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Sturmey Archer wheel slipping / twisting
Hi all,
I've been having some serious problems with my old Hercules bike, hoping someone might be able to tell me what might be going on!
The problem:
No matter how many times I correct it, no matter how tight I tighten it, the rear wheel on my Hercules bike keeps slipping out of alignment while I am riding. The wheel has a Sturmey Archer 3 speed hub built in and orignally I though that perhaps the axle was bent, so I replaced the wheel all together. Just set up the new wheel last night, aligned and tightened it down tight, hopped on the bike this morning and within a few pedals the new wheel went cockeyed again.
I dont know what could possibly be causing this to happen, perhaps my frame is bent? I've taken some photos of the wheel after it broke again this morning and posted them below. Does anyone have any ideas on what might be causing this?
Any help would be greatly appreciated!
Sturmey Archer 001
Sturmey Archer 002
Sturmey Archer 003
Sturmey Archer 004
Sturmey Archer 005
Sturmey Archer 006

I also have a SA 3-speed hub on my '79 Raleigh. From the looks of your pics, it appears the back wheel is being pushed up against the left side, which means, more than likely the right side of the axle is slipping forward in the dropout. So, I would suspect the issue is on the right side. On my Raleigh, I have special "axle washers" that are mounted up against the drop out and then the axle nut tightens up against the washer. That axle washer has a tab on one side, designed to wedge into the drop out during tightening of the axle nut. That keeps the axle from slipping forward while pedaling. My question to you is do you have these axle washers? If not, there's your problem. If you do, then there's something else going on. On my bike, I can't just push that axle washer into the drop out. Only tightening the axle nut up against it will provide enough oomph to push the washer into the dropout. If your axle washer slides in there too easily, then perhaps the tab on the washer or the drop out itself has been worn down, thus it's not tight in there anymore, thus allowing the axle to slid forward while you're pedaling. Following is an excerpt from an article by Sheldon Brown on this subject. Hope this helps!!
"When you remove and re-install a 3-speed rear wheel, pay particular attention to the axle washers. The axles are flatted, and there are special anti-rotation washers keyed to the flats on the axles. These washers have tabs that must face into the drop-outs to help keep the axle from twisting under load. The axle nuts are easy to strip because of the interrupted threads on the flatted axle, so you should lubricate them with medium-to heavy oil or grease. They do have to be tightened quite securely."

Hi Asufan,
Thanks for the reply, much appreciated! I do indeed have the special washer you referred to in place. I have spent quite a bit of time the past few days trying to sort out what could be going wrong and I think I might have it fix (at least for now!).
I greased the axle before I screwed the nut on this time around and, contrary to what I might have thought, it hasn't twisted since. Perhaps the grease allowed me to tighten it just a little more than I was previously tightening it? No idea, but at least it seems to be working for now.
Do you know if the special axle washers are supposed to be inside the fork (facing out) or outside the fork (facing in)? Does it matter as long as the groove is in line with the dropout?
Next order of business....getting my gears adjusted properly (middle gear is freewheeling :/).
Thanks again!

Sounds like you are making progress. As far as which way the washer faces, from your pictures it looks like you have it correct. The sequence of events in installing the washers and nuts is 1: slip the wheel onto the dropouts. 2. Install the washers on both sides so the tabs will slid into the dropouts. 3. Thread on the axle nuts. 4. Make sure the tabs on the washers are lined up correctly. 5. Pull the wheel back in the dropout so the slack in the chain only has about 1/2" movement up/down. and at the same time the wheel is centered. 6. Tighten down the axle nuts (I do this in stages - a little tight on the right side, then left side, back and forth) - the gradual tightening will force the washer tabs into the drop outs. While you're doing this, continuously check to make sure the wheel is still centered and the slack on the chain is correct. 7. Thread on the bell housing on the right axle (has the view hole for observing the indicator spindle (small chain).
As for your hub freewheeling in second gear, this is more than likely due to incorrect tension on the shift cable. I assume you know how to adjust the tension. The trick is to have the end of the small chain of the indicator spindle lining up with the end of the axle while in 2nd gear as you look through the view hole on the bell housing. By tightening or loosening the cable tension, you should be able to get this lined up. I do my tightening while the shifter is in 3rd gear (easier to get more tension) and then shift to second and observe through the view port. Of course you have to then give the bike a try and you may have to do some final tweaking on the cable tension to get it just right.
Also, make sure you are properly lubricating the hub assembly through the oil port on the outside of the hub. In sufficient oil is a major cause of what appears to be malfunctioning 3 speed hubs. After much research on what is the proper oil to use, I found you need to have a straight 20W oil with no additives. The perfect choice is 3 -in-1 MOTOR oil. It comes in a small BLUE colored squirt can. I got this at my local ACE hardware store.
Good luck!!

Thanks again asufan!
I found that I have a broken chain link, so i had to temporarily fix my chain and move my wheel forward in the dropout (causing the sturmey tension chain to have too much slack and constantly slip in 2nd gear), but Im planning on getting a new chain tomorrow and getting this sucker back to homeostasis. So far so good with the slipping, all has been well the past couple weeks!
Thanks for the info on the motor oil as well. Ive been using a drop or two of Phil's tenacious oil, but wasnt sure if that was ok or not.

Having a temporary fix for your chain (and thus moving the hub forward in the dropout) will certainly throw the cable adjustment out of whack and more than likely was causing the gears to slip.
As for the oil to use, it probably doesn't matter that much which brand you use, but the key is a straight 20W oil without additives. I found the 20W info on-line in the original Sturmey Archer literature from the time. They actually supplied a 20W oil, but that's impossible to get anymore. I've decided on one without additives because my experience with these hubs tells me that one can end up with a "varnish" coating the internal parts of the hub over time that also will cause the hub not to work very well. And that varnish, more than likely would come from either too heavy an oil - or - additives in the oil. I actually contacted the WD 40 company (they make the 3 in 1 oil products) to verify the oil weight and lack of additives on their MOTOR oil.
One last thing on the oil. If you are adding oil on some set frequency (the hub usually tells you when it's time), you are correct in adding only a few drops. I usually drop in about 5 or so drops of oil and I do this when the hub seems to start having some difficulty shifting easily. You can also tell from the loudness of the ticking noise during freewheeling, but that's more difficult to detect over time.
The old SA hubs are a great example of outstanding engineering and craftmanship and if understood and taken care of properly will last decades of time. I seem to remember reading somewhere in the old Raleigh marketing literature that their bikes were built to last a 100 years!! I'm not sure about that boast, but I do know that my 30 year old bike runs about as good as when it was new!!


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