17 May 2019

Tech Talk: Why Is the Rohloff SPEEDHUB 500/14 So Expensive?

Why is the Rohloff SPEEDHUB 500/14 so expensive? Is it really better than other internal gear hubs out there like Shimano’s Alfine 8 or 11 or the Nuvinci/Enviolo N360 or N380? Is there another gear hub on the market worth using?

With over twelve years selling these high-end, German-made hubs on the American market, we often hear from customers wondering whether the benefits justify the premium price tag. While we feel that a variety of internal gearing systems are superior to derailleurs, there is no other gear hub that can be substituted for the Rohloff SPEEDHUB in terms of durability and long-term performance. Accordingly, it is our only recommendation for those customers looking to push the limits of their drivetrain with heavy usage. 

This Tech Talk breaks down the differences between a few of the most popular internal gear hubs available, allowing you to decide whether or not the Rohloff is the only solution for the way you ride.

To keep things focused, we will limit the scope of this comparison to the Rohloff SPEEDHUB 500/14, Shimano Alfine 8 & 11, and Nuvinci/Enviolo N360 & N380. These hubs represent high-end (Rohloff) and mid-range (Shimano and Enviolo) options within the internal gearing market. Lower-cost options currently available are rarely suitable for the types of bikes we work with.


Note that Kindernay is not included because we have not yet had the opportunity to try one. We are eager to test one, so keep your eyes out for a future review.

What advantages does the Rohloff SPEEDHUB 500/14 have over other internal gear hubs?
  • A wider gear range: Bikes with a wider gear range are easier to pedal comfortably both up and down hills, with a bigger difference between the “easiest” and “hardest” gears. The SPEEDHUB has 526% range, more than the 1x12 derailleur systems currently popular with mountain bikers, and comparable to 2 and 3x systems commonly used in the past. By comparison, the next closest option is Shimano’s Alfine 11 with 409%, followed by 380% on the Nuvinci/Enviolo N380, 360% on the Nuvinci/Enviolo N360, and 307% on the Shimano Alfine 8.

  • More gears to choose from: The SPEEDHUB offers 14 gears, compared to 8 or 11 in the Alfine hubs. Having more gears gives riders the additional flexibility to maintain a steady cadence and maximize their biomechanical efficiency across a wider variety of terrain. 

    Note that Nuvinci/Enviolo hubs have no gear steps, and instead offer a smooth transition from easiest to hardest gear ratio, whereas all other gear hubs noticeably shift through their gears one at a time.
Note the lack of distinct gears on the NuVinci shifter
  • Even gear steps: The SPEEDHUB offers 13.6% steps (with very minor variations) for a consistent feel that steadily increases required effort as you shift through the gears. By comparison, the steps between gears on Shimano's Alfine hubs vary widely, with some as low as 13.1% and others as high as 29.2%. Again, Nuvinci/Enviolo hubs do not have discreet gear steps.
  • Better efficiency: Designed as a high-performance alternative to traditional drivetrains, the SPEEDHUB operates at 95-98% efficiency, which is comparable to a new, well-adjusted derailleur system. Other gear hubs operate with lower efficiency, with power loss on the order of 3-12% depending on the hub and gear being used. Given that the human engine is very small, and the fact that people spend substantial money to achieve even minor improvements in performance, a disparity of multiple percentage points of efficiency is quite substantial. E-bike users should note that more efficient drivetrains increase the range of electric bikes.
SPEEDHUB efficiency varies by gear, but always exceeds that of other internal gear hubs
  • High torque capacity: The SPEEDHUB can handle an impressive 130Nm of torque, making it well-suited to the higher inputs seen in off-road use or loaded touring, and with cargo bikes, tandems, and e-bikes.
  • Lower gearing: With the right sprockets, the SPEEDHUB can officially be geared lower than any other gear hub that we know of. This makes it possible to climb steep climb hills off road and climb long and/or steep climbs with a fully loaded bike without damaging the hub.
  • Better load capacity: The SPEEDHUB can handle an immense amount of load, including loaded touring tandems and heavily laden cargo bikes. Nuvinci offers a heavy duty version of their hub for cargo bike use, but the Alfine hubs were developed for urban commuters, and are not recommended for heavy duty use. For off road applications, this load capacity also makes the Rohloff unit suitable for aggressive trail use, including jumps, drops, and other high-speed impacts.
  • Longest lifespan: The SPEEDHUB will go forever under normal operating conditions - or at least a full human lifespan. Over the past 20+ years, some riders have logged over a quarter of a million miles on their hubs with no signs of deterioration. During this time period, no hubs have “worn out”. While we do not have specific data on Shimano or Nuvinci/Enviolo hubs, the our experience suggests these hubs were not designed to handle this much use.
All things considered, the SPEEDHUB stands out as the gold standard compared to all other gear hubs currently available. Sure, the hefty price tag is due in large part to the hubs being manufactured in Germany’s expensive labor market. However, the use of higher quality materials, more stringent manufacturing methods, and very tight tolerance requirements also account for a significant part of the premium you pay, and these factors are what make the Rohloff a superior product. 

