Review: Sturmey Archer S2 Duomatic Hub 700C Wheel

My bike has a split personality. The tame side of its personality is slow and easy. The wild side likes to hammer.

The main problem with my bike is it has no in-between.

When I first installed the Sturmey Archer S2 Duomatic (as though that isn’t a mouthful…try dropping that casually into conversation), I thought I would only use the lower gear for climbing hills. I didn’t reckon on playing two games of soccer that night and riding into a headwind on heavy legs the next day. I rode almost all of the ride in the lower gear and was happy for it. Never having had gears before it felt odd to be going so slow but I have to admit I was grateful for the lower gear. So the Sturmey Archer S2 Duomatic proved its worth.

If you’re not familiar with the Sturmey Archer S2 Duomatic, it’s an internally geared hub with two gears activated by back pedalling.

(Kick shift. I tried doing this with my staff but it met with a negative response.)

Sadly, the Sturmey Archer S2 Duomatic (sheesh! how about Duomatic from here on?) can’t stop people trying to run you off the road. I was not five minutes down the road when some prick in a flat bed truck thought he’d casually drive over me as he rolled into the next bend. I was on a downhill section running toward a green light on a busy intersection (read: long wait if I missed it) so I kicked back into the big gear and gave it some berries on the downhill run. It was pretty cool being able to kick into a bigger gear and really give it some, or would have been if the guy in the flat bed truck hadn’t tried to run me over. Neither of us made the light so I was able to tell him he was a jollly silly man (or words to that effect) while we waited for the next green. Point here is, the Duomatic (almost) proved itself again. That top gear really hauls.

On the way home from that ride I had a tail wind, so the smaller gear really wasn’t usable. The bigger gear was tantalizingly fast and so I mashed the pedals and enjoyed the speed. I mashed up my legs too. They’re not new legs, they’re old man legs, and they really needed a rest after the double soccer from the previous day. Perhaps I can’t blame the Duomatic because it had saved me on the headwind leg of the journey, so I came out about even. Point is, the Duomatic has two distinct rides and you have to choose between the two. And they’re a long way apart.

I’ve had a couple of instances with the Duomatic where I was glad for the lower gear, the gear I thought I’d never use (except for hills). It has extended my riding period into our warmer weather by allowing me to coast along in an easy gear. I like to ride to my clients but I don’t like to arrive all sweaty. I’ve used the Duomatic to allow me to cruise to the client and then I’ve kicked into the big gear to hammer it home again.

Despite it’s uses the Duomatic has its problems. The main problem is the two gears are just too far apart. When I said my bike has a split personality, it really does. The two gears are so far apart you really have to choose between personalities. Are you going to hammer it or are you going to cruise? There is no middle option. Also, you loose your favorite gear, the one you’ve been riding around on all this time. I really miss my gear. I’ve done all my riding on that gear, both my fixies have similar gears, every bike I’ve ever tested has the same gear, and it’s a familiar friend that gear. Now I have one that is quite a bit higher and another that is lower. It’s like three little bears without the porridge that was just right.

The other problem I have with the Duomatic is the shifting. I have read other reviews that said after a few rides they totally got the hang of changing gears. Well I’m quite a bit more stupider than them because I’ve been riding around for weeks and there is still a considerable element of guess-work going on. There are rather distinctive clicks when you back-pedal and for a while I thought two clicks was a change. Not so. One click isn’t it either. Try three clicks? I’m not sure exactly what makes it change and I get it right first time only about 50% of the time.

Another issue with the shifting is it’ll shift gear when you don’t really expect it. Here’s a kind left-field example. I ride off a bike path onto a curved dirt path and across a little bridge. I like to skid into the turn, line up the bridge and push on. It’s not important to do it this way but cycling is about fun and this is one little fun thing I like to do. Problem is, some time in the skiddy bit I might back pedal just enough to make the gear change, and when I go to pedal off I’m in the fat gear and I stall as I try to push off.

Probably a more pertinent example is pulling up at an intersection, wanting to push off into a gap, and finding myself in the wrong gear.

The Sturmey Archer S2 Duomatic is probably the easiest, cheapest and simplest way to add an extra gear to your single speed. Its clean lines mean the bike still looks like a single speed. If you have hills in your regular commute that are starting to make the whole single speed thing look like a chore then the Duomatic is a practical alternative. I’ve been telling myself that I’ll swap out the Duomatic for my regular wheel but then I keep coming across times when I’m glad it’s there. Like the examples I gave earlier.Thankfully I have two bikes so I can choose between a single speed and a Duomatic. I think in the end I’ll go back to being single speed on both bikes. Perhaps if the two gears on the Doumatic were closer together I would keep it. If I had my regular gear and a lower gear to save my tired legs then it would be a no-brainer.

I got my S2 Duomatic from Cell Bikes as part of a full wheel build. It’s a quality build for a little over $100. I’m very happy with the shiny silver rim. It looks like it’ll keep looking good for years to come. If you really need another gear on your bike then it’s a small investment and you get to keep the looks and lines of your bike, no cables or shifters and a quality wheel that’ll look at home on your current steed. Or maybe you can buy mine. I’m still not sure if I’m keeping it.

(Got this from Cell Bikes.)

3 Comments

  1. Anonymous

    Try putting a larger rear wheel cog on the S2. That way you will have the overdrive closer to your favorite gear setting.

  2. James Pollock

    Hi and thanks for your comment.

    Probably a good idea but the wheel is languishing in the shed now. I thought about changing the gear but with the ratio between the two gears being so far apart, adjusting one gear would only push the other further away from anywhere useful. In which case, why not go back to single speed. Which I did.

    James.

  3. Anonymous

    So, this is the way you set it up. 39 tooth front and 24 tooth back. Use a Sachs/Sram rear sprocket. SA is available only in 22 teeth, max. This gives 43 inch direct drive gear (gets u up most hills) and 60 inch overdrive (spins along thus making efficiency losses less apparent). Shifting is easier with flat bars and more upright position; I use Velo Orange porteur bars on my bike. Pedalier bien, Anon

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