Eurobike 2014: Will The Pinion P1.18 Be Rohloff’s First Serious Competitor?

One of the more curious component developments at Eurobike this year of interest to touring gear nerds was the Pinion internal gearing system.

Eurobike 2014: KTM Life Lontano P18

Pinion – or so I was told by one of the bike manufacturers who’ve incorporated the system into new bike models this year – was developed by a group of breakaway engineers from Mercedes Benz, which some might say is a big hint that even at this early stage the gearbox deserves to be taken seriously.

Internal gearing systems are nothing new, of course. High-end world touring bikes have been built around the Rohloff Speedhub for many years, and it’s now as good as proven in the long haul if you can afford the £1000 jump in the price tag of a bike thus equipped.

Shimano and SRAM, among others, have brought out more domestic-level internally geared hubs, but nothing yet has come close to the Rohloff in terms of gearing range and proven longevity.

Pinion appears to be a direct attempt to shift this monopoly. With a similar price tag, the P1.18 18-speed unit outclasses the 14-speed Rohloff on paper, with more gears in a wider range, as well as the equally-spaced gear intervals, single twist-operated handlebar shifter, and maintenance-free operation already familiar to Rohloff users.

The major difference between Pinion and previous attempts at internal gearing is that the unit is mounted in the position usually occupied by a bicycle’s bottom bracket. The cranks remain where you’d expect them to be, but they don’t drive the single chainring directly, instead feeding the internal transmission, which then drives the chainring and chain (or belt-drive system) that transfers power to a single sprocket on the rear wheel.

According to Pinion, this arrangement centralises the bike’s centre of gravity better than the rear-hub-based systems, makes replacement or removal of the gearbox easier, and allows the rear wheel to be treated as a separate component for the purposes of maintenance.

On the other hand, it does mean that bicycle frame designers are having to make a rather radical departure from traditional bottom bracket shells, or even eccentric units: this part of the frame must be specifically redesigned and constructed to accept the Pinion unit, and there’s no chance of putting in a standard bottom bracket if things go wrong.

That several high-profile touring bike manufacturers – including Koga, Tout Terrain, VSF and KTM – have taken the leap on the back of such young technology is a strong indicator that Pinion is already being taken seriously by the industry.

Here’s Koga’s new Pinion-equipped World Traveller (RRP 5,283 EUR):

Eurobike 2014: Koga World Traveller 29 Pinion
Eurobike 2014: Koga World Traveller Pinion detail
Eurobike 2014: Koga World Traveller Pinion spec sheet

And VSF Fahrradmanufaktur’s TX-1200 (RRP 3,299 EUR):

Eurobike 2014: VSF TX-1200 Pinion
Eurobike 2014: VSF TX-1200 Pinion detail
Eurobike 2014: VSF TX-1200 Pinion drivetrain

As well as KTM’s Life Locanto P1.18 mentioned yesterday (RRP : 3,399 EUR):

Eurobike 2014: KTM Life Lontano P18

It will undoubtedly be many years before the units are sufficiently road-proven to be hailed as true Rohloff-usurpers, but nothing else – to my knowledge – has come even this close to earning such a title.

It’ll be interesting (for the geeks, at least) to see how Pinion gets on when it’s taken off on an extended global jaunt. Anyone fancy being first?

More Eurobike coverage on its way tomorrow…

16 Responses to “Eurobike 2014: Will The Pinion P1.18 Be Rohloff’s First Serious Competitor?”

  1. Ben Thorp

    In some ways, I am more interested by the fact that both KTM and Koga have included, alongside the Pinion gears, a belt drive. As more of a commuter than tourer (at least at the moment) I’ve been watching the development of belt-drives with some curiosity, and am still somewhat amazed that they haven’t made their way down the price range on hybrid/commuter bikes more quickly. I’ve been saying in our office that I think that belt-drives will become the standard on commuting bikes within the next 3-5 years, as I think (for short, regular distances) the benefits far outweigh any downsides.

    (On a side note, one of my work colleagues now has a belt-drive bike (an Avanti Inc2) which I am completely jealous of….)

    Reply
    • Shaun

      A few years ago I was in a Manchester bike shop looking at a belt drive equipped bike and the mechanic in the store, somewhat honestly and to the detriment of a possible sale, opined that the problem with belt drives in Manchester was that some scrote would more than likely slice through the belt for a laugh. Oh, and they didn’t stock the belts. They had plenty of chains in stock though, as did all the other shops in Manchester.

