Some Thoughts on Internal Gear Hubs

Alfine IGH

Slowly but surely over the past few years my stable has evolved to the point where 4 out of 5 of my regular rides are outfitted with internal gear hubs (IGHs). I didn’t purposely set out to replace my derailleur drivetrains with IGHs, but they work so well for the climate and terrain in which I ride that they’re a natural choice for me. Following are a few of the pros and cons of internal gear hubs as I see them:

Pros
Low maintenance
Simple to operate (indexed, linear)
Can be shifted while at a stop
Aesthetically pleasing (clean chain line)

Cons
Can be heavy
Can have limited gear range compared to derailleur drivetrains
Require proprietary shifters
Difficult to repair for the home mechanic

Probably the biggest on-road advantage an internal gear hub provides is the ability to shift while at a stop.

Probably the biggest on-road advantage an internal gear hub provides is the ability to shift while at a stop. Regardless of whether I’m riding my Brompton with its Sturmey Archer 3-speed IGH, or my Civia Bryant with its Shimano Alfine 8-speed IGH, I always appreciate the fact that I can roll up to a stop light, make a shift or three while waiting for the light, then roll away in the appropriate gear. I’ve become so accustomed to doing this that even after 30 years on derailleur drivetrains I now sometimes forget to down-shift my derailleur-bike before coming to a stop.

Other than the Rohloff, most internal gear hubs cover a narrower range than triple derailleur drivetrains. Whether this is a real disadvantage in practice depends mostly upon where a person lives. My wife jokes that her bike is a 3-speed, even though it’s equipped with a 24-speed drivetrain. What she’s getting at is that 99% of the time she only uses the middle three cogs in the rear and the middle ring up front. For much of the riding I do, I find the same thing, though I probably use more like 6 gears instead of her 3 (I shift too much). In fact, I converted my old Surly from 27-speeds down to 18, then finally 9, and even then I rarely used the entire range. Given our riding habits, an 8-, 9-, or 11-speed IGH provides more than enough gearing options. Of course, those who live in hillier terrain may need the broader range and low-low of a touring triple.

According to a poll we conducted back in April, 14% of our readers ride bikes outfitted with internal gear hubs. My guess is that there are a variety of reasons why that number isn’t higher, some of which are listed under the “Cons” above. The first three drawbacks are not necessarily insignificant, but the last one may be the sleeper. Bicyclists—especially those who have been riding for many years—tend to be tinkerers. I’d say a fairly high percentage of our readers perform at least a portion of their maintenance at home. The issue is that working on IGHs is beyond the comfort level of many home mechanics. This puts the burden of repairing our hubs on local bike shops, and from what I’ve experienced, there’s a major shortage of mechanics who have the know-how to wrench on IGHs.

If you’re not already riding an IGH, I’d be curious to know if you’re considering one for the future, and if not, what the obstacles are. If you’re already on an IGH, I’d like to hear why you made the switch and what you both like and dislike about your particular hub(s).

72 Responses to “Some Thoughts on Internal Gear Hubs”

  • Greg Raven says:

    You might have mentioned “cost” in the Cons section. A Rohloff with all the trimmings can easily cost more than the bike you’re putting it on, even if the bike is fairly pricey.

  • Ed says:

    Great write up. I fully agree with the tinkering aspect. I think most regular bikers enjoy the freedom to tweak and tinker and I think we will learn to tinker with these as well. Also I live i in Chester County PA USA, its very hilly area and just bought a 7 speed crusier compared to a 24 speed I usually ride. My best guess is I’ll just learn to adapt just like ill learn to tinker with an internal hub.

  • Alan says:

    @Greg

    On the other hand, a Nexus 7-speed IGH can be had for around $200, less than many derailleur/cassette/hub combos, so price isn’t necessarily an issue.

  • Aaron Pailthorp says:

    Switched my Ezee Forza ebike from 9 speed derailleur to the new Shimano Alfine 11 speed. Couldn’t be happier. The big bike already weighs 50 lbs, so the weight was not an issue. Love the cleaned up drive train and shifting any time.

  • Roland Tanglao says:

    i hate tinkering on hardware of any sort including bicycles but i’d love me some internal gear hub action :-)

    saving my pennies for a dutch style city bike with internal gear hub, dynamo hub ! Some day!

  • Phil Miller says:

    Wear out a Freewheel and you can replace it for $30-70. Wear out an IGH and you’ll have to replace the WHEEL, not just the hub.
    Want to change a gear on cluster? No sweat. Change a gear on an IGH? Uhhhhh…
    There are two LBS’s in Los Angeles County where I can take a 3-sp S-A or Shimano IGH and feel confident it will get fixed. Fortunately they are both near me. There are none where I could take anything else: SRAM, Shimano, S-A, Rohloff. They would alll have to get shipped off, probably after clipping them out of the wheel, which means a new wheel-build after I get them back…
    If I lived in snow country, I’d definitely consider one for a winter bike. Other than that, they seem to be a solution in search of a problem…

  • Phil Miller says:

    Oh, one other consideration on IGH’s. Flats.
    If you have fenders, it’s easier to get an IGH out of the frame, IF it has vertical dropouts.
    If you don’t, you have disconnecting/reconnecting the shifter cable, and hope it doesn’t get out of calibration. I can do that. My daughter walked the bike home, gave the bike to me, in tears, and wonder why I chose such a ‘dumb’ bike for her. She’s known how to get a bike in and out of derailleurs since she was 10, and besides that, her friends all have derailleur bikes, and she can fix flats on *them*.

  • Alan says:

    @Phil

    You bring up a good point. With familiarity comes increased confidence and a higher comfort level. A lack of familiarity with modern IGHs may be one of the main obstacles to their wider use.

