It dawned on me this morning that a majority of the bikes currently in our possession are outfitted with internal gear hubs. Even though I’m a big fan of “IGHs” as they’re sometimes called, we didn’t set out to rid our household of derailleurs. As a matter of fact, it’s awfully hard to fault the good ol’ derailleur; they’re lightweight, relatively inexpensive, simple to adjust and maintain, and they impart a lovely whiiirrr to the drivetrain of a bicycle. What’s not to like?
I’m decidedly old school when it comes to derailleur shifting; I never quite made the full transition from friction to Rapidfire and STI. I tried indexed thumb shifters on a mountain bike for a while, and I ran indexed bar ends on various road bikes over the years, but I never stuck with it and I always ended up going back to friction. And never, for a moment, did I like brifters — there’s something about levers that move in two planes that gives me the willies (apologies to the 98% of the cycling public who love brifters).
Internal gear hubs require an indexed shifter (Rohloffs are indexed within the hub), and I have to admit, for the first time I’m starting to really enjoy this “other” type of indexed shifting. The difference, I’m sure, is in the hubs; high quality IGHs shift with such precision and speed, and the experience is so different than derailleur shifting, that I’m hardly missing my old friction shifters.
I also like the fact that high quality internal gear hubs can be shifted at will: sitting at a stop light; climbing while pedaling; descending while coasting; basically whenever and wherever you need to shift, you can. It’s pretty cool to roll up to a stop light, make multiple downshifts while you’re waiting for the light to change, and roll away in the proper gear.
Of course, internal gear hubs are nothing new — Sturmey-Archer has been building IGHs for over 100 years. Some of their hubs manufactured decades ago are still in operation today. We’re riding the modern incarnation of the classic Sturmey-Archer on a couple of our personal bikes. While not bad hubs, they’re not in the same league as the latest offerings from Shimano, SRAM, and Rohloff.
Internal gear hubs aren’t perfect; they’re relatively heavy, good ones are expensive, they’re less efficient than derailleur drivetrains, and if something goes wrong they’re difficult to repair. But I like the way they shift; I like that the gears are sealed and essentially maintenance-free; I like that they have next to no dish (resulting in stronger wheels); and I like the way they visually clean up the drivetrain. So while I still love the whiiirrr of a chain snaking through a derailleur, bikes with internal gear hubs will continue to be a part of our stable for the foreseeable future.