Editor’s Note: This is the final installment of our European correspondent “c_g” on the Rohloff Speedhub. Here are his ride impressions on the hub and his final verdict. Read on………..
Speedhub in Action – Riding experiences on the ROHLOFF Speedhub 500/14 by “c_g”:
OK so now that the bike is set up with Rohloff – let´s get it out and dirty!! Like I have mentioned I had owned the ROHLOFF Speedhub 500/14 for some time now, originally in 26” but now for more than 7 months in a 29er wheel so this review is based on some serious mileage. In the 29er configuration I have been on the bike on and off – mostly in the worst of conditions.
Add-ons to the last post: The original Rohloff shifters are not recommended for Carbon bars: For that combination you will have to turn to one of the few aftermarket shifter alternatives like Tune´s Rolff.
And one more thing for those running one of those modern Post-Mount disc brake equipped frames – no adapters existing! (The only option for you is to refer to the long torque arms – not too aesthetically pleasing, but possible)
Shifting impressions: So how is the Speedhub on the trail? The first thing you will realize when coming from your standard external shifting is that you can change gears whenever you choose to – no pedaling, wheel rotation or other motion required. You can change gear with your bike standing – cool.
The downside is that shifting becomes increasingly harder under pedaling loads. It has been mentioned here in some comments that when pedaling hard it becomes near impossible to shift and you are right – it is. This might be a bummer for some but I learned to live with this very quickly and never felt like it was taking away from my performance. You simply learn to take off the pressure for this moment of shifting and then go on. This takes quite some discipline when standing in the starter block but is possible nonetheless. Not being a racer primarily I have come to love the “anytime shifting” of the Rohloff – just think of how often you needed to lift up your bike and do a pedal stroke to air shift into the desired gear when starting out or on the first steep pitch after a downhill, in technical riding, or after a crash. With the Speedhub you just shift, wherever, whenever – simple as that. Besides, Rohloff claims that you just can´t harm the hubs internals by forcing a shift, no matter how hard you pedal – good to know.
With the above mentioned case – there can be some ghost shifting, when shifting under pedal load – I have been able to force them on the hub. But they can happen only between the gears 7 and 8 and it really took me several deliberate attempts to ever make that happen. In all my time on the Speedhub I never experienced this to happen unintentionally so to me the shifting has been 100 % spot on (at any condition).
The shifting action at the shifter can feel a bit undefined, though, especially when coming from the latest crispy SRAM and SHIMANO shifters. Keep in mind that the Rohloff shifter does nothing but pull cables – all the indexing is done inside the Speedhub itself. So cable tension and cable friction do play a role in this but the shifting feel will always be less precise to high end conventional shifters. Theoretically you can shift all 14 gears in one stroke. The 21° twist per gear (273° for all 14 gears) limits this capacity though. Unless you can twist your wrist in very strange ways, it will take 2-3 strokes to cover the full range – but here again, anytime and anywhere. Additionally the large diameter barrel at the shifters make for a considerable cable throw in the hub. If I were to ask for a shifter redesign it would be to make gearing steps smaller, reduce the shifter in overall size and make it carbon bar compatible. The shifters have some strongly triangulated grip area, that has been receiving some “semi-positive” comments – to me it felt fine and despite being a bit oversize I felt OK with it.
Shifting action in respect of finding the correct gear is as simple as it can get – no dual shifters, cross chaining or double gears to consider just equal transmission steps by 13,6 % with each shift. A real no-brainer.
Riding impressions: The first thing that struck me on my bike equipped with ROHLOFF´s Speedhub was the clean looks. I like that and there are way less possibilities to get caught on rocks or branches. (I ride much in wooded or rocky terrain and so I usually have several fatalities with my rear derailleurs every year.) Just like a SS bike, pure, clean and simple but without the limitations (and, yes – more weight).
