Alfine 11 / Gates CT Upgrade Update

Alfine 11

In June I posted a note about upgrading by Civia Bryant from the stock 8-speed Alfine hub to the new Alfine 11 and swapping the stock belt drive for Gates’ new CenterTrack (CT). It’s been nearly a month so I thought I’d post a quick update for those who are looking to make a similar upgrade.

At this point I’ve obtained the rear wheel with hub, the small parts kit, the Versa VRS-11 brifters, and the mysterious and difficult to obtain “outer receiver unit” (more below). The drivetrain parts from Gates, including a 50T CT front pulley, 24T CT rear pulley, and 118T CT belt, are currently in transit.

I’ve learned a few things you’ll want to be aware of if you’re upgrading from an Alfine 8 to an Alfine 11 on a drop bar bike.

  1. The 8-speed cassette joint from your old hub is not compatible with the 11-speed. You will need to order the CJ-S700 small parts kit for the Alfine 11.
  2. If you have a 5-arm, 130mm BCD crank, you’re all set. But, if your existing crank is of the 4-arm, 104mm BCD variety, you’ll want to be aware that Gates will not be producing CT front pulleys to fit your crank until this coming winter. In the meantime, there are two possible solutions. One is to use your existing crank and front pulley until the CT comes available (to my surprise, I learned that CT belts will run fine on non-CT front pulleys). The other is to swap out your existing crank for an Alfine or some other 5-arm model. The Alfine crank and bottom bracket are designed to work with the Alfine hub so they’re a natural choice (assuming they’re compatible with your frame).
  3. The “outer receiver unit” is pictured here (see item no. 6). Unlike the Alfine 8’s cassette joint with its built-in cable stop, the Alfine 11’s cassette joint requires this separate cable stop. The issue is that the receiver unit is currently only available in the U.S. as part of the SL-S700 Rapidfire shifter kit – it cannot be ordered separately. This means purchasing an expensive shifter kit just to obtain this small part. Fortunately, QBP is aware of this problem and will be importing the part for individual purchase this fall. In the meantime, it’s possible to substitute a Jagwire barrel adjuster for the Shimano cable stop, but it’s not a great solution. Of course, if you’re running flat bars this a non-issue because you need the SL-S700 shifter anyway.

As you can see, it’s taken some time to figure this out and obtain the necessary parts – this is not unexpected given the fact that these products are just now coming available. Fortunately, I’m in no hurry and the suppliers (Gates, Civia) have been extremely helpful.

Stay tuned; the next installment will be a report on the actual installation and initial testing of the new drivetrain.

Disclosure: Gates and Civia are sponsors of this website.

Perceived Versus Actual Efficiency

Michael on the Betty Foy

My wife and I have been riding together for a number of years now. We’re at the point where we ebb-and-flow together on the road without even thinking about it. As long as we’re on our usual bikes (a pair of Rivendells), we can ride for hours without either of us needing to say a thing about the pace.

It’s always interesting though, to bring a new bike into the mix. Because she rides her trusty Betty Foy most of the time, and we ride together so much, she acts as a baseline against which I can gauge the relative efficiency of any new bike we have on hand.

My new Civia is a good example. I rode it alone on my commute for two weeks before riding it with her on a weekend for the first time. I had pretty well convinced myself that it was less efficient than my Rivendell. I’m not 100% sure why I came to that conclusion, but it probably had to do with the general consensus that internal gear hubs are less efficient than derailleurs, and that the internal gear hub concentrates weight at the rear of the bike, making it feel heavier than it actually is.

Much to my surprise, on that first ride she had some trouble keeping up with me (if anything it’s usually the other way around). I kept finding myself absent-mindedly cruising along at what felt like our normal pace, then looking back to see her falling behind. It finally dawned on me that it was the bike. Subsequent rides on those two bikes confirmed my suspicion; in their current configurations, the Civia is more efficient than the Rivendell.

