Five Drivetrains

Recently I’ve been comparing and contrasting five drivetrains including a reversible single speed/fixed gear hub on an SE Lager; a touring triple crank with an 8-speed cassette on a Rivendell Sam Hillborne; a chain-driven Shimano Alfine 8-speed internal gear hub on a Civia Hyland; a belt-driven Shimano Alfine 8-speed internal gear hub on a Civia Bryant; and a SRAM i-Motion 9-speed internal gear hub on a Civia Loring. The following is not intended to be an exhaustive overview of the myriad drivetrains on the market; these are just my thoughts and impressions regarding these particular drivetrains.

Single Speed / Fixed Gear Drivetrain
I think the main attraction of single speed and fixed gear drivetrains is that they’re simple and bullet-proof. There’s an appeal to stripping a bike down to its bare essentials, eliminating the need for shifting and fussing with derailleur trim, etc. Eliminating a geared drivetrain is a significant weight savings as well. The obvious downside to single speed drivetrains is that you’re stuck with only one gain ratio, which may not work for people who live in hilly areas or for those who have physical limitations such as bad knees (which includes many of us over 40 who played sports or rode bikes their entire lives).

Touring Triple Drivetrain
For versatility it’s hard to beat a touring triple drivetrain. A triple provides the widest range of gears while still remaining relatively lightweight and simple to set-up and repair. With three chainrings up front and 7-10 sprockets is the rear, the potential for customization is nearly infinite within the range of the system. Disadvantages include the need for relatively high maintenance (due to exposure to the elements); a steep learning curve for beginners due to the complexity of overlapping ratios and multiple shifters, etc.; susceptibility to damage in public bike racks (again, due to exposure); and incompatibility with most chain guards.

Chain-driven Shimano Alfine 8-speed IGH
It’s no secret that I very much like the Alfine internal gear hub. A number of commuting bikes that I tested over the past year were spec’d with the Alfine including the Breezer Finesse, the Raleigh Alley Way, and the two Civias pictured here. At this point the Alfine IGH is a mature product with low failure rates and superb performance. When combined with the Rapid-Fire shifter (and assuming the cable is properly adjusted), shifts are clean, quick, and accurate. One major advantage of this and other high-quality internal gear hubs is that they can be shifted while stopped, coasting, or under power. Disadvantages include a limited gear range when compared to a touring triple; the need for either horizontal dropouts, an eccentric bottom bracket, or a chain tensioner to tension the chain; and added weight when compared to an SS or derailleur drivetrain.

Belt-driven Shimano Alfine 8-speed IGH
The only difference between a belt-driven and chain-driven Alfine IGH is the sprocket; the internal parts and shifting performance are identical. The Alfine IGH is known for being quiet and smooth, but the Gates Carbon Drive takes it to an entirely different (better) level. This combo is buttery smooth and nearly silent, almost like riding a well-oiled single speed drivetrain. If you’re already on-board regarding internal gear hubs, this is the next step that really completes the package. Disadvantages include the same as those mentioned above, as well as the need for a frame specifically designed to allow installation of a one-piece drive belt.

SRAM i-Motion 9-speed IGH
The i-Motion 9 is an internal gear hub from SRAM that competes directly with the Shimano Alfine 8. I’m really starting to enjoy this hub as I get to know it better. Besides the obvious advantage of having one extra gear, the i-Motion also covers a wider range (340% versus the Alfine’s 307%) and has more evenly spaced ratios than the Alfine. The smaller, more even steps between gears are a real advantage over the Alfine’s somewhat inconsistent spacing. The i-Motion is also easier to remove and re-install in the event of a roadside flat. Disadvantages include shifting performance that is not quite as smooth as the Alfine’s, and a limited selection of shifters, all of which are twist-type.

Let’s hear from you. What type of drivetrain are you currently running, and what would you choose if you were to replace your current drivetrain today?

What type of drivetrain are you currently running?

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Which would you choose if you were to replace your current drivetrain?

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53 Responses to “Five Drivetrains”

  • Lucas says:

    Both my commuter and my round-towner have a single-speed drivetrain, and for most situations around here (Boston) this set up is perfectly fine… there are a few mild hills, and though I have been riding bikes most of my life (mid-30s here) I have not had too much of an issue.