The gold standard, indeed

So, are these advantages worth the extra cost? Will another internal gear hub work for you?

Maybe. The answer depends on where you ride, the type of riding you do, how low your gearing needs to go, how strong you (or your motor!) are, and whether you care about how much of your power (or battery charge!) is being lost through the drivetrain. Of course, cost is a practical consideration that very few of us have the luxury to ignore.

Feel free to contact us for options if you are building a more casual-use bike and want to get away from derailleurs, but realize that there is no substitute for a Rohloff hub for high performance riding!

09 May 2019

Jones Plus 29+ Trail Bike w/ Rohloff SPEEDHUB

This Jones Plus is a sure-footed, classic trail bike built for a customer in Montgomery Center, Vermont, who was looking for an ultra-reliable, low-maintenance build to explore the wide network of trails that snake through the woods surrounding this small town at the northern tip of one of America’s northernmost states.

As a longtime user of Rohloff’s SPEEDHUB 500/14 internal gear hub, the customer was already familiar with the unparalleled reliability of the 14-speed German-made hub. He set out to find a simple, classically-styled steel frame that could easily accommodate the hub from his existing bike and comfortably tackle a range of smoother singletrack and dirt roads. The customer found a match with the Jones Bikes Plus platform, and reached out to Cycle Monkey to complete a custom build around his Rohloff hub.

Jeff Jones has designed steel and titanium framesets in Southern Oregon for years, with a niche for producing high-quality, adventure-oriented frames that are perfect building blocks for custom projects. Jones Bikes are well-suited to a wide range of riders, from dedicated bikepackers to those looking for a stylish, classically-inspired rigid bike they can both ride to work and use to explore the local singletrack.

This particular bike is built around the Plus LWB Diamond frame, one of three options for those looking for a Jones that allows them to enjoy the benefits of wider rubber and 29” wheels. LWB stands for “long wheel base”, and the frame features geometry that’s confidence-inspiring on rougher terrain, but remains comfortable and efficient on longer expeditions or marathon days on local singletrack. It accepts 29” tires from 2.3 - 3.25” wide, letting you easily change the bike’s character from responsive and efficient XC machine to ground-hugging and confidence-inspiring backcountry adventure mobile . 

Designed as an exclusively-rigid option, the frame is not suspension-corrected, which makes for a larger, stronger front triangle and shorter fork that combine to offer an incredible amount of frame pack and water bottle carrying capacity. The frame is covered in mounts galore, allowing for easy installation and removal of bottle cages, racks, and fenders to quickly modify your setup to match the adventure at hand.

Jones is also well-known for the Truss fork seen on this bike. The unique, vintage look is always a head-turner, but the design offers tangible functional benefits as well, including an excellent strength-to-weight ratio, precise steering control, and the elimination fore-aft flex under hard braking forces. Because the loads are triangulated, smaller and thinner tubes can be used on the fork without compromising strength while at the same time reducing flex during braking.

