This is #5 in an ever-growing series of answers to frequently-asked questions about touring bikes. If you’re new here, why not start with #1: What Exactly Defines A Touring Bike?
There are plenty of people in this world who you could put in a room and let them argue until the end of time about whether or not a touring bike should be fitted with a Rohloff Speedhub.
I am not one of these people. You probably aren’t, either.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Rohloff, it’s a brand of internal gear hub for the rear wheel of a bicycle which costs more than a new entry-level touring bike.
Internal gear hubs like the Rohloff are designed to offer a wide range of gear ratios which are selectable with a single cable-operated handlebar shifter, eliminating all the derailleurs, sprocket cassettes, chainrings, and other gumpf used to offer selectable gear ratios on most other bikes. Competing models include the Alfine range from Shimano, and more recently the Pinion range of crank-mounted gearboxes.
Internet search spirals will unearth no end of people who ‘swear by’ Rohloffs and endless ultra-detailed kit-lists from folk who’ve shelled out the cash to equip their bike with one.
Among arguments often heard in their favour against traditional derailleur setups, they’re more reliable, less messy, simpler on the outside, smoother to use, and you can change gear while stationary.
But they are not essential items of equipment for touring bikes.
People have indeed cycled round the world with Rohloffs. Yet more people have cycled round the world with traditional derailleur gears, having had a century’s head start.
The decision to invest in a Rohloff is not about whether it will will get you through a very long bike trip ‘better’ than a derailleur. As evidenced by the Database of Long Distance Cycling Journeys, or my massive list of worldwide expedition touring bikes, they’ll clearly both do the job.
For me, it’s more a question of the approach you take towards cycle touring, travel, and possibly life in general.
The Real Reason People Choose (Or Don’t Choose) A Rohloff Speedhub
I’ll wager that the single biggest reason for differences in choice relates to how people respond to the fear of things going wrong.
When your non-user-serviceable Rohloff Speedhub breaks (and they do), you send it back to Germany and spend a couple of weeks waiting in whichever city you had to hitch-hike to when it happened. Rohloff repair or replace the hub and send it back to you.
You hope that this happens before a) the locals customs department gets hold of it, and b) your tourist visa runs out.
Eventually, you continue with your tour.
When your derailleur gets mashed into your spokes, you try to fix it yourself, because all the parts are accessible and serviceable, you’ve been on the road for long enough to know how to fix your bike, you’ve got the right tools, and you stopped caring about getting greasy fingers a long time ago.
If you can’t fix it, you remove a few links from your chain and turn your bike into a single-speeder until you get to the next city, where you check into the local hostel to find another cycle tourist awaiting the return of his or her Rohloff hub from Germany. You find a new derailleur or gear hanger or cassette or chain or chainring from any local bike shop.
Eventually, you continue with your tour.
When all’s said and done, the only difference was how the broken gears got fixed – by you, by the nearest bike shop, or by a technician in Kassel-Fuldatal.
The second part of the decision is whether you would prefer the reassurance of a Rohloff or an extra £1,000 towards your bike trip.
What would an extra £1,000 in spending money mean for you?
Consider that there’s no difference between the two systems that will occupy your mind when you’re actually turning the pedals. You’ll have better things to think about. Ultimately, both systems will allow you to choose the right gear when you need to – until, inevitably, something eventually goes wrong.
So if money is no object at this stage of your bike-choice process, the only real way to decide between the two is by rather whimsically thinking about which you like the idea of best.
1. Out of sight, out of mind, out of pocket (sorry) for tens of thousands of miles – until it possibly breaks catastrophically? Rohloff it is.
2. Needing occasional servicing and parts replacement, but fixable on the roadside and by every bicycle mechanic on the planet? Derailleur it is.
Still can’t decide? Flip a coin, cover it up, and then think about which side you really wanted it to land on.
Next in the Touring Bike FAQ series: What’s The Best Way To Avoid Buying The Wrong Bike?
71 replies on “Touring Bike FAQ #5: Derailleurs Or Internal Hub Gears (Rohloff)?”
The real question with the Rohloff is… use it with a chain or a carbon belt? Heh heh heh
Rohloff bashing is quite common. My experience says:
1. My rohloff has been on 3 bikes — minimum servicing oil change every year or two. 12000miles +
2. Not much heavier than XT but hardly an issue on touring
3. efficiency (2%less) often stated but add mud and grease and the rohloff is a peach especially if you have a Gates Belt drive version and frame .… no deralieuer to break bash get clogged or cables to snap.
4. chain last forever too if that version — I fitted a BMX chain to one 29er lasted longer than bike .….
I have two comments
And have used rohloff on one bike and derailluer on another identical bike for touring
1. You loose your mojo when ascending steep hills because you have to stop pedsling to shift.
2. Make sure you have a good mechanic to build your rear wheel with the hub — I broke spokes on both trips because wheel was laced improperly.
All in all — not a big hub fan.
The entire argument against Rohloff seems to be based on the assumption “if and when they fail”. Question is how often do they fail? In fact those who opt for Rohloffs do so on the assumption that they are bomb proof and almost never fail. Yes cost is an issue for many. But the fear of “what if it breaks down” goes against the spirit of adventure tourism.