    On my road-bike I have a 9-speed w/ a double chain-ring and a 9-speed triple on the MTB.

    I have never ridden an internally geared hub and am quite curious, after reading this and other blogs, what they are like.

    Thank you for a great blog, Happiest of happy new years to you and yours, and safe riding!

  • Doug P says:

    The internally geared bikes look interesting. Are the rear wheels difficult to remove? Is a rear flat repair easy to do “on the road?”

  • John in Roseburg says:

    If I got a flat on my Pashley with Sturmey-Archer IGH I would first attempt use of my canister of bicycle fix-a-flat. If that did not do it then I would get out my cell phone and call my wife for motorized pick up. I don’t plan to patch a tube when riding in town. However, if you chose to do a streetside repair of a rear flat you could just dismount the tire from one bead and pull the tube while the wheel is still on the bike. A little more hassle but quite do-able none the less. I have done this several times on the front wheels of our Greenspeed GTT.

  • Doug R. says:

    Well. I ride various systems, from singles to old two ring six speed Raleighs. I am fascinated by the internal hubs, however, as mentioned before, the “Flat” problem puts me off. I like skewers and quick roadside repairs. As a mountain bike rider, I am currently enticed by the new Sram XX grupo. They have gone full 10 speeds for the off road stuff. (not cheap)!

    Well, in summation, I would like to get a full Campy bike and give it a try, The legend still attracts me. Dougman

  • Wijnandt T de Vries says:

    I ride The Revolver system with Dyneema cable on both of my rowing bikes, the Rohloff Speedhub on my CF bike RANS Cruz, and the SRAM X.0 group on my CF bike RANS Dynamik Pro.

  • Keith Jackson says:

    I have a shaft drive Dynamic Crosstown 8. Now it has studded tires and is the ultimate no maintenance no headache winter bike that laughs at road grime and salt. There is a noticeable efficiency penalty however. My dry weather bike is an old Miyata mountain bike with slick tires that I am gradually upgrading. Its current drive train sucks: just an old seven speed Shimano rear derailleur that reliably works on only 5 gears. I will upgrade it to an Alfine this spring. :)

  • Lovely Bicycle! says:

    On my Pashley Princess I have a custom 7-speed Shimano IGH with coaster brake (as a replacement of the stock SA 5-speed IGH with roller brake). The 7-speed Shimano is superb for a city bike, no complaints, and it shifts smoothly when coasting and (usually) also when pedaling. I do not think it is advised to shift while pedaling with this hub, but it does work. I have tried other IGHs on similar bikes to mine and have not found one that I like better.

    At the moment my other bikes are vintage, so you probably are not interested in the gearing on them (Sturmey Archer AW hub circa 1970, anyone?).

    I am however getting two new frames this year – a custom mixte and a green Sam Hillborne – both of them for country riding and touring. The SH I will fit with the 8×3 setup you describe, and the custom mixte with an 8×2 setup. As you can imagine, I will be agonising over gear ratios, choice of cassette, etc., for quite some time!

  • Helton says:

    I ride a Rohloff on my commuter workhorse, and triple 8-cog (not so narrow chain as 9-cog) on the other bikes. My Rohloff experience so far is a little bit odd: the hub itself is very fine, mechanically speaking: simple oil changes now and then, no deraileur misalignments, no play at the hub bearings, no extra lubrication and overhauling, VERY easy chain cleaning, no skipping with new chains even after the sprocket is visibly worn (it wears out differently because of teeth shape being more “broad”). And not a single mechanical issue so far (a few drops of oil leakage each many many miles, and a cable that was pulled out the bayonette clip, but I don’t consider these as really “mechanical” problems).


