Sanny reviews the Kindernay 14 speed internal gear hub, which promises shifting under load and a 543% range.
- £1,350 including hydraulic trigger shifters and SWAP cage
- £140 for SWAP cage on its own.
- Available from: ghyllside.co.uk
It’s not every day that you are offered the opportunity to test a product that is so different from what is considered the norm that you are not quite sure where to start with it. Enter stage left Kevin from Ghyllside Cycles in Ambleside, purveyors of products that are just that little bit different and dare I say unusual from what you find in most bike shops these days. “Sanny. Fancy testing a Kindernay Internal Geared Hub? It’s one of the first in the country and we’ve just built it up into a test bike.” Having seen the hub in the flesh back in December, I was more than a little intrigued. Internally geared hubs are an established albeit slightly niche segment of the drivetrain market but in their XIV hub, Kindernay has packed in more design innovation than you can shake a stick at.
Different? Different how?
For starters, the hub body can be removed from the accompanying lattice work cage. Want to move between different wheels? The XIV allows you to do this so you are no longer locked into a single size of rim without a complete wheel rebuild. The axle is a true bolt thru design – there are no adapters to mess about with. It is claimed that it can shift under load up and down the full range of gears. The disc mounting bolts are spaced further apart than a normal disc which in theory should make for less disc flex. Instead of Gripshift style shifting, the XIV features a fully hydraulic trigger system with one lever for shifting up and one lever for shifting down. Last but not least, Kindernay claims their design to be the lightest on the market! Phew! It’s fair to say that there is a lot going on.
The techy bit
The XIV name comes from the hub having 14 speeds with a 13.9% step between each. In gear ratio terms, this means that it offers a total range of 543% which is still greater than SRAM’s 520% range on offer from their newly released 10 – 52 cassettes.
The hub employs a planetary gear design. In basic terms, this is a series of cogged wheels which run within each other. The Kindernay web
ite has a really interesting explanation of how the design works and explains it in terms of planets orbiting round a sun. I could repeat this verbatim for you but when it comes to explaining how things work from a mechanical engineering perspective, I’m an accountant! Rather, I will keep it super simple. The hub uses straight cut gears which as a design is basically the same as you will find in a racing car. The reasoning for this is that enables the gear system to handle higher torque loads and operate at a higher level of efficiency. Simples!
So why an internal hub design? Well, compared to traditional derailleurs, the fully enclosed system which sits in a sealed oil bath is nowhere near as vulnerable to damage from rock and ground strikes. Smack a rear mech in a crash and snap it and you are walking home. The same crash on a hub geared bike is far less likely to cause damage. Add to this a maintenance schedule that only calls for an oil change every 5000 kilometres, gear shifting even at a standstill and the ability to use pretty much any chain on the market and you have a system that promises to outlast traditional drivetrains by a considerable margin.
Is this the future?
So far, so good but if the advantages are so obvious, why aren’t we all riding them already? First and foremost is the issue of weight. This has always been the Achilles Heel of the various internally geared hubs that I have swung a leg over (Rolhoff, Pinion and Shimano Alfine 8 and 11 speed). Jumping on a bike where the weight is concentrated at the back can feel a bit strange and can take some getting used to. Then there is the shifting design. Coming from trigger shifters, the twist grip style of shifter used by Rolhoff and Pinion can prove a step too far for some. However, probably the biggest barrier is an inability to shift under load. Panic shifts aren’t an option. You have to back off the power which is fine in theory but requires a fair bit of relearning and practice in order to perfect the technique. For some riders, the trade-offs just aren’t worth it. Collectively, these three main areas of concern have conspired to limit the appeal of internally geared hub designs. However, Kindernay reckons they have cracked the problem. (Ten points if you spotted that Kinder Egg pun! No? Just me? Auch, please yourselves! Tough crowd in tonight…)
So how does the Kindernay XIV shape up in the real world?
Jumping on the Salsa Timberjack Ti test mule (thoroughbred would probably be the more apt term!) for the first time was a slightly disconcerting experience. Let’s start with the thing everyone who tried it noticed first – the noise. Having only done about 150km before arriving at my door, out of the standard break in distance of 500 – 1000km before the oil is changed, I was immediately struck by the sounds coming from the back wheel. Even when pedalling, there was a constant hum of the hub akin to that of a regular hub freewheeling, when riding in higher gears. I have to be honest here; my initial reaction was a quite definite “WTF!” When I am pedalling along, I am used to there being no accompanying mechanical soundtrack to my ride. Sure, there may be the odd squeal of the disc brake or the inadvertent skid of a tyre but this sucker was constant. It didn’t help that my first few kilometres were on road and canal path where I became somewhat hyper conscious of my constant riding companion. The sound in the higher gears comes from the clutches interfacing in gears 8 up to 14. When I queried this with Espen Wethe, Product Manager at Kindernay, he assured me that the noise level would decrease over time, especially after the first oil change takes place.
To be fair, my initial less than positive reaction subsided the more miles I put in on the hub. The sound definitely decreased over time such that when riding off-road on familiar trails, it got to the point where I barely even noticed it. As such, I have no reason not to believe that the first oil change would reduce the noise even further as the cogs and clutch wear in as part of the breaking in process. As a rider, I am so used to the immediate top level performance of a typical derailleur set up from the moment I first ride it that the idea of breaking something in is a bit of an alien concept.