Roy, it depends what you mean by fail. If you mean to the extent of not spinning at all, then it’s a very different number than if you mean develop issues despite following instructions to the letter. Twice in 100,000km for me that it developed issues in shifting. That’s certainly not frequent, but Rohloffs aren’t some magical thing that can’t break.
“What if it breaks down” is not a fear, it’s a valid question when preparing for a very long bike ride. All mechanical things will eventually fail because the laws of physics dictate it. So consider the answer you prefer, depending on whether you have a derailleur setup or a Rohloff. One answer will involve sending a part halfway round the world for servicing, possibly less frequently. The other answer will involve doing it yourself in the next town, possibly more frequently. Which you choose is probably mostly an emotional decision, combined with factors within your control (maintenance and care) and factors outside your control (bad luck, manufacturing defects).
Just to put another perpsective into this discussion. A small story from an ageing, female, average tourer, not the kind you often, if ever, find on cycling forums.
8 years ago I bought a Thorn bike 16″ wheels, with the thought of expeditioning in Scandinavia, specifically. I had set my mind on the derailleur based Sherpa, but once in Bridgewater, I was persuaded to try the Raven, with the Rohloff hub. The difference in the gear change smoothness was incredible. As I like new things and new ideas, I decided on the Rohloff. It was set for expedition & heavy loading so the ration for low gear was low, (38x16) which meant that the high gear was quite low too. The geometry was great for me, as I am a small woman, it was perfect. I enjoyed the bike but I could see that I was a slower than I used to be on my hybrid Marin bike, compared to my husband on his traditional Hewit tourer.
Anyway, the expedition to Norway never happened, instead I had a few tours on the continent and in Scotland over the last few years, and use my bike locally.
I researched the reasons for being slow, whether it was the Rohloff, the fat tyres (1.75), the 26″ wheels compared to the 700c used by all around me, the gearing, or just me!
I even decided to sell the Raven and get a derailleur, 700cc wheel, disc brakes bike, small enough for me, like the Genesis Tour de Fer. Tried it, hated going back to a derailleur, and even the XS felt still too big (it is unisex), cumbersome, compared to my 26″ wheel Raven.
So, phoned SJS (Thorn) to discuss my problem, researched gear ratios, (see Sheldon Brown’s online gear calculator), and kept it.
In the end I decided to 1/ change the tyres to 1.5″, 2/ buy a bigger chainset to give me a better ratio for cycling on the flat. We changed the chainset (42x16) and the chain, all ordered from SJS, went to Shetland for a trip, fully loaded, and I am SO glad I kept it.
The gear change is great, all the time. The gears are still low enough to tackle the Scottish hills, fully loaded, and it is better on the flat. No grinding of gears when the road suddenly dips and rises as it does continually on small roads, and the bike feels more responsive. Not a racer, for sure, but hey, a great bike, ideal as I get older. Could never go back to a derailleur, for sure.
Hah. I just rode Oxford to Geneva on a bike I pulled out of a skip (nice skip = nice bike – Scott Speedster 650). E‑bay Altura panniers. Total gear cost under £150.. I had to buy a chain, a saddle, a rear cassette with a couple of extra teeth, some cables. Everything else was scrap / junk – tyres, rack, brakes, bars, the lot.. Upwards of 650 miles, no punctures! Tiny roads.. And I did Col de Grande Colombier – 1503 metres. (OK, I admit I pushed the bits over 11% because I’m 59 and wheezy.) But on the way I met a charming gent on a handmade touring bike: his well known german panniers cost more than my entire set-up. We sat there laughing. His grips were over sixty quid (and I hereby admit, I am jealous of those because although my crappy ally MTB bar end things with some waterpipe insulation stuck on them work OK, they don’t look slick…). Nah.. gears “you always want another gear” is so true. Saddle, grips – the contact points.. The charming gent was very jealous of my bell – brass and made out of an old BT telephone bell.. Yay!
He loved his Rohloff gears. I loved the fact that if my bike got nicked, I wasn’t going to weep. I’m addicted to bike touring and planning another trip. Its the simple things like grips and exact saddle angle… (the two screw fore & aft clamp is the best).. £15 off Ali Express or E‑Bay.
Ok — reported earlier that you lose your mojo when you have to stop pedaling to shift on a hill or under load.
Now — after two more extensive road trips I have another complaint with the Rohloff.
This problem relates to the fact that in all cases the rear wheel has to be built by someone from a bike shop (or yourself) — This is not easy and the spokes (which are now a special size) need to be laced properly and tensioned properly as well. Not many mechanics are proficient at this as I have found out breaking spokes and constantly retrueing the rear wheel on 2 recent trips
As someone who had a similiar experience? I thought i’d reply to your comment Kelcy…
In regards to ‘losing your mojo’? Yes, it’s best to ease up on the power when shifting, but I also find this necessary with derailleurs. Sure, it isn’t as noticeable, but I still ease up a little. I don’t really have an issue with ‘unloading’. The bigger hurdle is going from the small to big gear,or vice versa, as I do get the occasional gear skip. Then again, you can also get skipped gears with derailleurs, especially when they are out of adjustment,which happens far more frequently (out of adjustment), with derailleurs.
