Looking At Internal-Geared Hubs Compared To Derailleurs
written by Cycle expert Alex Bristol
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Looking At Internal-Geared Hubs Compared To Derailleurs
Looking to find out more about why internal-geared hubs are used over traditional derailleur gears in touring bikes, and turning out to be a rising trend in the bike industry?
Well, you’re at the right place:
Internal gear hubs have become increasingly popular on bicycles in recent years, especially on touring and commuter bikes. I have put the two to the test to discover which one truly deserves to be on top.
Internal gear hubs tend to use stronger chains as generally a single sprocket and chainring combination will be used but they both have their pros and cons.
Here’s the full breakdown:
What is an Internal Gear Hub (IGH)?
First, let’s get down to the basics; what exactly is an internal gear hub? The internal gear hub is also called the hub gear or IGH; it is used to change the bike’s gear ratio.
It allows your bike to achieve planetary or epicyclic gears homed within the rear hub; it is an alternative to the derailer.
While the derailleur and cassette dominate today’s bike market for road bikes and mountain bikes, there have been massive advancements in the internal gear hub technology; they’re now offered in 8-14 speed models too!
Internal gear hubs have really advanced in the past few years and definitely deserve in the bike industry; they’re a brilliant factor to consider when getting yourself a touring bike.
Why are internal gear hubs used in touring bikes?
A good touring setup will give you a huge gear range and ease of replacement. Internal-geared hubs with 5-14 gear ratios have become increasingly popular in recent years because of this reason; they’re low maintenance and robust.
For example, Rohloff’s 14-speed hub has a gear range of over 500% and has been used in at least two around the world bike tours.
They also tend to have stronger chains, and generally, a single sprocket and chainring will be used for these kinds of bikes. They also offer a spread of gears that can be made up more evenly over the derailer setup.
Why are internal gear hubs used in commuter bikes?
Internal gear hubs allow you to shift gear even while you’re not pedaling. This is brilliant for riding through the stop-go traffic of concrete jungles and city commutes.
It also makes climbing a lot easier, so for city dwellers living in San Fransisco, this would be an excellent option for you as you can shift gears whenever.
Commuters love internal gear hubs for the same reason as expedition bike tourists because there’s less worry about maintenance, repairs and you can shift easily.
Benefits of using an Internal Gear Hub:
As we’ve briefly discussed above, internal gear hubs come with some major benefits for the rider and overall feel of the bike; let’s break them down:
This is the main reason why IGHs are so popular and why people switch to them. The only maintenance they require is to change the oil every 5000km and to keep the chain at the right tension.
Aa derailleur requires frequent maintenance, frequent cleaning, adjustments to limits, and frequent replacements of chains and cassettes.
They’re just a lot more work and hassle, which tourers and commuters don’t need.
Derailers are particularly fragile as they stick out, and they’re so close to the ground, they can be easily caught on a rock, root and cause damage.
You need to be constantly readjusting it, especially when riding off-road or transporting the bike from place to place. Plus, a derailleur can badly damage the rear wheel if you knock them into the spokes.
None of this happens with the internal gear hub because the shifting mechanism is protected and sealed within the hub.
All moving parts of the gear hub are sealed within the unit; this means that they’re protected from water, sand, dirt, or anything that could enter the hub and cause damage.
With internal gear hubs, you don’t need to worry about the derailleur getting broken or needing adjustments; a derailleur requires much more maintenance and needs to be replaced more often.
For the average rider, the internal gear hub will last a lifetime with proper maintenance and care.
Chains last longer:
In internal gear hubs, the chain stays on the same gear at all times. It doesn’t move as the gear changes; this allows for a more even gear change and smoother one.
The chain always runs in a straight line too, it puts less wear and tear on the chain and prolongs the life of the chain. With an internal gear hub, you can get 20,000km out of the chain before it needs replacing; this is ideal for touring and commuters.
However, when a derailleur, your bike chain takes a lot of wear, and the chain flexes every time you change gear. Plus, when you’re cycling, the chain runs are an angle, putting a lot of strain on the chain, causing wear and tear.
You have to replace the chain much more often when using a derailleur, whereas it will last much longer with an internal gear hub.
You can shift while stationary:
This is an absolute lifesaver for both tourers and commuters– if you’ve ever stopped in high gear, you’ll know the feeling; it’s so hard to get moving again and puts unnecessary strain on your knees.
You can shift gears while you’ve stopped with internal gear hubs, no pedaling to change gear, and it’s super helpful when you’re in stop-go traffic in the city.
You can shift at any time, making it brilliant for hills and stop going while cycling in a built-up, busy city.
You can shift multiple gears at once:
Along with being able to shift while stationary, you can also shift multiple gears at once. If you hit a rocky patch or need to brake quickly, you can shift down 7 speeds without having to worry about ti damaging the chain.
You can’t do this with a derailleur as you can badly damage the chain and cause it to drop.
