by Wil Barrett
October 10, 2016
Gearbox mountain bikes aren’t a new invention. In fact, they’ve been around for some time now. But while they certainly have their advantages and their supporters, it would be fair to say that they’ve never really enjoyed mainstream success. There’s been the Rohloff 14-speed Speedhub, Shimano’s Alfine internal gear hub range, and more recently, frame-mounted options from the likes of Pinion and Effigear. Then you’ve got other non-derailleur style shifting systems such as the Truvativ Hammerschmidt planetary drive crankset, and the innovative two-speed Vyro crankset. All interesting ways of shifting gears, but none of which have challenged the mite of the standard external drivetrain.
Despite not having been accepted into the mainstream market as of yet, a lot of folks are very keen on the idea of packing their gears inside a sealed shell. Particularly for our British conditions, an internal gear hub presents a compelling argument in the face of the traditional maintenance and wear ‘n’ tear associated with looking after chains, cassettes and derailleurs.
During the most recent rounds of bike exhibitions such as Eurobike, Interbike, and the Birmingham Cycle Show, we did however make an observation that there were noticeable more gearbox bikes being displayed. With modern gearboxes getting lighter, more compact and easier to integrate into frames, it appears that more brands are taking the design seriously, and investing significant R&D time and money into building a bike around an internal gearbox.
With that in mind, we wanted to ask you guys about your thoughts on gearbox mountain bikes. Are they the future? Are you going to buy one? Or is the regular external drivetrain still where it’s at? You can let us know by taking part in our poll just below, though we’d also love to hear any other thoughts you have about gearbox bikes by leaving us a question or your opinion in the comments section down the bottom of this page.
Would you buy a gearbox bike?
- Yes; But only once they're lighter and cheaper (50%, 341 Votes)
- No; Regular gears are fine for me (37%, 252 Votes)
- Yes; My next mountain bike will have a gearbox (6%, 39 Votes)
- I ride a singlespeed; What's a gearbox? (5%, 36 Votes)
- No, because I already have one! (2%, 14 Votes)
Total Voters: 682
*Can’t see the poll? Then click here to register your vote!
We spotted the French-made Cavalerie enduro bike at Eurobike this year, and brought you the details in this article. The Cavalerie uses the Effigear internal gearbox, which can be used with a regular SRAM X0-1 trigger shifter, rather than a rotary grip shifter like the Pinion system comes with.
The Cavalerie uses a Gates Carbon belt drive setup to drive the rear wheel from the Effigear internal gearbox. Cavalerie has been able to do this by using a high single pivot on the Anakin frame, where the main pivot is also shared with the primary drive sprocket.
Tensioners on the rear dropouts allow for precise adjustment of the carbon belt drive to ensure it’s at the correct tension. Compared to a regular chain, the belt drive setup requires only minimal adjustment after the first few rides, then retains its tension for a lot longer. Overall strength is also a lot higher than a metal chain.
The Kiwi-designed Taniwha from Zerode Bikes has also proved to be a very popular hit amongst Singletrack readers. The Taniwha is a carbon enduro bike that’s built with a Pinion 12-speed gearbox that offers a 600% gear range. Compare that with the SRAM Eagle 1×12 drivetrain that only offers a 500% gear range in comparison.
The Pinion gearbox places the shifting mass into the centre of the frame, and low down around the bottom bracket. This is one of the reasons that Rob Metz (Zerode owner and designer) cites as one of the clear advantages of the gearbox system. Without a wide-range cassette and rear derailleur hanging off the rear wheel, the Taniwha has less unsprung weight, allowing the suspension to react more quickly to smaller bumps, offering a smoother and plusher feel.
The Pinion gearbox runs two shifter cables in and out of the bottom bracket mounted unit. Two cables are necessary with the gearbox design, which means you have to run Pinion’s twist-shifter unit. For riders who much prefer trigger shifters, that may be an ergonomic compromise that they’re not willing to make, and perhaps a barrier to entry for those willing to try internal gearbox mountain bikes?
In an article titled “The Perfect British Bicycle? Olsen Belt-Drive Bicycles“, we introduced an intriguing custom carbon hardtail from a small British builder called Olsen. With elevated chainstays, a belt drive and a Pinion internal gearbox, the Olsen Ram (pictured) is a carbon fibre hardtail designed for plus-sized rubber. It can also be had in 29er form too, and it looks equally striking with either wheel setup.
With a sealed drivetrain and a belt drive that requires no lubrication or degreasing, the Olsen Ram makes some good arguments for those British mountain bikers who ride all-year round. And with oil changes only required every 10,000km for the Pinion gearbox, it’s certainly appealing from a maintenance perspective.
So, do you dig the idea of a gearbox mountain bike? And if not, what’s holding you back from getting one?