Regarding the wheel build, I too had an issue with breaking spokes. After 700 kms, from Frankfurt, I pedalled into Amsterdam with a buckle and broken spoke. I had a local bike shop look it over, and they claimed the wheel was built wrong, and the rim wasn’t very strong. I found that rather surprising, as I was of the belief that a Salsa Delgado rim was supposed to be quite strong.
Anyways, I needed to have it fixed asap, so I took their advice and rebuilt the wheel using a Mavic 317 rim. Never had an issue after that.
Not sure what you mean by ‘special’ spokes though? The spokes chosen for a wheel build are determined by your choice of hub, rim, and lacing pattern. What makes a Rohloff any different to any other build combination? In actual fact, the Rohloff is ‘supposed’ to build into a strong wheel, due to its central configuration, and equal length spokes on either side. Unlike many other hubs which require different length spokes either side.
You also stated it requires a bike shop to build the wheel ( or yourself)? Who else is going to build it??
After all is said and done, we have both experienced broken spokes. So your question regarding the wheel build is an interesting one. We are only 2 of many though, so more feedback relating this issue would be welcome..
You asked the question abut the wheel build — Who else is going to build it?
Nearly all wheels are built in some sort of assembly line or in a factory of some kind by an individual who only builds wheels for a living.
When you go to a local shop to completely build a wheel — many are not qualified. Issues like lacing and tension are not considered.
I know that I have ridden 20K miles in the last 3–4 years and fixed many many bike problems — but I have never built a wheel.
Thats what makes this issue relavent.
Ok… But aren’t wheels built by hand supposed to be better than a factory build?
Surely there is a competent wheel builder in MOST cities?
And as I said earlier, I haven’t seen any concrete evidence of a Rohloff breaking spokes regularly? Sure it happened to you and me, but there are 1000’s of Rohloffs out there.
And once again, I don’t see a Rohloff being any different than any other wheel build.
If I may add a little perspective…
It’s generally true that hand-built wheels are more durable in a touring context than factory-built ones. This is because factories build wheels using automated machines, and only the final tensioning (if that) is done by hand. The result is simply a less finely-tuned wheel, as compared to one built by a trained and highly experienced wheelbuilder.
Given that the majority of bikes are used lightly compared to the rigours of touring, this rarely matters. But with touring, imperfections are magnified. Thus, the spokes of machine-built wheels are (anecdotally) cited as one of the most common points of failure on long-term tours – hence many riders carrying spare spokes as well as puncture repair kits.
But not all hand-built wheels are created equal. A badly hand-built wheel will of course be more prone to failure than a standardised machine-built one. Most bike shops will offer wheelbuilding if you ask because they want your business. That doesn’t mean they have a trained and highly experienced wheelbuilder on staff. It’s a niche specialisation. Wheels for touring bikes are even more niche. So if you want quality assurance, go to someone who builds touring bike wheels and little else, and whose reputation therefore depends on it.
As for the type of hub, this is of relatively little importance. It shouldn’t matter if the wheelbuilder knows what he or she is doing. I suspect a good proportion of Rohloff spoke failures could be traced back to improper original build.
(All else equal, shorter spokes make a stronger wheel, so Rohloffs (and disc hubs, which I use even for wheels on V‑brake rims) should marginally win out here – but this is a really minor point.)
Finally, don’t forget that riders subject their bikes to varying levels of punishment. Even a properly hand-built Rohloff wheel is going to suffer being bounced around on dirt roads in the Andes by a tall, heavy rider with 50kg of luggage. And that’s the problem with a lot of anecdotes: it’s very difficult to meaningfully interpret them. All anyone can really do is reduce the risk of failure as much as reasonably possible, then hope for the best and prepare for the worst!
Good write up and comments all!
It really depends on what the tourist really likes (coin flipping).
I don’t agree entirely on the fear of a Rohloff breaking. One should also look at the statistics.
In my humble opinion, shying away from a Rohloff is like thinking and probably saying: No I don’t like to go bicycle touring I could get knocked off my bike get wounded and I have to wait for days or even weeks before I can ride on?
The point is that from many bike tourist reports running for years now, Rohloff will most probably not break though they do- seldomly just as in one being knocked of his tour bike. The chances are slim. For instance, I have been touring on my Rohloff Hub for over a year now within Africa) without any issues at ALL😃
All I need to do is to just lubricate the chain. Nothing beats the fact that I don’t have to think of any adjustments. This gives me the time to focus on the duty at hand being to enjoy my touring.
Honestly, having used an internal gear hub, I doubt if I will ever go back to the derailure for touring.
If you are you are still confused, just go for what your innermost mind likes you to do. Thanks for reading.