  • Phil Miller says:

    Oh, one big plus for IGH’s. Chain guards go better on an IGH, because you don’t have a springy derailleur sending your chain slapping against the chain guard every time you hit a pot hole.

  • Barney Fife says:

    I don’t currently ride with an IGH, mainly because I’m still enjoying the challenge and simplicity of my single speed. The 3 speed IGH on my daughter’s Linus mixte is fantastic however, and if…Let’s be serious…When I get a second bike it will definitely have an IGH. It’s simple, reliable, less likely to get damaged by accidental bumping. I like the look too.

  • Nicholas says:

    If Civia had an Alfine 11 equipped Bryant when I was commuter shopping, I’d probably have an IGH. Right now, I’m happy with my significantly cheaper SRAM Rival equipped bike. Honestly, the pros and cons kind weigh each other out for me on similar commuters with a high number of gears, between the two systems. If I decide to keep my one speed, it’ll eventually get a 2 speed hub. I haven’t decided on that one yet.

  • msrw says:

    Three of our five bikes are IGH–two Rohloffs and a Shimano.

    I think for those who haven’t used IGHs, issues like maintenance seem potentially operative; but in the 9 years that we’ve been using internal hubs we have never had ANY maintenance issues. Zero. Whereas, I’ve had to do all sorts of maintenance on our two derailleur bike drivechains.

    IGHs are definitely NOT a solution in search of a problem. They simplify shifting and maintenance, while significantly reducing complexity within the drivetrain.

    I don’t mind mechanical work, but I find it better when tinkering isn’t necessary, and would wonder if there actually are riders who prefer less reliable equipment, the better to allow them to tinker.

  • Andy says:

    No IGH for me. I agree that they are generally a solution to a problem that doesn’t exist. They certainly cost significantly more than derailleurs, aren’t one bit configurable, and you’re SOL if anything goes wrong. I’ve considered it for winter commuting, but even then, regular derailleurs are still great and at a fraction of the cost.

    They seem nice and easy to use for city bikes, but those are not where I’d expect to be dropping hundreds on a part that could have been $50.

  • Alan says:

    Not to be argumentative, but I hear the cost issue brought up often and I think it’s a bit of a red herring. When comparing an IGH to a conventional double or triple drivetrain, you have to figure in the cost of two derailleurs, a rear hub, a cassette, an extra shifter and cable, and a more expensive multi-ring crank. When doing the math in this way, the cost difference is pretty much a wash at comparable quality levels (excepting the Rohloff, which is in the stratosphere).

    Alan

  • kfg says:

    I didn’t switch to IGH (I switched to riding fixed “full time” instead of just in the “off season” when I realized, like yourself, I had quite comfortably settled in to using my STI racing bike as a close ratio 3 speed), I acquired one as well, because, well, just because it was offered really. I like bikes.

    What I don’t like about it is the range. It’s too wide. I don’t want wide range half so much as I want ratios comfortably spaced. Back in the day (I put thousands of miles on IGH’s back in the day, I’m not an IGH noob. According to some CL listings I’m an “antique”) this could be accomplished easily enough (if not inexpensively) by swapping out the hub for one with different range (say an AM or AC), but that option is more problematic today.

    So the derailer bikes stay, even if they spend more time collecting dust than being ridden at the moment, if only to be used as a three speed at some future time when the idea of facing the escarpments on a fix begins to look less attractive.

    Japan still makes (or at least they did until recently) dedicated three speed derailer bikes. Wouldn’t mind trying one of those. You could make up an indexed friction shifting (all the way forward and all the way back) close ratio two speed with a DOS freewheel, but you’d be stuck with a full size derailer unless you could come up with one of those Japanese compacts for three speeds.

    Or maybe by the time I think I “need” one someone will offer a modern design, oil bath, medium ratio three speed IGH. I’d definitely want to give something like that a try, perhaps as an alternate wheel for the city fix, or maybe on a dedicated “retro” time trialer; but I’m not holding my breath.

  • Ira Kinro says:

    I don’t have any particular need to work on bikes, but I know how when I need to…except for IGH’s. Lucky for me, almost nothing ever goes wrong with them. Ever.

    I have to admit though, I did have a S-A 5-speed bite the dust once. No new wheel was necessary. The bike shop just popped the old one out of its shell, and popped the new “innards” into the old shell. Ready to roll. Shimano is even more convenient with modular construction for the innards.

    The 256% gear range was a little tight, but it covered 95% of my needs.

    My wife’s bike has a Nexus-8. She loves it. The 307% gear range is fine for her. I thought it would be too tight (she used 370% of the range on the derailleur bike), but it turns out to be just fine.

    We are car free, so reliability and ease of use motivated our switch to IGH. The clean lines are a nice bonus though.

    Regarding weight: don’t knock it ’til you try it. I’m from the “it all works together” school of thought. What works in one situation might not work in an almost identical situation. I can only guess as to why my Pashley Princess Sovereign is an amazing hill climber for me.

    By the way, we live in an extremely hilly area. These are not comments from the flat lands.

  • Dave says:

    I love to wrench on bikes, cars, etc., but I hate to *have to* wrench on them. I can set the dwell and timing on a 1972 Fiat with my eyes closed but given a choice between that and an electronic ignition that will go 200,000 miles between failures, the choice is clear: I’ll take the electronic ignition even if it requires an oscilloscope and function generator to troubleshoot when it does go out. By the same token, I’ll take a high reliability/tough to service IGH every time over a low reliability/easy to service external gear train that requires a weekly lube and inspection.

  • kfg says:

    To be argumentative: “you have to figure in the cost of two derailleurs”

    No you don’t. See above. “Derailleur” does not imply a multi ring setup. A 1X9 has more usable gears than a “10 speed.” A 1×7 has as many as some. Certainly as many gears as a 7 or fewer speed IGH. For that matter, while certainly not necessary many “practical” 1xwhatever bikes are set up with double, or even triple, cranks, using ring guards in lieu of a hockey stick.

