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The Sachs Elan 12-speed hub
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by John
"Who's Afraid of the Big Bad Zwölf?"

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Elan 12-speed hub

There are also articles on this site more generally about internal-gear hubs
about Sachs/SRAM internal-gear hubs
and about the gearing of the Elan hub

Sheldon Brown's Internal-Gear Calculator

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A very brief history

Sachs introduced the Elan 12-speed hub in 1995. I saw an Elan at the Interbike trade show in Anaheim, California in 1996, and then didn't see one again. That is partly because I live in the USA, where internal-gear hubs were unpopular, and partly because the Elan was the first product of its kind.

The first internal-gear hub from a major manufacturer to offer as many speeds as a modern derailer system, the Elan was unreliable, and it weighed fully 3.4 kg (7 1/2 pounds). There's some irony in its sharing its name with the lightweight Michelin Elan, the pioneering high-performance clincher bicycle tire. The Elan hub's weight probably reflected Sachs's concern that the gears should be reliable. The gears are big and strong. Problems occurred elsewhere -- Bernd Sluka's photos show one type of problem. Also, pawl breakage was common.

After SRAM took over Sachs, the Elan was sold under the name E12 for a short time.

For years, I've wanted to have an Elan hub to tear down and examine. German cyclist Uno Blau also takes an interest in cycling oddities, and he granted me my wish. He scooped up a malfunctioning Elan and had it shipped to me, with a little help from a friend in the U.S. military. Soldiers have a hard job, but when possible, the U.S. government tries not to make it any harder than necessary. Soldiers can ship from overseas bases at domestic rates. That really helped with this project, considering the weight of the Elan!

I set about disassembling the Elan, probably a Humpty-Dumpty exercise -- I would probably not be able to put it back together again, much less repair it. I photographed it and took notes. You may view my photo album, which includes extensive commentary. I counted gear teeth and have prepared a detailed analysis of the Elan's unusual gearing system.

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Tony Hadland comments...

On reading the paragraphs above, Tony Hadland, author of a fine history of Sturmey-Archer and much more --see his Web site -- added the following:

I expect you know that Wolfgang Gronen, the sometime German national cycle racing team coach, was known as Zwölfgang because of his being a relatively early advocate of 12-speed derailleurs. Gronen was a good friend of my pal Arnfried Schmitz, though I never met him myself. Gronen bought a Vector and he and Arnfried home-brewed a rival HPV that had even lower aerodynamic drag. They tested both machines, using the German champ Scheller as pilot, in the Mercedes wind tunnel. I helped Arnfried write a paper on the subject for the 19th Cycle History Conference.

I remember when the Elan came out. A friend built one into a Moulton and I remember test-riding it around Moulton's estate at one of the annual Bradford-on-Avon Moulton events. (Always interesting, as the place buzzes with people from around the world who are interested in cycle innovation.) It seemed to work just fine and I'm pretty sure my pal also had a Schlumpf Mountain Drive in the front, thus giving an all-epicyclic 24-speed configuration - his front driveway was about 45 degrees, so he had a reason! But the killer was the Elan's weight. As I pointed out, Sachs made a clip-on petrol engine that almost certainly added less weight than the Elan hub. Nonetheless, I think it was important for Sachs to be able to say they had beaten Shimano in the numbers game.

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Also See

General information on Sachs/SRAM internal-gear hubs

SRAM 1999 Manual with information on the Elan/E12 in English (auf Deutsch) (en français)

John Allen's photos showing the internals of an Elan hub

Video of disassembly of an Elan hub (music starts as out as the theme from Edward Elgar's Enigma Variations...)

Bernd Sluka's posting of technical documents about the Elan (in German)

Sluka's photos showing how an Elan hub failed

Karsten Stilo's page about the Elan (in German, scroll down)

Stefan Brix's page about the Elan (in German)

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