In the lower range gears, I could feel a bit of feedback through the pedals, this time accompanied by a different sound. It was another one of those “is this right?” moments but again Espen was on hand to answer my questions about this. The lower gears go through a reduction gear meaning that out of the box, you do notice a bit of friction as you pedal. It is initially disconcerting but the more I rode the hub, the less noticeable it became. To be clear, out of the box, it just feels really odd but as I was able to prove to myself, persistence pays off as the internals of the hub wear in. The best way to think of it is like a Brooks saddle – a bit of patience brings long term rewards.
Shifting wise, the twin lever hydraulic levers have a lovely quality feel to them. Compared to a standard SRAM or Shimano trigger shifter, the throw is greater and there is no discernible click as you shift. It is more of a “shneck”. The right lever shifts you onto lower gears and the left onto higher. With 1X ruling the roost these days, on more than one occasion, I shifted up as opposed to dropping my dropper post! Feel wise, I would liken it to an old style thumb shifter set to friction mode. You can feel the change point but it doesn’t come with a sharp click. It felt odd at first but I very quickly found myself used to it. The levers themselves are large and easy to move even when wet. On the odd occasion, I did manage to not quite shift properly and could feel a little feedback through the pedals and drivetrain noise to indicate this. It was very easily remedied though.
Gear range wise, I was never left wanting for lower gears. As a test of the low end range, I headed up a particularly steep and long climb in the hills near where I live with a friend who rides a SRAM Eagle drivetrain. On a couple of really steep sections, he was off and walking while I found myself still able to spin away merrily. Top end, I never at any point felt that I needed anything higher, even on long road sections.
But now the million dollar question. Does it shift under load? Absolutely! Compared to designs from Pinion and Rolhoff, the XIV is a whole different ball game. Where they require you to back off on pedal pressure, I was able to keep pedalling and shift under load. I found it easier shifting up to higher gears than lower but I was definitely able to shift to lower gears too. I found that backing off ever so slightly made things shift more smoothly but it was nowhere like the pre planning of shifting that its competitors require. Chalk that up as a big win! Kindernay claims that its design can handle greater torque loads than any other geared hub on the market. On this showing, I am inclined to believe them.
But what about that other bugbear, weight? Other than on the Deviate Guide where the hub gear is mounted centrally, I’ve never been the biggest fan of heavy hub gears on a mountain bike. However, with a weight of around 1.4kg for the hub body, that is a few hundred grams less than the equivalent Rolhoff and more than half a kilo less than a Pinion. What this means is, for me at least, that I never felt like I was riding a hub gear from a handling perspective. The back end didn’t feel in any way unduly heavy to me. It just rode like a regular bike. That may not sound like a big deal but in my experience, it is. In practical terms, it meant I could enjoy the ride experience without having to make any allowances for the different set up at the back.
Taking the wheel out of the frame was a little more involved than a regular set up. The hydraulic shifter housing sits partly inside the frame meaning that a little care is needed. Remove the thru axle, drop the wheel a little, pull the shifter housing out of the hub and Bob is indeed your uncle! Re-installing it is a similarly simple affair.
Removing the hub from the SWAP cage is even easier. All you need do is undo the seven bolts attaching the disc rotor to the hub and SWAP cage and then you are done. The hub requires no effort to remove or install. Pleasingly, there was nary a creak or a groan from the hub or SWAP shell during the test. It is a very neat piece of design and the ability to swap between wheels without having to do a full wheel rebuild is really good idea in my book.
Three things we liked:
- SWAP hub shell design.
- Ability to shift under load.
- Lack of weight compared to the competition.
Three things that could be improved:
- A single trigger design (already planned for launch later this year)
- A bit less noisy when first out of the box but to be fair, Kindernay say they are now addressing that with the production version of the hub.
- Errr, that’s it!
The Kindernay XIV brings a lot to the table. Straight out of the box, it feels plain weird. There are no two ways about it. The sounds and sensations are so different from the derailleur norm that it had me a little bit perplexed at first. However, the more I rode it and the more it bedded in, the more I came to really appreciate how it performed and the discernible improvements it offers compared to the competition. It is appreciably lighter, it shifts under load, you’re not tied into a single wheel size and the shifting is light in the extreme.
With several hundred kilometres under its belt, it has worked its charms on me. The drivetrain noise is still there, albeit more muted, so I would love to get it back again to try once it has bedded in a bit more and had its first oil change. The noise was definitely going in the right direction by the end of the test. Kindernay now runs a break in process in house which should noticeably reduce the noise and make for a much more positive initial first impression for riders like me who are used to traditional derailleur set ups.
So who should buy one? Given the high torque that the hub can withstand, eBikes are an obvious market. Riders who value drivetrain longevity and reliability may also want to check the XIV out. And then there is the dyed in the wool derailleur rider. The XIV represents an appreciable jump forward for internally geared hubs and might just be the product to attract a whole new band of riders to the fold.
|Product:||XIV internal gear hub|
|Tested:||by Sanny for One month|
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