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I've been considering drive trains on a utility / commuter bike. What are expected or actual lifetime / maintenance needs of modern internal hubs?

The Shimano Alfine internal 8-speed hub is on several bikes I've liked. I've also heard good things about SRAM and Nexus hubs.

I ride in a wet / nasty winters / fairly flat environment here in Minnesota. I'm partial to lower gearing if it meant more reliability or lower cost. I don't need max efficiency but all other factors are secondary to durability in my eyes.

How much maintenance can I expect a modern internal hub to require, and how long will it last before needing to be replaced?

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Welcome to the site. I'm particularly interested in the answer to this, particularly the long-term aspects of your question. I have two IGH bikes (one hub died after a few years, and I replaced it this summer), and I'd like to know how long those hubs are going to last. – Neil Fein Jul 19 '11 at 0:27
...I have stayed off these due to 10% power loss unless you get the Rohloff - if anyone knows what that compromise is like in reality do tell. – ʍǝɥʇɐɯ Jul 19 '11 at 1:00
@bmike, be aware that changing a flat can take a little longer, since some rear hubs take more time to reinstall than others. (You have to get the tension on the adjuster cable juuust right to access all of your gears.) But IGHs are great for bad-weather riding. @ʍǝɥʇɐɯ - That's why I wouldn't take one on a tour, but they're great for commuting. Unless your commute is reeeeealy long, as in day-of-touring long. – Neil Fein Jul 19 '11 at 1:28
I haven't heard of problems with Rohloff longevity from anyone, or read about them. Mine has only done ~40,000 km which is not even half its expected lifetime. If you browse the [hub] and [internally-geared-hub] tags here are some useful comments, eg (that question is about pros/cons of hub gears, so also addresses your question) – Kohi Jul 9 '12 at 0:40
@NeilFein: I typically patch a flat tyre instead of completely changing the inner tube. That doesn't require you to take out the wheel, so not really that much more difficult. – eldering Mar 21 '14 at 9:29

5 Answers 5

up vote 9 down vote accepted

I bought a 700c Jericho hardtail in 1997, which came with a Rohloff 14 speed internally geared hub. I used it as a commuter for five years, at least 150 miles per week, 50 weeks of the year. That's 37500 miles. Even assuming I took a week or 2 out in there for whatever reason, call it 35000 miles. After that, I continued to ride it one or 2 days a week, for less strenuous rides. I have just sent it back for its first major service, other than lubing and cleaning the external components.

The Rohloff is a ridiculously burly hub. The Alfine, or the i-Motion9 would do well to match half that performance. But I'd say based on people I've sold bikes with Nexus or Alfine hubs, and how rarely we see them for service, and how much more rare it is that they need major service, that 20000 miles is not too much to expect.

The Shimano and SRAM hubs are both user serviceable, unlike the Rohloff, which should extend the useable life significantly also.

I was trying to find any formal service interval information, but both SRAM and Shimano say that aside from cleaning off the external parts, the hubs are "well sealed" and the service interval should be "long".

Sheldon Brown's site also says, "Service should be quite rare on these well sealed hubs."

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So basically, I will probably ride the rest of the bike well into the ground before a sealed hub. I could service the hubs when I swap out rims and spokes. – bmike Jul 18 '11 at 19:01
That is my opinion, yes. If you build a solid, steel or ti framed, commute oriented beast, the rest might last as long as the hubs. But I wouldn't count on it. – zenbike Jul 18 '11 at 19:03
For what it's worth there are downsides, like gearing differential percentages that are wider than a derailleur bike, but for commuting/townie bikes, I think the trade offs are minor. – zenbike Jul 18 '11 at 19:07
Early SRAM i9 hubs apparently had seal issues, and I managed to destroy one in under 2000km. Describing the i9 as "user serviceable" is somewhat generous, it's not like an old Sturmey-Archer AW where you can relatively trivially rebuild it from the ground up. I switched to a Rohloff. – lantius Jul 18 '11 at 19:26
The SRAM t3 I had on a folding bike had some of the same problems; the inside lube turned into brown-blac gunk in a few years. Perhaps users should be advised to periodically check that seal? – Neil Fein Jul 19 '11 at 0:29

I bought a CRX City Commuter bike in 2007, with a Nexus 8 hub gear.

I've riden it 18kms (approx 11 miles), 4 days a week, since then, excepting holidays. A bit over 20,000km in all.

It's not particularly fast or mechanically efficient, but very reliable. In terms of maintenance, Ive had it packed with grease once and that's all. In contrast, my brakes wore through the rims and I needed new wheels in the same period.

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I regularly ride a 1971 Raleigh Twenty with a Sturmey Archer 3-speed hub. I do not maintenance the hub, and it continues to work fine, 40 years later. (Although I presume there were some years before I bought it a few years ago in which it wasn't ridden).

I have also regularly ridden a Shimano Nexus 8 hub for the past 4 years, year-round in snow and rain in Indiana. I recall doing any maintenance on it yet, either.

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A quote from this answer to the "How much maintenance?" question:

Those numbers are why people often end up with a dedicated commuter bike that costs a fortune up front. New Rohloff Oil every year at $20 compared to a new Shimano hub every three years at $800 makes the $2000 up front cost of a Rohloff seem cheap (a Rohloff will last 100,000 kilometres or more... no-one really knows because there aren't many hubs that have done that distance yet, Rohloff only started about 10 years ago).

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Well, about a year ago, I got A shimano Alfine 11 Speed . . . thing didn't even last 700 miles!!!!! (Several of the gears don't even engage . . . at first, thought the chain broke.) And Shimano doesn't even service it. Also have a Rohloff, with nearly 19,000 miles, no problems so far. 'Nough said!

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And so far I have 7000 km on my Alfine 11, usually with a loaded down bike and haven't had any breakage. The hub is so new that this is all anecdotal. That said, the hub is really sensitive to cable tension. Often the cable housing would shift, throwing it out of alignment and causing it to drop a gear. Set everything up and zapped the cable housing in place and haven't had any more issues. – Rider_X Jul 17 '12 at 21:21

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