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There are also articles on this site more generally about internal-gear hubs
and about the Sachs Elan 12-speed hub and the Orbit
and one about Sheldon's bicycle with a 9-speed SRAM hub
Sheldon Brown's Internal-Gear Calculator
The German company Fichtel & Sachs, often called only "Sachs", has been manufacturing internal-gear hubs longer than any other except Sturmey-Archer. In 1997, the American company SRAM acquired Fichtel & Sachs, and so current products carry the SRAM name.
In the mid-20th century, Sachs specialized in products for utility cyclists -- two-speed kickback hubs, three-speed hubs and coaster brakes -- while Sturmey-Archer offered a broader product line, including many narrow-ratio hubs intended for use by avid recreational cyclists and racers.
Starting in the 1980s, Sachs expanded its line of internal-gear hubs to include 5-speed and 7-speed models and hybrid gearing systems -- first the Orbit, a two-speed hub with proprietary sprockets, then the three-speed DualDrive 3 x 7, 3 x 8 and 3 x 9 hubs using Shimano-compatible cassettes. The DualDrive hubs are especially useful on small-wheel bicycles, because the step-up top gear avoids the need for an extra-large chainwheel. In 1995, Sachs introduced the Elan, a very large and heavy 12-speed hub which was a marketing failure. In the 2007 model year, SRAM introduced the i-Motion 9-speed hub.
SRAM internal-gear hubs are notable for the fine quality of machining of their internal parts. Gear-tooth surfaces and bearing races are smooth. The SRAM 3-speed, in particular, has higher measured drive efficiency than with other 3-speed hubs, possibly resulting from the quality of the machining.
Sachs/SRAM internal-gear hubs are quite rugged, like classic Sturmey-Archer hubs. The mechanical design is relatively simple and conservative; even the 7- and 9-speed hubs use only single-stage planetary gearing. Older hubs shifted with pullchains, but one weakness with recent hubs is the plastic "clickbox" shifter mechanism which clamps onto the right end of the hub axle and is vulnerable to damage. A guard is sold, and it should always be installed. With the new 9-speed hub, SRAM has abandoned the "clickbox" for a rotary-shifting mechanism inboard of the right dropout.
Shifters can be an issue with SRAM hubs. Older Sachs 3-speeds and the 3 x 7 used a trigger shifter like Sturmey-Archer's, which could be fastened to any handlebar. A Sturmey-Archer trigger also will work with these hubs A Sachs trigger will not work with a Sturmey-Archer hub, which needs a longer cable pull between the top and middle gear. An old Shimano front-indexing STI shifter also works with a Sachs hub -- I have a matched set of Shimano RSX STI brifters shifting the 3 x 7 on my Bike Friday, and the hub shifts flawlessly. The newer SRAM hubs which use the clickbox are generally available only with twist shifters that fit flat handlebars. SRAM's assumption seems to be that performance-oriented bicyclists don't care to use internal-gear hubs -- a bit of a self-fulfilling prophecy. There are various tricks to make the SRAM shifters compatible with drop bars -- for example, attaching a bar end to the stem.
The 5-and 7-speed models with clickboxes use a single cable and concentric pushrods, with a dual bellcrank inside the clickbox. I've considered modifying a 7-speed to use a pullchain on the left side and bellcrank on the right.
The 3 x 8, 3 x 9 and Spectro T3 are supposed to be used only with their proprietary shifters, but they use a pullrod, suggesting that a conversion to use a pullchain might be possible. Shimano-compatible cassettes that attach to DualDrive hubs work with a wide range of derailers and shifters.
The DualDrive hubs have aluminum shells and are relatively light in weight. Other than this, SRAM has paid relatively little attention to weight reduction over most of its internal-gear hub product line. Many models have been available only with heavy steel shells. The Spectro S7, for example, was made in three versions -- with no brake, with a coaster brake and with a drum brake. They all weigh about the same. You might expect the drum brake version to weigh more, but it is the only one with an aluminum alloy shell. The steel shells of the other 7-speeds are very thick and heavy.
The recently-introduced i-Motion 9-speed hub has been described as a "cannonball" because of its size and weight! A version with a carbon fiber shell has been marketed, but the weight of the internal parts still is substantial.
Many Sachs/SRAM hubs have coaster brakes, and these hubs must be lubricated with grease -- often two types of grease: one for the gear mechanism, so it doesn't make the pawls stick; another for the brake parts, to resist heat buildup.
Other recent Sachs and SRAM internal-gear hubs also use grease lubrication, and also have no oil cap. Except for the i-Motion 9, these hubs all allow addition of oil by removing the shifter parts and squirting oil into the hollow end of the axle. (The disk-brake version of the i-Motion 9 can be lubricated through one of the disk-brake bolt holes at the left side). Oil is preferable for its lower rolling resistance, and because it can be replenished without disassembling the hub. Caution also is in order not to use much oil when it could seep through the bearing into a drum brake
Phil Wood Tenacious Oil is a good choice, if used in moderation and replenished once every thousand miles or so, or at least once every couple of years. Too much oil will get messy, while stale Phil oil will gum up and can make the pawls stick. The stickiness that keeps Phil Wood oil from being messy also allows it to gum up.
