I have been curious about Rohloff Speedhubs since I first heard of them some time ago…more recently I have been tracking the feisty debates about their various merits and flaws through BNA forums… and I must admit that these discussions were adding to my increasing curiosity about whether I would ever throw away my cassettes and derailleurs and join the, in the main, enthusiastic band of Rohloff devotees!
Here are a couple of examples…
Whilst I spend many (many) hundreds of $’s/ year into supporting my cycling obsession, I really love chasing bargains… and in reality if I was honest that I would admit to being canny (read a bit of a tightarse)!
So the thought of having to fork out upwards of $1500 (at best once you have built the wheel and dealt with tensioners, new bars/stems etc) owning a Rohloff was for me a most probably a bridge too far…Of course if you amortise the cost of a Rohloff over long time frames they make perfect sense as an ‘investment’ …my brain just isn’t hard wired that way!
My curiosity was piqued when I glanced (as I do every now and then) at the BNA Touring Bikes and Equipment Touring Ebay thread …what caught my eye was il padrones comment “worth buying that bike JUST for the rear wheel”. Having read a number of his posts relating to Rohloff hubs, I immediately thought that he must be referring to a Rohloff…opened the link and this (quite absurdly at first glance) was the bike in question.
The old step through bike…with a Rohloff as its drivetrain…
And yes the bike surely had a Rohloff Speedhub…all for the sum of $700…I had a phone chat with the folks who were selling the bike. The bike was owned by a lovely couple (Geoffrey and Virginia) who in their words are getting ‘too old to ride’. These lovely people were in the mix among the founders of the old Bicycle Institute of Victoria – That was enough for me and clinched the deal…
Thanks to the BNA thread I am now the owner of a Rohloff hub (and a second hand bike)! When I went to pick the up the bike Geoff and Virginia had in their inner city apartment cage/lockup framed (Melbourne Sun) articles from Keith Dunstan from the late ‘1970’s predicting a ‘cycling revolution’ as we know Keith recently passed away…his revolution stands!In terms of provenance it doesn’t get much better.
The legend – Keith Dunstan: Founding President of the Bicycle Institute of Victoria – Wheres your helmet Keith!
I assumed when picking the bike up that it would be the usual cast the eye over the item – hand over the cash – a few niceties and bang its over. I spent the better part of an hour with these beautiful people as they reminisced about their cycling heritage…riding tandems with Keith and the whole back-story. It seemed to me (and I really hope this was the case) that they were happy that their bike was going to someone who really valued their cycling roots and that Virginia’s ‘beloved’ Rohloff would be living another good few chapters with someone who cares! I drove off with the strangest looking twin suspension step through bike supporting a well maintained and worn in Rohloff – estimated K’s travelled ~5000!
Now what to do with it??? Up until the point where I actually saw the bike I wasn’t even completely sure if the wheel was 26” or 700C so it was a pleasant surprise to see it was the later – That meant that my VWR was about be converted to a pseudo Gibb!
The first generation Randonneur Gibb – the latest has an eccentric BB which is a major improvement me thinks!
I got a copy the Rolhoff users manual and whilst slightly overwhelmed with the apparent complexity and detail associated with the technical manual I started thinking about how the conversion might play out.
There’s nothing I like more that a bike project and this was a ripper!
Lets start with the bar configuration. I am a bit of a traditionalist and like drop bars and bar end shifters on a touring bike. With that I explored options for retaining the drops. Whilst there are a lot of options, they are either pricey (such as the Co – Motion shifter or Gilles Berthoud Shifter) or they are straight out inelegant. http://cyclingabout.com/rohloff-hubs-with-drop-handlebars/ Since i first wrote this blog there have been a few new innovations – the thumb shifters look pretty damn good!!
I would try out a Thorn Accessory bar and ordered one from the UK. It was going potentially take a couple of weeks for it to be delivered and I had to scratch the itch… so I thought I would have a go at a flat bar option while the part was being shipped…What a good thing this turned out to be!
An old silver flatbar from the shed came into its own for this project
I had a nice old silver flat bar in the shed. I tentatively removed the drops and to my surprise and delight immediately it was apparent that this set up showed promise…even to the point where this might have been a viable option long term. The only thing was that I (riding predominantly on the drop bar hoods) was used to the additional reach and felt a little ‘squashed’ with the flatbar setup. For this to work I would be needing a (much) longer stem.
With that I headed to Bicycle Recycle in Moorabbin Vic to see if I could find a the right stem. I love Bicycle Recycle – They don’t throw too much out so there are crates and crates full of old bicycle components – creates old of seat posts, bins of cranksets and chain rings, bins of derailleurs, shifters and If you ask you can rifle through the bins and seek out that special part. To my delight there were 2 milk crates full of old stems.
Just a few recycled (and new) stems to select from!
The brief was pretty tight…It needed to be silver, 1 1/8 steerer, at least 130mm long with little rise and a 26.2 bore. There were hundreds of stems on offer and bingo I spied a 130mm silver stem with 0° rise, in pretty good nick. While I was there I also would be needing a new chainring for the conversion and I scored a lightly used 39T Suginio ring… throw in a couple of new gear cables all for the sum of $30! (Told you I was a tightarse!).
The new cockpit setup with recycled stem and bars…looking pretty scmick!
