Recently while scoping out bikes for my dreamed-of expedition, I came across one with an internal geared hub (IGH). To be honest, it was the first time I’d seen one. At first I thought it was a singlespeed. Then I wondered why a) a singlespeed would be on a commuter/touring bike and b) why the hub looked like a PowerTap power meter on steroids. A quick glance at the specs and a Google search soon enlightened me.
Why aren’t these things more popular in the States? Straight chain line, no grit and grime from bad weather, basically no maintenance besides swapping chains, no stupid front derailleur to rub. Sign me up.
Some more research revealed that, while the Rohloff speedhub is revered worldwide for touring and commuting alike, other offerings get mixed reviews (and, like most cars, are much cheaper than their German-engineered counterparts). And I found some of the downsides: they are heavy, make changing a flat a trickier proposition, and pretty much un-repairable on the road. Alas, nothing is perfect, after all.
The particular bike I was looking at, the Marin Nicasio RC, uses a Shimano Nexus 8-speed hub. In my search for bikes with a Rohloff hub, I waded into territory that was more expensive and, increasingly, in incomprehensible foreign languages. Finally I found Co-Motion, a Portland-based company that makes bikes with Rohloff hubs. But those bikes are over $5,000, which is not really my price range for my touring setup.
I’m still not sure where I stand on the IGH issue. I’d like to ride one to see how it feels. I can see why a lot of Americans just say “screw it, I’ll stick with the derailleur system because it’s what I know, and hey there might be a 1/1000 change I get stranded on a mountain pass and I’d rather not take that chance.” But then again, carriage drivers in the early 1900s were probably pointing out the unreliable nature of automobiles, and look where that got them. Out of a job and ultimately forgotten. The IGH does, on balance, seem like a better technology for the riding that most people (read: people who use bikes to get places, not to explore compensation issues on Strava) do. Color me intrigued.
My brief internet foray into the IGH world reminded me of a broader point: every time I think I know a lot about bikes, I realize there is something I was totally ignorant of. Two years ago it was gear ratios. A year ago it was headsets and thru-axles. Now it’s the IGH. What will it be next?