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Internal Gear Boxes Making a Comeback


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When you surf over to SRAM or Shimano’s website, which button do you usually click? Mountain or road? How about comfort? This post over in the MTBR forums enticed me to click (for the first time) the comfort link on the SRAM website. The thread talked about the application of internal gear transmissions and whether these alternative gearing systems have a place in the future of bicycling. For example, Rohloff, has been developing their Speedhub internal gear box since 1996. Despite the fact that they actually work (and reliably) their popularity has been limited to only a few brave souls (actually, according to Rohloff’s website, 50,000 brave souls). Still, what’s 50,000 compared to the millions of externally geared transmissions sold? The two cons most see with the Speedhub is weight and cost.

Back to SRAM (and Shimano). The 2007 SRAM i-Motion 9 is a new internally geared hub – so new, that it’s not yet listed on the website (however, a 2007 manual in PDF form does exist). Over at Shimano, their comfort line is Nexus, again an internally geared hub. Why am I blogging about this? Because when I saw these, I saw the direction of where bicycle transmissions will go. Rather, I should say, go back; internal gear transmissions are making a comeback (that whole old-is-new thing again). Engineers today are finding ways of making this old idea work well again. Think about it: a bicycle with just as many gears but no derailleur, one chain driving two chainrings, “no derailleur drag, no chain suck, no chain drag” as one happy Nexus 8 owner professes. Think beyond the comfort bike and envision this on your XC race bike or cat 5 racing rig. Heck, downhill bikes (where weight is of no concern) have already embraced internal gear transmissions (GT iT1, Nicolai, g-boxx). Advances in material technology may one day allow this type of transmission to appear on pro tour bikes. With large companies such as SRAM and Shimano developing these systems for the mass market, along with smaller ones like Rohloff constantly thinking outside of the box, this last statement may one day see the light of day. As long as there are comfort bikes, internally geared bicycle transmissions will continue to evolve. Cost and weight will inevitably go down with time. The derailleur and chainring may be the equivalent to the horse-drawn carriage.

Related articles
Rohloff, Shimano, SRAM/Sachs and Sturmey-Archer Internal Gear Bicycle Hubs (sheldonbrown.com)
Are Internal Transmissions the Future (forums.mtbr.com)
Eurobike 2004 Photogallery (cyclingnews.com)
Pictures from Shimano and Rohloff.


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