    The ergonomic aspect of Rohloff somewhat disappoints me: the shifting itself (which is what really matters specially when you are tired) is not comfortable at all. The amount of turn required for each shifting is a bit excessive, and if there’s need to turn very often (as it happens when the bike is heavy or loaded, as it’s my case), the right hand and even the right arm becomes tired, since you have to release the weight over the hand in order to move it and shift.
    This difference became very obvious because my wife inherited my shimano-rapid-fire-equiped mountain-bike, and when I ride it now and then I find it SOOOOO easier than Rohloff…

    I am not saying that I am not satisfied with Rohloff, but I voted for triple chain deraileur because it would probably be my choice for a NEXT bike, since I already own a Rohloff of at least one (most used) bike, which I use on a daily basis. Think I am going to solve my hand problem swapping the flat handlebar for a riser one.

  • John says:

    I’m using a NuVinci hub and would replace it with Alfine, SRAM or Rohloff, probably Alfine with rapidfire shifters. This is on an Xtracycle so the NuVinci does have it’s benefits, but I wouldn’t recommend it for anything other than cargo bikes.

    I’m going to keep it though, and get another little 3 speed bike for running small errands where I don’t need a long heavy bike.

  • Tali says:

    My current bicycle has a Nexus 7sp IGH with roller brakes front and back. To repair a flat tyre on the rear wheel I must undo 4 nuts, 2 wheel nuts, 1 nut on the brake arm and one on the brake cable. Then a 2mm hex rench is required to remove the gear cable. Shimano weren’t prioritizing wheel removal when they designed the Nexus 7, and I believe the 8 speeds are the same.

    Riding to work or around town, I don’t even carry the required tools. If I get a flat, I’m walking the bike home (or work if that is closer). The bike is fitted with Schwalbe Marathon Plus, so punctures should be extremely rare. On longer rides I carry the required tools, but frankly dread roadside puncture repairs.

    Having said that, I would not really consider derailuers for my utility bike. Even if the wheel is on a quick release, I still wouldn’t do roadside puncture repairs while riding around town or to work, but neither would I consider riding a tyre that isn’t very puncture resistant.

  • Scott Wayland says:

    I voted triple derailleur for both because of the very hilly terrain where I live, but thinking about it, for my commuter, I could probably get an acceptable range in an internally geared hub by picking the right chain ring/rear sprocket sizes. I’d love to try a belt-drive system.


  • Doug P says:

    Why switch to internal gears from derailleurs or one speed? I understand one can walk home when a “city” bike has a flat. And the idea of a greaseless bike must be attractive to apartment dwellers and neat freaks. However, here in (very very flat) Sacramento, I do not see the need for gears at all for short trips. The “gee whiz” factor seems to be at work here. And, in my book, the belt drive internal hub wins the “gee whiz” contest hands down!

  • Alan says:

    @John P

    “The internally geared bikes look interesting. Are the rear wheels difficult to remove? Is a rear flat repair easy to do “on the road?””

    It depends. If you’re running a full chaincase such as those on Dutch and English roadsters, tire repairs can be problematic – but this is an issue with chaincases more than being a problem with IG hubs.

    Also, as Tali mentioned, IG hubs with roller brakes are difficult to remove. But again, this is more of an issue with roller brakes than with IG hubs.

    In the case of IG hubs mated with disc brakes as shown above, rear wheel removal is simple. Both the Alfine and i-Motion can be removed in just a minute or two by loosening the axle nuts with a 15mm wrench. The cable release on the Alfine is a little kludgy, but once you figure how it works, it’s not really an issue. The cable release on the i-Motion is super easy and makes wheel removal a total no-brainer. In either case, a little practice at home to familiarize yourself with how to remove and re-install the shift cable will forestall any potential difficulties on the road.


  • Alan says:

    @Doug P

    Why switch to internal gears from derailleurs or one speed?”

    Most people who live in hilly cities such as SF or Seattle are going to want gears. Also, as people get older, having gears helps to prevent repetitive motion injuries.

    In wet climates internal gear hubs require less maintenance than exposed drivetrains. They’re also less susceptible to damage in crowded conditions such as those encountered by multi-modal commuters. Bikes can take a real beating being loaded on-and-off of trains and buses everyday. An exposed rear derailleur is probably the most delicate part on a bike. Bent/broken derailleur hangers are a common problem on bikes used in this way.

    “And, in my book, the belt drive internal hub wins the “gee whiz” contest hands down!”