Thanks for the comment! But don’t forget that there are other considerations. Cost, for example, is a major factor. New Rohloff-equipped touring bikes are hundreds of pounds/dollars/euros more expensive than their derailleur-equipped equivalents. That alone will sway many buyers…
If you are a high-mileage rider, want a quick release, or want wide-range and evenly-spaced gears, there’s no contest. The Rohloff will stand up to epic abuse: Mine’s at 15,000 km over two years including lots of rain and cold without a hitch. Alfines are good but much more a product for the less-than-daily rider who won’t likely wear out parts the way people who build their transportation around bikes do. They are aimed at different markets.
Well I paid my money and took my chance with a KOGA Worldtraveller S Rohloff and Gates Carbon Drive, and after just 3 months of my charity world cycle, I’m now sat back at home where I started with a knackered bike.
I’m destroying. £4K on a bike to get me around the world and I couldn’t get out of Europe. The problem was with a new spline carrier system to the hub. Up until 2017 they used a thread, but changed it to make it easier to get the carrier of and on.
The result was grease washing out easily, clatter and grinding meaning eventual failure, and of course me sitting at home arguing with Rohloff, Gates, KOGA and my dealer.
My hub is now with Rohloff and Gates are sending the older tried and tested threaded carrier to Rohloff to retro fut my hub. I should have the bike back soon.
Meanwhile, after my first ever bike tour covering 3300km through the U.K, Spain and France, I’m now going to spend Christmas with my loved ones in Cheshire, which of course is nice. I plan to continue from where I left off in Marseille in February.
How long the hub will last before packing in again i don’t know, but I’m hoping I’ve had my bad luck with it and all will now be OK, and my good luck was that I was only a hire car away from home when it failed.
Would I get another bike with a hub? Not for a world tour, but I would fir tours or commuting fir shorter tours. It was a real pleasure to use, until it packed in 🙂
Sorry to hear that.
I remember accidently tilting my hub while replacing a sprocket and getting caught out on how open it was to the oil bath, when they’re off you can see one of the sets of bearings.
I switched to the splined carrier because of the force it takes to get the old sprockets off and I have my suspicions that one time I didn’t clamp the axle enough while taking one off and that may have contribute to gear selection misalignment problems latter.
I go through sprockets at a reasonable rate, work better if you flip them too, but if you got a carbon drive I guess you wouldn’t do, so probably weren’t going to get the benefits of more easily being able to change the splined sprockets! Unless someone’s really bothered about keeping their trousers grease free, I think there are too many drawbacks to the belt drive (e.g. too much chain tension), single speed chains all the way for me.
I’m not a huge fan of the splined sprocket myself. I was in South Africa, had just crested a hill, and suddenly my chain grinds to a halt. I jump off to inspect the bike and not only is my chain bent but my sprocket has come off. On inspection it’s possible that a small stone jumped into the chain, got stuck between it and the sprocket which levered the sprocket off. I’ve had my chain jump off many times before (it is the way I know it’s time to tighten my chain) but this is the first time the sprocket has come off too.
I asked Thorn about the chances of going back, and they seemed to think that this was a freak accident and that they don’t sell the old-style sprocket anyway.
I hope you didn’t have too much trouble being out there and were able to get it sorted. It’s a shame there are issues, as getting back to the UK, dropping my bike off at the dealers, and getting on my old GIANT Escape for a ride, was not great. The bike is great, but after riding a hub and the chunky expedition bike for the last 3 months, it just felt clunky and awkward riding normal gearing. I note you have a chain setup, as mine is a belt. I carry a spare belt with me too just in case. The thread can be available to bike shops, as Shands bikes in Scotland have told me they can do the conversion for me if I wanted and could even change it to change drive if I wanted, and not to expensive they say. Lets hope I can get back out there shortly after Christmas.
Have 2 specialized AWOL’s
1 with a Rohloff
1 with traditional derailluer
taken tours with both
on flat tours Rohloff is great
On hilly tours I’d rather have the derailluer — You have to stop pedaling to shift on a hill with the Rohloff — and you really do loose your MOJO — It is easier to index down through the derailuer and keep on stroking — it is also much heavier and on the hills every pound counts
Thanks for all good and helpful points made.
I’m currently on the fence between the Alfine 8 and a Rohloff.
Really teetering here…
If you want a hub gear then nothing beats the range and quality of a Rohloff.
I currently have the Alfine 11 with Di2 and have run it 18K miles over 3 years and started doing touring this year (2018) after retiring and find the Alfine good but am currently changing over to the Rohloff hub as it is sturdier and seems more oriented to touring while the Alfine is more oriented to commuting as it were. Both are a way better choice over the cog and derailer system in by humble opinion. I really wouldn’t want to go back, so if you can justify the cost to yourself I would sure go with the Rohloff as the Alfine is only about $250 cheeper if memory serves. Good Riding to ya
I went with the Alfine 8. Had it for about a year now. No long tours though. Mainly commuting around London. Happy with it so far. Love the easy gear changing at red lights!! … also love much less external transmission bits( gears, spockets , etc). Also love the simpler human-machine interface at the handlebars.