  • Alan says:

    @kfg

    ““Derailleur” does not imply a multi ring setup.”

    True enough. I rode a 1×9 myself as mentioned in the OP, and only used 6 of those on a regular basis (loved the 1X set-up BTW). That said, according to the poll quoted above, only 7% of our readers are riding 1X drivetrains compared to 59% on either doubles or triples.

    Alan

  • Brent says:

    After much agonizing over which bike to get I bought a Breezer Uptown Infinity a couple of months ago. I had been riding a 21 speed Trek Allant, and found that I only used about 5 of those gears.

    I live in Downtown Denver, which is pretty flat, some mild grades here and there, and few steeper hills, but I live down hill from pretty much everything so when I am going up I am going empty. When I am loaded I am going downhill. Nice.

    I am car-free, and I wanted something comfortable, capable of carrying what I needed to carry, and as low maintenance as possible. The ability to have a full chain case was very appealing to me.

    I LOVE the Nuvinci hub. It took me a little while to get used to it – I kept making too adjustments that were too large. Once I got used to it and learned to make smaller tweaks to the gear ratios I fell in love with the hub.

    I make adjustments far more frequently than I did with the derailleur just because it is so easy to drop down a bit if I’m suddenly going up slightly, or if the wind picks up, the kind of situations where you wouldn’t necessarily bother with stepped gears because you aren’t going up enough to bother down-shifting. Being able to shift at a stop while loaded is fantastic.

    And that full chain case? I love it. I love not having to worry about rolling up or strapping my pant-leg (and I still wound up with chain tattoos from time to time anyway) and the chain is still nice and clean.

    I consider myself an IGH convert. I can’t imagine going back to the derailleur now.

  • Alan says:

    @Brent

    Thanks for the report on the NuVinci. I rode the original a couple of years ago and was underwhelmed, but I’ve heard nothing but raves about the new one. That Breezer Infinity looks like a great bike.

    Alan

  • Steve Fuller says:

    Looked at them a few times, but it’s always been as a retrofit rather than something on a new bike. I’d like to look at one for bad road surface riding (snow, or wet sloppy gravel). My biggest issue has been weight and gear range. The Rohloff has the range I want, but $1400 is a lot of money for a test.

  • Dolan Halbook says:

    I’ve been commuting on a Rohloff bike for the last 4 years, year round (sun, rain, snow, whatever). The hub was bought secondhand, so it’s seen one servicing (oil change and new cables and housing mainly) in that time frame. About once a year I throw on a new chain. I *never* have to adjust the shifting. Ever. No chain rub. No cross shifting. No chain slap. No dropped chains. None of that annoying crap. Yes, taking the rear wheel off is a little more difficult, but not much, and luckily I’ve only had to do it all of two times now.

    If your time is worth anything (as much as I like to wrench I’d rather spend it with my kids), you might consider looking at an IGH. My guess is that over 10 years even a Rohloff would even out in cost to most derailleur drivetrains if used all year round in a non-sunny climate.

  • kfg says:

    @Alan

    “. . .only 7% of our readers are riding 1X drivetrains. . .”

    Yet while that is a somewhat interesting thing to know, it does not, in fact, feature as one of the parameters in determining the cost of a derailer system. I note in particular that in the “value” range of bicycles the Nexus 7 and the 1×7 go head to head, with the 1×7 being more readily available, with the larger market share, specifically because it is cheaper at time of purchase.

    A better argument on a more level playing field would have addressed the cost of ownership.

    I believe that for many riders the IGH will come out ahead within two years. If the IGH is ridden regularly, in all conditions and has a fullish chain case I believe it will be well ahead in the large majority of cases within 5 years.

    At least in the 7 and 8 speed categories; and I don’t think anyone buying a Rohloff is bargain hunting in the first place.

  • kanishka azimi (new england!) says:

    once i got back into biking and wanting to use it for transportaiton, and longer transportation, i first thought of multi-modal and folding, then igh. i consider even 1-2 days in a bike shop major downtime when you are trying for carfree or carlite with one bike. my bet is that igh’s over the last few years have saved me from some shop time overall, though i had some serious issues with a sturmey archer 3 speed.

    another minor advantage to the igh is how well it works wtih folders. much less to worry about getting damaged when folded.

    i guess i would have tried more gear ranges, swapping out every few months, with a 1x* derailler setup. but i don’t mind not getting to customize that as frequently. i might have tried more fast tires (instead flat protection) if it wasn’t for the IGH and not being sure how to change the tires on it that well.

    i find i shift with more confidence on an IGH. sometimes i would avoid some gears on my derailler setups, not being sure if the front derailer was working or how long it had been since it was serviced.

  • Eric Jenkins says:

    I would think that the 14% number might be due to IGH’s only making a recent comeback, and being a rarity in most bike shops.
    I think that most ‘ordinary’ bike riders buy a new bike once every few years at best, and the IGH bikes just haven’t been out that long, and are not readily available.
    I live alongside a busy commuting bike route, and have been watching the bike traffic grow every year to the point where this summer the paths are almost as busy as the roads. Most people ride 20 year old beaters, some road bikes, some Mountain, and a growing number of purpose-built commuter bikes, but roughly 10% of the total bike traffic. Of that 10%, I still only see a few IGH’s on a given day. They are just not yet a big deal in the wider world, at least not yet.
    My IGH ratio, and my wife’s, are 50/50 by the way. The next big bike purchase will have an Alfine.

  • Helton says:

    Hi Alan and folks. Thanks for posting on this topic I like so much.

    I ride almost daily a Rohloff mountain-bike-made-commuter, and it has been so for almost five years.

