicyclic hub gears.

By 1902 Reilly had designed a 3-speed hub gear. He parted company with the manufacturer of 'The Hub' but had signed away to them the intellectual rights to his future gear designs. To circumvent this problem, the patents for Reilly's 3-speed were obtained in the name of his colleague, James Archer.[7] Meanwhile, well-known English journalist and inventor Henry Sturmey had also invented a 3-speed hub.[8] In 1903 Frank Bowden, head of the Raleigh cycle company, formed The Three-Speed Gear Syndicate, having obtained the rights to both the Reilly/Archer and Sturmey 3-speeds. Reilly's hub went into production as the first Sturmey Archer 3-speed.[9]

In 1902 Mikael Pedersen (who also produced the Dursley Pedersen bicycle) patented a 3-speed hub gear and this was produced in 1903. This was said to be based on the "counter shaft" principle[10] but was arguably an unusual epicyclic gear, in which a second sun was used in place of an ring gear.[11] In 1904 the Fichtel & Sachs company (Germany, Schweinfurt) produced a hub gear under license to Wanderer, and by 1909 there were 14 different 3-speed hub gears on the British market.[12]

By the 1930s hub gears were used on bicycles all over the world. They were particularly popular in the UK, The Netherlands, the German speaking countries and Scandinavia. Since the 1970s, they have become much less common in the English-speaking countries. But in many parts of northern Europe, where bicycles are regularly used as daily transport rather than merely for sport or leisure, hub gears are still widely used. The cheaper and stronger (but less reliable) derailleur system now started to appear and offer a wider gear range.

By 1987 Sturmey-Archer made only 3- and 5-speed hubs, and Fichtel & Sachs and Shimano made only 2- and 3-speed hubs. In that year the first book (apart from service manuals) for some 80 years dealing solely with epicyclic bicycle gears was published.[13] Since then there has been a slow but steady increase in interest in hub gears, reflected in the wider range of products now available.

In 1995 Sachs introduced the Elan, the first hub gear with more than 12 speeds, and an overall range of 339%. Three years later Rohloff came out with the Speedhub 500/14, a gear hub with 14 speeds and a range of 526%, comparable to that of a 27 speed derailleur gear system, and also sufficiently robust and light weight for mountain biking. In 2007 NuVinci started manufacturing stepless ∞-speed (CVT) hubs for commuter bicycles, with a range of about 350%.

As of 2008, Sturmey-Archer makes 3-, 5- and 8-speed hubs, SRAM (successor to Fichtel & Sachs) make 3-, 5-, 7- and 9-speeds and Shimano make 3-, 7- and 8-speeds. In February 2010 Shimano announced the introduction of the Shimano Alfine 700, an 11-speed model.[14]

Though most hub gear systems use one rear sprocket, SRAM's Dual Drive system combines an epicyclic hub with a multi-speed rear derailleur system to provide a wide-ranging drivetrain concentrated at the rear wheel. In 2010 Canyon introduced the 1442, a hybrid hub which uses a similar epicyclical/derailleur combination.

Brompton Bicycle have their own design, with a two-speed derailleur coupled to a special three-speed wide-ratio Sturmey-Archer hub, the "BWR" (Brompton Wide Ratio). The system is useful for folding bicycles (where a multiple front chainset could foul the bike's folding mechanism) and in recumbent bicycles and freight bicycles (where small wheels and/or increased weight require a wider range of gears with smaller steps). Hub gears have in the past also been used on motorcycles, although this is now rare.

Principle of operation

The simplest 3-speed hubs use a single planetary epicyclic gearset. The sun gear (in yellow above) is mounted solidly to the axle and is thus fixed. In low gear, the sprocket drives the ring gear, also called the annulus, (in red above), while the planet carrier (in green above) drives the hub, giving a gear reduction. In mid gear, the ring gear is connected to both the sprocket and hub, giving a direct drive. The planets (in blue) cycle freely. In high gear, the sprocket is switched to drive the planet carrier, while the ring gear remains connected to the hub, giving an overdrive gear.

The hub axle of a hub gear (unlike that of a derailleur system) will carry torque in all gears except direct drive, and so must be securely braced against rotation. While anti-rotation washers between the dropout and axle nut have often proved adequate, wider-ranging modern systems use a reaction arm affixed to the chain stay. Rear wheels with drum brakes (a feature on some commuter bicycles) require a reaction arm anyway.

Most hub gears are operated in a similar manner, with a single twist, trigger or thumb-shifter. An exception is the older style of Sturmey-Archer 5-speed, which used a second shift cable to change between close and wide-range sun gears, effectively giving two 3-speed hubs in one unit. The middle gear in both ranges was direct drive, so there were five distinct gears. They could either be controlled with a special 5-speed shifter which operated both cables, or with a regular 3-speed shifter and a friction shifter.