    Could be, but it really is an excellent system. Besides being incredibly smooth and enjoyable to operate, these other advantages make carbon belts a practical and desirable option for commuting:

    —Belt-drive sprockets shed all types of debris including mud and snow
    —100% maintenance free
    —Twice the life of a bike chain
    —Lighter than conventional chain drives


  • Alan says:

    @Lovely Bicycle!

    “As you can imagine, I will be agonising over gear ratios, choice of cassette, etc., for quite some time!”

    Fun stuff!! :-)

  • Doug P says:

    OK, Alan, I’m sold! The belt/disc looks like a great city bike drivetrain….clean and modern, who could ask for more!

  • Doug P says:

    And for something different; my (Soma double cross) cross bike has a shimano MTB (LX) hub laced to 700C wheels. I run a road cassette, a MTB derailleur, and a triple. I can easily switch to an MTB cassette if I go loaded touring. Meanwhile here in the flat valley I enjoy the closely spaced gears afforded by my road cassette. Thanks to shimano for making road and MTB cassettes compatible!

  • Saddle Up says:

    Let me see, I have…

    five SS/FG,
    one 2 speed double crank,
    two double crank derailleur

    The SS/FG bikes seem to get ridden the most, perhaps this gears business is over rated.

  • Doug P says:

    Why not a belt/disc single speed/fixed gear? A marriage of old and new, simple and complex….well adapted to life here in the flatness of Sac’to.?!? Photos? More eye candy, please, Alan!

  • K6-III says:

    Main bike, Sram S7 Drum internal hub (excellent shifting that is almost as good as 1st gen Nexus, now that its broken in, incredibly smooth once in gear, and much more even gear steps than Nexus/Alfine). Wish they offered a trigger shifter.

    Cargo bike: Sram P5 Drum. Not a fan of the grip shift on this one, as the shifter effort is much higher than on the S7. Also, somehow seems less efficient than my S7, but I’ll play with the non-driveside cone to see if I can make it better.

    Folding bike: Sturmey XRF8 (1st gen): Better gear steps than Nexus/Alfine, but finicky, particularly around 5th gear and very sensitive to adjustment. Ready to try 2nd gen Sturmey 8 speed.

    Raleigh 20: Sturmey XRD3: Traditional 3 speed shifting from Sturmey, but shifts much better under load than the older variants, with no annoying false neutral.

    I’ve ridden Nexus 8 (1st gen) with roller brake and found it rather ineffecient, with annoying gear steps, but the shifting was truly better than all of the above. WIth the newer Alfine hubs I’ve tried, the efficiency has been rather better, but the gear steps are still annoying. If Sram and Sturmey had similar shifter options on their 7,8,9 speed hubs…lets say that Alfine trigger is much nicer than anything they make for a shifter.

    Personally, I prefer the S7 to the i-Motion 9 for my needs. I don’t need the extra gear range of the i-9 over the S7, nor the extra weight. Its also nice that the S7 takes standard 3 speed sprockets, rather than the proprietary sprockets used by the i-9.

    Given how Sturmey is really trying now, after the Sunrace takeover, with new 5 speed wide range hubs (more robust) and new 8 speed hubs, they’re really the company to watch for. The new 3 and 5 speed shifters finally are available in bar-end and metal thumbie versions. All wee need is a proper 8 speed shifter and these hubs finally have their match. What Sturmey has above all the others, no doubt, is spare parts availability in the US through United BIcycle Supply. If your hub breaks, if pawls need replacement, its no problem to get spare parts. Likewise, drum brake pads are actually available.

    Sram seems to pretend North America doesn’t exist and Shimano really isn’t into offering spare parts as a corporate tradition.

  • John says:

    Until the IGH systems can match the range of a triple crank, I’ll be sticking with the latter due to the combination of the hilly area where I live and my old knees.

  • John Lascurettes says:

    I’ve been running a Shimano Nexus IGH (8 speed) on my primary commuter (2008 Novara Fusion). Moving to an IGH over my previous tripple-tourning style has been a great move in rainy Portland. Wipe downs, cleanups, lubes and adjustments are much easier and quicker.

    My next bike will definitely have an Alfine IGH or equivalent. I’m really attracted by the belt drives. A co-worker has one and it’s so smooth and quiet. I love the no-oil-gunk properties of it too.

