Poll: Would You Buy A Gearbox Bike?

by Wil Barrett 8

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.

steel custom hardtail pinion gearbox internal drivetrain belt drive 27.5 plus
With 9, 12 and 18-speed options, the Pinion gearbox is becoming a popular choice for custom frame builders.

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.

steel custom hardtail pinion gearbox internal drivetrain belt drive 27.5 plus
This beautiful steel Portus frame was on display at Eurobike, complete with lightweight German-made exotica and carbon plus-sized wheels.

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.

gearbox pinion belt driver steel hardtail plus
Internal gearbox + belt drive = the ultimate in durability?

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%, 343 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%, 15 Votes)

Total Voters: 685

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*Can’t see the poll? Then click here to register your vote!

cavalarie anakin belt drive enduro gearbox effigear french france
The French made enduro beauty from Cavalerie.

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.

cavalarie anakin belt drive enduro gearbox effigear french france
High pivot setup on the Cavalerie Anakin.

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.

cavalarie anakin belt drive enduro gearbox effigear french france
Lovely clean back-end on the Cavalerie Anakin: a nice benefit to the internal gearbox design.

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.

zerode taniwha enduro gearbox carbon full suspension mountain bike eurobike
The striking carbon Taniwha from Zerode is built with a 12-speed Pinion gearbox.

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.

zerode taniwha enduro gearbox carbon full suspension mountain bike eurobike
The Pinion gearbox places the weight low and central in the frame, which results in handling advantages.

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.

zerode taniwha enduro gearbox carbon full suspension mountain bike eurobike
Two shift cables operate the Pinion gearbox, and mount to a twist-style grip shifter at the bars.

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?

gearbox olsen pinion internal carbon custom olsen rockshox rs1
The Olsen Ram is a custom carbon hardtail made in the UK with a German-made Pinion gearbox.

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.

gearbox olsen pinion internal carbon custom olsen rockshox rs1
Mud, meet sealed gearbox. Sealed gearbox, well…err…you don’t really need to worry about mud.

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?

Comments (8)

  1. The challenge facing internal gearboxes is buyers not believing the hype about a sealed unit with minimal maintenance. We already have sealed units (hubs, bottom brackets, headsets, forks, shocks) and we all know they don’t keep out all the nasties. Hub and BB bearings are consumable items and are generally at a price point where one can bear replacing them fairly frequently. Moving to an expensive sealed unit requires a huge amount of faith that it will stand up to winter Peak District grinding paste and the confidence that, should it fail, you’re not going to be stranded without power. Old-skool drivetrains can still be bodged in the field to get you home should something go wrong.

  2. I would have voted Yes but no necessarily my next bike and the weight doesn’t bother me.

  3. Absolutely love the direction this is taking biking. Finally becoming an viable alternative to the derailleur.

    The Mojo Geonotrom with the internal g/box is a wonderful bit of kit. Don’t like the twist grip, but with the Effigear, this could be replaced by a rapid fire – awesome

    Could easily be my next bike 🙂

  4. Would you buy a gearbox bike?

    Yes; But only once they’re lighter and cheaper and with less drag

  5. Voted “Yes; But only once they’re lighter and cheaper”

    But I would also like to see more development to get rid of those pesky twist grips and also to enable shifting without having to coast. I love the idea & think it’s all going in a very positive direction, however my next bike wont be gearbox driven … perhaps in 5-10 years when the development has moved on and the price becomes more realistic.

  6. I voted No, being of the SS contingent.

    However my objection to gears is the fragility of the systems rather than having gears. The bikes I do have with gears are all hubgear.

    I think this gearbox system is the future. It just needs a little refinement and some serious WW.

    When I’m old and frail, I’ll get one. 🙂

    BTW that Olsen makes a lot of sense on many levels.

  7. for me cost is the barrier. I know you can argue about replacing a standard drivetrain over time, but it doesn’t stop the initial price

  8. Having tried the Alfine (and broke the Alfine) the move to a gearbox at the centre of the bike makes much more sense. However the problem is unlike the hub gearbox it looks like its impossible to fit a front gearbox to an existing frame?

Comments are closed.