Just Bought two Rohloff equipped Gates belt drive folding Bike Fridays for recreational use. Three other friends did the same. We are retirement age and don’t want gear change and maintenance issues. No greasy chains against the car interior or skin.
I have been running a Rohloff hub for 10 years now as a daily commuter in Pennsylvania. This includes winter with salt and gravel. On my previous (derailleur) bike, I regularly ground up chains, cog sets and occasionally derailleurs. The Rohloff simply DOES NOT FAIL. It shrugs off abuse, mud, brine, immersion (not recommended but didn’t seem to bother it) off-roading and flights of stairs. It only requires periodic oil changes and only once changing out the rear cog (it is double sided). At this point I have ~40K miles on this hub and it has never given me ANY issues. The linear shift is wonderful, the gear range is enormous and no more dropped or wedged chains from a bad shift. I would take it over a derailleur anytime on tour or commute.
Run your new hub through the break in period (one or two oil changes) and it will be butter smooth and trouble free no matter the abuse.
Just a follow-up to my earlier experience. I’d had a Rohloff start developing skipping and fantastic service from them while I was in South America. Well, 40,000km later they started again. This time I was back in the UK and sent the wheel back to Thorn Cycles to forward it on to Rohloff. Thorn were great, Rohloff however decided that the failure was my fault and must have been caused by me submerging the hub, something I haven’t done, and so I had to pay £235 to fix it. With help from Thorn I’ve got the wheel back, but I’m really hoping I don’t have the Rohloff failing for a 3rd time.
I experienced skipping and loss of all seven lower gears just after a tour of France a few years ago. Glad it didn’t happen near the Pyrenees!
After flying back home to Western Australia I sent the hub back to Rohloff in Brisbane who stripped it, cleaned it and returned it for free.
To be fair it has been virtually faultless ever since. But I always wonder: could it happen again???
From your experience, it sounds as though it can!
At least with derailleurs I can usually fix problems in the side of the road, or after a quick trip to the nearest bike shop!
Rohloffs are great in many ways. But they are not magic. They can have long term maintenance issues. My wife’s 40000 km Rohloff is starting to drop oil regularly now, despite twice having seals replaced. It is now stiffer to pedal than it used to be and I wonder whether the long term reliability people write so much about is just hype. I’ve had issues with mine in the past too that necessitated a return to Rohloff. At least with derailleurs you can fix them easily!
With all respect.…. 40000 ks is a pretty good run for the price, well done to your partner for such a fantastic achievement, will she be replacing it, was she happy with it.
Actually, the inner gearbox on a Rohloff is likely to exceed 100,000kms. It’s the seals and bearings that need to be replaced around 50,000kms depending on use/abuse. I live in Perth, Western Australia and our local Rohloff Service centre charges for this service whereas, anecdotally, the German manufacturers seem to do it for little cost.
The main point of my post was that they are great gear systems but they do have their own quirks.
Many people claim that Rohloffs are not cost effective but that’s simply not true. The cost of a new, quality derailleur groupset is $1500 or more and the chain and cassette will last 10,000kms at the very most — alot less in wet or gritty conditions. A Rohloff sprocket will last 10,000kms. Then it can be reversed and used again for another 10,000kms.
There is one thought I don’t see here, that took me by surprise when I was surfing the question. In discussing the “quality” of the ride, some people mentioned the clockwork feel of internal gears was less pleasing than the direct connection of a derailleur set up.
The difference goes both ways ridding mine. When freewheeling, or going up steep hills I’m aware there’s a set of cogs between me and the wheel. However, when stopping and starting a lot, wanting to go from a standing start quickly and put a lot of power down, it feels more direct than a derailleur. To do that you’ve got to get used to doing a quick twitch-like pause in peddling to change gear under the heavy load, but you can grab a handful of gears at once when you do change. Might be to do with the constant chain tension and thick chain, but its reminiscent of single speed in some ways. Great for commuting, but for really long journeys, I’m not sure.
Got my Rohloff back in June 2004, only £500 back then, I have done a few tours from Manchester to Scotland via the Lakes, so it has had some good use.
The only maintanence it has had, is the annual oil change, when I first got the Rohloff I bought a 1lt can of the SpeedHub oil, and two of the 1lt cans of Cleaning oil.
What a brilliant piece of engineering the Rohloff is, and why they are still producing bicycle’s with derailleur gears is because they are cheap to make.
Had the Pinoin gear system been around when I got my Rohloff, I would have gone for that instead, as in my mind the Pinion system is an even better solution than the Rohloff.
I was thinking the same. Pinion drive seems to be a better solution than Rohloff or derailleurs. Expensive and to new. Further testing and research is required.
A friend of mine just got a new tandem and decided on a Rohloff hub. I have to say, I hate it. You say in your article “Ultimately, both systems will allow you to change gear when you need to”. I beg to differ. Not if you’re going uphill, round the corner and the gradient goes up to 25% (lets say from 20%) it won’t. There’s no changing under load. Living where we do in the English Lake District, that’s a real bummer. Reminds me of the old Sturmey Archer 3 speed in the 1960’s. As for the weight! They shouldn’t break with that amount of metal in them! I hope he does get the promised trouble-free mileage out of it. Not for me though. I’m one of those fickle types. I don’t WANT a bike or bits on it to last me 50 years. I LIKE getting new stuff occasionally.
