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Thursday, August 16, 2012

What about the Rohloff?

The cost of a Rohloff Speedhub is not particularly an issue for me, and unlike other buyers I perceive no need to defend or justify my choice. It's a big ticket item in cycling terms and naturally, one that I expect to deliver significant value for the the expense. So if I'm not satisfied with it, I'm going to say so.

When you read comments and reviews by Rohloff users, it's easy to get drawn in by their obvious enthusiasm for the product. It's rare to find negative comments. Typically positive comments are likely to be:
  • easy to shift
  • wide gear range
  • evenly spaced gears
  • low maintenance
  • legendary reliability
  • great factory support.
Much of this commentary originates from Rohloff's marketing. I had some reservations about the gear spacing - my preference is for close ratios, but otherwise I was won over.

So now with 3000 kilometers of riding with the Rohloff under my wheels, what do I think about it? Well, I would have to say I'm distinctly underwhelmed:

  • The Speedhub is generally easy to shift, but I don't find the twist grip shifter very ergonomic. And it does not shift well under load, so shifting technique is no better and perhaps even a little inferior to derailleur gears. But, and this is a big but - the shift from 8th to 7th gears is problematic, and if you don't get it right you can easily find you're in 14th gear just when you don't need it. Yes, you do get used to it, but it's not what I expect from the Mercedes Benz of bike transmissions.
  • Yes the range is impressive, but there are only 14 gears to cover the entire range. For me, the steps between the gears are too wide. This means that the gear I'm using is alternatively too high or too low, so I'm frequently hunting up and down the gears to one with a comfortable cadence. Which leads to the next point.
  • I have long felt that derailleur gears with typically close ratios in the high range and wide ratios in the low range was a serious flaw, so evenly spaced ratios was one the main attractions of the Speedhub. I've since come to realise the derailleur gear systems have it right - the ratios are close in the most commonly used gears where they need to be, and wide at the infrequently used gears, where there will be a significant drop in pace anyway.
  • By repute the Speedhub is very reliable, but dig a little deeper and you start to find reports of cracked flanges, worn bearings, and oil leaks. Not an avalanche by any means, but enough to dispell any notions of infallibility.
  • And by all reports it seems that Rohloff do provide excellent support. But the hub has to be returned to Germany in the advent of a failure, and that may seriously disrupt travel arrangements. There has also been reports of some countries charging import duties when the hub is returned.
  • Finally, there is one flaw that is seldom mentioned. In the lower gears the Speedhub is noisy. In seventh gear it's very noisy. Annoyingly noisy. Embarrassingly noisy. "You paid all that money to put up with that racket?" Tsk Tsk.
On the road, the Speedhub provides little to improve rider comfort or performance, apart from the ability to change gears while stationary - something I rarely need to do anyway. Intangibles like ease of  maintenance may be of value to those who are mechanically inept, reliability and support of value to those on a long tour. If like myself you are mechanically competent, or only have time for shorter tours, a derailleur gear is probably a better choice.


  1. Thanks ... Informative .. As always ... Good luck on your ride ... You don't have to bring any fish back to Brisvegas though!

  2. Hi Ron are you still persevering with the Rohloff?

    1. I stopped riding it for more than a year, but last month I took it on a tour of New Zealand. The extended ride did nothing to change my views and since the reasons for building the bike are no longer feasible I've pretty much decided not to keep it.