    Since there is a certain prejudice against Rohloff, and I only can tell about it (not other IGHs), and since there are plenty of pros/cons lists about it in the net, I’ll talk about my personal experience with it, and the reasons why I use it.

    I bought it because I felt I had to. I was slowly building a bike for touring that would be “the most reliable bike I’ll ever had”. I ride since four years old, and since I graduated and started to buy my own stuff, I noticed that, sometimes, the cheap becomes expensive. I threw away dozens of Shimano cassetes with more than half the cogs still usable. Each time I had to clean the drivetrain I took almost one hour, at home. From some years ago, Shimano started to downshift its quality in the “buyable” groups, and started to raise too much the price for the top ones. I started to feel cheated, buying something that was INTENDED to last less than it could. So I gave up buying “mainstream” bike components.

    I payed, in Brazil where I live, the equivalent of one thousand dollars for the hub. It might seem unbeliavable someone could do that, but I do not regret even for a second. I really wanted that, but what in the beginning was an excentric self-gift proved, over the years, to be an excellent bargain, specially considering the car-replacing nature this specific bike has now. If I were to count the price of every part I do not need to have in my bike anymore… Shifters, rear and front derailleur, casette, triple chainring… If you buy these with a decent quality, you could easily spend even more than one grand (at least here in Brazil, buying all XT stuff certainly is more expensive…)

    In these five years, I rode in every kind of condition. I love offroad and my touring rides (three per year, at most) almost always include non-asphalt road. I can tell the drivetrain is lasting MUCH LONGER than with derailleur, the chain lasts longer, I didn’t have to change the sprocket yet, and the chainring seems to never wear out.

    There are cons, too, and a lot. The gear shifting is much less comfortable with that single-handed grip shifter than with sweet rapid fires, and that is my main complain about the system. I notice the difference when I ride my wife’s bike, which has rapid fires. Also, the twist shifter is pretty lame. After some mud gets inside, it wears the metal and the low friction is gone forever. It is not so terrible, it still works, but what else can I put there except another identical shifter?

    Also, I had an unpleasant leakage which demanded seal replacement. I did it myself, but only for being lucky to live in the same city of the one and only Rohloff dealer in whole South America… So he had the tools, and the seals themselves, in the first place, and it was not so difficult, but also was on the limit of my “confort level”.

    There was one time when the cable was pulled out of its clamping (bayonette type) because I shifted to the first gear too hard, and overstretched the cable. It was a serious problem, and I almost could not get it fixed in place. (need a 2mm allen wrench…). Never had the problem again.

    All in all, the hub was a problem solver to me, for sure, because if I were to think about all the maintenance I would have had to do, but didn’t because it was not needed, and all the parts I would already have worn out… It was very well worth.

    If I were to build another bike from scratch, maybe I would put a Rohloff on it, maybe not. Specially if a bike is expected to be abused (load-carrying, rough terrain, dirt and rain, sparse maintainance) and used too often (much more ridden than tinkered), I would probably put another grand and free my mind.

    (I’m sure I would have more to say, but I think I have got the most important said ;o)

  • Tucson Velo says:

    I don’t have an IGH on any of my bikes… YET. I’ve got an Alfine 8 at home getting ready to be laced onto a wheel for my CETMA, which will be here next month.

    I’m looking forward to the easy shifting and low maintenance.

  • Doug P says:

    I’m waiting for, and dreaming about, a two speed wireless IGH with a freewheel or cassette. A guaranteed sell to who knows how many single-speeders besides myself. Mate this to a cassette and throw away the front derailleur setup. or mount just a single cog, then put a single button to shift up or down, and away you go!…are you listening, mr brilliant engineer somewhere?

  • Paul, Birmingham uk says:

    I have a wide variety, in the four bikes I use I have an old 3 sp SA, a 21 sp derailleur, a single speed fixed and a six speed brompton derailleur/igh combo, I love all of them for different reasons but admit that IGHs can seem daunting to work on, however as a teenager I wrecked a sturmey archer 3 speed, probably due to lack of care, but was able to strip it down and swap the worn out internals with those from a scrap wheel, without too much trouble and that hub went on to provide many more years service, so I guess it can be done, it’s just a question of what we’re used to.

  • Jim says:

    FWIW I’m no super cyclist, but I need granny and I top out in big ring on my commute with 24 speed der. drivetrain. If I was to go IGH, I’d want even more range than I have currently.

    Have no idea whay the manufacturers haven’t worked that out yet, I’d be happy to forgo all the intermediate steps if I could get an 8 speed spread across the same overall range. TBH after working out the ratios on a 24 spd, I think there are a lot of double ups anyway.

    I like the idea of IGH, cleanliness and low maintenance a big positive for me but budget only allows spending to replace worn components.

  • Lenny says:

    With the exception of my Sturmey-Archer AW hubbed 1962 Phillips made “Ranger” import, I find the Shimano Nexus 7 and 8 IGH hubs a real pain to fix on-the-road flats. And the 8 IGH has a lot of drag(friction) in the mid-range gears.

  • Mike Evans says:

    Biggest con in my area is that most shops don’t stock bikes with IGH

  • William Seville says:

    “special shiters” – no more than my 10sp campy equipped bike. My Sturmey is shifted by down tube shifters – no harder/no easier than down tube shifters with anything else.

    Front derailleurs are the spawn of the devil. Rears/IGH is a closer contest

  • kanishka azimi (new england!) says:

    also, i’ve heard that the sram i-motions are the easiest for changing tires

  • Nick says:

    Cost is an issue … you won’t find IGH on budget bikes, usually mid-range and up. Also, there are far fewer bicycle models offered with IGH, making it more difficult to get a spec/price that suits. Removing the wheel to fix a puncture is also more tricky. But the real killer for me is the smaller gear range … mainly the top gear isn’t high enough on 8 speed IGH … I do like the new Alfine 11 speed, but that is expensive. I own one bike with 8 speed Nexus IGH … all my other bikes have dérailleurs. I like belt drives a lot, so that will help swing me more towards IGH on my next bike … then the low maintenance really comes into its own … and I’ll have the perfect commuter.

