Review: Sturmey Archer S3X: Three Speed Fixed Gear

The boys at Ben's Cycle laced the SX3 to the a black Velocity Deep V, which matches the wheelset I had on the Excersizer.

Like the fixed gear, but don’t like the hills?  Sturmey Archer SX3 to the rescue. I picked mine up from Ben’s Cycle, which sells the hub for $179.00. The S3X is much different than most SA 3-speed hubs.  It still has the usual planetary gears and suns that are clutched to the axle to engage the drive, but it lacks some of the other bits, like prawls.  That makes it a bit more dependable for those of you who may have had a bad experience sprinting hard on an old three speed.  This should give you a bit more confidence going into that no handed skid on the S3X.

The S3X has a 1:1 ratio in first gear, a 25% reduction in second gear and a 37.5% reduction in third.  This means if you run a taller gear, second becomes your primary running gear.  You can use first gear so you don’t spin out going down hills and third gear is your climbing gear.  I decided to run a 15 tooth rear cog and a 50 tooth front chainring combo, for about 88 gear inches.  I typically run a 40 or 44 with a 15. 

The test machine: 1992 Koga-Miyata "Excersizer."

The set-up is pretty standard on the Koga, but I put the anti-slip slotted washers on the inside of the dropouts to make up the difference between the 120 spaced hub and the 126 rear spacing on my bike.

I built up the S3X on my Koga Miyata “Excersizer,” an old Dutch road bike I bought about 5 years ago new old stock from my buddy Eric.  The advantage of using the road bike frame is that it has shifter mounts on the down tube.  The S3X comes with an indexed bar end shifter, but I opted for the cleaner cable housing free Campy Nuovo Record shifter set-up.  You need to make sure the shifter is snug,  but other than that, it is a pretty clean way to go as long as you have the shifter boss. You could always add the bosses with a tubing clamp like they did on the older frames if you don’t have the braze-ons.

Vintage Campy Nuovo Record shifter, clean and simple.

Even in the stand, it was obvious that this is not a zero lash hub.  This might bother some fixie afficianados. I used an old top-dead center indicator I had and measured between three and four degrees of lash at the crank.  That is similar to what other reviewers reported so I new I had it set up properly.

Three degrees of lash at the crank feels like you are running a loose or worn chain on a regular fixie.  It is most noticable when doing a track stand. Otherwise, I did not find it bothersome at all.  My buddy Jason Sanchez rides almost nothing but fixed gear bikes, and he said it did not bother him when he gave it a spin.

First impressions were made on a ride with Jason to see the Labor Day Parade.  The shifting was very smooth and I had no trouble using the friction shifter.  There was solid and obvious engagement when shifting.    There is a free-spin neutral, but if you make a very defininte shift, you should not have any trouble with it.

Teamsters in the Labor Day Paraged roll by Jason's cool ride. This bike was built by Jonny Cycles and won best track frame at the 2006 National Handbuilt Bicycle Show.

On my ride to work this morning, I was able to ride in second gear most of my way.  Today’s route downtown was a slight downhill most of the way with a couple small climbs and bigger downhills thrown in for fun.  The real test came when I hit 12th and Wells, a long bigger downhill.  Without spinning like a sewing machine, I took advantage of the 88 inch 1st gear, and I was able to surf the Wells Street green wave signal progression all the way from 12th to Water St. SWEET!

I will give a climbing update later this evening since I now have to ride up all those hills into a fierce headwind to get home.  So check back later.

About Dave Schlabowske, Deputy Director

Dave was the first full-time staff member hired to open the Bike Fed's Milwaukee office 15 years ago. A former professional photographer and life-long Milwaukee resident, Dave likes wool, long rides, sour beer, and a good polar vortex once in a while.

7 thoughts on “Review: Sturmey Archer S3X: Three Speed Fixed Gear

  1. Hey Dave. That is such a beautiful bike. I am impressed.
    But yeah I would love to know how to get the same bullhorn that you have in the top image. That polished aluminum shines so nicely and the crosscut on the end is a cool flare. I just ordered the S3X and now I wait.

    After I finish this build and test it’s workings I’ll be giving it to pops! I hijacked his old school steel frame italian bike and am doing a fix up for him.

    Yeah just email me.

  2. Hey Dave, I read you review and ordered a S3x for my old German built Hercules steel frame. Could you share some info about your chainline and how you got it straight, using what crank with what BB width. I understand that the S3X mandates 42-45mm. Thanks in advance! -Andreas

    • Andreas, I did not do anything special to set the chainline since I was just using the wheel for the review. I just left the old BB in and everything ran fine. I’m sorry, but I don’t remember the spindle length on the BB in my Koga-Miyata Exercizer. I could pull the cranks off and measure it if you really want, but I suggest you just run the narrowest BB that will fit the frame. I doubt you will have any problems. Shoot me a photo and email (overthebars (at) yahoo (dot) com) after you build up the bike. I’d like to hear your impressions to see if they match with mine. Do you plan on using the SA shifter?

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