I live in Canada, and bike to work all year round. The first 3 years, did so on a old mountain bike. Nothing wrong with a derailleur bike, until winter! At around ‑20C or colder, the chance that the freewheel springs will freeze and stick when you coast, becomes more of guarantee than a possibility. Its like locking your drivetrain in neutral! Snow builds up on the cassette, which will freeze and compress, when you shift to a different gear, the chain skips on the ice. Every so often you have to stop to clean out the cassette. Also, chains wear out in about a month.
Enter Soma Juice with Rohloff. 2 winters under its belt. ‑40C is the coldest day so far. Never once an issue with shifting, or freewheeling, in the cold. The single speed drivetrain does not build up with ice because, the chain keeps it clear. One chain lasts me the entire winter. This is by far the best winter drivetrain!
The only negatives that I’ve noticed about the Rohloff; 1. I live in a hilly city, the rohloff doesn’t shift well on a steep hill, under load. 2. Gears 1–7, the noise and resistance, is noticeable, especially gear 7. I’ve adapted my hill climbing , and do not spend much time in the lower gears. Oh yeah, and the initial purchase price.
Derailleur for summer, Rohloff for everything else!
Very well said. However, im going to throw a curve ball…
I agree with almost everything tou said. I will add to it by saying Derailleurs for summer, Rohloff for winter and hills… FIXED GEAR for everything except steep hills. Simplest maintenance, low cost, reliability, and most rewarding ride. It’ll keep on keeping on rain, hail or shine. Only a steep hill will get in its way.
I didn’t mean to leave out the single speeds. It is the perfect drivetrain when big hills aren’t involved. Plus, I’m getting older and weaker.
Recently, I’ve noticed that downhill speeds between my Soma Juice Rohloff with fenders and 37mm. tires was slower than my Cannondale Lefty with 2.35″ knobbies (thanks, Strava!). Same hill. Must say something about friction loss.
My bike frame is made for both derailleur and Rohloff. So IF the Rohloff fails completely far from home, I can put a derailleur system on the bike in a local bike shop. It was not a concern when I bought my bike, but it might solve the dilemma presented in this thread.
I was wondering if that was an easy fix. Sounds like the perfect solution if the budget allows, especially with the new belt driven types
I’ve put 10,000 miles on a Rohloff equipped bike, riding about 50/50 on and off road, over the last 3 years. My advice would be not to go straight on a tour with your first/new one. There’s things that might catch you out if your just used to derailleurs.
For example, if you’ve not clocked up miles on a single speed either, there’s only a single sprocket. Its going to wear quicker than you’d be used to with a cassette. Yeah you can flip all but the smallest sized sprocket over. That only really gives you a better tooth profile for longer. There’s still the same amount of tooth to wear through. It takes a lot of torque to get the sprocket loose too, I’ve always had to use a vice.
Even if your not going to service it yourself and think you can do the trip on one sprocket, theres still some unexpected things to watch out for. Like not over tightening the axle, over time that can put the shifts out of alignment. Its possible to do that even with the pressure from a quick release.
Don’t get me wrong, they are tough and I’m glad I got mine. If they do go wrong you can often keep riding, just not with a full compliment of gears.
Thanks for the article. I live in Germany (but not German myself) and I see Rohloffs everywhere, even in commuter bikes that won’t ever live the city, leave alone the country, in a touring trip. But for many Germans it’s important to “buy the best”, no matter if justified or not. Plenty of people with Mt. Everest suited jackets to go shopping when raining.
For me the main reason not to go the Rohloffs route is price. All my bikes have costed less, the full bike, than what a Rohloff hub costs alone (excluding my latest mtb, only 200 eur above).
Last year I did 1200 km on the Indian Himalayas with a bike that costed 85 EUR in total (and which I sold for 60 EUR at the end to avoid the hassle of re-boxing). The trip, all included, costed about “1.1 Rohloffs” 😉
I like the idea of using the Rohloff as currency. How many Rohloffs did your trip cost? 🙂
You seem very much against Rohloff but the comments are pointing heavily towards them being an extremely good choice for touring.
I am in the process of making a decision on what to get and everyone I have spoken with has raved great things Rohloff, they all say they wished they had had one 20,000 miles ago.
I’m not against Rohloffs. I just think it’s worth pointing out that they’re a luxury, not a necessity, and an expensive one at that. 20,000+ miles on derailleurs hasn’t changed my mind.
Great stuff! Thanks putting this together 🙂
I have also used both derailleurs and the Rohloff on long tours. The non-dishing rear wheel with the Rohloff makes for a stronger wheel (the spokes are shorter and of equal length). I carry a few spares but have never had to use them with the Rohloff.
Yes, both derailleurs and the Rohloff can fail but the lack of external parts with the Rohloff minimises the chance of damage against rocks and when throwing your bike on a bus roof!