Gearing range: Like stated many times before, the gearing range is equivalent to a standard 27-spd external system. With the Speedhub it is a very easy task to modify this range in either direction. Going faster is no issue at all (just mount a bigger chain ring) – fine for those running smaller wheels. But us big wheelers are prone to peek in the other direction – choosing even lower gears. The introduction of ever more 11-36 cassettes and other 29er specific gearing are signs for that. And unfortunately here we run into manufacturer recommendations (see prior report). I am glad to say that my neglect of these recommendations and decision for running smaller chain rings (36 and sometimes 34 instead of the recommended 38 teeth) has never ever caused any issues riding (apart from voiding my warranty) but has granted me the option of riding through some climbs where with a normal 34 to 22 gearing I would have been walking.
I admit that at these speeds walking might have been just as fast but personally I love the sensation of riding all the way, rather than pushing (one more reason I could never get hooked on SS riding).
“Rohloffing”: When riding a Speedhub you will be aware that there is something going on in the rear of the bike under you. In some gears you can hear a whirring sound and sometimes feel minimal vibrations at your cranks. Nothing serious but it can be irritating at first. These noticeable gears are the lower 7 ones with a definite climax in gear 7 (which is where the third planetary gear is kicking in). It certainly feels a bit strange to not feel anything in higher gears (8 to 14) and suddenly with the switch from 8 to 7 have these sensations coming. Once you get accustomed to the hub it kind of fades away in your perception – at least it did with me. When being really sensitive you will notice this sensation increase just so slightly under high torque. To me these sensations are what kept me away from going ROHLOFF all the way and never looking back. More on that further down. While the noises and vibration can be more with a new Speedhub, it usually becomes lesser with time. It is a mere effect of all the precision crafted gear wheels adapting to one another and running smoother. The manual states that it will take between 500 to 1000 km to reach its equilibrium and has not been detected to change anymore after. So far I can fully back up that statement.
Besides these lower gears the hub is running mostly unnoticeable. The gear No. 11 is the direct gear with every rotation in the cog is translated directly to the wheel.
One thing that will get you wondering is the fact that when your take off your feet off the pedal when coasting, you likely will see your cranks starting to rotate. Ever seen that happen on your external shifting system? I have and it always has been a sign of some malfunction in the freewheel. “Friction” is the inevitable thought that will cross your mind, which brings us to the next big issue with the ROHLOFF Speedhub:
Efficiency: Rohloff goes through great effort in explaining why their system is near identical in efficiency to a well kept external gearing system – with a multitude of scientific and semi-scientific explanations which I will spare you (have a look for yourself if you have some extra hours). Basically I concluded that efficiency under pedal load and when riding is a different matter to spinning your wheel in the stand. And you know what: I have come to believe them (even though I haven´t been able to understand everything). I have read of reports by riders, who had abandoned using the Rohloff because of the sensation of resistance and friction some gears had given them (and from the above mentioned sensations I can even understand this mental connection). There is probably truth to both sides and I agree this whirring sensation does make you wonder about friction and can lead to the subjective feeling of slowness. Being a tester I can´t just get away with these thoughts and so I went through the effort of looking at the recorded speeds and lap times on my usual rounds and I came to realize it was merely going on in my head (or too minimal to detect by my simple means).
Ignore that suspicion and chances are you will become a Speedhub fan. Give in to that nagging voice and chances are you will always wonder if you might not be faster with standard shifting systems.
Additionally I just want to throw in that efficiency is one side of the coin but being able to shift freely under any circumstance and trail condition might be the other one. In that respect the Speedhub has never let me down. For me it was: When conditions turned really nasty and my externally geared bikes were quitting on me, the Speehub equipped bike remained completely unimpressed.
One more tangible difference is the distribution of the weight with a Speedhub. Here you have much more weight concentrated in the rear of the bike. Lift up your bike and you will immediately notice. Since I was riding it on a light rigid bike the front was plenty light already and having even more weight shifted to the rear it made some adjustment necessary to succeed on some of the steeper climbs. Again, a bit of body english was all that was needed and maneuvers like wheelies and technical riding became natural again. Only Bunny-Hopping just wouldn´t work out for me like before – blame my lack of bike handling skills for that. I am not too fond of big-jumps and air-time and on those small jumps I have been doing it never became an issue. Through other riders I hear that the Speedhub is actually quite popular with gravity driven riders for so the weight distribution can´t be this much off there either.
