Before the 1970’s explosion of Japanese road bikes with derailleur gears, the English-style 3-speed ruled the roads. In fact, the 3 speed roadster accounts for more than ½ of the bicycles ever built. The Raleigh DL-1, with its fully enclosed chain-case, rod and roller brakes and giant 28 inch wheels made it the perfect all-terrain bike of its time. Designed in 1913 for the British military, it eventually served across the Empire as the bike of choice for police, mail carriers, couriers and commuters from Kingston to Shanghai. The first manufacturing facility built in post-imperial India was a bicycle factory, which still produces an exact replica of the DL-1. Across Asia, the English-style roadster is the platform of choice for cargo bikes and pedi-cabs.
At the heart of every English-style 3speed is the Sturmey-Archer 3speed hub. The fully enclosed hub is nearly impervious to the elements, and extremely rugged. To disassemble and reassemble the planetary gears of a 3speed hub is a lesson in physics, and some might say a peek into the clockwork of the universe (okay, mostly old hippie bike mechanics say that...). Many variations have been built with up to 7 speeds, and the “DynoHub” includes an AC generator for powering lights. In America, 3-speed bikes built in the UK with Sturmey-Archer hubs were sold up until the late 1970’s, labeled as Robin Hood, Sears brand, and even K-Mart. Easily found at second hand stores for $50 or less, these workhorses will still out-ride and out-last any cheap bike bought from Walmart.