I really like the flat bar setup. To the point where I am not going to bother about the drops – It completely changes the handling and feel of the bike. Somehow it feels like a larger version of high quality old school CrMo mountain bike. What I really like about this set up is the twist shifter is located just where your hand is (mostly) positioned. The conventional brake levers braking seem to have so much more feel and power than i anything that i have experienced with drop bar levers too.
The flatbar completely changes the look of the bike too, but I think it looks OK…Whilst still a little more upright that what I am used to the riding position is fine – indeed its super comfortable. I might explore at some stage trekking bars but for now I am happy with the bike set up like it is.
OK onto the drivetrain…without doubt an eccentric bottom bracket to tension the chain would be cool – something like this: http://problemsolversbike.com/products/eccentric_46_bottom_bracket but it would mean an entire new crankset and a fair bit of additional expense. I would still like to explore this option down the track but for now I would be requiring a chain tensioner. In the absence of a single speed tensioner I successfully used an old derailleur (again from the shed), which i locked to the correct alignment…which got me going and was perfectly adequate. I’ve since gone for a standard single speed chain tensioner.
Old derailleur taking up the slack for the moment…since replaced with a standard chain tensioner (non Rohloff)
I got a new chain (and as mentioned a new chainring). The only suitable chainring that I could find at Bicycle Recycle was a 39 chainring and the hub came with a 16-tooth sprocket. I think I would have preferred a 38 chainring but this set up still affords nice low gearing for loaded touring. Using the outer ring position of the old triple gave perfect chain alignment first time, which was really pleasing. I cut down 5 old chairing nuts to ~ half width and they worked perfectly securing the single ring to the crank spider.
39 Tooth Suginio chainring and cut down nuts on the outer ring position of the original VWR triple
I reversed the gearing so that the twist shifter progresses and eases gears in the same direction as my Nexus Hub that I have on my commuter bike. To do this required new cables and I am slightly dyslexic and reversing the instructions on cabling up the shifter almost did my head in…Threading the shifter was for me by far the most challenging thing of the conversion – Not that there is anything inherently difficult about the task it was just that I was getting soooo confused about reversing simple instructions!
I found my old Busch and Muller mirror, and some old bar ends, bought some ergo grips and the project was complete.
The added bonus with this project were the capacity to cannibalise the step-though bike for parts. The suspension forks, headstem and handlebars were transferred to my wifes old shogun giving it a complete new lease of life. The original VWR brake levers/cables/cassette/bar end shifters and long cage shadow derailleur were been transferred onto my roadbike – It had a 53/42 11–25 setup – no more standing on the pedals to get up Olivers Hill! Bewdy
The Verdict -18 months on…
I am a fan…I have just taken the bike on a really decent tour through the Snowys and Monaro High Plains https://cyclingtocanberra.wordpress.com/
That said there are distinct pros and cons to the hub…
There are a number of likes. The range of gears that can be exploited caters for all sorts of riding – My initial setup was 39:16 was perfect for urban commuting without a load – I have since purchased a 19T sprocket from SJS cycles http://www.sjscycles.co.uk/thorn-sprocket-for-rohloff-hubs-19t-prod28817/?geoc=au the lower gearing afforded by the 19T comes in very handy ! I REALLY appreciated the extra low gearing whilst riding loaded on steeper rocky tracks of the Snowy River NP.
I found that I have no issues at all with the steps between each gear – I can only think of a couple of times (again in the hills) where i was vacillating between gears to find the ‘sweet spot’ and that would have typically been at the end of a long hot days riding!
I love not having to think about a front derailleur – I know it no real hardship to switch from the middle to the small ring and vice versa but I do appreciate the simplicity of one front ring. I also appreciated the simplicity and the absolute convenience of the twist shift gear shifter and the solid feel of the shifts from gear to gear.
I have complete appreciation of the mechanical sophistication and soundness of the hub. No misses or slips, no grinding, crisp clean gear changing all day under all sorts of conditions.
It’s really handy to be able to change gears whilst stationary. A couple of times when you stop on the side of the road (whilst climbing) to look at a something of interest, its great to be able to gear down and ride off again in an easy gear.
I love the virtual silence of the top gear range but even though the hub is well and truly worn in the noise in gears 7 to 1, especially in gear 7 is a bit of a distraction – It certainly signals that Johnno is climbing again – or getting puffed!
I was experienced a lot of oil loss, too much I thought. One night I left the bike inside and there was a ‘puddle’ of oil about the size of a 50c coin on the ground, which I was a tad worried about. This was remedied by tightening the axle plate screws – No oil leaks since which is pleasing.
This is a complete perception, without any science behind it but it seems to me that the Rohloff hub comes into its own with a fully loaded bike. I can’t say that I could find a lot of advantages with the hub whilst commuting with one light pannier. My commute is pretty flat and i only typically use a couple of gears as a result…I think I was expecting somehow the bike to be greatly enhanced in its performance/functionality/feel and haven’t really experience this. I think for urban riding it even feels a little draggy in reality…
Conversely riding loaded on hilly dirt roads with long climbs, or riding through undulating landscapes every gear is utilised and I genuinely appreciate having the Rohloff….
So i reckon the verdict is that the hub is OK, its completely fine for riding around town…but it comes into its own when the bike is loaded for touring and there are hills and terrain to navigate… Perhaps it’s a case of horses for courses?