Earlier this year, I made the decision to sell my Surly Long Haul Trucker and purchase a replacement primary commuting bike. Besides wanting to go to a low maintenance drivetrain with an internal gear hub and belt drive, I figured building (or rebuilding in this case) a new commuter would be a fun project for both me and our readers. I ended up purchasing a Civia Bryant Belt Alfine back in March and this article outlines some of the changes I’ve made to the bike since then.
From the start, this bike was intended to be a test bed for new parts. I started with a stock 2010 model-year build. It was a very nice bike straight out of the box, though I initially added a pair of Civia Market alloy fenders, a Pass & Stow porteur rack, a Tubus Logo rear rack, and a Pletscher double-legged kickstand. I also swapped the stock BB5 disc brake calipers for a set of BB7 calipers. The Civia could have easily kept me happy in this initial incarnation, but I already had other plans in the works.
Upgrading the drivetrain was the most significant and technically challenging portion of the remix. It involved two separate, but related, efforts: swapping the stock Alfine 8 internal gear hub (IGH) for a new Alfine 11 IGH; and, swapping the stock Gates CDX belt and pulleys for a new Gates CenterTrack (CT) belt and pulleys.
Swapping the hubs presented a pair of challenges. The cassette joint (the part on the drive side of the hub to which the cable connects) on the Alfine 11 is significantly longer than on the Alfine 8. Because the cable stop on the Civia’s chainstay is designed for the shorter 8-speed cassette joint, the housing run between the cassette joint and the stop on the chainstay is very short with the 11-speed installed. This makes it a little more difficult to install the belt and rear wheel. It’s not a deal breaker, but it’s something to be aware of if you’re planning a similar upgrade. On bikes with either Paragon-style sliding/vertical dropouts, full housing runs from shifter to hub, or cable stops further forward on the chainstay, this is a non-issue.
The other challenge was that Shimano swapped the rotational direction of the cassette joint on the 11-speed. The result is that the Versa VRS-11 shifter designed for the Alfine 11 shifts in reverse. On the 8-speed, the large lever was used to shift to higher gears and the small lever was used to shift down. On the new hub with the new shifter, the small lever is used to shift to higher gears and the large lever is used to shift down. While this doesn’t bother me on a thumbshifter, I found it disconcerting enough on the Versa VRS-11 to switch to a different shifter (more on this later).
The most critical aspect of installing a belt drive is getting spot-on alignment between the front and rear pulleys. Belt drives are much less forgiving in this regard than conventional chain drives. That said, a perfect belt line is certainly achievable, and once the drive is set-up properly, it’s truly a set-it-and-forget-it system.
In the case of my upgrade, I replaced both the front and rear pulleys as well as the crank and bottom bracket. My existing crank was a 4-bolt 104BCD Civia, but CenterTrack pulleys are not available in that size (for the time being), so I opted for a Shimano Alfine crank and matching Hollowtech II bottom bracket (the BB is included with the crank). This combination represented my best chance of achieving a good belt line with minimal fuss. The bottom bracket and crank were direct bolt-on parts, and I’m happy to report, getting a perfect belt line with this set-up was not difficult. I installed the bottom bracket in the Civia’s 68mm shell without spacers, and with the CT pulley installed on the inside of the spider with the logos facing toward the frame (the CT pulley is asymmetrical), the front and rear pulleys are aligned to within 1mm, with approximately 2-3mm of clearance at the chainstay.
In the process, I ended up removing the Civia’s belt guard. The guard mounts under the drive side bottom bracket cup and installing it would put the belt out of alignment 1-2mm. In my opinion, a guard is unnecessary with a belt drive anyway. I’ve tried my best to catch my pants in every belt drive bike I’ve ridden, and I’ve never been able to do it. After two weeks on this bike in street clothes, I can safely say it’s a non-issue.
So, how does it ride? It love it. The biggest improvements from my perspective are the closer and more evenly spaced gears, the smaller number of mis-shifts when compared to the Alfine 8 (essentially zero), and the generally smoother and quieter operation (I didn’t think a drivetrain could be quieter than the Alfine 8/Gates CDX, but this one is quieter and smoother to the point of qualifying as “silent”). Because I’m in Northern California, I won’t be able to report on the snow and ice clearing capabilities of the CT belt and pulleys, but I do like the fact that rear wheel alignment (not to be confused with pulley alignment) on the CT drivetrain appears to be less critical than with Gates’ older pulleys and belts.
