Thursday, January 24, 2013

Travel by Bike Thursday - INTERNAL GEARED HUBS

Have you ever considered the possibility of running an internal geared hub on your bike?  Obviously, it would not work for your "race" bike due to weight issues but for a commuter/travel bike this is a great option to consider.

There are a variety of options when it comes to the hubs themselves - they range from 3 speed to 11 speed.  Maintenance is very minimal with them and you do not have to worry about dirt/crud getting into your cassette and making the shifting difficult without regular maintenance and upkeep.  They are expensive, but with limited parts required for them, they have excellent longevity to help off-set the initial purchase cost.

Sheldon Brown does a great write up on them here.

Here is a comparison from the Shimano Alfine 11 vs NuVinci N360 hub from a post I found on-line which can be found at this link:

Many of you may have read my post entitled, "Alfine 11 Thoughts and Fraughts", and the disappointment and frustration I dealt with trying to get the $800 hub to shift properly on my recumbent trike without success, and missing two 60 mile training rides because of it.

I read all of the responses and advice on how to adjust the hub and cabling, how to let up on the pedals, the break-in period, the fact that no internal geared hubs shift under pressure (climbing), and something about me being my own worst critic. But I was not satisfied with the hub, having owned the Shimano internal 7 and 8 speed hubs without similar issues, and currently owning a Sturmey Archer 3 speed IGH... also without similar issues.

Therefore, I decided to order the NuVinci N360 to try it out, do a comparison, and then send the one I like the least back for a refund. Well, after a couple of weeks of riding, I am back to share my findings.

I'll just cut to the chase and then give you the details afterward.. like newspaper articles used be written. I sent the Alfine 11 back and kept the Nuvinci N360. To be completely fair, I have yet to hear back from the dealer to see if they have found the Alfine 11 to be defective or not. So I am basing my comparison on the assumption that the Alfine was not defective, but I hope it was, because if it wasn't... it's not nearly as good as Shimano's previous hubs.

I have to say, the decision was not difficult, despite some of the issues that people have been writing about the NuVinci. I am fortunate enough to compare these two hubs with actual experience riding each of them installed on my own trike, rather than making arguments or judgements either way based on other articles I've read, here-say, or tech reports. So let's get into it... shall we?

Just as I received the Alfine pre-installed on a wheel, I received the NuVinci pre-installed as well. Mounting the wheel and hub on my trike was very easy, and the instructions were much easier for me to understand than those from Shimano. But in reality, there was not much for me to do, as all the hard work was done at my dealer's shop.

On a trike, the Alfine 11 Rapidfire shifter has to be mounted upside down, which works alright, but as a result the cabling is also upside down... meaning it points upward rather than downward. Accommodating this requires a rather large cable loop back downward. So the installation with the Nuvinci and its twist shifter is much nicer. 

Another complaint I read about was having to twist the shifter 3/4 turn to reach the full range... This has not been a problem for me. How many people really shift from the extreme ends of the gear range all at once anyway? Personally, I ABSOLUTELY love the shifter and I ABSOLUTELY love how the hub shifts... if you can call it shifting at all. It's much more like gliding!

And let's see, how many of you said that internal geared hubs can't be shifted under power or while climbing hills??? This was definitely the case with the Alfine 11, but not so with the NuVinci N360. I climb some fairly steep hills every day on my way to work, and the NuVinci has zero issues downshifting as the hill gets steeper. As with any IGH, it does help to let up slightly while shifting, but by no means do I have to stop pedaling or lose my cadence or momentum as I did with the Alfine 11. 

I have been thinking about how to describe the feeling of the "shifting". On the flats, it is simply seamless, like gliding a knife through butter. While climbing, its stil simply seamless, like gliding a knife through chilled butter. In other words, you can feel some resistance when shifting while climbing, but it's still "like buttah"... no clicks, no hesitation, no skips, and no noise.... just an incredibly smooth transition into a higher cadence. 

Let's talk efficency, shall we? 
I am not a mechanical engineer, so I can't tell you how efficient the hub is compared to any other IGH or otherwise. But even if the Alfinen 11 is more efficient, the inability to maintain a constant cadence, and loss of momentum when downshifting is enough to make me not care about its efficiency. All I know is that I rode the exact same route I take every day, and my time was no different (45 minutes... all up hill). Yes, the hub is heavier, but no it did not affect my ride. I really think the fact that I could dial it in and keep my cadence the same during the entire ride is what made it more efficient. There are literally no jumps between gears as there are no gears. You can adjust the hub to match your cadence almost infinitely, no matter how fast or slow your bike/trike is moving, up hill or down. I felt like I was always in the exact right gear.

Gear Range:
I live in hilly Norther California, and I ride a lot of hills. The Alfine 11 and the Schlumpf Speed drive didn't give me a low enough gear to keep my cadence while climbing hills, and the top end was far too much for even the steepest downhill. I have no desire to crank it up to 50 mph. Once I reach about 30 mph or so, I just coast anyway. The NuVinci N360 with a 22 tooth sprocket has the perfect range for me. It's low enough that I can climb pretty much any hill and high enough that I don't run out of gears going back down the hill. By the way, you CAN completely twist from low to high in 3/4 turn and nothing in the hub hesitates or clunks... it just works... like butter!

(as if you don't already know it)... If you like to ride keeping the same cadence and you want an almost completely silent hub, and you like twist shifters (or don't mind them), and you're not a "weight weenie", and you want a totally maintenance free hub, and you want infinite "gears" with a range that will fit almost any riding condition, and you want to save a couple hundred dollars, and if you are considering the Alfine 11....I'd definitely take a close look at, and RIDE the Nuvinci N360. 

I am contemplating a build with a new "Fatbike Frame" that would use the NuVininci N360 Hub with the Gates CenterTrack Carbon Belt Drive.  You can read about the write up for that setup on a different frame than I am considering here.  The reason I am considering an IGH is that in the winter components get beat up pretty bad from road salt to snow build up.  I was out snowbiking last month and my rear derailleur got wet and it was cold enough out that the bottom pulley froze.  My chain would still flow but it skipped over the whole pulley so I had to stop and melt the ice so it would turn freely.  With an IGH that problem is solved along with chain issues all together since I would go with the belt drive.  We will be discussing the belt drive coming up soon.

Price options are varied so I will not get into that part here but if you would like some more information on an internal geared hub stop by the shop, send an e-mail, or give us a call!

Tom's Pro Bike Service
3687 Walden Avenue
Lancaster, New York 14086
F: (716)651-0858

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