Friday, 19 February 2010

Getting used to the Rohloff Speedhub

I'm getting used to the Rohloff Speedhub and I'm enjoying my first experience with hub gears!

Rohloff Speedhub - now used

Rohloff gear changing is usually easy and effortless. There's a delicate "click" from the hub gear box, transmitted through the cables to the shifter, on every shift action. You do need, though, a light touch with the shifter and a small synchronised lift of pedal pressure to operate the system effectively and this took me a bit of time to master. At first, I was too heavy-handed and kept shifting 2 gears at a time or 'blocking' gear changes by not lifting pedal pressure enough!

I still occasionally fluff the 'difficult' shift from 8th to 7th, by forgetting to back off. This triggers the hub's protection mechanism and puts it temporarily into the top gear (14th). Of course this usually happens on a hill and can lead to a moment of panic as you're simultaneously trying to lift the pedal pressure to change down and maintain forward momentum! A couple of other gear changes seem to get 'blocked' more than others (9th to 8th especially), if there is any amount of torque on the cranks when you twist the shifter.

I've picked up a couple of Rohloff gear changing techniques! If you change gear when the cranks are approaching vertical you hardly need to lift off pedal pressure because in that position there's very little torque going through the cranks. I've also noticed it's actually easier to change down from 8th directly into 6th! (I don't know if this is recommended though)? A friend of mine, also with a Rohloff geared bike, commented he often does this as well!

Unscrew the EX box (below the dropout) and the wheel is easily removed
You can also see the small torque plate that needs slotting in the dropout (below the QR lever)

Sometimes with hub gears, back wheel removal can be tricky. On the Nomad, the use of the Rohloff EX Box has made rear wheel removal no more difficult than my derailleur geared bikes. Put the Rohloff into 14th gear, release the V-Brake noodle, release the EX Box by undoing the knurled thumb screw and drop the wheel out. Easy. (This is also somewhat easier than Rohloff's alternative gear change mechanism the Internal Gear Mech. Here, two concertinaed gear cables have to be released using the special cable joiners. Some people have reported these are difficult to operate with cold and/or wet hands).

Although it's widely stated you can change gears with the Rohloff hub while stationary, you can only do so if there's no torque on the cranks! Once, I was slowly avoiding an obstacle on a trail and I was in a relatively high gear and also on a slight incline. As I navigated around the obstacle, I tried to select a lower gear but the shifter wouldn't rotate because I was having to press on the pedals to counteract the slope. I ground to a halt, desperately trying to change gear, but couldn't and just managed to release a foot from the pedal to avoid a prat-fall!

One slight bug-bear I have with the Rohloff hub is losing momentum both at the start of inclines and riding into headwind. The gaps between gears 9, 10, 11, 12 (my normal riding ratios on 40x16) are bigger than I'd like. I sometimes feel I'm grinding along in 11th, but after changing down, I'm spinning more than I want to in 10th and vice versa. The Rohloff gear ratios are all evenly spaced (13.6% difference) and although the spacing of the 1-7 climbing ratios feels OK, I'd prefer the spacing of the 8-14 ratios to be closer together. I often feel I'd like a gear 9½ or 10½. I'd consider sacrificing some of the 526% gear range for slightly closer normal riding ratios. It's a shame that aspect of the Rohloff isn't configurable...

40x16: 13.6% diff: 526% range1821232730343944505765738495
38x16: 11.6% diff: 410% range2123262932364044505562697786
Closer normal riding ratios, if the gear difference was reduced

I also find it mildly irritating having to move my hand from the handlebar grip (and shift my balance slightly) to operate the Rohloff shifter. It's only a few centimetres of movement, but I feel it spoils 'the flow' a little. (I've used Campag Ergo levers exclusively for many years and appreciate greatly this superb way of changing gears).

Not very far from grip to shifter, but too far not to have to shift your balance to operate

On the subject of noise, there is no real problem to report! Actually, 8-14 on my Rohloff bike is quieter than my (well maintained) Campagnolo geared road bikes! I only hear the tyres when rolling along in these gears. The freewheeling noise is also less, although Campag freewheels aren't that quiet. Of course, I wish the noise and whirring of the Rohloff reduction gears (1-7) wasn't present, but it's not really that intrusive. I do sometimes find myself holding onto 8th gear, when I should be in 7th, so the noise and whirring obviously has some impact on my psyche. It is only really 7th, though, that's any 'problem' and only for the first few seconds. After that I settle in and get on with the job of climbing the hill...

Overall, I'm very happy with my Rohloff setup. With it's idiosyncrasies duly noted, it is working perfectly and has been great for winter weather riding! The joy of using one on wet and muddy rides (that would be all of them so far then Shaun) and the subsequent easy chain cleaning and zero maintenance regime is a revelation! As long as I don't have any serious trouble with the hub, I will feel that I've made the right choice for my expedition touring bike's transmission.


speedub.nate said...

Great write-up! My thoughts mirror yours pretty closely, and although I'm not bothered in the lease by the amount of jump between gears, I think Rohloff would be making a mistake if they proceed with a rumored increase in this gap in the follow-on version, the "Speedhub Lite" (half-heartedly confirmed by Rohloff as under development, nowhere near completion).

Stuart said...

Excellent informative post Shaun. Nice to see your hub is as mucky as mine!

I had also noticed the ease of change with the cranks vertical and I do still fluff the odd gear change here and there.

But after a short period of ownership I'm a happey Rohloff \ Thorn owner.


Paul said...

Nice post, my only experience of the Rohloff so far is a quick roll around the park at the back of Thorn's shop in Bridgwater. I'll be picking up my lovely Yellow Nomad Mk 2 on April 1st and setting off immediately to cycle around Devon and Cornwall and back to London, so I'm hoping any teething problems can be sorted easily on the road. BTW: what tyres are you using at the moment, and what are you planning on using in Canada?


Shaun said...

Currently using Schwalbe Marathon Supremes 26 x 2.0. They've been excellent so far (2,500km) on UK winter roads.

I'm intending to use these in Canada as well, as my trip has very little off-road and I want to roll as fast as possible. (Also, myself and the loaded bike will only weigh about 115kg). I plan to ride about 10,000 km in total, so I'll probably need to buy something locally during the ride unless I arrange a tyre drop along the way...

Good luck with your new Nomad Mk2!