Shimano make some pretty excellent hub gears. I added a 3 speed Nexus coaster brake hub to the Kona Africa Bike and I was very happy with the performance of the hub. In London, the Boris bikes use the roller-brake version of this same hub, and it performs admirably in a rather harsh application. I also have used Shimano Nexus 7 and 8 speed hubs (and the Alfine 8 speed hub) on numerous bikes, including on my visit to Practical Cycles. Each time my experience with these hubs has been very positive.
The Sturmey Archer 3 speed hub (X-RD3) on my DL-1 has broken again. I have yet to open it up, but so far it feels like it is the same problem as last time. The excellent reputation of the Sturmey 3 speed hub, combined with my own very positive experiences of its reliability lead me to think that the re-occurrence of the problem is probably (at least partially) a result of my last repair job. It has been my intention for some time to eventually upgrade the DL-1 to either a 5, 7 or 8 speed hub when finances permit. For the moment however, they do not permit, so I have decided to re-build the rear wheel with the Nexus 3 speed coaster brake hub I have spare from the Kona Africa Bike. This is the cheapest option available to me as I already have most of the parts, and I should be able to re-use the existing spokes.
When I originally upgraded the Kona Africa Bike from a single to a three speed hub, I remember looking at Shimano hub gears online. The prices often seemed quite reasonable at first, but unlike their Sturmey Archer counterparts Shimano hubs are not sold complete with shifters. This might seem only a minor irritation, however it then becomes apparent that the hub doesn’t come with the bell-crank mechanism which changes the gears either. Luckily, the bell crank and shifter can be bought together as a single pre-calibrated unit. Great. But then it turns out that the hub doesn’t come with the axle nuts or the non-turn washer to fit it. Some of the websites listing the hub sell a “Fitting Kit,” for the hub, presumably it contains the axle nuts and non-turn washer needed to fit the hub, and possibly a sprocket and snap ring. This shall have to remain a mystery for now, because none of the websites which sell the fitting kit offer any sort of useful description of what it contains. Luckily it is fairly cheap, so it is not that much of a gamble. The sites selling the hubs also list the Push Rod as a separate item. The hub doesn’t come with a push rod, despite it being an integral part of the hub and the fact that there are not multiple push rod options available for a given hub (the push rod to be used is axle-length dependent). Does the fixing kit come with a push rod? Who knows? It is fairly cheap at least, so I buy one anyway.
Clearly this is not a good way to do business. Hub gears are not going to be big sellers to individuals, the market for these hubs is primarily going to be OEMs who may have access to Shimano sales reps to help them through the Shimano parts jungle. However, there will still be a number of enthusiasts and even smaller OEMs who are put off by the needless complexity in the way Shimano sells hub gear equipment. Surely Shimano could make sure that websites selling their parts actually know what they are (I’m looking at you Bikester). Surely they could include all of the necessary equipment (such as axle nuts and push rods), or sell “hub kits” which include all of the parts of the hub for a given drop-out type (where applicable).
As it currently stands, Shimano are shooting themselves in the foot by making the purchasing of their hub gears into a massive pain in the arse for the enthusiast market. Their rivals in this market, Sturmey Archer, have happily been selling hubs with the shifter, axle nuts and even all of the internal parts of the hub included in the deal for years. When I initially upgraded the Kona Africa Bike to a three speed, the confusion, lack of information and sheer number of extra parts I would’ve had to buy to build up a new 3 speed wheel led me to buy a separate bike with the hub I wanted (a Raleigh Drift), converting it to a single speed (using the original Kona wheel) and selling it on. Surprisingly, that was the more simple option open to me at that time. I shall document my experience with Shimano spare parts here, simply to make life easier for other people in the same situation.