First off, the context of my question is 80% urban commuting and 20% weekend road trips of up to 70km, with a bit of casual trail riding mixed in. I ride my bicycle for transport and I value minimal maintenance and frugality a lot!

With that goal in mind, over the years I've noticed that besides punctures it's drivetrain wear that causes the most damage (because of rain and winter weather). I admit I've neglected to maintain the chain lots of times and rode for weeks with poor efficiency, increasing the wear on the parts. So I thought of tackling this issue on my next bike by going with an internally-geared hub and chain-case. (I will probably get the chain-case custom-made in a workshop¹). Speed and performance are not important, reliability and versatility are. Currently I ride single-speed.

What I hope to get out of it:

  • Nearly 0 maintenance
  • No maintenance after a ride through rain/sleet/snow
  • Longer-lasting parts
  • Better chain clearance, more protection from rocks/curbs/sticks
  • Always clean hands and pants
  • Puncture repairs that are still simple to do

However there are trade-offs involved. Compared to the standard derailleur setup there's:

  • Increased weight – I love light bikes and packing light
  • Decreased gear range – will it be enough if I want to take a trip in the mountains?
  • Lower availability of parts – in case something happens on a tour
  • Price – definitely can't afford Pinion or . Alfine 11-speed tops.

My question is: am I overreacting to the maintenance needs of an exposed drivetrain? Would going internal be justified, or should I stick with the more common derailleur setup... perhaps there is some lubricant or other products that protect it better that I don't know about? What about if we're talking about a folding bike (20" wheels)?

1. Said workshop is run by a friend, so I may get a better price. I don't really care as much though, because of the IKEA effect.

  • 3
    20 inch bikes are dirtier than larger-wheeled bikes. I think its because the transmission is lower, and closer to the ground. A 29" fixie would have the cleanest drivetrain possible.
    – Criggie
    Jun 19, 2017 at 2:38
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    @Criggie even more so if it's a belt drive.
    – Chris H
    Jun 19, 2017 at 8:22
  • 1
    You've given us percentages, but what about weekly mileages and/or the length of the long trips. Also where is the bike stored (a sheltered, ventilated place is good)? How much snow do you get and how much do tthey slt the roads where you are?
    – Chris H
    Jun 19, 2017 at 8:33
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    Have you thought about full fenders?
    – ebrohman
    Jun 19, 2017 at 12:17
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    From personal experience with Alfine 11's, they aren't that long lasting, I'm riding my third in 17'000km. They tend to freeze in winter so you can switch gears up only by manually moving the lever on the hub (water accumulates in the sealing grease and freezes. Fairly expensive to replace that grease and needs to be done every year or two if you want to prevent this). They de-tune fairly easily and it's not quite easy to get it right again. Especially the largest gears refuse to engage as soon as there is even the slightest misalignment in tuning.
    – Nobody
    Jun 22, 2017 at 15:16

2 Answers 2


You've tagged frugal but the upfront cost of many of these ideas is large (as you've noted for the internal-geared hub).

A simple (e.g. 3x8) derailleur system with a cheap plastic half chainguard and a rust-resistant chain needs little attention and parts are cheap and readily available when they fail. The chainguard will keep your legs clean, and for the rare punctures (anti-puncture tyres are worth every gram unless racing) you can always carry disposable gloves in your puncture kit (I do, but more for greasy jobs).

A workshop-built chaincase wouldn't be cheap unless the workshop is run by a friend; especially once painted. It also wouldn't be light (well I suppose you could vacuum-form something out of ABS; then it would be light but not strong)

IGHs and folders make sense, but a chain case for a folder would be a challenge, and have to not interfere with folding. I'm sure its been done and we have folding-bike experts here who may have come across one.

  • 1
    Most folding bikes leave the whole transmisison as-is rather than take the tension off the chain and let it drag or flail about.
    – Criggie
    Jun 19, 2017 at 11:54
  • 1
    @Criggie that's true though I'm sure I've seen some that don't. A chain case would stick out and might interfere with the folding on a Brompton are the chain is inside the fold. I though the chainline changed on the Airnimal Joey but it doesn't, however the chain case would have to fit between the forks. I've tweaked the wording anyway
    – Chris H
    Jun 19, 2017 at 12:15
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    fair point - Dahon-style folders turn left, leaving the chain on the outside of the folded bike. I'm less familiar with continental style folders.
    – Criggie
    Jun 19, 2017 at 13:04
  • @Criggie but my original wording was 99% wrong, so thanks for pointing it out.
    – Chris H
    Jun 19, 2017 at 13:04
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    I'm accepting this answer because it shows I can get close enough to my goals without a fully-enclosed drivetrain in an oil bath. Long mudflap on the front fender + half chainguard + lube/wax should do it. Alfine 11 may not be maintenance-free and it has less gear range. Belt drive is not as frugal because it's practically overhead here: you need to buy an IGH too. Only goal that remains is the unsightly mess... which seems to be part-and-parcel of every supremely functional adaptation – butterfly handlebars, looking at you!
    – Leeroy
    Jun 23, 2017 at 16:06

This borders on an overly opinion-based question. It's also worth pointing out that while there are a lot of bikes with real chaincases in the world, they are pretty far outside of many people's experience.

Full, traditional chaincases are fantastic and do everything you want except simple flat fixes. They often fail pretty hard at that, especially when paired with a modern IGH, where the cable comes at the hub in a manner far less convenient for the purpose of a chaincase than going into the end of the axle like an old AW hub for example. They can go together different ways in the dropout/crank access areas, but generally speaking if you're someone of the mind that you want to deal with as little stuff as possible when you get a flat, they are going to give you some stuff to deal with that you'd rather not. They play very nice with extra-flat-resistant tires, Marathon Pluses being the archetypal one these days, but then that's going against the goal of low weight a bit.

I would highly recommend you get it fabricated by a bike framebuilder or other shop that does bike-oriented fabrication work. Someone who's not as enamored with the concept as you are and/or who doesn't know bikes will have many, many things they can get wrong. Chaincases have a lot going on.

Also you'll have to be very particular about what crank and of course ring size you use. Clearing the crank, including after the bumps and jostles of real world conditions, while also sealing well is one of the major design challenges of chaincases, and always winds up being the troublesome part of doing major/refurb type work on bikes with them. If you're getting it fabricated I would highly recommend leaving the choice of what crank to use to the fabricator.

The gear range is a personal question and it of course depends on how much you're willing to lop off the high end, which mountains, how much you're carrying, etc. Generally speaking, yes an Alfine 11 can give you access to the kind of gearing most people would need for touring. It's good to play with a gearing calculator when figuring this kind of thing out.

The more modern approach of course is use a belt drive. Personally I think chaincases are way sweeter, by virtue of being 100 year old technology that keeps your drivetrain going with very little maintenance, but in all fairness belt drive does do a lot of what you're after here, and because it's all off the shelf parts would be way, way cheaper presuming you're working with a frame that's set up for it. They're also much lighter and all the parts involved will be just an order away, as opposed to having something custom going on.

  • 1
    Fixing flats on a bike with a full chain guard is not a problem, use the method where you patch while your wheel is in it normal spot. Changing tubes and tires is the pain part (for which I do use my local bike shop.)
    – Willeke
    May 7, 2018 at 18:56

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