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No Grimy Derailleurs

by Richard Masoner

The same day that Noah wrote about those grimy derailleurs last weekend, I received a shiny new Abio Penza shaft drive folding bike with a 3 speed Shimano Nexus hub.

This bike has some interesting features that I’ll write about another time, but this is the first internal hub gearing (IGH) bike in a long time on which I’ve put more than a couple of miles.

In the United States, derailleur gearing is much more popular than IGH: derailleurs are more efficient, they’re lightweight, and you can pack a lot of gears into a little space without spending thousands of dollars.

For utility use, though, IGH has its advantages. Hub gearing is more robust — you don’t need to worry about a bent derailleur hanger, for example. The enclosed mechanism means no worries about grimy gears and hard shifting due to gunk in the moving parts. A chainline that doesn’t move means you can completely enclose the chain or even, as in the case of the Abio Penza
I’m testing, replace the chain with an enclosed drive shaft.

Another option that was mentioned in the comments is going singlespeed or fixed gear. Fewer moving parts means fewer things to clean, and you have two fewer cables to worry about icing up. I personally love riding fixed gear on skinny tires in light snow and ice, although hills can be a problem! I converted an old bike to fixed because I got sick of my derailleurs and cables icing up.

A problem some people encounter is the rear wheel “freewheels” in both directions. This can happen with any hub: either the hub oil has congealed, or water got inside the hub and froze. In either case the freewheel pawls are stuck open, so even though you pedal the wheel won’t spin. The solution if this happens is to flush the thick grease out of the hub and replace it with a lighter oil.

 
The Chariot Summer Sale - 2013

8 Responses to “No Grimy Derailleurs”

  1. Stuart says:

    Yes, the old internal hub vs. derailer debate. I have a Sachs 3×7 (3 internal, 7 derailer cogwheels) on my bike. I would say I have the worst of both worlds! The three internal gears, no matter often I adjust the gear changing cable, seem to be hit and miss, always missing when I want to stand on the pedals. The derailer arm broke when I had the bike shipped, the new one is hit or miss on the changes and the even though I have a chainguard. No matter what gear combination I am in, there is a mysterious clank every 10 revolutions or so. Maybe the internal gear needs some lubrication. So much for “maintenance free” intenal hubs. No, seriously, when an internal hub is working properly, it a fine thing. Has anyone else heard about the new three speed internal hub that Brompton developed with Sturmey-Archer? It has 50% ratio jumps between 1st and 2nd and 2nd and 3rd, giving it the same range as some derailers.

  2. I’m a big fan of my Rohloff, but it has both cost and weight penalties, and it doesn’t mesh nicely with drop bars.

    For commuting I think it’s hard to beat something like a Nexus/Alfine, and in the long run most people would be happier with an IGH, they just don’t know it as they’ve never tried one. Unfortunately, the US bike industry is only recently embracing the idea of them.

    You forgot to mention two other advantages of IGHs — no gear overlap/simpler shifting, and no dish (and therefore much, much stronger rear wheels).

  3. Fritz says:

    Thanks for pointing out the other benefits, Dolan. I was aware of them, but I didn’t think they were items most utility cyclists would appreciate all that much, though they’re great for touring cyclists.

    I met a cyclist on Mt Tamalpais in Marin County a while back with a Rohloff on his drop bar road bike. Photo of him and his bike here. He explained to me how he shifted but I don’t remember the details.

  4. Jim says:

    What about changing a flat with an internal gear hub? Some even recommend keeping the wheel on the bike and repairing the tube in place to avoid the long and rigorous process of removing some internal gear hubs.
    I would have changed over long ago if it weren’t for this critical issue.

  5. @Fritz: I would argue both issues (shifting and wheel dish) affect all types of cyclist pretty universally. Lack of proper shifting knowledge shortens drivetrain life, and I often see people who “know how to ride a bike just fine” riding in something like a 53-26 with the derailleur straining to keep up. Conversely they also complain about how complex shifting is overall, and how poorly front derailleurs tend to work. Having only one shifter gets rid of many of those worries.

    As far as dish is concerned, I see 9+ speed wheels out of true quite often — something you didn’t see so much when the cluster was narrower and there was less dish. That equates to poor braking, loss of control, etc. I try to steer anyone I know over 200 lbs away from 10 speed bikes altogether.

    I have a drop bar Rohloff bike as well, but it’s pretty much always a kludge when people do it. Mine uses a HubBub attached to the end of the drop. I would love to see something like an STI shifter for a Rohloff, but that will probably be a long wait :)

    @Jim: It depends on the hub and the dropouts. The Rohloff can use a quick release, and so it’s just a matter of unscrewing the thumbscrew on the shifter box (for the external shifter box model). Adds about 10 seconds to the tire change. That said, I talked to a friend with a Nexus who had to change a flat and he said it was a royal PITA, and I think his experience is much more common than mine.

  6. Paul in Minneapolis says:

    For a few weeks I have been setting up and using for short trips a Shimano Nexus 8 speed hub bike. I did a dry-run to see what it would take to change a rear flat, add the drum brake and full chain-guard and mine is a RPITA. That is why I only use tires that I know have very-good-flat-protection. Also, I don’t ride in the gutter; I tend to ride in the right wheel track of car tires helps, and get a flat once every three or four thousand miles or about twice a year.
    I have been talking with area lbs to find the best protection to go with studded tires as they don’t seem to come with Kevlar bands in them. (Studded tires and flat-prevention-technology would be a good CBB topic.) Over all, my IGH bike has a fully enclosed chain and that reduces 99% of winter maintenance. Not to mention hard-braking while not having to shift-down on slick roads, as I can do that stopped. The biggest draw-backs to IGH beside the RPITA tire change (fixing any tire in temps under 20f is difficult) and IGH have a little more rolling resistance”.
    I will still use my derailure bikes for better conditions.

  7. JiMCi says:

    Funny to see shaft drives coming back. While most cyclists think of it as something new, the idea has been around for at least 105 years, as shown here http://tinyurl.com/54s52b and here http://tinyurl.com/6qtgaw

    Does anybody here knows about older examples?

  8. Some even recommend keeping the wheel on the bike and repairing the tube in place to avoid the long and rigorous process of removing some internal gear hubs.

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