by Mark Alker
April 17, 2014
A new approach to gearbox frames, custom-built in the Peak District.
We’ve ridden a fair few sealed gear systems over the years, both hub- and bottom bracket-centred. Initial impressions are that Pinion’s gearbox system is a more attractive proposition than most, despite the inevitable high price due to the fact that it needs a frame building around it. The first UK bike we saw using this Pinion was from 18 Bikes at Bespoked, the 2013 UK Handmade Bicycle Show, so we were happy to get an opportunity to spend time with this one.
18 Bikes can build the German-engineered Pinion gearbox into a frame made to tackle any type of riding.
It has to be said that this one is a fairly heavy duty build intended for caution-to-the-wind ganderflanking (q.v.)… hence the 160mm fork, 203/183mm brake rotors, a dropper post, abuse-resistant finishing parts and a near-30lb all-in weight. There’s no escaping the fact that Pinion’s transmission system is built to be durable rather than light, but it’s lighter than other bottom bracket-centred set-ups we’ve tried and we love the fact that this UK builder can offer it on a Reynolds 853 steel frame built any way you want.
For a full lowdown on Pinion’s gearbox take a look at pinion.eu/en. We simply don’t have the space to go into the finer details here, but it’s essentially an 18-geared box of cogs in an oil bath that promises 10,000km service intervals and a gear range that’s evenly spaced and wider ranging than most 3×9 speed systems. You can fine-tune your ratios by using a different sprocket on the rear wheel. All the sprocketry is hidden away in a compact and apparently well sealed blue aluminium casing with Pinion’s own 24-tooth crankset attached. The result is a low gravity centre and, with so little weight in the rear wheel, a very nimble ride feel considering the overall bike weight. You could be looking at a 27lb build if you’re a rider who values finesse over hard-slamming durability, too.
Despite the relatively low weight of a Reynolds 853 tubeset, a Pinion-specific custom steel frame will always be carrying more weight in its gearbox casing and clever Paragon Machine Works Rocker dropouts than a regular hardtail frame. 18 Bikes has an excellent durability reputation to uphold, too. There’s already talk of a belt drive version and, while our test bike has 26in wheels, 18 is obviously more than happy to build to suit any wheel size you require, with as much tyre room as you need between the stays. Our test frame is built with a tapered steerer, threaded cable clamps to support the two outer cables for the gearbox and a cable inside the seat tube for the dropper seat post (Reynolds now supplies a double butted seat tube to take a 31.6mm post).
On the trail, the big attraction of the Pinion system compared to a Rohloff hub gear is the favourable weight distribution and silent efficiency of gear shifts. In fact, it’s the stealthy silence that takes a while to become accustomed to, as initially you’re not quite sure whether you’ve shifted one or two gears. But you get used to this after a couple of outings and, while twist-shifting certainly won’t appeal to everyone, we found Pinion’s shifter easy to use, if initially a bit ‘mushy’-feeling. Multiple shifts are easy when the terrain changes fast and the shift indexing is in the gearbox, so it’s not hindered by cables stretching or a damaged outer cable. We’d heard some earlier feedback about needing to ease off the pedal pressure for shifts on climbs, but we had no issue with this, even on the steepest grunter ascents.
The overriding impression in handling terms is stability at speed, presumably because the weight of the gears is low and central. Acceleration, despite the bike’s overall weight, is surprisingly sprightly – and would obviously be more so with less bombproof componentry on board. 18 Bikes can offer you whatever you want in terms of fine detail, including totally different geometry, cable guides, rack mounts, bottle bosses, colour to suit, etc. They’re currently talking about a ‘standard’ Pinion build to keep the price down, as a frame like this would cost you about £2,450. The gearbox alone is £1,100 (not that much different to a complete Rohloff set-up).