by: Bryn Hughes – Originally Published on on 2007-02-05

Getting Started

Sturmey Archer hubs definitely have their personalities.  They are not the strongest hubs in the world and are not suitable for abusive riding styles but many models are quite well made with quick decisive shifting, smooth operation and are generally quite reliable.  However things DO go wrong from time to time.  This article will tell you how to diagnose problems with your Sturmey Archer hub and how to keep it in tip top operating condition.

Cable Adjustment

By far the most common source of problems for Sturmey Archer hubs is the shift cable adjustment.  There’s nothing in the hub itself that ‘clicks’ in to place at any particular gear, that job is left to the actual shifter itself.  This means that the adjustment of the shift cable is CRITICAL for proper operation of the hub.  In fact riding around with your shift cable out of adjustment will not only make your bike difficult to shift but will cause a lot of wear in the hub as the pawls won’t be able to engage properly or two gears will try and grab at the same time.

There’s a lot of information out there that says your hub should be adjusted by looking at some little notches on the indicator spindle itself – ignore all that.  It’s not a very reliable method to begin with and a LOT of Sturmey hubs don’t have their original indicator spindle anymore.  Since the EXACT placement of the notches varied hub model to hub model this method is unreliable at best.

By far the simplest way to adjust a Sturmey shfter cable:

1. Put the hub in HI gear, the cable should have very little tension at all or even be slightly slack on some hubs
2. Put the hub in LOW gear, the cable should be quite tight.  You should have enough slack to be able to pull about 1/3 of a link of the indicator spindle chain out but that’s IT!

On some hubs you may have to turn the pedals a bit to get it to go between gears – this is especially true on the older AW/S3C/TCW hubs where things are built a bit heavier.  The shift cable should be checked at LEAST every few times you go riding.  Just put the bike in low and give the cable a little tug – if the indicator chain moves more than 1/3 of a link at the hub then it’s too loose!  if it won’t move at all then it’s too tight.

Chances are any problems you were having with your Sturmey hub are now gone.  If not, read on!


Pre-1991 Sturmey Archer hubs are all oil lubricated.  They’re also not sealed particularly well so they will seep out their oil a bit over time.  Therefore it’s important to give them a little shot of oil every now and then. I personally use 10W30 motor oil in my oiled Sturmey hubs – it has detergent in it which will clean out any deposits that have formed in the hub, good ‘cling’ factor like a heavier oil but is light enough not to interfere with the hub mechanism.

You can tell if your hub needs oil by the sound.  The pawls in a ‘dry’ hub will have a very ‘bright’ loud tick to them.  When the hub is properly oiled they’ll sound smoother and a bit quieter.  You should always be able to hear the pawls on an AW, AWC, S3C, TCW or any of the other non-silent Sturmey hubs when the hub is in 2nd or 3rd gear, if the pawls sound sluggish and sticky then you’ve probably got old nasty oil in there or the oil is heavily contaminated.  You MIGHT be able to get away without a teardown for cleaning by spraying a healthy dose of a very light penetrating oil like WD-40 or  carb cleaner into the hub and then giving it a thorough exercise.  Expect to have a lot of it wash out the sides of the hub and drip all over the floor – that’s just how these hubs work.  Afterwards put at least a tablespoon of proper oil into the hub and expect some of that to run out as well.  This will flush out the old junk in the hub and can often free sticky pawls without having to actually get in there, one of the benefits of an oil-filled hub!

Cone Adjustment

Cone adjustment on Sturmey Archer hubs does NOT work the same as on regular single-speed hubs!  Repeat after me – DO NOT mess with the right hand *(drive side) cone unless you know what you are doing.  The only time the right hand cone should be touched is during hub service.  Then and only then adjust it as follows:

1. Tighten the cone finger tight until it bottoms out and won’t go any further.
2. Back off a half turn and replace the lockwasher.  Loosen the cone up to 1/4 turn more to get the lock washer to fit, NEVER tighten it.
3. Don’t touch it any more!

The right hand cone adjustment also sets the clearances for all the 3-speed parts internally, incorrect adjustment will quickly savage your hub.

Now, on to the left side cone… A correctly adjusted Sturmey Archer hub should have very slight play at the rim.  If you spin the wheel and the hub is ‘grabbing’ and turning the pedals or you notice the pedals turning when you push the bike then the cone is probably too tight.  If there’s excessive play in the rim then it’s too loose.  You’ll know you’ve got it right when the hub operates smoothly and will freewheel for a long time but there isn’t much play.

It’s Still Not Working!

So, still no luck?  Here’s the most common faults in the hub that will prevent things from working as they should:

FaultProbable CauseFix
High gear will not engageWorn pinion pins, worn drive clutchReplace pinion pins and drive clutch – ALWAYS replace both!
Low gear will not engage or slipsBroken pawl springsReplace pawl springs
Worn pawlsReplace pawls and pawl springs
Low gear drive separated from hub shellReplace hub
Middle gear will not engage or slipsBroken pawl springsReplace pawl springs
Worn pawlsReplace pawls and pawl springs
Coaster brake not functionalHub is a TCWReplace hub
Cones too looseAdjust cones properly (note on late AWC, SRC3/S30 loose
cones can cause brake failure)
Brake band worn (S3C, early AWC)Replace brake band
Brake shoes worn (late AWC, SRC3/S30)Replace brake shoes
Low gear/brake separated from hub shellReplace hub

The good news is most of the common wear parts are dirt cheap and readily available from a few different places.  The pawls, pawl springs and pinion pins are pretty much the same across a lot of these hubs but the actual drive clutch varies by model.  The most commonly available parts are for the AW hubs but will fit some other hubs as well.  Check the service manuals for specific part numbers.