This wasn’t an inexpensive upgrade, and as you can see, it wasn’t without its challenges. Most of the issues I ran into would be non-existent on a new production bike. There are a few Alfine 11/Gates CT bikes available this year, and it looks as if quite a few more are coming out in 2012. Whether a major aftermarket upgrade such as this is worth the cost and effort will depend upon the individual. Even though I don’t at all regret undertaking the project, for many, selling an existing bike and replacing it with a dialed-in Alfine 11/CT production bike may be a better option.
The Civia Bryant is one of the few production bikes on the market that comes spec’d with both drop bars and an internal gear hub. This was one of the reasons I was initially attracted to this bike. I’ve enjoyed drop bars in the past and I was looking forward to trying them again on the Civia in combination with the IGH and belt drive. It was a fun experiment, but after commuting with drops on a daily basis for the past few months, I’ve switched back to a set of 50 degree Civia Aldrich flat bars (these are the same bars I had on my Surly LHT before I sold it).
There were a few issues that led to the change, the most troublesome being that, as outfitted with a tall stem and Versa levers, the bike wouldn’t fit into our City bike lockers without a wrestling match. I’ve also been carrying more weight on the front rack and I found myself wishing for less reach and more leverage than was provided by the drops bars. And finally, I wasn’t happy with the new Versa VRS-11 shifter in combination with the “reverse” shifting Alfine 11 hub. This may be a non-issue for most people, but I could not get used to using the small lever for upshifts and the large lever for downshifts. This ended up being the straw that precipitated the cockpit revamp.
The cockpit upgrade included swapping the stem, handlebars, shifter, and levers. The stock stem had a 26.0 clamp diameter designed for drop bars, so I replaced it with an equivalent Civia stem with a 25.4mm clamp designed for flat/city bars. As mentioned above, the handlebar is Civia’s 50-degree Aldrich which is one of my favorite flat bars (the 50-degree sweep falls naturally under my hands). The shifter is the Shimano Alfine 11-speed designed for use with the Alfine 11 hub. And finally, the brake levers are Paul’s “Canti Levers” designed for use with road brakes. These levers are a particularly good match for Avid BB7 “road” disc calipers. They seem to have just the right pull ratio to take best advantage of the BB7, providing plenty of mechanical advantage while locking the brake well before the lever reaches the bar.
The Lighting System
No year-round commuter bike is complete without lights, and no commuter bike is more of a car replacement than one outfitted with an always-available dynamo-powered lighting system. In the past, I’ve owned bikes with dynamo systems, but in recent years I’ve relied mostly on battery-powered LED lights and rechargeable batteries. This is mostly due to the fact that we have so many bikes coming and going that it makes sense to use removable lights, but it’s also because I’ve been waiting for LED’s to fully make their way into the dynamo world.
With this bike I decided the time was right, so I installed an Alfine dynamo hub and Supernova E3 Pro headlight and E3 tail light. I’m going to save the full light review for another time, but I can say that it’s an awesome set-up that’s making me anxious for the dark-thirty commutes of fall and winter.
I’d say these upgrades were a great success. Most notable for me in my circumstances are the better gear ratios, the simplified oil bath hub maintenance, the more appropriate cockpit for multi-modal commuting and cargo hauling, and the always-available lighting. The upgrades weren’t cheap, and the technical hurdles certainly weren’t for the faint of heart, but at least for me, the results justify the effort.
Overall, I’m quite pleased with the Civia in its current incarnation. With its fenders, internal gear hub, belt drive, and disc brakes, the bike is all-weather friendly and should require very minimal ongoing maintenance. Plus, it can haul significant loads with its heavy duty front and rear chromoly racks and double-legged centerstand. With the addition of the dynamo lighting system, it may be the most commute-ready car-replacement I’ve owned to date.
Disclosure: Civia and Gates are sponsors of this website and provided assistance with the drivetrain upgrade.
Note: For those who were wondering, all of the original parts taken off of the Civia will either be donated, sold, or re-purposed in some way. Very little goes to waste here… :-)