After thinking it through, this all makes sense. As we all know, a large majority of the effort we expend propelling a bicycle goes toward overcoming wind resistance. In the case of these two bikes, the Rivendell is set-up to place me in a comfortable, upright position. The Civia, on the other hand, has lower bars and a longer reach to the grip area which places me in a slightly less comfortable, but more aerodynamic position. I believe this difference in rider position explains the Civia’s higher efficiency, even with its potentially greater rolling resistance due to the internal gear hub and heavier tires. I’m pretty sure that reversing the cockpit set-ups would make the Rivendell at least slightly more efficient than the Civia.

Of course, none of this is anything but totally subjective. But I suppose that’s the point. We can make all kinds of assumptions about the efficiency of a bike based upon our pre-conceived notions regarding drivetrain efficiency, weight, handlebar height, etc., but it’s all conjecture until we get out on the road and see how a bike actually rolls along in a familiar setting.

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.

Soma-Brompton-Rivendell

Brompton/Soma
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Rivendell/Soma
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Brompton/Rivendell
Zoom

Here are a few overlays as a follow-up to yesterday’s Mini-Velo post.

Alfine 11 Project

Alfine 11
Alfine 11


I had plans to upgrade the drivetrain on my Civia Bryant from an Afine 8 with Gates Carbon Drive to an Alfine 11 with Gates CenterTrack later this year, but with help from my friends at Civia, the project is moving forward sooner than expected. In fact, the 11-speed rear wheel and Versa levers arrived yesterday. I’m waiting on a small parts kit/cassette joint (they’re included with Nexus hubs, but not Alfine hubs), and I’m still working on obtaining the belt drive components, but I’m super-excited to get started on the project. Stay tuned for updates as I go through the process.

Versa 11
Versa 11


The Oil Port
The Oil Port


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).

A Look at Common Wheel Sizes

700C

Bicycle wheels have been produced in a bewildering variety of sizes over the years. Fortunately, the modern bike commuter only needs to be aware of the few sizes that are commonly in use today.

700C, aka 29 inch (622mm)
700C is the most common modern road bike wheel size. This size offers the widest selection of tires and other wheel components, the best compatibility across various bike brands and models, and comparatively low rolling resistance. Drawbacks include difficulties associated with designing small frames around big wheels, and slightly less toughness than smaller wheels. In mountain biking circles, 700C wheels are called “29 inch”.

26 inch (559mm)
26 inch is the standard mountain bike and cruiser wheel size. As you might expect, a broad selection of strong rims and wide tires are available in this size. We’re starting to see more utility and cargo bikes designed around this smaller wheel (for example, my Civia Loring uses 26 inch wheels). Advantages include the ease of building smaller frames around this size, and generally higher strength due to the smaller diameter. When used with narrow, high pressure tires, 26 inch wheels can sometimes provide a harsh ride.

650B (584mm)
650B is an old French wheel size that was popular in that country for use on touring bikes and tandems. It was never widely used here in the U.S. though it’s seeing a bit of a resurgence due primarily to being promoted by Grant Petersen, Jan Heine, and the late Sheldon Brown. At 584mm, the 650B size essentially splits the difference between 700C and 26 inch. It’s a good choice for smaller frame sizes (for example, Michael’s Rivendell Betty Foy uses 650B wheels). Though there are some very nice tires being manufactured in the 650B size, the overall selection is severely limited in comparison to 700C and 26 inch. 700C road bikes with limited tire clearance are sometimes converted to 650B which allows for the use of wider tires.

Small Wheels (16”/349mm, 20”/406mm)
Small wheels are used on folding bikes and mini velos. They enable bike designers to build compact bikes that are easy to take on public transit and store in small spaces. 16 inch and 20 inch wheels tend to provide a harsh ride, hence the fairly common use of suspension on bikes spec’d with these wheels.

Others
For a comprehensive list of the wide range of wheel sizes produced over the years, see Sheldon Brown’s page on Tire Sizing Systems.


 
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