An older model, rather unsatisfactory 3−speed hub.
Background: The International Bicycle Cycle
Those of us who have been in the bike industry for a while have observed a cyclical phenomenon with imported bicycles and bicycle parts. It was first noticeable in Japan in the years following WW2. Here's how it goes:
- Stage 1: Underdeveloped country of [insert name here] uses cheap labor to make cheap, low end products. Reputation for making cheap, inferior copies.
- Stage 2: Developing country of [insert name here] decides
to move into higher-quality, higher value production. Quality control and design is improved, often benefitting from the advice of partners in more developed countries.
- Stage 3: [insert name here]'s improved product quality is noticed, [insert name here]'s reputation rises.
Stage 4: [insert name here]'s high wages and shifting exchange rates begin to erode the competitive pricing advantage formerly enjoyed.
- Stage 5: Increasing quality and pricing make [insert name here]'s products
un-competitive with lower-wagedeveloping [Other Developing Country]'s output. [Other Developing Country] establishes partnerships in [Other Developing Country], builds factories, teaches them how to improve their quality.
- Stage 6: [insert name here] can no longer manufacture bicycle parts at a competitive price in [insert name here], more and more manufacturing for export is shifted to [Other Developing Country].
Some high-endproduction for the domestic market may continue.
By this time, [Other Developing Country] has hit stage 2 and will go through the same sequence over a period of years.
Japan was the prototype for this sequence. Reached stage 2 in the late 1970s, stage 3 in the early 1980s, stage 4 in the mid 1980s, Stage 5 in the late 1980s and stage 6 by the early 1990s.Japanese bicycles have not been imported to the U.S. in significant number since then, though
The next country in this sequence was Taiwan. They hit stage
Following behind Taiwan is mainland China, currently (2006) in stage 3.
Singapore is also in the game, for parts but not for complete bikes. Singapore has no important independent bicycle parts manufacturers, but Japanese parent companies, especially Shimano, own extensive production facilities there.
Major bicyle producing countries still stuck in stage 1 include India and South Korea. Whenever India gets ready to move up, it is expected to be a very important player.
Major Western European countries hit stage 6 in the late '70s, just as Japan was moving into stage 3.
3−speed Internal Gear Hubs
The original internal gear hubs were English inventions going back to the beginning of the 20th Century.
The Shimano «333» 3−speed Internal Gear Hub
While Japan was in stage 1, Shimano introduced the «333» 3−speed hub. It was in many ways an innovative design, and managed to avoid infringing
The 333 hub was much more complicated internally
The failure mode of the 333 hub is also different
If there is physical damage inside the hub, it usually takes the form of corners getting rounded off of mating parts, causing the shift adjustment to become a bit more critical.
When a Shimano 333 hub fails, it is most often because
The hub may still work after a fashion, so the rider continues to use it until the broken fragments of the pawls have gone on to destroy the gears and other parts, making the hub basically irreparable.
Over the years the 333 hub was in production, Shimano made a number of revisions to the design in an attempt to make it more reliable. These revisions are not well documented, and internal parts are not available for these hubs. Even if you could find a source of parts, you might not get the correct generation parts for the particular hub you have.
My basic recommendation is to avoid the Shimano 333 hub.
Generally it was only ever spec'ed
Note, this should not be taken as any kind of general objection to Shimano parts. By the late 1970s Shimano had started making very good products, and since then they have become the world's leading bicycle parts maker.
It should also not be taken as a general indictment of Shimano's internal gear hubs. With the exception of the 333 model, Shimano internal gear hubs are just super, very highly recommended.