  • Sam K says:

    I just completed converting my Surly Cross Check over to an 8 speed Alfine set up with swept back bars and a trigger shifter – I’m so much happier on this around town than before thanks to the new gearing, stationary shifting and simplicity of the drivetrain.

    I live in a hilly town with steep climbs but the lowest gear when used with my 45T chainring and 20T rear cog gives me a low gear that’s fine for gently winching up the hills and a top gear that’s plenty fast for gunning it down them on the other side. I’m wondering what took me so long to make the jump from 3×9 – Thoroughly recommended.

  • Alan says:

    @Helton

    Thanks for the thorough report on your Rohloff.

    The Rohloff’s exceptional quality and reliability makes it very appealing. Cost is certainly a factor, but as you and others have noted, they may very well pay for themselves over time. The lack of more/better shifter options appears to be one of the only functional drawbacks to the system.

    PS – Here’s an interesting article on the Rohloff written by Andy Blance (Thorn’s designer and test rider): http://sheldonbrown.com/harris/rohloff-impressions.html

  • arevee says:

    I’ve had a couple of bikes with IGH and sold both of them, though not because of the IGH. While it was very nice to be able to have a chain guard and a clean chain, I found the IGH to feel noticably less efficient than the derailleur drivetrain. From an aesthetic stand point, the shifter is quite unattractive, though that can be addressed with an after market shifter.

    I plan to build a town oriented bike later in the summer. Perhaps I’ll give IGH another try. My less than positive experiences were with older, Nexus equipped bikes. Perhaps a newer Alfine would address some of the shortcomings of the Nexus. For price reasons, Rolhoff is out of the question.

    Living in rainy, sludgy Portland, OR, the clean chain argument is a very compelling one in favor of IGH and chain guard.

  • Bob Bryant says:

    I once had an IGH 8 speed fail in 9 months of rainy Pacific Northwest riding. After a few years of pondering the mystery, I found this link which outlines how this can happen. That said, my favorite drivetrain is a basic IGH 3 speed. They are cheap and easy to replace should they fail. My second favorite is a basic 1×5/6/7 derailleur.

  • Dolan Halbrook says:

    @Bob Bryant

    A fellow commuter in the office has a non-red band Nexus inter-8 that has slowly failed over three years, being rebuilt a few times now. Also in the Pac NW. My wife’s bike has the same hub and it’s been fine, but she doesn’t ride much and certainly doesn’t ride hard.

    If I were looking for IGH reliability with lots of gears, I’d set the Nexus red-band as the base and go up from there.

  • Don says:

    I may have missed it, but I don’t think anyone has mentioned the rear dropout requirement. Lately the IGH has brought with it a resurgence of horizontal or near-horizontal dropouts to accommodate them, or has reinstated value to older frames for IGH project bikes. Neither of my current bikes could accommodate one without one of those fake-derailer-slack-taker-uppers, which to me defeats the purpose, aesthetically at least. I suppose you could experiment one link at a time. Maybe my next frame will have cheater slanted dropouts, we’ll see. And then I’ll have to remember one of those spring-loaded fender thingies.

    Another subconscious factor is that many may associate the IGH with the belt drive, so often are they paired, so it’s easy to forget that, other than the dropout thing (or EBB), IGHs are AC/DC.

    But I still always come back to the cost, because in my experience, one is either putting together a complete bike or replacing things piecemeal. Tying the gear decision to the hub decision is simply a complication.

    What’s funny is that so many extol the virtues of an IGH’s simplicity, but when I saw your post on taking the Alfine apart, I thought, LORD. Derailers are so simple, I can pick up a junk bike, clean up the rear derailer, and it will work. There’s a lot to be said for that.

  • voyage says:

    Referring to the closing paragraph of the OP, for me each of the pros of IGH are irrelevant while the cons are relevant and significant. So, looked at in terms of cost-effectiveness, I wouldn’t purchase an IGH bike and certainly wouldn’t convert any of my commute/utility bikes to IGH (they’re all derailleur, obviously). But that’s just me. I have no idea where the industry will “go” but I suspect derailleur bikes (1 by x, 2 by x, 3 by x) of all types and price points will be around for a long time.

  • msrw says:

    This is slightly off topic, but just to clarify a few details about the Rohloff hub which have come up in this thread……

    1. Rohloffs can be purchased for dramatically less than US$ 1,400. http://www.starbike.com in Germany sells the standard Rohloff hub for about $800 and change. (the price to non EEC countries is about 20 percent less than the price listed in Euros–the discount is added when you check out.) Star also has extremely low cost shipping to the States. (Just to mention, Star also sells Son and Tubus parts for about half of what they cost in the States). It would be great to support the American distributor, but for me, not if they insist on charging outrageous prices, as they currently do.

    2. When using a Rohloff hub on a frame designed for it, removing the wheels is as simple as unlocking the axle quick release, unhooking the two cable quick releases and taking off the wheel. I honestly don’t find it any more complicated or slow than taking off the rear wheel on a derailleur equipped bike. On Rohloffs designed for non-dedicated frames, there’s an additional step: unhooking the quick release on the fishbone–which adds maybe another 2 seconds to the time.

    3. Once Rohloff hubs are worn in a bit–which takes about 500 miles–the hubs feel approximately as efficient as derailleur drivetrains. This is definitely NOT the case with the Shimano and SRAM IGHs I’ve used, which tend to feel a bit less efficient, like riding through a thin layer of mud. This seems to be a significant advantage of oil bath type IGHs over IGH systems that use grease.