With a Rohloff you effectively have a single speed setup with 14 evenly spaced gears. Get a good strong single speed chain. You can also reverse the rear cog and the front chainwheel (with Thorn bikes) thus extending the life of both.
The best bit about a Rohloff — you can change gear without peddling. Useful with a heavily loaded touring bike setup.
There are advantages to both systems regarding price and availability but I never worry about the Rohloff failing — I will just deal with it if it ever happens!
Well, I use both. My longest tour was through Europe and Middle East with a Deore DX equipped bike. No problems with that system at all. Love it. Over the years, parts were replaced and maintenance done.
New custom built touring folder with Rohloff. No long journeys but the maintenance is an order of magnitude less than the derailleur system. And I can’t see it failing unless you do something extraordinarily stupid with it, which your derailleur equipped bike would likely fail too in the same situation.
You can have a look at Thorn Cycles who have published a pdf about Living with a Rohloff. It’s quite comprehensive. Dominic may email them and tell them about his experience because it would be their first time hearing about someone being stuck with a dead hub in the middle of nowhere.
Great comments and great web page.….oh my Goat! I can feel myself drifting towards the Rohloff powered tour bike. I like the look and simplicity of those Rohloff Hubs. If it were to go wrong in a remote place, it wouldn’t be long before I botched an other temporary wheel back in the frame..
It’s worth mentioning, although a Rohloff hub costs close to a grand, for that money it replaces at least 6 other components you would need on a comparable derailleur bike. (front and rear derailleurs, cassette, hub, chainrings, front shifter). They themselves could cost anything up to a grand. Of course it’s more expensive than a 7 speed cassette, SIS derailleur and a thumb shifter, but that’s not really comparing like with like.
Plus for the true cost you need to factor in that a speedhub can always be resold for half its new value . So the true cost is £500 . Max
Here is my tuppence on the subject
Ridden the same bike since 1982. — though technically only the stem dates from 1982.
I love the gears, I love tweaking them, I love the mess I make doing it, I love their ‘well I might go in to the gear you want or I might do smithing totally unexpected’ attitude .
Last year my mum left me some money with strict instructions to spend it on something I could not justify .Rollhof it was . 3000miles later and zero tweaking I love it just as much.
Flip a coin — ether way you’ll be happy.
For the reccord this years pattagonia trip will be Rohloff powered, but the old majestic still gets a lot of riding and tweaking.
I’m a Rohloff man.
Agree about the cost but it should of course be spread over the entire life of the bike, not just the tour.
I use a chain glider to cover the sprockets and chain so wear is dramatically reduced. So saving on costs there plus less chance to foul ups in muddy weather.
Each to there own.
How does the Alpine 11 compare to the Rohloff in reliability and gear ratio.
Is Gates belt drive more reliable or efficient versus chain drive?
I’ve used Alfine 8 which lasted about 8k miles before failure due to water ingress and an Alfine 11 di2 which I replaced with a Rohloff after 4k miles. The issue with the Alfine 11 di2 was an oil leak on the non-drive side and failure of the electrical connector onto the shift motor. The connector is not designed to be repeatedly connected and disconnected but this is exactlybwhat you have to do every time you take the wheel out.
I had issues with the cable and shifter mechanism of the Alfine 8 icing up in freezing weather. I converted from Gates carbon drive to chain after the belt snapped after just 1900 miles. This is terminal, however, converting to chain is simple.
With regard to chain life, my hub geared bikes average 4k miles on a set of chains and sprockets whereas my previous derrailure bikes chain life varied from 1500 to 2700 with an average of 2k miles based on 16k miles of commuting. An always straight chainline as in an internal hub gear significantly extends chain life, in fact the limit is wear of the cheap and nasty pressed steel Alfine sprockets.
Not been running the Rohloff long enough to comment on reliability or sprocket life yet.
I’ve just put 8K miles on a Gates carbon fiber belt (more than twice the listed expected miles). Not sure why all the complaints, here and elsewhere. You mentioned breakage, which is certainly a bummer. But I’ve had a chain break, too (after a faulty link repair). (I’d be surprised if Gates would not replace the broken belt. If adjusted as per Gates, yes, they are tight and produce noticeable drag. So I ride it somewhat loose it’s been working fine! I also periodically reverse its direction, which probably explains its long life. I ride 8+ miles daily in temps from ‑20F, in rain and/or snow with salt and sand on the roads. The belt has never slipped or broken. Zero maintenance (other than the occasional reversal). And of course, there’s zero wear on the chainring and cog. BTW, it’s paired with a NuVinci hub. Heavy, but has also performed beautifully. Never affected by extreme cold, and can be shifted anytime, even under heavy load. It is undoubtedly less mechanically efficient than a derailleur. However, I figure I’m in better shape as a result. I’m a (fast) commuter, not a racer.
I’d read the well- peddled comment about how fixing a Rohloff means sitting around for weeks, and so you can imagine my surprise when they proved to be incredibly responsive, with a replacement innards FedExed to me within 24 hours. It was less than 72 hours between first contact and the package arriving in Uruguay, shipped out on Rohloff’s dime, and they more concerned about me getting back on the road. I could send them the old innards whenever I got round to it, which ended up being about 4 months later.