    As others have stated regarding IGH, road repairs are undesirable (though it’s actually my roller brakes that I hate dealing with more than my IGH). I invested in a pair of Schwalbe Marathon Supremes over a year ago and I haven not regretted it: not a single leak or puncture with daily city riding and all of its debris.

    As for the next bike … As much as I love the Civia Hyland, I’ve really been looking of late at the Alley Way because of its belt drive. Add now the Civia Bryant with belt drive that looks amazing (minus the big ding of not having a front dyno).

    Another object of my desire as a Portlander is the locally built Renovo Panda (bamboo frame) commuter. Because of the way that the metal-attached-to-wood dropouts work, I’m wondering if I could reasonably customize it to accept a belt drive instead of chain.

  • Andrew says:

    Currently running a triple-crank/derailleur which, to be honest, works beautifully, but I continue to be drawn the idea of a belt-drive internally-geared hub. Though I’m not sure if I’m sold on the feel of IGHs yet.

    At the moment, my only experience with IGHs have been test rides on a Jamis Commuter 3 and a Norco VFR flat-bar road bike. The Jamis was felt slow because it’s a city bike, and the VFR had a twist-shifter which sucked the fun out of it for me a bit. It might be an illusion because the drivetrains are so smooth and quiet, but both of them felt much ‘draggier’ than a typical freewheel to me (which is one of the many reasons I ended up with my current choice of drivetrain).

  • Arie Dekker says:

    I am using two Pedersen bikes at the moment. One, custum build for use as holliday bike, has a Rohloff hub of which I am extremely fond: easy shifting, also when not in movement, great range and nice and evenly small steps. My day-to-day bike has an old SRAM 3×7 hybrid gear system (7 derailleur + 3 speed internal). Some say these hybrid systems combine the disadvantages of both systems but in my experience it is exactly the other way around: a nice combination of advantages.
    For my next bike I play with the idea of having 4 speeds without cables, so a very basic looking bike. This can be realised by using a very old fashioned Sachs duomatic 2 speed hub gear (switching by slightly backpedalling) in combination with a Schlumpf speed-drive in the bracket.

  • Alan says:


    Some IG hubs may impart inefficiencies into the drivetrain – the amount will vary depending upon the particular hub, how it’s set-up, and how many miles it has on it. Hubs with more gears tend to be less efficient. On the other hand, a well broken-in 3-speed hub may actually be more efficient than a derailleur drivetrain.

    All new hubs are tight until they’re broken-in. Chain/belt tension is a factor as well. I’ve seen a number of bikes on showroom floors that were set-up with too-tight chains that caused binding in the drivetrain. Dealers may purposely do this to allow for chain wear, something we don’t normally worry about on derailleur drivetrains because the derailleur picks up the slack.


  • David says:

    Count me in for the gee whiz factor. My ideal commuter/tourer for Seattle:

    heat treated steel frame (strong but relatively lightweight to make up for the rest!)
    belt drive
    IGH (ideally Rohloff but possibly SRAM once the sprockets are available)
    disk brakes
    dynamo hub with LED head/tail lights
    Schwalbe Marathon Racers
    Ortlieb panniers

    My goal: wipe the crud off once a year and call it good to go!

  • John Lascurettes says:

    Regarding range of gears on an IGH, some people seem to be concerned that the range is not large enough (particularly that it doesn’t go low enough). This has not been my experience.

    I had 18 (3×6) gears on my old mountain bike that I commuted on for a year. Most of the gears (and all of those on the first chain ring) were almost never used. Today’s bike with a Nexus 8 IGH (by today’s standards, near the bottom of the list) has the pretty much range that my 18-speed did. I rarely use gears 2-3 and very rarely use the first gear (used recently to climb the one really steep hill I do normally but in the snow). I sometimes wish I had one more top gear for a little extra speed (but this is only when I’ve got a downhill or a tailwind anyway) – but in the city, it’s more than enough speed in general.

    Overall, I have not wanted for a larger range in my IGH. Maybe, just maybe, I’d swap out a sprocket to adjust the range slightly toward the upper end for my needs.