  • Hub gears are sealed within the hub, which protects them from water, grit, and impacts. Thus hub gears usually require less maintenance and can be more reliable over time than comparable external derailleur gear systems, which may require more adjustments and replacement of parts (front chainrings, rear sprockets, narrow derailleur-chain).
  • Hub gears completely avoid the danger of collision with the spokes and wheel-collapse that derailleur systems can suffer.
  • Hub gears can change gear ratios when the rear wheel is stationary. This can be useful for commuter cycling with frequent stops and for mountain biking in rough terrain.
  • Hub gears can be simpler to use for inexperienced riders, because there is generally only a single shifter to operate and there are no overlapping gear ratios. By contrast, modern derailleur systems often have two shifters, and require some forethought to avoid problematic gear combinations.
  • Hub gears provide a means for shifting gear ratios on drivetrains incompatible with external deraileurs such as belt drives and shaft drives.
  • The single chainline allows for a full chain enclosure chain guard, so the chain can be protected from water and grit and clothing can be protected from contact with the lubricated chain.
  • The single chainline does not require the chain to bend or twist. As a result, the chain can be constructed differently, with parallel pins instead of barrel-shaped ones.[15] Line-contact between the bearing surfaces, instead the point-contact of a derailleur chain, greatly extends the working life of all components.[citation needed]
  • On bicycles with fixed chain-lines, no chain tensioner is required, eliminating a part that could otherwise become damaged in rough terrain- an advantage for off-road cyclists. Where a tensioner is required, a short cage is usually sufficient to take up the chain slack.
  • The single external sprocket means that the wheel can be built with no or much less dish, making it stronger than a similar wheel dished to accommodate multiple sprockets. The hub shell of gear hubs is also often of a larger diameter than that of derailleur hubs, meaning the spokes on such wheels may be shorter, making the wheel stronger, and allowing for the use of fewer of spokes.[citation needed]


  • Hub gears are typically more expensive than derailleur systems.
  • At commuter/recreational power levels, current gear-hubs are typically about 2% less efficient than reasonably maintained derailleur gears.[16][17]
  • Gear-hubs will tend to be heavier than equivalent derailleur systems, and the additional weight is concentrated at the back wheel. On rear-suspension bicycles in sporting use this unsprung weight will adversely affect traction and braking.
  • Gear-hubs are more complex and, aside from the simpler 3-speeds, may be difficult for the ordinary rider to repair - most certainly not as a side-of-the-road procedure.[3] However, failures generally give plenty of warning and repair may be an option.[citation needed]
  • Gear-hubs systems are generally incompatible with quick release mechanisms/skewer axles.[1]
  • The gear-hub is an integral part of the wheel and it is not possible to change the wheel without also changing the gear mechanisms.

Hub gears in everyday use

  • Traditional hub gears are indexed at the shifter making operation dependent on correct cable tension (and lubrication thereof). In practice, gear-jumping and consequent internal damage are unusual except in high-mileage units. Modern hub gear-units incorporate the indexing in the unit itself and are therefore unaffected by shifting malfunctions caused in this way.
  • The Sturmey Archer and Fichtel & Sachs 'Torpedo' systems defaulted to top gear at slack-cable, which could make the bicycle usable for long distance travel in flat terrain even if a fault developed in the change mechanism (rather like a derailleur system, which can be manually set to a high gear in case of a similar fault). Some modern hub gear systems (e.g. 7-speed Shimano) default to bottom gear and are thus more dependent on the (generally) very reliable cable-pull.

Hybrid gearing with derailleurs

Some systems combine internally-geared hubs with external derailleurs. A freewheeling hub with a sprocket suitable for narrow chain can be combined with a double or triple crankset and front derailleur, in order to provide a wider range and closer gear ratio spacing. A chain tensioner or a rear derailleur is needed to take up chain slack, and care is needed not to over-torque the hub by using too small a chainring/sprocket ratio.

Alternatively, some hubs can accept two dished drive sprockets,[18] between which the rider can switch with a rear derailleur. Careful sprocket selection can allow the available gear ratios when using one sprocket to fall half-way between those available when using the second sprocket, providing half-step gearing, as on the Brompton 6-speed folding bicycle. This concept is used and extended in the SRAM Dual Drive system, where a conventional multi-speed cassette is mounted to a 3-speed hub. A similar version of the ever-popular AW hub is manufactured by Sturmey Archer. This system may be useful on bicycles which cannot accept a front derailleur. The German company Canyon introduced the 1442 in 2010, a hybrid hub which uses a similar epicyclical/derailleur combination.

When both front and rear derailleurs are used with a geared hub, the result is a very wide-ranging drivetrain, at the expense of increased weight and complexity.

Advanced hub gears

Advanced hub gears offer a higher numbers of gears by using multiple epicyclic gears driven by each other. Their ratios are chosen to give more evenly spaced gears and a larger total gear range. The operating principle of such units is the same as with less advanced systems, with a trigger or twist shifter with sequential shifting.