      That’s not to say belt drives aren’t great but you can’t rule out being able to walk into any bike shop in the world and buy a chain as one of the advantages of chains.

      Reply
      • Andrew Wagner

        Yeah, similar problem here in Ghent, Belgium. Commuting by bike is very common here (at least compared to the USA where I was before), but the bikes people commute on are total junk because the theft rate is so high. At the station, there are about 1000 bikes parked, and I could not find a single one with disc brakes, let alone something like this. People seem to go straight from a 50 euro beater to a 1300 euro brompton they take with them on the train.

        Reply
  2. Patrick Kelly

    It’s easy to think that bicycles are Well Known Technology, and that there isn’t much room for innovation, but I think this is a good example that there is always a fresh approach. Another aspect of that is that the engineers who came up with this came away from automobile engineering. What’s going to happen to bicycles in the years to come when more and more engineers shift their attention from carbon-emitting transport to more practical transport?

    By putting all the transmission into the bottom bracket, I think this opens the option to stick in an electric wheel (ala Bionx). Now that would be a pretty radical get-around-town bike.

    Aside from all that, I’d love to try this thing out, myself. 🙂

    Reply
  3. allewedertje

    Both founders (Christoph Lermen und Michael Schmitz) of PINION used to work for PORSCHE, not MERCEDES.

    Reply
  4. John Donoghue

    The Rohloff System is tried and tested, but with all new technology there must be a starting point. Hence the Pinion.
    I would be very interested to see a Pinion gearing system taken around the world with several different cyclists, all of a different caliber in terms of professional, Amateur, and those cyclists who have used the Rohloff system for many years to gather their views. It certainly looks like the Pinion maybe a big player the fact that major cycle manufacturers are taking this new innovation seriously by putting it on heir bikes shows Confidence in this Product. Hopefully the Price may come down.

    Reply
  5. olee22

    I think the risk at this point of time is still very high. And it’s not about the reliability of the drive, but whether Pinion stays in business for the years to come or not.

    Usually a bike is there for 10-20 years, depending how many distance you put into it, at least alu frames are good for a solid 10 years minimum, steel frames for 25 and up.

    Rohloff is an established business, spare parts, service, are always there. With Pinion, the main question for me – what will happen in 10 years? Will they be still around? Can the drive upgraded to newer versions at a reasonable cost?

    Imagine you shell out 5000 Euro for such a bike, only to discover that in 3 years the manufacturer is gone, and you cannot service your bike anymore. Even the frame is such that it cannot be easily converted to other gear systems.

    Rohloffs main advantage is that is a modular concept – making a bike with Shimano Alfine, Sram, or Rohloff is basically the same thing. With Pinion, it’s a totally different item in the manufacturing line.

    I see the advantage of Gates Carbon Drive. Cyclingabout.com has used a belt drive on a tandem for two years touring the World, they had a very positive feedback.

    Reply
  6. John Sparks

    Im interested in the Tout Terrain pinion bikes, but not seeing any comprehensive reviews or testing results of these systems I don’t understand why the price is so high. Surely the thing to do would be to invest in some very public independent tests of these things before expecting people to just fork out the money. As someone mentioned earlier, they are trying to displace Shimano and Rolhoff hub gears which are based on decades-old proven technology…..why even TRY encroaching on that territory without presenting very convincing and tangible test results to the public ? (i.e., I am not willing to just accept the worth of these things based on the fact that a handful of manufacturers have incorporated it). Is the only thing that makes this product marketable the fact that the designers came from Porsche ? Populist marketing doesn’t work in the cycling world, in fact, it puts me off that this product is relying on motor-industry name dropping to sell. The simple fact is, the system requires a modified frame which means if you invest in it you need certain reassurances, which as far as I can see aren’t really there yet. . . . .a more logical way of marketing these things should be to loose money on them in the short term so they can be properly assessed by real cyclists….. great to see more innovation in this area though !

    Reply
    • Bill S

      Pinion has already exhibited some staying power. (The first references I can find dates from Eurobike 2011, so presumably they were working on it for at least a couple of years before that).

      And that is presumably why a few manufacturers have enough confidence and enough real-world data to start using Pinion Gearboxes as original equipment.

      Also, Nicolai has been extolling the virtues of gearbox bikes for even longer (starting with a modified Rohloff hub). His driving idea is that the casings of all gearboxes should conform to one standard, so that bike frames can be standardised too.