The rear wheel is stronger:
Internal gear hubs actually make the rear wheel stronger because the spokes are spaced symmetrically and are at the same angle on both sides of the wheel. This also means the spokes are short and therefore create a stronger wheel.
As a result of a stronger wheel, you can carry more weight without the worry of damaging the spokes, these benefit bike tourists and commuters the most, especially those who like to carry a lot of gear over the rear wheel.
Internal gear hubs are compatible with belt drives:
Belt drives have so baby benefits for cyclists, and an internal gear hub is compatible with them. They are quiet, clean, lightweight, durable, and long-lasting.
It also prolongs the internal gear hub’s life, and many cyclists can get 30,000km out of the belt drive before it needs to be replaced; the belt doesn’t even require any lube or degreaser like most chains.
You can ride in all conditions:
Thanks to the hub being completely sealed, there’s no worry about any mud, snow, ice, sand, or debris from getting into the gears.
This is again less maintenance for the rider as well; you don’t need to be cleaning your drivetrain constantly; it is ideal for riding all year round or riding through deserts and snow.
An internal gear hub offers a great amount of engineering and precision; it is almost like a work of art. You can feel the kind of quality you’re getting in every pedal stroke.
If you’re the kind of rider that wants to have the best, most advanced gear, then an internal gear hub is for you.
You can use it with a coaster brake:
Another brilliant feature of internal gear hubs is that you use them with a coaster brake. A coaster brake will further simplify your bike and reduce any further maintenance too.
Some internal gear hubs even integrate coaster brakes within the hub.
Drawbacks of using internal gear hubs:
Just like with any advancement, it comes with some drawbacks, and here is some:
More expensive than IGH:
As you’re paying for top-quality technology and longevity, internal gear hubs tend to cost a lot more money. For example, the Rohloff gear hub is around $1600, and that’s just for the gear hub alone; it doesn’t include the bike.
You’re definitely paying for longevity as a Rohloff gear hub will do 100,000km before it even shows signs of needing to be replaced.
However, the more budget-friendly options like Shimano Nexus or Alfine are much cheaper at around $200-$400. They will do around 15,000km before they need replacing too.
Most gear hubs last a rider a lifetime before they need replacing, which tends to outweigh this con. Despite them being more expensive than derailers, they last much longer and of much higher quality.
Despite gear hubs lasting a long time and being ideal for all weather conditions in some cases, they can actually be less efficient. Some can be up to 10% less efficient than derailers.
This essentially means that you lose energy in every power transfer from gear to gear because you can pass through multiple gears without pedaling.
Although there is no question that this difference is minimal, and if you consider that derailers damage the chain, don’t last as long, and don’t allow you to change gear while stationary, then internal gear hubs still win every time.
The main drawback of the IGH is that it has less hub gear. The Rohloff Speedhub has 14 speeds, whereas most modern derailleur bikes have around 27 or more speeds.
This is a major drawback for the IGH over the derailleur as you may not find the right gear for the terrain you’re riding, making the bike less efficient and putting more strain on the rider.
There is also less gear range; this is the difference between the lowest and highest gears. The Rohloff has a gear range of 526% and despite this still being high, modern 27-speed derailleurs have around 500-600% gear range.
Lower, more budget-friendly IGH’s have a gear range as low as 200%, which is another massive drawback as you may struggle to cycle up steep hills or achieve top speeds.
The main drawback of internal gear hubs is that they’re heavy. This is because of the design’s added gears and complexity; this added weight goes into the wheel and slows you down slightly.
If you’re looking for a lightweight bike, then I would recommend sticking with a derailleur. This often makes IGH much slower, which isn’t ideal in touring.
The IGH is also very loud and noisy as the gears change, which isn’t ideal for everyone, so if this is an issue for you, then just stick to the derailleur.
Servicing is complicated:
Most modern gear hubs cannot be repaired by the cyclist or even the bike shop sometimes; if there’s an issue with the IGH, you have to send it back to the manufacturers.
Companies like Shimano would recommend replacing the internals; this can be quite an inconvenience if you’re touring abroad or cannot send packages due to postal efficiency being poor.
If your IGH breaks, then it isn’t easy to repair. But to prevent this from happening, I would recommend regular maintenance such as changing the hub oil or replacing the sprocket in the chain.
So, are internal hub gears better than a derailleur?
Yes and no, it all depends on what you’re using your internal gear hub for. If you’re touring and don’t mind the internal gear hub slowing you down a smidge, then go for the IGH.
Internal gear hubs also tend to last you much longer than a derailleur would; they’re less invasive, less likely to damage the chain, you can switch multiple gears while stopped, and they can be ridden in any condition.
In terms of convenience, maintenance, and overall ease of use, internal gear hubs are one of your best options; however, they tend to be much more expensive, and they’re hard to repair when damaged.
But this doesn’t matter for how many kilometers you get out of the IGH and the durability of the hub gear as a whole in comparison to the derailleur.
It is completely up to you which one you decide, but for commuters and tourists and when it comes down to internal gear hubs vs. derailleurs, hub gears win every time.