My favorite Sachs/SRAM hubs are discontinued models -- the 3 x 7 DualDrive, discontinued in 2000, and the S7 7-speed with drum brake, discontinued in 2010.
I prefer the 3 x 7 over the more recent DualDrive models because it has pullchain shifting, no vulnerable clickbox, and is compatible with a drop-bar shifters. I have equipped the 3 x 7 on my Bike Friday with a 13-15-17-19-21-24-28 cassette. I intend to add a sprocket. To do this, I will have to dish the innermost sprocket, or bolt it onto the next one. The 3 x 7, unlike the later DualDrive models,can take an 11-tooth sprocket only after modifying the cassette body or adding a spacer as described here.
The S7 7-speed hub has very evenly spaced drive ratios, which I could set up for an overall range from 27 through 82 gear inches. The weight of the drum-brake version is reasonable, thanks to the aluminum shell. I plan to build an S7 into a wheel for a Raleigh Twenty.
I have spares of both hubs or I wouldn't be using them.
Harris Cyclery does not specialize in Sachs/SRAM internal-gear hubs, largely because, as of 2010, SRAM does not provide much product support for them in the USA. My own experience is illustrative: I needed two internal parts for a 3 x 9 DualDrive hub. Harris Cyclery was unable to order them through SRAM in the USA. Bike Friday installs DualDrive hubs on many of the small-wheel bicycles it manufactures, and so I contacted Bike Friday's German distributor -- writing in German, yet! I found that the parts would cost me over $200, nearly the full price of a complete internal assembly.
I finally got the idea to contact Bike Friday directly. Bingo! Bike Friday cannibalizes returned DualDrive hubs to maintain a supply of spare parts. Tim Link at Bike Friday was able to send me the needed parts for $30. Thanks Tim! If you also need parts for a DualDrive hub, you might give Bike Friday a call.
Aaron's Bicycle Repair in Seattle, Washington, USA specializes in repair of internal-gear hubs and stocks parts for SRAM hubs including discontinued models.
In Europe, Sachs/SRAM hubs are common and spare parts, both new and used, are more widely available.
The axle threading of SRAM internal-gear hubs is close enough to that of classic Sturmey-Archer hubs that axle nuts are interchangeable. This compatibility can be useful, especially if you need to replace the flared nut through which the pullchain runs.
Whatever... my intention here is to provide the best information I can on rebuilding Sachs/SRAM hubs. My first line of advice, if you live in the USA, is to keep a spare hub for parts. I'll recommend some information sources, going from the newest to the oldest hubs:
SRAM keeps an excellent resource online, including technical manuals for current and recently discontinued hubs. You can start with SRAM's technical page. The Product Manuals and Quick Starts listed on that page cover installation and adjustment of hubs.
If you are going to rebuild a hub, then you need to look at the Technical Manuals and Spare Parts Lists. The manual for each year is very similar except for the introduction of new models and deletion of discontinued ones. The 1999 manual, the earliest one which SRAM has posted online, is the only one which covers the Elan/E12 and the 3 x 7.
Sutherland's Handbook of Internal-Gear and Coaster Brake Hubs, now online on this site, has very complete information, including trouble charts and comparative parts lists, on Sachs two-speeds and the models 415, 515, H3102 and H3111 3-speeds. (Disclaimer: I was one of the authors!) The Third edition of Sutherland's Handbook for Bicycle Mechanics, published in 1981, and Fourth Edition, published in 1985, cover most of these hubs. Many bicycle shops keep copies.
Karsten Stielow's site Karstilo.net covers many Sachs hubs from the 1960s onwards.. The text is in German but there are many exploded drawings and photos.
Walter Jakuba, Das Zweirad -- this site has ample information on Sachs hubs from the 1950s through 1990s. The site is in German but the clickable links in the column at the right side identify each hub by the model name and number. Most of the exploded drawings and parts lists are in both German and English. They are best viewed if you right click (in Windows; or use a similar command on the Mac) and select "Only This Frame". Das Zweirad sells a considerable selection of spare parts for Sachs and SRAM hubs.
Jens Hansen's Scheunenfun (barn-find bike fun) site has information on many older Fichtel & Sachs hubs: exploded drawings, parts lists and step-by-step rebuilding instructions, with photos. The text is in German, but the drawings should make the rebuilding process clear enough. Hansen sells replacement parts for older hubs, too.
|SRAM Corporate Site|
|SRAM Internal Gear Hub page|
|SRAM History Page|
|SRAM Technical Page|
|Sachs Elan 12-speed Hub|
|Sheldon's bicycle with a 9-speed SRAM hub|
|SRAM hubs on sale at Harris Cyclery|
|Aaron's Bicycle Repair|
|Karstilo.net (in German; many drawings and photos)|
|Articles by Sheldon Brown and others|
Last Updated: by Harriet Fell