  • Doug R. says:

    Alan, I want the “Anti gravity drive unit! (starwars endor moon imperial flying bikes). We could all commute over the tops of the damn cars! So hurry up and invent it dude! Dougman
    We could truly have bikes called”Western Flyers”!

  • Doug P says:

    Don’t we all love the gee whiz factor? Without that we’d be riding horses. Gee whiz doesn’t come just with complexity..for example, doesn’t a belt drive have less moving parts than a chain? I would bet Arie Dekker’s cable free 4 speed would top the gee whiz list for lots of folks.

  • jnyyz says:

    I’ve been running two city bikes with Alfine hubs. I’ll let you know how the Alfine runs over the winter. Thus far, no problems down to -10C, but it hasn’t been much colder than that yet…… I know that my standard derailleur bikes have problems shifting below -15C. One thing that I really like about the Alfines (over other IGH hubs that I have tried) is that they are almost totally silent, both under power and while freewheeling.

    My local LBS (Urbane Cyclist) is strongly of the opinion that disk brakes have no place on a 4 seasons city bike in snowy climes, and I might agree; the rear disk brake on my xtracycle (which is not that visible due to the rear bags) gradually rusted solid last year due to exposure to ice and tons of road salt. Of course a little maintenance during the winter would have helped. Under our winter conditions, there is really not possible to have a maintenance free bike.

    am highly intrigued by belt drive.

  • John in Roseburg says:

    “My local LBS (Urbane Cyclist) is strongly of the opinion that disk brakes have no place on a 4 seasons city bike in snowy climes”

    I have nothing but praise for the drums on my Pashley. Some people seem to consider drums as the weak choice but in my experience the more use they get the better they work. No better choice in my opinion for a year round commuter.

  • todd says:

    The purported difficulty of repairing flats on an IGH bike, with or without chaincase or drum/roller brakes, is a red herring >95% of the time.

    It is neither necessary nor particularly desirable to remove the wheel to repair a flat! Simply pry off the bead, fish out the tube, and repair as usual. Since the tire doesn’t move relative to tube this way, it’s that much easier to find whatever caused the flat.

    Only when the tire or tube must be replaced — such as in a race where repair is too slow — are quick release wheels advantageous. They are a racing invention, after all; for a utility biker they are little more than a convenience to thieves. After I got the knack of patching in place, I no longer remove the wheel even if there’s a quick release!

  • doug in seattle. says:

    Correct me if I’m wrong — but isn’t there an efficiency loss when using an IGH? In other words, an 80 inch gear on a IGH is harder to pedal than an 80 inch gear on an EGDT? This would be something to consider in a very hilly area. I’ve even heard of people shifting into a higher gear going up a hill because that particular gear is actually easier to push than the lower-inch gear.

    I have two bikes, both with triple cranks and seven or eight speed cassettes. One is a lower-end camping bike (encased in parts worth more than I paid for the entire bike originally, natch) and an old mountain bike outfitted “porteur-style” I ride year-round in Seattle with these bikes, and most of the maintenance is centered around the chain and the brakes. I really only mess around with the drivetrain a couple of times a year, max.

    I personally think that the issues with maintaining external drivetrains is overstated. Especially when one doesn’t demand instant, perfectly crisp shifts 100% of the time. A bit of slop is okay if you’re not racing!

    Note, however, that both bikes are shifted via friction. Using this “old-fashioned” shifting technology eliminates 90% of the maintenance issues with almost no loss of function, practicality, or ease.

  • scherzo says:

    I am in the “other” category as my most-used bike uses the SRAM Dual-Drive system–3-speed rear hub plus derailleur. It gives a wider range of gearing than most triple-crankset setups. Life of the chain and of the single chainring is excellent, much better than I have experienced with triple cranksets. Changing the rear tire does require a 15mm wrench. but the advantage of quick-releases has diminished now that product-liability lawyers are designing the dropouts on bicycles.