    4. With the gear selection mechanisim in the hub rather than in the twist shifter, gear adjustment is just a matter of having the two shifting cables at the right tension–beyond that, there is nothing to adjust, nothing to go out of spec.

    5. All in all, Rohloffs offer much more than a wider gear ratio. They are simply an order of magnitude better than other IGHs in terms of build and material quality, and what feels like greater efficiency. I would guess that they’ll also last virtually forever.

    6. The person who had a cable pull out of the cable stop by shifting too hard into first gear simply didn’t have the cable stop suffiently tight. There are two 2mm stop screws for each cable, and if tightened to spec, they don’t slip.

    I don’t know about everyone else, but I try to own things that are as reliable as possible–if I value my time at even a relatively low $50/hour, and if I have to do 10 hours of maintenance on a bicycle drivetrain per year–vrs, say, 1 hour on the Rohloff–the hub pays for itself rather quickly, regardless of the added pleasure of using a product that not only is low maintenance, but that works so well.

  • reginaldo almeida says:

    With this series of articles about internal gear hubs, I must confess that I have been teased, but here in Brazil this is such a novelty that only those who travel to the US or Europe and manage to have the time to go to a bike shop (and I guess not any bike shop), are the proud owners of bikes fitted with IGH.

    For the time being I am only nurturing my envy and who knows next time I travel to the States, and if I do have time, I might bring this Alfine 11 with me back home. Who knows.

  • Syd says:

    Interesting thread!

    Something that was not on the IGH ‘Pro’ list was wheel symmetry. IGH wheels have no offset so the spokes have the same tension on both sides which makes for both a stronger wheel and fewer broken spokes. And even if you should break a spoke on the drive side there’s no need to remove the cogs in order to thread the new spoke in.

    As a Rohloff user for the past 25,000km (16,000 touring) I’m firmly in the “never go back to derailleur” camp. I’m still using the same cables, have never missed a gear change, have never needed to adjust anything, have never needed to do that fun ride-in-a-circle-while-I-try-to-engage-a-low-gear hill start trick. Maintenance consists of a dead easy annual oil change.

    And for the poster who was enquiring about a two speed wireless hub – SRAM are just about to release a two speed auto hub and Schlumpf make a pricey two speed bottom bracket with a heel click change mechanism.

  • Steve Fuller says:

    @DougP

    Two speed kickback might be your answer

    http://hubstripping.wordpress.com/2010/02/03/sturmey-archer-shows-2-speed-kickback-hub-with-coaster-brake/

  • Stephen D. says:

    Regarding cost –

    I’ve been checking out the Public Bikes website recently, and this might settle an argument regarding cost. Comparing two diamond frame bikes, the A7 has a Shimano 1×7 derailleur system for $550. The D8 has a Shimano Nexus 8 speed IGH for $950.

    They seem identical in almost every other aspect. Interestingly, they spec the IGH at 1.5 lbs lighter than the derailleur model.

  • Steve jones says:

    Most of those in favor of derailleurs say… with an IGH…IF something goes wrong… etc. But they usually DON’T go wrong.
    That’s the point.
    I’ve had a lot of trouble with derailleurs and often at inconvenient times…riding home from work in the dark and rain for example. NOT fun.Few derailleurs stay in good alignment over longer periods and it is not as easy as you think to adjust them correctly for clean shifting unless you have serious mechanical skills ( many people don’t ).
    I can trust my IGH to shift smoothly, whenever I want and to keep on working, without fear of being affected by mud or water or obstacles. yes, it’s a Rohloff, but my next bike will have a nexus 8 and I’m confident of it’s reliability and functionality. Derailleurs are nice when you have a fast bike where you want micro changes in your gears for performance riding.Except for that…IGH. The downside if any is NOT servicing, which is not much needed, but the extra cost at time of purchase.My bike fleet is also morphing to IGH.

  • Bob Bryant says:

    +1 on IGH wheels being stronger. Also, no bent derailleurs or hangers.

  • Eric Jenkins says:

    Forgot about the last sentence/question of the article.
    I went to an IGH because I found derailleurs freeze up somehow in the winter, at some point. Wet driving snow accumulates at certain temperatures depending on the blizzard.
    While we had admittedly cheaper bikes (SIS shifters) until recently, I have found indexed shifting always fails us at some point, and adjusting the high and low limit screws a pain to get right. The front derailleur would inevitably get stuck in the middle position from november until may. Got sick of all that.
    The IGH’s we got on my and the wife’s bikes (nexus 7 each) have been great in all weather and conditions. I have changed a flat with it in the Brodie Section 8 (big beefy commuter with roller brakes) and managed to do it without too much hassle.
    I do have simple derailleurs (friction pulley) on the main summer commuter, and find those possible for me to maintain, due to the simplicity and open design. But I adjust them much more than I care to. The next bike will be belt drive and Alfine. I’d much rather ride my bike than adjust it all the time.

  • Robin Hillier says:

    Making the switch to IGH was a big risk for me as, like the posters from South America, IGH is exceedingly rare where I live. I was told that there was no way to service them in my country and warned off them by one mechanic. I was initially tempted to change because I found my self using 7-8 gears of a 3×8 after a few years of commuting. Also, despite the very sunny SoCal-like climate where I live, there is a lot of sand and I found my gear system constantly clogged and grinding after a rainy commute.

    After the switch many of my concerns have proven unfounded. Once the shifter cable settled in the system has required no adjustment. Every time I check, the 2 yellow lines are perfectly in line. After the first fraught rear tyre change, I’ve learnt how to remove the cable and now find it much easier than changing a rear derailleur with a disc. This winter I’ve enjoyed smooth shifting regardless of weather, although a belt would still be an improvement in these conditions. Finally, I am still a bit nervous about having to do the oil bath service myself in a year, but feel that the time will be worth it when compared to all that saved on gear cleaning and adjustment. (Also, off-topic, but the self-adjusting hydraulic discs have saved me plenty of time too in these conditions which cost 2-3 sets of rim brake pads per winter!)

