Since 6 years, I am the happy user of a bicycle with a Rohloff internal hub gear. German quality squeezing 14 gears and a 526% gear range into the rear hub. Less known is the newer and equally German Pinion gear, which reportedly has 18 maintenance-free gears and a 636% gear range — all squeezed into the bottom bracket. Wow. The Pinion website features the logos of many high-end touring brands like Santos, Idworx, and Koga.

What are the advantages and disadvantages of squeezing the gears into the bottom bracket, as opposed to into the rear hub?

  • @Batman Interesting, I missed that one. It could use some updating now that there is actually one on the market, though. – gerrit Sep 15 '15 at 18:52
  • There have been other attempts as you can see in the answers of the other question. The gears in the BB is a solution looking for a problem. – Batman Sep 15 '15 at 19:13
  • @Batman Is it? One problem with Rohloff is that the gear range is not quite as large as some might want it to be, in particular for recumbents and velomobiles. Even on my regular touring I've had moments wishing for a larger largest gear, with full load, 526% is not quite ideal. – gerrit Sep 15 '15 at 20:58
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    I disagree that this is a duplicate. The other question is on whether it is theoretically better to shift in the bottom bracket. This one is comparing a real implementation with a hub shift. In this case we can talk about the advantages/disadvantages of the wider range and more gears, the need for a nonstandard bottom bracket, etc. – Ross Millikan Sep 16 '15 at 5:09
  • @gerrit I think that a range of 526 is enough for standard diamond frame bikes, but that you may have to put a different sized chainring on to account for different riding conditions. If you look at the gear comparison you'll see that it has an equivalent range to a bike with a 12-34 cassette and 44-32-24 chainrings. If you know you are going to be carrying a big load, just put a smaller chainring on for those rides. Almost no derraileur setup is going to have significantly more range. – Kibbee Sep 16 '15 at 13:02

The advantages of the Pinion are that the weight and complexity are in the middle of the bike and not being bounced around in the hub of the rear wheel, especially for a bike with suspension (the unsprung weight is lower). Also, because it sits in a custom housing it can be whatever size and shape they want, rather than being constrained by the width of the rear hub and needing to be both circular and balanced.

As David says, it's easier to switch the rear wheel out either when you are fixing a puncture or because you have several rear wheels (different tyres or whatever). You could take this to the extreme with a fat tyre bike and have a skinny standard 700c rear wheel for around town and a 4" fat wheel for off road. I am considering this for my recumbent touring tandem, as the extra weight of a pair of spare wheels might be compensated for by the ability to switch from skinny road tyres to proper offroad tyres and wheels.

One more subtle advantage of the Pinion is that ground speed doesn't matter. Rohloff hubs become noticeably less efficient at high speed, but one of the places they're most desirable is in velomobiles and other speedy bikes. This is compounded by those bikes often using smaller rear wheels (406 is common, 355 is about as common as 622) which further increases the rotation speed of the hub. With a Pinion that doesn't matter, the gearbox always rotates at your pedalling speed.

The advantage of the Rohloff is that it's proven technology, parts are fairly widely available and the wheel will fit into a standard bike frame. Especially for long distance touring, the thought of being stuck somewhere remote with a broken Pinion is horrifying, because the only option is wait for a new gearbox or bike to be shipped to you, or give up and go home. The Rohloff alternative is both less likely (because we have seen Rohloff hubs do 100Mm trips quite often already), and less terrible (because you can convert back to derailleur gears or even single speed using standard bike parts). I'll hit 100Mm on my Rohloff in sometime the next couple of years, it's one of the early-ish ones (4 digit serial) and it's been trouble-free despite regular use in load bikes as well as touring bikes.

The bottom bracket gearbox has to deal with much greater torque than the hub does. Rohloff require a 2.5x gearing down between the cranks and the hub, so all the parts can be correspondingly smaller and lighter. A fit cyclist can put a surprising amount of torque into a bottom bracket, akin to a decent car engine (but at much lower rpm). Schlumpf had a problem at one stage with their sintered gears shattering in use (I experienced that), largely because they underestimated just how much force was involved. This makes the Pinion more complex to design and build for a given weight target, and probably more expensive as a result. That it can be bigger and irregularly shaped counters this to some degree.

Finally, the Pinion really can't be sold as an after-market part because you need a framebuilder to cut your bike up and fit the gearbox. It's quite possible to fit a Rohloff to almost any bike whenever you have the money available to buy one. And if the Rohloff doesn't work for you, you can take it out and sell it second hand.


The biggest pro for Pinion is the ability to easily switch between wheelsets without having to own multiple expensive hubs.

The biggest con (and it is a big one) for Pinion is that it requires a frame made for it. Nearly any frame can take a Rohloff hub.

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    An alternative point of view is that the Rohloff hub can be switched between frames. If you picked the right rim, and found bikes with compatible hub widths, you could own a mountain bike and road bike that both utilized the same rear hub. – Kibbee Sep 15 '15 at 22:11
  • @Kibbee and I do exactly that. My first Rohloff has been in at least 10 different bikes. – Móż Sep 15 '15 at 22:22

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