The fork is offered with all Jones frames in steel, with an even lighter titanium version available for the most discerning riders.
Note the eccentric bottom bracket
The Jones frame also includes an eccentric bottom bracket, which tensions the chain and allows riders to run the bike singlespeed or, as in this case, with an internally geared rear hub. Eccentric bottom brackets tension the chain or belt by changing the relative distance between the crank arms and rear dropouts, and offer an alternative tensioning method to the sliding dropouts commonly found on singlespeed/internally geared frames.

Internal gearing like that offered by Rohloff’s SPEEDHUB offers numerous benefits for off-road riders. Because shifting components and most moving parts are enclosed within the hub shell away from the elements, internal gear hubs offer superior reliability in all conditions, making them an excellent option for those who don’t always have the luxury of riding on sunny days. We’ve seen countless riders put tens of thousands of miles on their Rohloff hubs with no maintenance beyond an annual oil change, confirming their reputation as the most reliable internal gear hub on the market. 

East Coast trails are well known for their rugged rockiness and rootiness, which make an unwelcoming environment for derailleurs dangling precariously from the bike’s rear end. Internal hubs and gearboxes eliminate anxiety over ripping off a derailleur or bending a hanger on an inconveniently-placed rock, allowing mountain bikers to confidently take tighter lines through technical sections of trail.

This build complements the low-maintenance nature of the drivetrain with a straightforward parts kit that’s all about finding flow on singletrack. The 29” Plus wheels provide excellent rollover capabilities and a bit of extra cushion for this rigid frame, especially when paired with the Maxxis Chronicle--a tread pattern optimized for the mid-fat tire size,

The chrome components found at the cockpit, wheels, and seatpost give the bike a classic appeal that’s too often lacking from off-road machines, and the parts pop beautifully against the teal frame color. Paul Components offers a range of components “lovingly handmade” in Chico, Calfornia, and while their “inadvertent aesthetic” turns heads on street corners, these parts are built to be put through the ringer. They are designed to offer practicality and serviceability far beyond cell phone range, made from high-grade American aluminum that looks awfully good in polished chrome. They made a natural choice for the chainring, cranks, stem, brakes, and skewers on this build. 

Even the brake calipers are stylish...

Comfort matters most at the touchpoints, where the rider comes into contact with the bike, and too many riders overlook seemingly small component choices such as handlebars and saddles. Jones is also the creator of the H-Bar or Loop Bar, which offers a much wider range of potential hand positions than the flat bars typically found on mountain bikes or commuters. It’s a favorite of long-range tourers because it helps prevent numb hands when holding the same position on the bars for hours on end.

Selle Anatomica manufacturers premium saddles here in the US, with ergonomic cutouts that strike an ideal balance between flexibility for sensitive areas and support while pedaling. Their classic leather aesthetic is right at home on a vintage-looking steel frame like this Jones, but we’ve also found them comfortable on long road rides and for more aggressive trail riding. 

It was a pleasure to help this longtime Rohloff user make the most of his beloved SPEEDHUB with a new trail machine properly suited for hours spent exploring the picturesque singletrack surrounding his small New England hometown. Cycle Monkey approaches all of our custom build projects by starting with the rider’s goals and future riding aspirations, and selecting a frame, drivetrain, and components that fit this vision. Drop us a line to discuss your ideas for a custom build, or to get suggestions on a setup that will help you ride the way you want to, however that might be.

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Frame: Jones LWB Plus Fork: Jones Steel Truss Headset: Cane Creek 40 Stem: Thomson X4 Bar: Jones H-Bar Grips: Ergon GC-1 Shifter: Rohloff Twist Shifter Brakes: Paul Components Klamper Brake Levers: Paul Components Love Levers Seatpost: Thomson Elite Saddle: Selle Anatomica Front Hub: Paul Components Rear Hub: Rohloff SPEEDHUB 500/14 Skewers: Paul Components Spokes: Sapim Race Nipples: Sapim Brass Rims: Velocity Dually Tires: Maxxis Chronicle Cranks: Paul Components Bottom Bracket: SKS Square Taper Chainring: Paul Components