  • Don says:

    My Soma Smoothie ES has a double chainring and 10 cog cassette derailleur, mid range Campy because I love the Ergo brake/shifter hoods, great for recreational, lightly loaded touring and nice weather commutes, but subject to wear and tear from rainy weather and expensive drivetrain component replacements. So, I converted a Bianchi Volpe to a single speed by removing 2 chain rings, replacing cogs with spacers and replacing derailleur with a Surly Singleator, for winter commuting. It’s a bit much for Seattle hills fully loaded, but I like the direct drive and ease of cleaning, and it’s good training. If I could, I would add something with steel frame, IGH, belt or chain, and mechanical disk brakes for all-around winter riding and commuting; keeping the Bianchi for neighborhood trips; and keeping the Soma clean and ready for longer rides.

  • OwenFinn says:

    I really like the 9 speed Capreo derailleur on my 16″wheeled Dahon Curve SL – quiet and light with a great gear range. I used to ride the same model Dahon with a 5 speed Sturmey Archer IGH, but like someone mentioned above, I found it to be noisy, super finicky, and too often in need of adjustment. Though it looked simpler and cleaner than a derailleur the chain would get just as grimy, which is a big concern when the bike is folded on a crowded train.

    Having said that, I think the most perfect drive train for a small folder would be an Alfine with beltdrive. Unfortunately, from what I understand, Gates doesn’t yet offer appropriately sized belts for folders.

  • Roland Smith says:

    This winter I had a nasty experience with the Rohloff on my ‘bent. When it got below -10°C, I couldn’t shift anymore. I’m not sure if the problem is in the hub or the shifter, but probably the latter.

  • Mark says:

    I commuted for about a year and a half using a Nexus-8 hub, but switched over to a bike with a conventional double chainring and 7 speed rear derrailleur last summer. I haven’t ridden it through the winter yet obviously, but I can’t say that the more conventional system requires any more maintenance than the IGH. The other plus side of said maintenance is that I can perform it myself with the conventional gears whereas finding an LBS who is familiar with an IGH can be a challenge. I found this out the hard way after riding my IGH bike through a flooded culvert along my commute that briefly submerged the hubs. After a botched repair by the LBS, it ended up taking 3 months to get the correct parts ordered and the hub back in working order again. I’ll probably not go the IGH route again, and I will definitely NOT submerge the one I have again!

  • kbobb says:

    My Bacchetta is equiped with a sram 9 speed rear, triple up front and a Sturmey three speed hub on the rear. Endless gearing from a 28 inch to a 26 ft. rolling measurement.
    I just love all the combinations available and hope to have a belt drive soon.

    Great thread


  • Doug R. says:

    Alan, I think that no matter what system one runs, if a rider is “conscious” of upkeep and maintenance their bike’s drive train will carry them along just fine. I ride vintage to modern Xt
    systems and they are only as good as I keep them! I will be an IGH devotee when I see your Sam Hillborne changed over! ha, ha! Good blog old friend! Let’s Tweed in March on our Sam H’s.

  • BikeBike says:

    One comment on belt drive – if you ride in the winter, and have to ride in heavy snow/ice you may experience problems with ice packing into the rear cog which will push the belt off the cog causing a derailment of sorts, sometimes.

    Otherwise, belt drive seems like the best option. Hopefully the belt drive manufacturers can design the rear cog with cutouts (like a belt drive chainring) which would probably solve that one issue.


  • Alan says:



    I was wondering if you experienced this yourself, and if so, what are the details of your set-up (hub, cog size, how old was the belt, etc)? The reason I ask is that this is the first time I’ve heard this and I want to be sure I understand specifically what happened for future reference.


  • Greg says:

    Alan, any experience/thoughts on shaft-driven bikes? Enclosed like an IGH, but (theoretically) can’t slip like a belt. I haven’t really heard a “pro” opinion on them though.

  • D'Arcy says:

    Last year I traded in my 27 year old Bianchi for a more upright bike. My middle aged back was finding the bent over posture a tad rough. I bought a Biomega Amsterdam bike with a Shimano 8 speed and enclosed drive shaft. This bike is superb for the urban cycling I do. The enclosed drive shaft requires virtually no maintenance and rides very smoothly. The protected gearing does is not effected by salt and snow (I live in Toronto) . It’s a bit heavier but the all season smooth drive is well worth the few extra pounds.