Maintenance: That has been a very easy one for me – NONE but the frequent lubing of the chain. I have completely neglected the hub, none of the yearly recommended oil changes (though I will do one after completing the test just because it is cheap, simple and it cannot hurt). It is reassuring that Rohloff recommends the yearly oil change (or after 5000 km, whichever comes first) as the only service for the Speedhub 500/14.
When talking about maintenance it is important to note that your chain will be lasting considerably longer (because it will be stressed evenly) and with the cog being reversible you can get twice the mileage out of them (besides being high grade stainless steel anyway) So practically the cost factor grows smaller over time when compared to standard shifting.
I really love riding the Speedhub on epic adventures, tours, especially in adverse conditions or whenever reliability was key, but whenever I was doing XC-style riding with lots of acceleration it only felt 95 % right. It might have been the additional weight or potentially lower efficiency of the system or my mental inability to separate the whirring sensation from actual performance – my means didn’t allow me to distinguish – but for XC-kind of riding the Speedhub just never “klicked” with me. Like I said my basic measurements don´t back that up and so I must call that a purely subjective sensation.
If you are only riding in decent weather and don’t ride through winters the Speedhub will probably not catch your admiration but if you are the kind, who wants to ride anytime, anywhere the Speedhub might just be the ticket.
(That is if you are not a weight weenie and don´t mind the extra 1 to 2 lbs on your bike. If you are a SS rider you probably haven´t even bothered reading to here anyway ;-).).
So my conclusion for the Speedhub is an ambivalent one; on the plus side you have perfect reliability, low maintenance, reliability and … did I say reliability – which to me means riding without any limitations. The bad side (consisting of added and concentrated weight, less crisp shifting and high cost) is longer but much less significant – at least to me. (Plus the whirring sensation in the lower gears I simply had not been able to ignore 100%.)
For epic rides and touring I give it two thumbs up and I favor it over any other transmission currently out there. For XC-racing, jumping and such I know it does work, it just wouldn´t be my first choice.
A few words on the future:
Rohloff and Gates Carbon Drive:
This combination seems like a very logical one (get away with the last bit of frequent maintenance by replacing the often to be lubed chain by the CARBON Drive) and some have already asked about it.
Since I don´t have any first hand experience with it (and no frame that would work anyway) I addressed Rohloff product manager Marco Rauch about it and believe me, they have spent serious time working on it and doing in-house testing with it. But the Rohloff guys wouldn’t be themselves if they didn’t expect near foolproof perfection (and 200 % reliability).
Technically the specific parts do exist and given the perfect chain line it does work just fine. Did you read my constraint? While our proven system of chain rings, cogs and chain does handle minor misalignment quite well (SS-riders know what I am talking about), the carbon drive belt system is very sensitive to these things.
It seems that one of the major limitations to the systems working perfectly in sync is the frame design and production (perfect alignment and minimal flex, plus very low tolerances). These things are more or less out of the hands of both Rohloff and Gates but when something does not work perfectly in the power transfer sector, these two will be among the first to be asked for explanations. So understandably they are not easily jumping on that horse before the basic requirements have been met and are executed in frame design.
Additionally I have been told that the testing by Rohloff has shown a recommended smallest cog of 20 sprockets, thus requiring a chain ring 50 sprockets or larger. And that is the least thing you want to do place the Carbon Drive belt closer to potentially harmful things like rocks ;-).
(Remember all this info is merely passed on; no personal experience there.)
The NEW lightweight Speedhub:
There cannot be a review on the Speedhub without asking for the ominous and long rumored lightweight Speedhub – but, sorry to embarrass you. No major news in that sector: It is being developed & tested and will be released when perfect – no timing was stated but that it is going to happen.
Only this much: The release of the SHIMANO 11-spd Alfine (which is getting closer in terms of gearing range and service requirements) later this summer is putting some extra pressure on R&D and is likely to make Rohloff push harder …. No details, sorry.
Editor’s Note: Thanks to “c_g” for this detailed look at the Rohloff Speedhub. We hope you enjoyed our look into this multi-speed, internal geared hub.