  • The 12-speed Sachs Elan was the first hub gear with 10 or more speeds in the market (1995-1999). Unfortunately, it was considered heavy and plagued with quality issues, hence discontinued after a few years.
  • The 14-speed Rohloff Speedhub hub gear, introduced in 1998, has a range exceeding 5 to 1, and are now more comparable to 24-speed or 27-speed derailleur systems, since the latter have three overlapping ranges often with only about 14 distinct gears. As there is no overlap, the hub gear is easier to operate, and an oil bath creates a comparable mechanical efficiency to derailleur gears.
  • The 11-speed Shimano Alfine 700 hub gear, introduced in 2010, has a gear range exceeding 4 to 1, comparable to 20-speed derailleur drive-trains, and internals running in an oil bath, for greater mechanical efficiency.

List of multispeed hub gears

This list is of multispeed hub gears with 7 speeds or more. It may be incomplete.
Brand Product Introduced Discontinued Speeds Gear width Weight[19] purpose
Rohloff AG Speedhub 500/14 1998 14 526% 1700 g (non disc)
1825 g (disc)[20]
Sport, Touring
Shimano Alfine SG-700 2010 11 419% 1600 g (claimed)[21][22]
1744 g [23]
City, Sport
Shimano Alfine SG-500 2006 8 307% 1600 g City
Shimano Shimano Nexus Inter-8 8 307% 1550-1990 g City
Shimano Shimano Nexus Inter-7 1995 7 244% 1465-1860 g City
Sachs/SRAM Corporation Sachs Elan 1995 1999 12 339% 3500-4000 g City
SRAM Corporation SRAM i-Motion 9 2005 9 340% 2000-2400 g City
SRAM Corporation SRAM Spectro S7 2010 7 303% 1645-1826 g City
Sturmey Archer XRF-8 2007 8 305% 1480-1600 g City


See also

Transmission types
Continuously variable
Bicycle gearing
v · d · e



  1. ^ a b c Sheldon Brown. "Internal-Gear Hubs". Retrieved 2011-11-20. 
  2. ^ Oxford English Dictionary (2nd ed.). 1989. "derailleur, n. 1950 Chambers's Encycl. II. 307/2 The most popular variable gear in Great Britain is the 3- and 4-speed hub gear... 1959 Elizabethan Apr. 35/1 My lightweight bike with 4-speed hub gear..." 
  3. ^ a b "The Internal Gear Hub Review". Retrieved 2011-11-21. "Now you should be able to choose the gear hub group which fits your personal cycling pourose best!" 
  4. ^ Berto, Frank; Tony Hadland, Jan Heine, Raymond Henry, Gordon Selby, Ron Shepherd, Walter Ulreich (2009). The Dancing Chain : history and development of the derailleur bicycle, Third Edition. San Francisco, CA, USA: Van der Plas Publications/Cycle Publications. p. 34. ISBN 1892495414. 
  5. ^ Hadland, Tony, The Sturmey-Archer Story, Pinkerton Press, Birmingham, 1987, pp.18-19
  6. ^ Hadland, Tony, The Sturmey-Archer Story, Pinkerton Press, Birmingham, 1987, pp.19-22
  7. ^ Hadland, Tony, The Sturmey-Archer Story, Pinkerton Press, Birmingham, 1987, pp.26-29
  8. ^ Hadland, Tony, The Sturmey-Archer Story, Pinkerton Press, Birmingham, 1987, pp.31-34
  9. ^ Hadland, Tony, The Sturmey-Archer Story, Pinkerton Press, Birmingham, 1987, pp.35-38
  10. ^ Evans, David E. The Ingenious Mr Pedersen, Alan Sutton, Stroud, 1992, p.49
  11. ^ Hadland, Tony, The Sturmey-Archer Story, Pinkerton Press, Birmingham, 1987, pp.65
  12. ^ Hadland, Tony, The Sturmey-Archer Story, Pinkerton Press, Birmingham, 1987, pp.67-68
  13. ^ Hadland, Tony, The Sturmey-Archer Story, Pinkerton Press, Birmingham, 1987.
  14. ^ dave_atkinson (2010-02-05). "Shimano announce Alfine 11 speed | | The website for pedal powered people: Road cycling, commuting, leisure cycling and racing. Voted the UK's number 1 cycling website at the 2010 BikeBiz awards". Retrieved 2010-12-14. 
  15. ^ "Hub gears - chains". Retrieved 2010-12-14. 
  16. ^ "The mechanical efficiency of bicycle derailleur and hub gear transmissions". 2001. Retrieved 2011-07-22. 
  17. ^ "Efficiency Measurements of Bicycle Transmissions". 2004. Retrieved 2011-07-22. 
  18. ^ Graham Moult (2007). "Sprockets for hub gears". Retrieved 2011-09-30. "Your chainline can be affected by whether the sprocket is flat or dished - the smaller sprockets are generally flat, the larger ones are tend to be dished, and the mid-sized available in both shapes." 
  19. ^ excluding auxiliary components
  20. ^
  21. ^
  22. ^
  23. ^

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