  • David Iriguchi says:

    Over the years, I’ve been trying to come up with the ultimate commuting drive train (I commute in the Sacramento area and my route is for all intents and purposes, flat. This is what I currently am running on a 1996 Cannondale F700 mountainbike.

    SRAM Force derailleurs
    10-speed 11-23 cassette
    36-42 chainrings on a Specialized Strongarm MTB crankset
    SRAM time trial shifters mounted on short barends mounted inboard of the brake levers on flat bars

    Sounds weird but this is a dream drivetrain. With the chainrings just 6 teeth apart they shift effortlessly and the jump is equivalent to two cogs in the back. If I want to shift two gears I shift the front. If I want to go one gear I shift the back. With the very tight 11-23 10-speed cassette, shifting is incredibly smooth. I use time trial shifters mounted into the ends of some stubby barends. I ride mostly on the barends so my shifters are right under my thumbs pretty much all the time.

  • Eddie Allen says:

    I run a road triple chainset with the outer ring removed and replaced with a chainguard, leaving a 42t 28t double combo. This is mated with an 11-28 cassette giving a usefully wide gear range and the benefits of a really neat chainguard. It’s a winner.

    I intend to swap out the inner 28t for a 24t and change the rear cassette to an 11-34, giving me essentially MTB gear range without the ratio duplication of an MTB triple setup. Sheldon has a thread on his site on ‘Alpine’ gearing, which inspired me to give this a try.

  • Tim says:

    Commuter bike – 1×8, a 40t ring with a 11-28 cassette (I think). I hate front derailleurs.

    Track Bike – 53t ring with a fixed/fixed flip-flop 16t on one side, 20t on the other (yes I have enough space in the track ends…barely.)

    Grocery Getter – Old Raleigh made three speed. Sturmey-Archer internal hub from ’71 I believe.

    Polo bike – Single speed, 34t ring, 22t BMX freewheel. Not very useful except for bike polo.

    I’m pretty hard on my bikes. I do maintain them, but I severly abuse these machines. I like simple drivetrains that are reliable and get the job done.

  • Charlie says:

    Schwinn has a new $550 bike with a full chain case and a Nexus 7 drivetrain. You get most of the advantages of a belt+nexus–the top choice here–for 1/3 the price. A closer comparison might be the $900 Breezer Uptown 8. It’s clearly a lower spec–you don’t get the same thing for $550 that you get for $900 with this–but it’s a similar idea at a much lower price point. It’s called the Schwinn World NX7. Nexus 7, complete with rack and fenders. Linked from my name.

    Biggest downside I see relative the the Breezer Uptown 8 is no dyno hub…but that’s easy to add.

    Biggest upside for the Schwinn, aside from the low price, is the fact that the fork has disk brake mounts, so it’s easy to add a disk brake.

  • Runjikol says:

    Hi from down-under.

    I filled out the poll for replacing the drivetrain with Chain-driven Shimano Gear-hub. I guess it was a semantic choice because I couldn’t replace it on my current frame with my ideal: belt-drive Shimano or Rohloff. Reason; my frame doesn’t have the split.

    I’m pretty new to Ecovelo: only started reading this week. Keep up the good work. :-)

  • Judd says:

    Sturmey-Archer 2-speed kick back hub for rim brake

  • John L says:

    I am such a fan of the old 7 speed mountain bike drivetrains. Simple, an abundance of parts, and cheap as dirt. I can do all the work myself and if need be adjustments are easy and forgiving. I have an old XTR group that I am waiting to put on the bike, but after years and thousands of miles, the LX just will not die. Reliable in a temp range from 104 F to -4F, and I can just spray it off once in a while at a car wash during the winter.

  • D'Arcy says:

    I ride a Biomega bike that has a drive shaft in lieu of a chain. This drives a Shimano 8 speed hub. I’m an inner-city commuter and this system works beautifully. Toronto is flat enough that 8 speeds are ample and having the ability to go from 8th to 3rd while stopped is invaluable.

    The drive shaft although heavier gives me a completely enclosed system. Snow and road salt has no effect on the gears so the bike requires very little maintenance.

  • TSW says:

    I am very interested in the Alfine 11; I have yet to test a bike with a belt drive, but the technology is appealing.

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