Steps Versus Range

Alfine 8 Drivetrain

I’m in the midst of upgrading from an 8-speed to an 11-speed drivetrain on my primary commuter. A number of people have asked why the upgrade and if I really need a wider range of gears. The fact is, I don’t actually need a wider range of gears. What I’m looking for is a more evenly and closely spaced set of gears in the middle of the range where I ride 90% of the time. Having tighter and more evenly spaced ratios will make it easier to find the perfect cadence when struggling against headwinds, climbing, or cruising rollers.

I’m sure many younger, stronger riders don’t have a need for close ratio gearing. Plenty of people do well with 3-speeds and even single speeds and fixies. I happen to have a weak leg as a result of a fairly serious accident when I was a teenager. When I was younger I was able to work around the old injury without much trouble, but now that I’m approaching middle age (OK, I’m officially middle-aged ;-)), I have to mitigate for a bad knee with physical therapy (primarily stretching) and carefully controlling my cadence to avoid over-straining the joint. Close ratio, evenly spaced gears are an important part of the equation.

The 8-speed Alfine I’m currently running covers a 307% range. The new 11-speed will cover a wider 409% range. Even with its wider range, the new hub has closer and more evenly spaced gears within the middle of the range (I would’ve preferred around a 350% range to tighten up the middle steps even further). It’ll be interesting to see how it actually compares to the 8-speed on the road.

The other hub that may work well for me is the NuVinci N360. With its continuously variable design, there are no “steps” between gears; shifting the hub is like turning up the volume on a stereo. I’ve been promising a Breezer Uptown Infinity (with N360) review since last year and it looks as if I may finally get my hands on one soon. The timing should be perfect as I’m also receiving a Spot Acme for review this summer. Between the Breezer, the Spot, and my Civia, I’ll have ample opportunity to compare and contrast these new drivetrains.

18 Responses to “Steps Versus Range”

  • Brian C says:

    Alan:
    Now all you need is a rohloff speedhub in the mix for comparison…

    Looking forward to your observations with the various drivetrain options. I am particularly interested in lower gearing with the internal hub options, for our 13% grade hills, and for those of us who insist on riding up those hills towing trailers (grin).

    B

  • Alan says:

    Brian,

    I’d love to try a Rohloff, but so far I haven’t had the opportunity.

    The Spot is set-up with the Alfine 11 at an overall lower range than the Civia which will make for an interesting comparison.

    Alan

  • John Ferguson says:

    Now that’s what I’m talking about.. @Alan, your comment on the Spot’s lower range had me check the spec on that bike and I see that they’ve set it up with a 46×24, which is ideally what I’d like to see on a Bryant 11. I also note that the Acme chainstay length is 42.7 cm whereas on the Bryant I believe it’s 44 cm. Enough difference there that the same length belt won’t work. There has been some chatter about how a lower range might void the Alfine warranty on final drive torque, but that doesn’t seem to have stopped Spot from spec’ing it on this bike which augurs well for the suitability of the setup.

    I guess the only remaining question (which I have posed to Civia engineers directly but never gotten a straight answer to) is whether there is a belt for the Gates system that’s of a length to make this beltring/sprocket combination workable on the Bryant. Maybe I can hope that @Alan moves to Tahoe or Grass Valley so he has to have lower gears to get around ;)

  • msrw says:

    Hi Alan,

    I think the closer gear spacing of 11 and 14 speed IGHs is a key advantage that doesn’t get much attention. I commute on a bike with a Rohloff hub (Van Nicholas Pioneer), and used to commute on a bike with a Sram S7 (Gazelle Touche). The tighter gear spacing on the Rohloff makes it easier to ride at higher speeds regardless of terrain.

  • Alan says:

    John,

    In this range, the belts come in 113T, 115T, and 118T lengths. The Civia comes stock with 50×24 and the 118T belt. Since we know the 46×24 with the 113T belt is too short for the Civia, the question is whether the 46×24 will work with the 115T belt. I’ll see what I can find out.

    Alan

  • Mel Hughes says:

    Gee, Alan, if you are middle-aged, I must be ancient aged! Great discussion on the 11 speed IGH! You forgot the other answers though: because the opportunity presented itself and your readers really want to know.

  • C-Mac says:

    Alan,

    Would you consider posting a tutorial/pictorial of what it’s like to change a flat tire with an IGH? I really would like to get an Alfine 11 speed, but I have no experience at all with what is entailed in changing a flat with an IGH.

    Thank you,

    Charlie

  • Alan says:

    @C-Mac

    I should do that. Perhaps I’ll wait until I receive the Breezer and the Spot so that I have a few more bikes with internal gear hubs on hand.

    Something to keep in mind regarding repairing flats on bikes equipped with internal gear hubs is that the dropout and tensioning design of the bike has more bearing on the procedure than the IGH itself.

