Sturmey-Archer is almost as old as cycling itself. Since Henry Sturmey and James Archer of Nottingham patented their first three-speed hub gear in 1902, a lot has happened in bicycle design.
However, Sturmey still exists and, although now under Taiwanese ownership, still produces gear systems remarkably similar to the original ones – indeed, the classic AW hub that uses epicyclic gearing principles originally described by James Watt for a 1781 steam engine is still a current model.
Under the curatorship of Alan Clarke, who went to work for the company in Nottingham in 1969 and is the only Englishman left (now based at the European headquarters in Amsterdam), Sturmey-Archer’s ‘heritage’ website records for posterity many of the images used in the company’s marketing over the decades, as well as the technical drawings and a whole host of other documents, and it has become a sort of company pictorial history.
There’s even a facsimile of the original 1902 patent application. The retro enthusiast can also uncover sales catalogues, newspaper articles, production information and even views of the Nottingham factory.
One of its most famous vintage ads is the cartoon of Lucien Petit Breton, winner of the Tour de France in 1907 and 1908, sitting astride a giant, gleaming Sturmey-Archer hub holding up two fingers and a thumb.
He rode the 1913 Tour on a three-speed hub and may have secured a Tour de France win for Sturmey-Archer if he hadn’t collided with a dog and crashed out injured. He was killed in 1917 in World War One.