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.