Take the 2-minute tour ×
Bicycles Stack Exchange is a question and answer site for people who build and repair bicycles, people who train cycling, or commute on bicycles. It's 100% free, no registration required.

I'm considering a Rohloff hub and am wondering what the day-to-day riding experience would be like compared to my existing derailleur setup. There are some obvious things (e.g. don't have to be moving to shift), but what I'm most interested is the less obvious things.

In other words, can someone give a more or less complete enumeration of how riding a Rohloff hub is similar and different than derailleur(s)?

I live in the boonies and so it might be difficult try one out before purchase. Understanding what may be different will help me prioritize this try-out.

share|improve this question
add comment

2 Answers

up vote 4 down vote accepted

I can only compare the basic Shimano Acera and Deore (3x8) deraileurs to the Rohloff 14-speed hub, but these are my observations.

On the Rohloff hub

  • Rohloff, like most hub gears is slightly less efficient than a well-maintained derailleur, as this PDF study explains. In my experience the difference is not noticeable, perhaps because I've mostly used cheap derailleurs.
  • Changing gears is always impossible if significant force is on the drivechain.
  • A short pedalling pause is required to shift gears.
  • It is possible to change to/from any gear when stationary or coasting.
  • Gear inches change between gears is simple and predictable (roughly the same percentage per click).
  • The gap between the gears is fairly large.
  • Some gears are noisy (eg 7th)
  • There are a couple of gears which need a bit of care shifting or you end up temporarily in top gear.

On a derailer

  • Most gears run quickly and efficiently. Several gears are noisy/inefficient due to chain angle.
  • Changing gears is sometimes tricky if there a large force on the drive chain. It depends on which change is being made, some are really easy and smooth, others need some care.
  • No pause to fast, gentle pedalling is required to shift gears.
  • Only possible to change gears when pedalling.
  • Two shifters means that shifting quickly to a predictable-length gear a skill that requires a bit of thought.

YMMV, but I find the Rohloff to be efficient and simple to use. We use it on a tandem, so it may be that the pause needed when shifting is less distruptive on a solo bike.

However, I also expect that an experienced racer would be able to shift their high-spec gears much more quickly and efficiently than any hub gears and that this might mean that derailleurs are the only option for racing. That and the fact that you can't seem to connect them to brifters.

(reworked from this answer)

share|improve this answer
    
Note that there's an upcoming option to do brifters with hub gears, via Shimano electronic (di2) shifting: bicycling.com/bikes-gear/bikes-and-gear-features/… –  freiheit Mar 12 '13 at 20:48
2  
Another disadvantage of the internal gear hub is that the guy riding behind you is deprived of the joy of watching the chain "dance" as it switches from sprocket to sprocket. Been riding derailleur bikes for 40 years now and I still get entranced watching the chain do its jig. –  Daniel R Hicks Mar 12 '13 at 22:46
add comment

The other answer is a pretty good list of differences, so I'm going to try to complement it with a fluffier, more hands-on answer that I think better describes the experience of riding with hub gears. I switched from derailleur to a Shimano 8-speed hub two years ago. My daily commute was 8 km each way back then, in all weathers.

The short answer is that you don't have to think so much. I often call hub gears "Homer Simpson gears": gear goes up, gear goes down, gear goes up, gear goes down. It's that simple.

With derailleur gears, while coasting on the approach to a junction, I would do one revolution of the pedals and change down, just in case I would have to stop at the junction. If I didn't stop, I'd have to change back up as I started pedalling out of the junction. Now I don't bother with that. If I know I have to stop (e.g. when coming up to a red light), I can change down while coasting; if I have to stop unexpectedly (e.g. at a pedestrian crossing, or a give-way with poor visibility), I can change down while I'm stationary. I never have to start in the wrong gear. It took me a month or two to get out of the habit of doing that one rev while changing down.

I did an organised charity ride last year. I could always tell when I was coming up to a hill, by the crunching noise of people leaving it too late to change down, and I sailed past them effortlessly. Hubs share the derailleur problem that they can't change gear while there's too much force on the pedal, but when changing gear on a derailleur you have to wait for the chain to completely locate on the new chainring, whereas it takes less than half a second for the hub to click into its new gear. This makes it much easier to ease off the pedal a little to make the change, even on the hill, and means you don't need to plan ahead for it.

People are often worried about not having so many gears on a hub as they did with derailleurs. I've found the range on mine pretty adequate. The bottom "granny" gear is great for getting stuck behind a family going up a narrow bridge. Once or twice while going downhill I've wished for an extra gear or two at the top, but I have to be really putting my foot down on the flat to even get into 7th. Mainly, of the eight gears I have, I use 4, 5, and 6 on the flat. I couldn't imagine finding the range inadequate unless you were often hauling a heavy trailer or live in a mountain range.

There's one difference bigger than these day-to-day things. As I say, I've had this bike for two years. It lives outside, and gets ridden in all weathers. It did about 5000 km in its first year; less in the second year as my commute is shorter now. It hasn't been back to the shop for a service yet, and I'm still on the original chain (which I clean and lube less often than I ought to). It still rides as smoothly today as the day I rode it home from the shop. In fact, it's smoother now, as the 4→5 change was a bit sticky for the first month. (Apparently you often get some slightly sharp edges when they're new, and it just takes a little use to smooth them off a bit.) The efficiency is still pretty good, though I'm sure the chain has stretched a bit, and the gear changes are perfect. I don't see the behaviour you get from derailleurs, where as the chain wears, the top and bottom gears become harder to get to. I don't have to keep adjusting the tension of the shifter cable, and the chain never comes off. And according to the man in the shop, he won't need to service the hub for another year yet. Add this to the reduced chain wear you get from never pulling the chain at an angle, and you get one reliable ride.

To summarise:-

  • less shifting
  • less thinking when you do shift
  • no getting stuck in the wrong gear, and you can drop whatever "coping strategies" you used to avoid that
  • less maintenance (but one big maintenance job every few years)
  • less flexibility for extreme loads and inclines
  • more consistent performance over long distances
share|improve this answer
    
I've pulled a heavy (over 200lb/100kg) trailer on a bike with a hub gear. Being able to downshift all the way after stopping was a big advantage. I think the gearing didn't go quite as low as the touring triple setup that I've also pulled that trailer with, but it's actually really hard to get going from a stop in the lowest touring-triple gear. –  freiheit Mar 24 '13 at 23:40
add comment

Your Answer

 
discard

By posting your answer, you agree to the privacy policy and terms of service.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged or ask your own question.