      If that trick can be pulled off (and I’ve no idea if these Pinion bikes are compliant or not), then the issue of compatibility between gearboxes and frames will (eventually) become no worse an issue than having to check that you have the right width between drop outs when buying a wheel or whether you are using imperial or metric threads, and all the other pitfalls that trip up the unwary from time to time.

      Yours old enough to remember when the Rohloff was not tried and tested, and people were expressing very much the same concerns about their ability to last the distance (both the hubs and the company).

      Reply
  7. Geoff Barnett

    Compared to a “traditional” derailleur transmission, how much energy is lost at the back wheel by Pinion or Rohloff internal geared transmission systems?

    Reply
  8. Bicycle Junkies

    I know it’s an old article, but maybe some of you are interested in this: we’ve been cycling with the Pinion for a little over 8500 kilometers now (as part of our long distance cycling trip) and have just published our personal user experience with the Pinion P1.18.
    Check it out if you like: http://www.bicycle-junkies.com/gear-reviews/62-gear/178-review-pinion-p1-18-gearbox-with-gates-cdx-belt

    Reply
  9. TRIKE REBEL

    Much of the cycle industry has it’s head in the sand as far as innovation is concerned. Note the way that Mike Burrow’s ‘Superman’ machine was rapidly banned by the International Cycle Federation after Chris Boardman broke most of the records. Innovation seems to be a dirty word. The Pinion set up is of interest for me as I pilot a recumbent trike, (recumbents were also banned by the ICF way before Boardman’s bike after they too smashed records). As recumbents have a front ‘boom’ that takes the pedal set up and booms are available to accept the Pinion gearbox; should there be a problem with the supplier we could always switch back to a more standard arrangement of bottom bracket. My concern would be the weight set so far out front of the pilot instead of inside the drive wheel but it is definitely food for thought and I wish the makers every success.

    Reply
  10. Ben

    So, i’ve been looking long and hard at a vsf tx1200 pinion, vs the tx1000 rolhoff. Surprisingly few reviews around, so i went and test road the two today. Identical bikes other than the gear box / hubs. To cut a long story short, i was blow away by the pinion gearbox. It was smooth, quiet and felt very direct. There was a slight ‘feeling’ in the cranks, in that you could feel the teeth moving a little, but other than that is was fantastic. I’m used to coming off the pressure when changing as I have an Alfine 8. This was just a good to change, and without the slight feeling of drag that I am used to. I came back to shop smiling. it really felt ‘right’. Something really rather special. Then I took the Rolhoff out, and to be honest, i was also really impressed. I couldn’t tell the difference in either overall weight, or weight distribution. It changed nicely, with a few idiosyncrasies that wouldn’t bother me. I didn’t really notice the noise either. It was a lovely thing. However, because i tested them back to back, i could tell that the system was a little less direct, and a little more wooly. The changes are not as crisp and nor is the drive. Either would be great, but i came home and bought the tx1200 from 2015 online for €2599, (€300 more than the Rohloff – I think pinion prices are going to come down) with is a wonderful price. I can come back and give a more detailed review if anyone is interested.

    Note: I had been worried about the two year warranty on the poinion gearbox, but they just changed it to five years full cover. This, along with the fact that all the top touring bikes are now coming with it, means to me that it is no longer a new technology, but an established one, and a bloody good one at that.

    Reply
  11. Jaime

    In retirement I promised myself I would never be in a hurry again! Looking around for a suitable bike to “not be in a hurry on” I lighted eventually upon a Dursley-Pedersen. Though she is built to the 1893 patent specification she came to life in 2013 with entirely 21st. Century engineering and has handbuilt touring wheels (I still weigh 18 stone!) Magura hydraulic brakes and a Rohloff 14 speed gearbox. These were specified when the frame was built and it came from Pedersen Manufaktur with all the essentials fitted. She has become an absolute dream to ride, once I came to realise that having been designed in the 1890s she needs to be handled with 1890’s “attitude”. Nevertheless my back thinks it has died and gone to heaven whilst my bottom is entirely satisfied with the comfort a properly sprung hammock saddle brings. I nevertheless wonder whether it will be possible to “marry2” (the “2” is silent!) a pinion gearbox with a Dursley-Pedersen frame to continue the experiment. It will be fun finding out !!

    Reply

Leave a Reply