Deciding whether to buy the Rohloff Gears
(Tandem Dreams Part 4)
As I commented in the last post, I’m not really happy with the derailleur gears on the Pino. I’ve used multi-speed derailleur gears for years on conventional bikes but my good experience with the Brompton’s neat combination of hub gear and simple 2-speed derailleur, has made me less tolerant of their quirks.
Over the years I seem to have spent a lot of time adjusting gears and never getting them to work quite right and I don’t like the need for a 1-up / 1-down move at some random point in the series of changes. On the Pino the twist grip shifters are a bit awkward (I’ve never liked twist grips compared to quickfire levers) and the gears seem to clash and graunch more under the double strain of the tandem transmission, especially if you are going a bit too slow uphill. Plus the extra responsibility for another rider makes the whole system less forgiving and you have big problems when you stop in the wrong gear (almost inevitable).
All of this makes the Rohloff 14-speed hub gears very attractive. Thorn promote Rohloff geared tandems which seem to get good reports and the idea of a single shifter, not fighting the tension in a heavily loaded chain drive, and the possibility of selecting any gear you want when stopped all feels very tempting.
On the other hand, I’ve seen some suggestions that Rohloffs are not highly efficient and it seems dangerous to set out on a tour with a complex and rare gear system that might take a lot of effort and cost to fix when it breaks down. The real problem is that it costs around £1000 more than the good but not top-flight Shimano gears on the Pino Allround that we are looking to buy (The Pino Tour has better components but at a price).
So I did a trawl of web forums and found some interesting observations. Most of the objections to Rohloffs seem to come from people who don’t use them, apart from one or two who felt the Rohloff did not feel as fast as more sporty bikes. Most people enthuse about their simplicity and reliability. The Rohloff has a formidable reputation for reliability and the ease of maintenance seems very attractive, just change the oil once a year or so. One report on a world tour said that the only part that did not need attention in the whole trip was the Rohloff and many people report very high trouble-free mileages, moving the hub from one bike to the next, implying again that the hub is more durable than the bikes. Rohloff claim that they have never had a hub gear fail. Another encouraging observation is that without the complexities of derailleurs and multiple sprockets/chainwheels, the bike is a lot easier to clean.
Isobel wasn’t sure but she was less familiar with hub gears and not aware of the implications of this. When we talked it through and she understood the idea of a single shifter, sealed gear system, straight chain, no multiple chainwheels or sprockets and freedom to select any gear any time, she quickly agreed that it made sense, especially as I was just not feeling confident or comfortable about the gears on the Pino, accepting the twistgrip derailleurs as a necessary evil rather than feeling OK with them. It’s a lot of extra money but this feels like a very big investment for us and we need to get it right.
So that seems to be that. The Rohloff might be slightly less efficient than a well set up derailleur (but maybe better than a worn misaligned one) but it promises to be easy to use from almost every point of view and a real “fit and forget” component. Since the brand new Shimano system on the test bike, set up and tested by John and Ruth who are real experts, threw a chain off within a few minutes a sealed gearbox feels like a very good thing. Incidentally, the Rohloff also has a twistgrip, but it is very highly regarded, I assume it will be much lighter without the derailleur to push and I anticipate it being positioned completely differently, on the unusual Pino bars the Shimano twistgrip sits very uncomfortably under the heel of your palm.
Postscript 19 August 2009
We’ve had the Pino for a month now and ridden it on several day rides in Cornwall (hills everywhere) as well as some urban riding in Sheffield. The Rohloff is an absolute joy, I can’t praise it enough. I’ll write a fuller post soon.
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Tags: Rohloff Speedhub