Torker KB2 Kickback Review
Kickback hubs that swap gears with a slight backpedal have never been particularly common, but in recent years working examples have become all but extinct from service. At one time kickback hubs were used on a number of folding and cruiser style bikes, namely for their ability to add a second gear without any cables or shifter controls. Sturmey Archer has reintroduced the technology with the S2C kickback hub, and Torker was quick to spec the hub on the complete bike, the pictured $400 retail Torker KB2. We’ve been lucky enough to have the one and only Interbike model in for review for a few weeks before production models hit shops, and I have to say that the bike is totally fun to rip around on. This is a cool bike, and the kickback hub is far more practical than than just a throw-back piece of tech to play with.
It’s a clean look, besides the coaster brake arm the KB2 looks much like your common entry-level track bike locked up seemingly everywhere these days. The frame and fork is for all intents and purposes the same hi-ten and chromoly steel construction as the single speed U-District, with a nice looking straight blade fork and a low-slung toptube given the reach for more standover clearance. It’s drilled for caliper brakes front and rear and has fender and rear rack mounts, but otherwise doesn’t have any fancy bits that should set off alarms at a $400 price point. No-name but perfectly serviceable parts make up the build, with large volume 30c tires and a chainguard being pretty on-point for the relatively short distance, casual city riding this bike is likely to see. The KB2 is no lightweight at 28lbs, no doubt helped along by the 1400g S2C rear hub.
The real story with the bike is the Sturmey Archer S2C hub, which incorporates both the shift and brake into the same back pedaling action. The shift happens just before the brake engages, meaning that you can shift between the direct drive and high-gear without applying the brake, but also that every time you engage the brake the hub shifts to the other gear. With the 42x22t gear combination of the KB2 this translates into a direct drive low gear of about 51 inches, and a high gear of 71 inches, a very reasonable and usable range and easily tunable a bit up or down with a simple chainring swap. The kickback shifting is not for everyone, and not a piece of performance oriented equipment, but it is super fun for going around town. The action takes some getting used to, but with only two gears it’s not hard to keep track of which one you’re in. In the event of braking you just need a quick second back pedal to get back into the previous gear—either way, we’re not talking a huge learning curve here. It’s easy to get used to, even if different than most anything else you’ve tried.
The coaster brake is a classic case of “it is what it is,” meaning that it works as well as expected with all the pluses and minuses of the brakes you had as a kid. Laying down a big skid is fun, long downhills requires some finesse to avoid burning out the brake, just like with every coaster brake out there.
The Torker KB-2 is an interesting choice for people looking for a no frills bike with an extra gear for when the road starts going up. Personally, I’d like to see more tire clearance, for both fenders and just in case you throw the front wheel out of true. I could see some riders desiring a front brake for added stopping power, but otherwise have no quibbles with the parts spec given the roughly $400 asking price. The frame comes in three sizes to fit most people, it wouldn’t surprise me if the bike sells well and we see it expanded to the six sizes available for the U-District. Available soon at shops, I suspect this is going to be a popular model this coming season.