Rohloff’s do have shorter spokes, that’s true. And what do shorter spokes mean? Less chance of failure. Oh and if you do break a spoke on your Rohloff wheel, it’s just the same as fixing a spoke on your front wheel. No need to go through the hassle that is changing a drive-side spoke on a derailleur-equipped bike.
What – you mean Rohloff Speedhubs aren’t failproof after all…? 😛
Good to know that shipping can be quick – although it obviously depends on where exactly you are and what mood the customs officials are in when the package arrives, which has little to do with Rohloff’s customer service (hence the well-peddled comments).
the point about the spokes is actually good. I started to loose spokes on my back wheel when crossing from Kyrgyzstan to China. I had an NBT2 (next best thing) cassette lockring remover, but as much as we tried we could not loosen it up, so could not replace the ones on the drive side. Every hole or bump on the road made me nervous — and they have a lot of those up there 🙂 By the time I got to china I had 4 spokes less than I should! I also hate my dérailleurs when it gets really wet and muddy. I will try the Rohloff for the next big trip.
Are not internal hub gears less efficient? Even Rohloff’s excellence marginalise this it surely adds up?
Perhaps – but I suspect that the numerous people who’ve circumnavigated Earth with Rohloffs would say that it’s more academic than anything else…
Simon, if efficiency is your No.1 concern you’ll be riding a well oiled and finely tuned single speed. And why not? Seriously though, I have bikes with both, and when set up correctly and maintained there is no difference, Both systems work well, however you’ll find that as soon as you ride in wet or mucky weather ( as can often happen on a tour ) your beautifully set up derailleur will soon get clogged up and require quite a bit of attention to keep it running smoothly. My bike with the Rohloff laughs at the other one in those circumstances. And when you are cold, tired and wet,that’s nice. More than nice.
The catastrophic failure that some seem to expect MUST eventually happen if they fit a Rohloff seems to be more in the mind than anything else.
Hasn’t happened to me and if it does I’ll deal with it. Also, when a derailleur system jams and the chain gets all mangled up in the works, you might not be able to fix it despite your best efforts especially if you’re out in the cold with numb hands in freezing weather and miles from anything that remotely looks like a bike shop. That’s reality for you. Yep, that HAS happened to me!
At the end of the day I think Tom explained the options well.
Choose your poison, and don’t expect any system or component on your bike to be completely foolproof under all circumstances. If you do, you’ll be sure to have lots of surprises as you rack up the miles.
Something,sometime, somewhere on the bike will fail. But it won’t be the end of the world.
Hi Great comment.. I have been contemplating buying a tour bike with Rohloff hub. But I need to get over my fear of something going wrong. I love the simplicity and look of these Hubs. I suppose if you had any issues you could have it converted back to derailleur while you wait for the return of the Rohloff hub
For me some of the greatest joys of cycle touring is in it’s utter simplicity , independence and self sufficiency. Foe me I would feel more secure that I can repair and maintain all of my own kit. I don’t doubt Rohloff ‘s reliability and quality, but if it went wrong I would lose that independence and self reliance that I value so much. So my choice would probably be a 21 or 24 speed bicycle, in the knowledge that I could bodge it in an emergency (turn it into a single speeder) until I can repair it properly. But I would be setting out in the knowledge that I could get myself back on the road and continue my tour. That’s why I’d choose Dérailleur over Rohloff.
Agreed – and that’s why the expedition bike I designed is a 24-speed.
G’day Tom, just following up on your advice from your other thread on the LHT, in regards to Rohloff versus derailleurs if they should break down in the middle of nowhere. A very good point was made in regards to serviceability, where you have to send the hub back to Germany in a worst case scenario.
However, I would just like to mention a point that hasn’t been mentioned. I do recall briefly reading up in my manual that should the Rohloff become faulty for whatever reason, lets say the shifter packs up and you can no longer change gears ? Well, the info that I came across in the manual actually stated that the hub can actually be converted into a single speed. I don’t recall exactly how ? It may be the turn of a screw or something along those lines. Basically, the hub can be put into default mode just like a derailleur set up can to get you home. In other words, yes it can be salvaged somewhat just like your derailleur set up can. And no, as mentioned earlier, you can’t rectify it on the spot or at your local bike shop as easily. Nevertheless, it is a little more versatile than most of us may have assumed. Just thought id mention it. Cheers 🙂
hi if the cables or shifter broke, the rohloff could be put in any gear really easily by pulling the cables at the back near Hub, also you can move the gears manually with a spanner. I think most peoples worry is ‚what would happen it the hub No longer had any gears or made a grinding crunch sound and the wheel was completely locked up. Remove the chain and start Pushing 46 km over the mountains to the next town.
Absolutely agreed on this one. If you break a derailleur the chances of finding another within hours is high and you can bodge a repair in the meantime.
The other thing to factor in is a Rohloff wheel has shorter than usual spokes. Even a well equipped bike shop may not stock them.
Good point – although I suppose it’s possible shorten spokes and cut new threads…