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What is the indexing like on the popular internally-geared hubs (shimano nexus and sram i-motion)? Can one use a 3-speed front shimano derailleur shifter (e.g. acera) for a 3-speed shimano nexus hub? Or a 9-speed rear acera for a 9-speed nexus? Etc etc? Is there a good resource more generally like a "shifter, hub and derailleur index-spacing in cm of cable-pull chart for all the brands ever" somewhere on the intarwehbs?

Specifically, I have a bike with a 3-speed sram i-motion rear, and it has a grip shifter. I hate the grip shifter, and would rather have a trigger shift, or even a friction shift. Any advice on getting this to work? I'm concerned that an arbitrary 3-speed shifter for a front derailleur will not have the same indexing as my 3-speed IGH. I found this hack but I was hoping for something involving less work and more throwing money at the problem.

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  • There is a company called JTek that makes bar-end shifters for a few IGHs, but not the ones you ask about. And there have been a few third-party shifters for Rohloff hubs.
    – Adam Rice
    Oct 19, 2021 at 17:55
  • @AdamRice Rohloff is different from many other IGHs in that it does the indexing in the hub, not in the shifter. Oct 19, 2021 at 18:35
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    Shimano offers trigger shifters (for flat bars) for the 8/11-speed Alfine/Nexus IGHs. They work fine.
    – Erlkoenig
    Oct 19, 2021 at 20:07
  • @Erlkoenig that's a great answer - could you put it as an answer, where ti can earn you rep ? I have a alfine 11 with a trigger shifter and it works nicely.
    – Criggie
    Oct 19, 2021 at 21:32
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    @Criggie Too late 😬 I forgot to mention that these IGH trigger shifters have similar ergonomics as some derailleur shifters, e.g. the Deore ones, but require a little more force but less feeling. Also you can only shift one gear.
    – Erlkoenig
    Oct 20, 2021 at 6:03

3 Answers 3

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Sheldon Brown's website has a table that lists cable pull data for most modern IGH shifters.

What this data won't tell you absolutely is where the tolerances lay for slightly different cable pull among shifters still being able to work.

Sturmey 3-speed shifters are known to work with SRAM/Sachs hubs, and there's a modern trigger-style Sturmey 3-speed shifter out there, so that may be your answer.

No, derailleur shifters can't be freely appropriated on IGHs of the same number of speeds. IGHs use variable amount of cable pull per click, and rear derailleur shifters are the same per click. As for front derailleur shifters, I just measured a Shimano SL-MC18 I had laying around at 13mm for the first click and 7 mm for the second, which is probably more than is useful for three-speed hubs. There are variations (Shimano road is some amount less) but most flat bar triple shifters will be in this ballpark. (7mm is actually kind of close to the 6mm your second click needs. Maybe it would work great to put this shifter on a SRAM 3-speed and set it up so the first click simply takes up 5-6mm of slack, I'm not sure about that.)

The nature of 3-speed hubs in particular is that they're somewhat more accepting of a technically wrong cable pull off the shifter. They all want zero to negligible cable pull in the first gear, which means the cable can be slack if needed, and in the second and third gears there is usually a small range of cable pull that can work. Once you have more than 3 speeds, the tolerances stack up such that you don't have this leeway.

The hack you link to is actually pretty smart. The Sheldon data shows that the SRAM i-motion 3 shifters want about 7.7mm of pull on the first click and another 6.1mm for the second. The 9-speed X7 shifter they're using pulls 4mm per click. So by grinding down the first detent they're making a cable pull of 8mm exactly, and apparently they've found they can fudge the cable tension enough to get it to run in the third gear on the next click. (Note that one doesn't have carte blanche to assume that if it gets into the gear then all is well, because it could seem like it's in gear but be partially engaged and wear prematurely or have other problems, but in practice when messing around with internal hubs it's often possible to simply feel where these points are). Personally I wouldn't hesitate to give this plan a shot if a trigger shifter is what you want. The Sturmey 3 trigger shifter option is also a cable pull fudge of sorts as you can see in the data, and the quality is so-so, being a Sunrace-era S/A part. What I would look askance at on that page is the statement that you could do this with any shifter. The X-series SRAM shifters are way easier to disassemble and reassemble like this than, for example, any Shimano trigger shifter.

SRAM never made trigger shifters for their 3-speed hubs and are now out of the IGH business globally.

Another option is to use one of the electronic servo spooling type shifters, i.e. Archer D1X. In theory these are all able to perfectly emulate the stock shifter.

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Every internal gear hub (IGH) comes with its own shifting equipment. They are not designed to be interchangeable. Good IGH all come with a turning grip shifter nowadays, and their indexing is pretty clear. If the cable length is adjusted correctly (they have a screw for this), it's quite a worry free experience.

However, IGHs are not designed to be combined with chain shifting. They use the full 135mm distance between the dropouts for themselves. You might combine an IGH with a front derailleur, but that requires also adding a non-shifting rear derailleur to take up the chain slack when you shift down. And you loose the ability to use the coaster brake that's built into many IGHs.

Generally, I would say that combining an IGH with chain shifting is a bit contrary to IGH philosophy: An IGH exists to provide you with pain-free, worry free and low maintenance linear shifting experience, including the ability to jump directly from lowest to highest gear or back, irrespective of whether you are currently moving or waiting at a traffic light. Spoiling this experience with a second, maintenance heavy, overlapping switching mechanism feels very odd to me.

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  • Perhaps it wasn't clear... I don't want to use a front derailleur; I want to use a front derailleur shifter with my rear IGH. They both conveniently are indexed for 3 gears. However, it is not clear that the per-gear cable-pull on the shifter matches the per-gear cable pull required by the hub. I don't even know how to acquire that information.
    – Him
    Oct 19, 2021 at 18:14
  • Neither do I know. This kind of information is treated as an internal parameter of no relevance to the user. I wouldn't even put it past some IGH brands to use different cable pull length for the different steps on the same hub. It's not exactly a secret as you may measure the cable pull of the original shifter, though. If you do that, you can check whether it matches your existing front derailleur shifter. But if it doesn't, better use the original shifter of the hub. Oct 19, 2021 at 18:29
  • This is a teardown of an 11-speed Alfine. You can see that the gears are different widths. I imagine this is not to thwart compatibility, but out of structural necessity. This would account for the uneven cable pull requirements.
    – Adam Rice
    Oct 20, 2021 at 0:50
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Many years ago, I unwittingly bought a cheap Shimano shifter for a 8 speed derailleur setup.

After weeks fiddling with it, I learned that "alfine" was a IGH not a brand/groupset and that each click pulled a different amount of cable, so it was never going to work - only 2 gears lined up well enough.

Upshot - you cannot use any shifter with an IGH that wasn't intended for that combination.

You also can't really bodge it by using a friction shifter, because an IGH wants its cogs internally to be lined up properly. Being off by a little is enough to chip corners and make for a short service life.

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