Monday, 10 November 2014

What is a Rohloff hub and why do you keep banging on about them?

Location: Sheffield, South Yorkshire, UK
LONG TECHY POST ALERT!  We got asked to do a post about what a Rohloff Hub is so this is it.  I am in no way a bike expert or bike geek so this will be in very simple terms.  Basically there are 2 types of gear system for push bikes - external derailleur gears which is the type found on most bikes and internal hub gears which is what we've opted for on our touring bikes.

This is your average external derailleur gear system.  You probably recognise it.  There are a series of different sized cassettes at the back and often a number of of different sized chain rings at the front with a chain running between the two and derailleurs to move the chain up and down the cassette and chain rings.


An internal hub means that all your gears are packaged neatly away inside the bit in the middle of your rear wheel (the hub).  This has a sprocket attached to it and at the front, where your pedals are there is one chain ring.  These are connected by a chain, which continually runs in a straight line, unlike with a derailleur where it moves up and down the cassette and chain rings.  How does all the internal stuff work?  No bloody idea.  You can read about it on Wikipedia if you like or watch this video on the Rohloff website.

All I know is our Rohloff hub (Rohloff is the make) is a masterpiece of German engineering and we are already very fond of them.  So what is so good about it I hear you ask?  Well these are the reasons we chose them instead of the 'normal' external gears:
1)  Reliability.  There are stories galore of people riding thousands and thousands of miles on these guys with pretty much zero maintenance apart from the oil changes.
2)  Sturdiness and durability.  Because it is all enclosed it doesn't rust or get clogged up with mud/dust/sand.  There aren't any fragile bits sticking out from the frame to get bent or broken.  And because your chain is continually running in a straight line it doesn't wear out so quickly.  You change gears by means of a gripshift on the handlebars, which again means nothing sticking out to break.
3)  You can change gear when not pedalling, i.e. when stationary or coasting.  This might not sound like that big of a deal, but how hard is it getting a bike going if you've accidentally left it in the hardest gear?  Now multiply that by 20 because the bike weighs a ton.  I absolutely LOVE this feature.
4)  It has 14 gears, which doesn't sound like a lot when you get bikes these days with 27 or more, but unlike with external gears each gear is different.  With external gears because it is to do with the ratio between your cassette and chain ring there are a number of combinations you could be in with virtually the same feel.
5)  Amazing customer service.  On the relatively few times I have read about something going wrong with Rohloffs they are renowned for their excellent customer service.  The same goes for Thorn bikes so we're in good hands.

So if they're so amazing why don't all bikes have these instead of external gears?  Well I'm guessing the main reason is probably price, they are very expensive bits of kit.  They added around £1000 on to the cost of each of our bikes, but we personally felt like it was worth it for not having to spend time repeatedly fixing and fiddling with external gears.  Something we have to do on our commuter bikes a lot and don't really enjoy.

There are also these things which people have said against them:
*  They are relatively unusual and so in many parts of the world your average bike mechanic wouldn't know what to do with them, meaning if you do have an issue you do have to rely on customer service 'back home' and waiting around for couriers to deliver a new wheel rather than external gears which are ubiquitous around the globe and fixable by almost anyone.  True, but we trust in their reliability.
*  They can be a bit noisy, especially the seventh gear which is a bit gratey.  This is sort of true, but for us is of utter insignificance.
*  They're heavy.  Well maybe if you're an ultralight touring type this makes a difference, but for us, honestly, we're the heaviest component on our touring bikes and we'd probably eat the equivalent weight in day so...
*  They are really expensive, better to just spend the money on the adventure.  Again we'd agree with this, and if the choice was own this bit of kit and not go away or have external gears and go away then the choice would obviously be the latter.  But we are lucky enough to have saved enough to do both and we are generally of the philosophy of 'Buy Cheap, Buy Twice, or Thrice or...'  So if you have the money to buy the best quality do it as it'll save you in the long run.  We don't expect to ever need to buy new touring bikes, ever again, for the rest of our lives.  So this seems like a good investment to us.

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