  • jnyyz says:

    I’ve been riding two Alfine 8 seed bikes for about a year now. The IGH is ideal for the city. I have one on a winter beater, which is a conversion with a chain tensioner and bar end shifters, and one that has horizontal dropouts, and was intended for the Alfine from day one. I tested a new bike with the Alfine 11 recently, and I’ll hold off on the upgrade at the moment:

    http://jnyyz.wordpress.com/2011/06/26/mec-chance-bike-with-alfine-11-quick-look/

  • Alan says:

    @Robin

    “Finally, I am still a bit nervous about having to do the oil bath service myself in a year, but feel that the time will be worth it when compared to all that saved on gear cleaning and adjustment.”

    Robin,

    I think that if you take the time to carefully look at the Shimano tech documents and follow the various online tutorials slowly and carefully, you’ll find that servicing your hub is not as difficult as you think. Just like your tire change experience, my guess is that once you’ve done it, you’ll wonder why you were so concerned about it.

    Alan

  • Alan says:

    @jnyyz

    Thanks for the link. Nice report!

    Alan

  • Mark says:

    Definitely interested in IGH for my winter bike for next year. Riding year round in Buffalo,NY on derailler bikes can be frustrating. Certain snows accumulate on the gear cluster, ice up, and make it impossible to shift. Even with constant lubing of the chain, I have worn out a drivetrain in one winter. And messy chain marks on clothes . . . and transferred onto locking cables then onto hands . . .
    I remember my dads old English 3-speed that he rode in all weather in western NY with no maintenance but oiling the hub and the chain. When I was in college, I overhauled it for him and put his components over onto another frame since the original was rusting out from the road salt. The wheel was still going strong and the chain was still fine. I am old enough now to not be as enamoured by “speed,” I”m ready for practiicality, at least for an all-weather bike.

  • Phil says:

    I’m waiting ( waiting, waiting, waiting ) for the Dutch distributor of Sturmey-Archer 8 speed hubs to get a 135mm wide one to Really Useful Bikes so I can have my rear wheel built. It’s easy to get wheels out of a derailleur, but they are too easy to damage, need constant adjustment to run smoothly and an absolute bugger to clean thoroughly. I want to get on and go, without having to consider holding the changer in between gears whilst the chain chatters and makes its’ mind up which sprocket it’s going to engage.

  • John Ferguson says:

    No IGH as of yet, but I’m getting closer.. When I rebuild my old Stumpjumper as an Xtracycle later this year I’m determined to go IGH for that – with the super long chain length on this kind of bike it just seems like a natural. I’ll probably use an Alfine or Nexus 8 speed hub and see how that process goes. Eventually, I’ll get a new commuter with an Alfine 11/belt drive combo but don’t think that build is quite ready for prime time yet. I may eventually convert to a belt drive/IGH mountain bike, but I’d bet that step is many years away. The Xtracycle build will be the test bed, as I’ve not had an IGH bike since my college days (3 speed S/A)

  • Bill Graves says:

    Just waiting for my frame of choice to have center-track available with it for winter commuting in Buffalo, NY.

  • Micheal Blue says:

    An IGH is definitely on my bike radar. I bike all year round and I definitely don’t like maintaining the chain. I can smell the sweet scent of a full chain cover…ahhhh.

  • tastewar says:

    My next bike will definitely be one with an IGH and belt. I’ve been waiting for years, but I can keep waiting some, for the tech to improve and/or get cheaper. The reason I wait is that my current bike works fine, and I know how to fix it when it doesn’t. While I may lust after a ToutTerrain with a Rohloff (my current desktop wallpaper :-) ), I can wait a bit longer. Or maybe even a bit longer than that…

  • dave says:

    I have a sachs igh 3 speed with 7spd derailleur cluster at rear on 3 of my bikes (2 recumbent Bike E’s and one Schwinn Panther). The recumbents feel slow, that wet mud-like condition referred to above. I would like to try an IGH, perhaps an Alfine 8 sometime soon. The Bianchi cafe racer Milano model might be fun and comes so equipped for not too much $. I ride a converted old Gitane singlespeed a lot now for commuting because I love the clean quieter efficient zippiness of it. And in winter also on singlespeed icebike to save the drivetrains of the other bikes. I would like a belt drive IGH if it held up to snow (full chaincase?) And like the looks of the Tout Terrain very much as well. Just haven’t taken the cost plunge yet.

  • tastewar says:

    Another “Plus” I didn’t see mentioned is that with an IGH there is no need to dish the rear wheel, so a bike with an IGH can have a sturdier rear wheel. I think this is part of the rationale for some IGH use on tandems.

  • Phil Miller says:

    Rivendell has Rivy freewheel hubs that are also dishless. Expensive, but nowhere near what a 7-8+ IGH costs.
    As I’m reading the comments, we do agree that there are IGH’s of less than 7-8 speeds…
    3-sp IGH’s make sense to me. I ride my single-speed in enough situations where I wish I had a low and a high. Direct drive is in the middle. I’d set it to about a 70-inch gear.
    I think I’d even like the 5-sp IGH of S-A’s. Direct Drive in middle set for about 63-inch gear.
    If I lived and cruised on or near beaches I’d definitely consider an IGH.
    But I’ve helped people with broken ones that wouldn’t even roll home. Locked up. Had to pick it up and carry it. By the back wheel. I’ve NEVER seen that on a derailleur bike. Only on IGH’s and SS coasters. Maybe they were abused.
    Oh, and I only use friction. Brifters and indexing is for racing when catching your opponent at the finish by a foot matters, and for riding in the pack where someone is 6-inches off your back wheel and you can’t let off for even a second lest s/he tangle your wheel. Even my aggressive group rides don’t ride that tight. But I calibrate my RD only after an overhaul, and I usually get 10-20K miles between overhauls.