    For example, bikes with vertical sliding dropouts like the Norco Ceres I reviewed earlier this year are actually easier to work on than derailleur bikes. With that bike it’s just a matter of disconnecting the shifter cable, loosening the axle bolts with a 15mm wrench, then dropping the hub straight down and out of the frame. Replacing the wheel is simply a reverse of the removal process and doesn’t require any adjustments to the chain/belt whatsoever. The Spot uses a similar dropout and tensioning method. Very quick and easy to work with.

    My Civia, on the other hand, has horizontal dropouts with removable tensioners. Because the hub needs to slide forward to release the belt (or chain if it had one), then back to remove the wheel from the frame, it’s a more involved process with a couple of extra steps. Also, with horizontal dropouts it’s important to back off the tensioners a specific amount and re-tighten them the same amount to avoid having to check belt tension on the roadside. It’s certainly not a big deal, but there are extra steps that require a bit more care with this set-up.

    All-in-all I don’t find repairing flats on IGH-equipped bikes much more difficult than on derailleur bikes. Mostly it’s a matter of familiarizing yourself with the idiosyncrasies of your particular bike and practicing the steps a time or two before being caught on the roadside with a flat tire.

    Alan

  • Stephen D. says:

    I’ll be looking forward to your review of the Spot Brand Acme. The gearing is about what I need for my hilly commute, and the geometry is said to be “lively” and “aggressive” because it’s based on cyclocross frames.

    Now if they’d only add a kickstand plate…

  • Alan says:

    John,

    According to an engineer at Gates, the 46x24x115 combo sets up 5mm shorter than the stock 50x24x118. On a bike with vertical dropouts it wouldn’t be an issue, but because the Bryant has horizontal dropouts, there may or may not be enough clearance to slide the wheel forward far enough to slip on the belt (it may be close enough that fender and tire choices make a difference). One of our readers is currently building a Bryant with the 46x24x115 combo; I’ll let you know how it goes.

    Alan

  • Gregg Olsen says:

    Alan,
    I too have been researching the advantage of 3more higher gears (speeds) of the 11spd vs 8spd Alfine. The Co-Motion website has a chart comparing the ratios amongst the Shimanno AL 8,11 and the Rolloff.
    Are you going to upgrade to the Gates Center Track belt?
    GreggO

  • John Ferguson says:

    Thanks for the feedback, Alan. I think you meant to write 46x24x115. It sure would make it easier if Gates/PW or somebody would come out with Alfine/Nexus compatible belt cogs in sizes other than 24T. Maybe a 22 and a 26 as well? I sense a product opportunity..

  • Alan says:

    Thanks, John; I edited the comment.

    According to Civia, the 46x24x115 combo should work on the Bryant, but with only 2mm to spare. That’s close enough that I’d want to try it myself to say for sure that it will work.

    I agree, we need a better selection of pulleys (or alternatively, more belt lengths). We’re currently suffering through the issues all early-adopters face, regardless of the technology.

    Alan

  • Alan says:

    John,

    I just saw that Phil Wood is offering Alfine compatible rear pulleys down to 22T.

    Alan

  • Alan says:

    “Are you going to upgrade to the Gates Center Track belt?”

    Gregg,

    My plan is to upgrade only the rear pulley and the belt to CenterTrack (CT). My existing 50T/4-arm/104BCD front pulley will work fine with the CT belt. Frankly, here in Northern California I don’t have a need for the mud and snow clearing capabilities of CT; the only reason to convert from my existing parts is that the CT pulley is narrower, which makes room for the rubber boot on the 11-speed cassette joint/cable stop.

    Alan

  • ERIK says:

    I fix most of my flats without removing the wheel.
    Find the puncture, unseat just that part of the tire and tube, remove the glass/thorn, apply a patch, reseat the tube and tire, pump it up and ride on.
    Patches are cheaper than tubes.

  • Frits B says:

    Anecdote: It’s Tour de France time here in Europe and Dutch TV showed an interview with a rider who rode his first Tour in 1936 (he died in 2005 at 91 so the interview was a few years ago but he was as sprightly as ever). He explained that in those days they didn’t have gears. They did carry three “pignons” (sprockets) though, so when they arrived at a hill or mountain, everybody stopped, changed to the proper pignon and rode on. Unbelievable. Racing bikes weighed between 14 and 16 kilos, so 30 and 35 pounds.
    And you think you need 11 gears ….

  • kfg says:

    Present Observation: Some people still ride the same way. You can buy the bike already assembled through a number of commercial outlets (one of which might be your local LBS), or all the parts to assemble your own if that’s your thing. Quite believable. In fact, I give empirical demonstrations to people in my area.

    Although some people, as noted above, still find it unbelievable even after they’ve seen it. People are funny critters.

 
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