  • Angelo says:

    I personally have a strong preference for IGH (I have many S-A 3 speeds, a MTB with derailler, a 12 spd road bike I rarely ride, and recently bought a bike with Shimano Nexus 7 speed).

    I find the IGH is generally more reliable in snow than derailler shifting and requires less maintenance. The S-A 3 speeds are extremely inexpensive and usually very reliable. When I paid for maintenance, it was cost effective since it was so rare; after 30 years I can do the work my self (and unfortunately, often have to, since fewer bike shops still work on them). Effectively, I haven’t “made a switch to IGH”. They were popular in Massachusetts from the 60s to 80s, and I haven’t really seen a need to switch to derailleurs. (While I wasn’t riding in the 60s, the bikes last forever, making them available and inexpensive compared to new bikes today.)

    Realistically, for some the derailleur will offer a wider range and more options for service, while others will find the IGH reliable and simple enough to overcome any industry bias to deraillerus

  • Andy says:

    I want an IGH for 2 reasons:
    1) Belt-drive compatibility
    2) The ability to shift after an unplanned stop.

    I am postponing my switch to IGH for 1 reason:
    The low gears on the affordable (i.e. non-Rohloff) models are just not low enough. I need that granny gear for getting up steep hills! I don’t care about the high end – I don’t mind coasting downhill.

  • helton says:

    @Andy: if you want low gears, it’s always possible (I guess) to choose a proper combination of a relatively big sprocket and a relatively small chainring.

    I have a Rohloff with a 16 teeth sprocket, using 46t chainring for normal use, and 39t chainring for loaded touring, which gives me two or three extra gears towards high or low end, respectively.

  • Andy says:

    In my experience, while it was nice that I could shift while stopped, that came with the downfall that I couldn’t easily shift while pedaling hard. I’d rather have a drivetrain that works the other way around, personally. Maybe some newer systems make that not a problem now?

  • kfg says:

    “I don’t care about the high end – I don’t mind coasting downhill.”

    Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! Ding! We have a winner. I’m tired of the range wars. I can build a 1×5 with each gear exactly where I want it, but I can’t buy an 5 speed IGH that’s of any use to me because the added gears are only available as added range.

    Nobody but a racer needs a gear larger than 85 inches. Most will do just fine with a high somewhere in the 68 to 72 inch range. Time trial records are set with 85 inch gears. A 72 gives up about 10 minutes to it over 25 miles. On a commute or tour it may give up nothing at all while being easier on the rider at the same time.

    Now pick the low you think you need. There; that’s all the range you need. The only reason, the only reason at all, that you need more gears than this is to shrink the gap between gears.

    But let’s extend this a bit; select a gear somewhat higher than the low you think you need and (assuming you aren’t riding fixed) leave it there. You now have all the gears you need to easily ride around the world (never mind the mile up and down the hill to the beach), sacrificing only speed. That sacrifice will not for the most part be made in the high mountains that you think you need lots of gears for. It will be made in more moderate terrain of the sort you think you don’t need many gears for.

    Now some of you are already thinking, “That’s just crazy talk.” Well, I’m perfectly willing to put your money where my mouth is and personally demonstrate it to you on a transcontinental (I favor the Bangor to Key West run myself, but hey, it’s your money). The bit that I find interesting is that I know that even after showing you over the course of many hours of riding is that some of you would still think it’s crazy talk, preferring to think there’s something rather odd about me, rather than admit to the fact that there’s been something rather odd about the way you have thought about gearing.

    Well, for those not willing (or able) to take up my offer I offer this to think about: When mechanical gear changers were finally allowed to be again used in the Tour de France the race record was quickly shattered – by an hour.

    Divide that into your commute.

  • helton says:

    @kfg:

    “That sacrifice will not for the most part be made in the high mountains that you think you need lots of gears for. It will be made in more moderate terrain of the sort you think you don’t need many gears for.”

    I have a Rohloff and I admit I could live with the same gear range but with only seven speeds. On my daily commute, which include some steep parts, most the time I shift two gears at once.

    But when I tour with a moderately loaded bike, even the slightest change in terrain slope raises the need to change gear, so as to maintain a good speed vs. effort ratio.

    Just thoughts. By the way, I change the chainring (46 to 39) when touring, because even missing some top gears, the granny gear is the only you will really NEED during a normal trip.

  • Dave says:

    kfg, it sounds like the Nuvinci might be ideal for you. Since it’s got a continuous range of gear ratios, you can bias it via the front ring down to the lowest ratio you need and then fine tune it to whatever the terrain and load require, coasting down hills if necessary.

  • Mr C. says:

    I used to have exclusively dérailleur-geared bikes, now 2 of my 3 bikes are IGHs and I find I dislike the remaining dérailleur set-up because it is so poor by comparison. With respect to reconfigurability mentioned by Phil, I think that being able to increase or decrease the entire gear range for only the £2 outlay for a different cog is a major advantage to IGHs over dérailleurs.

    With respect to flats, depending on the hub, the wheel can be removed with a similar amount of effort as a derail geared wheel, although I don’t really understand the resistance to the simple idea of patching in situ. Having taken a few IGHs apart, they are a lot more simple to work on than is commonly believed, although getting any experience of doing so can be difficult because they are so very, very much more reliable than their external counterparts.

    The cost issue is another bit of a canard too. In 18 months of daily use, my old dérailleur geared bike used three chains and three cassettes, the cost of which was easily in excess of the extra initial cost of going IGH. When considered as a whole-of-life cost, IGHs make financial sense. When your bike is more reliable in all weather conditions, it tends to get ridden more too (hence my preference for drums and rollers over rim or disc brakes too).

 
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