With my all weather winter commuter bicycle needing a rebuild after 3 winters of grit and crud destroying a rim, 2 cassettes, several chains and a chain ring, I decided so splash out and convert it to a hub drive. These are said to be low maintenance and, with a hub disc brake version, rim wear friendly. Initially I had the notion to use a Rohloff hub - I have one on our tandem; it works well and has lasted. However, the 11 speed Alfine hub has been receiving favourable reviews and has the option of using 3rd party Versa brake lever/shifters which work in a similar manner to "STI" shifters with drop bars. Trawling the web again recently, I came across some favourable offers for all the bits required and so took the plunge.The Bits
The hub itself arrives without fittings. You need to buy a small parts kit, disc rotor and sprocket as well. Fortunately, PlanetX/One One were offering a "full" kit of all these bits at a good price together with Versa shifters. Their current price for full kits is £399 with trigger shifters and £499 with Versa lever shifters. The list price for all the individual bits making up these kits is £474 and £672 respectively so still not a bad deal.
In addition, I decided to buy the Alfine 39 tooth chainset and an Alfine chain tensioner. These I sourced elswhere.
I had a Grizzly 700c 36 hole rim "in stock".
280mm spokes are needed for this rim hub/rim combination - I bought SAPIM Race silver spokes - middle of the range, strong, butted spokes.
Total cost of everything listed above was a bit over £500. (A further purchase of a road specific BB7 disc brake completed the setup.)
The Alfine thus worked out a lot cheaper than a Rohloff which would have set me back at least double that without the option of drop handlebar compatible shifters.
The approximate total weight of the kit installed (incl spokes, brakes and rims, etc): ~3.6kg
This replaced stuff weighing ~ 2.8kg (Ultegra triple, V brakes). I.e. about 800g heavier.Building it all up
Unless you have your LBS do it for you, there a few hours of work to do to install the hub....
The documentation provided with the Hub recommends 3x or 4x wheel lacing - I decided on 3x. The nipple/rim angles with a wider hub with 4x are just a little severe for my taste... The wheel is built with a slight dish, unlike the Rohloff which is symmetrical. Using a wheel stand and spoke tension meter, it built up very easily.
Once built, the sprocket needs to attached. The supplied instructions are quite adequate and need to be followed step by step. Coaxing on the retaining circlip requires the judicious use of a suitably sized screwdriver and a minor amount of swearing. Fitting the disc is trivial - it slides on and is held in place with a notched screw on ring of the same configuration as that securing shimano cassettes to hubs.
The Alfine does not use an anti-rotation lever or bar; instead, its axle bolt is flatted on two sides and you are provided with special washers with flanges that engage the dropouts. These are colour coded for left and right. If you use the Alfine chain tensioner, the right hand one is not used; the tensioner does the same job. The bit of the Alfine tensioner fitting to the axle is quite bulky and I had to file down one edge of it to clear the bolt hole for the mudguard stay and then respray the exposed metal.
Once the wheel was in place, the chainset was fitted - usual Shimano external bearing bottom bracket with 2 piece crank construction. We will see how long this bottom bracket lasts - I do have a Hope ceramic replacement on the shelf for when it fails.... I shortened a chain appropriately and fitted it as short as possible and took up the slack with the chain tensioner - this is not spring loaded - you adjust it into place and tighten the bolts. The jockey wheel can be adjusted sideways with a small allan bolt - a little fiddly and you have to take care to get it straight while tightening the allan bolt....
Views of the Alfine hub built up and installed:
Close up view showing the single "pull only" gear shifting cable, chain guarded sprocket and (partly hidden) the chain tensioner.
Next came the shifters - The Versa 11 shifters look very much like Shimano STI but have instead a non sideways moving brake lever with 2 sideways moving smaller sub levers that shift up and down respectively. The levers have the same fixing method as Shimano STI making replacing the existing STI trivial - just unbolt, replace and tighten - no need to remove the bar tape, the fixing bolts and bands are the same. The gear cable fits in a similar manner - select top gear, slide the wire in from the right side and that is it. At the hub end, there is an odd shaped cable bolt that is slid onto the wire. I found the best way of installing was to select highest gear and then tension the cable manually. Position the wire in the groove around the hub where it is meant to go and slide the bolt to the position where it would slide into position on the hub, move it 1mm "shorter" and then tighten. To slip in into the notch on the hub, I positioned it so that the the shallow hexagonal nut is pointing outward and can be engaged with a correct sized hex socket. This is then used to twist the assembly so that its flats will slide into the notch and then twist it straight to engage. Once in place, the tension of the wire has to be adjusted using either the inline tension adjuster supplied or the down tube ferrule adjuster as per instructions: Simply adjust tension to align a couple of yellow dots on the hub with the shifter in 6th gear - very simple. The hub shift is spring loaded, pulling against tension shifts to a lower gear, releasing tension drops it back to a higher gear.
View of the Versa 11 shifter showing the larger, lower down shifter and the smaller up shifter above, both behind the brake lever.Impressions
The hub seems to be well built for the price and shifts easily as installed. It can be shifted while stationary and while pedaling, even when applying pressure to the pedals. As with all hubs, very heavy pressure on the pedals will prevent shifting but I have found that the Alfine is a lot more tolerant of shifting under pressure than the Rohloff. In low and high gears the geatrain has a very slight "spongy" feel as the gears take up slack in the drivetrain - I suspect this may lessen as they bed in - it did with the Rohloff. During the first 100 miles of usage, there was the occasional "hiccup" when pedaling after a gear change, especially in the 4-6 range (around 1:1 = gear 5), presumably due to the geartrain reseating after shifting. Occasionally, there is loss of engagement between gears when shifting for about 1/2 crank revolution. These phenomena have become less frequent as the gears have bedded in but not yet disappeared. Since I now expect them occasionally, they do not bother me over much. The gear ratios are about right. With a 39 tooth chainring and a 20 tooth sprocket the range is from 27" to 113". This compares with 31-118" for the 10 speed 12-27 triple that the hub has replaced. The lower 27" gear is occasionally helpful, especially up a 10% incline against a westerly gale as happened this last week. The 113" means spinning at 100rpm to achieve 54kph (34mph). I tend to spin out at about 120rpm giving a max pedaling speed of about 64kph/40mph) The slightly shorter Alfine cranks (170mm as opposed to my usual 175mm) mean a few more RPM but the difference is otherwise not detectable.
The "straight through" gear is gear 5, giving me about 53". On the commute this is about ideal for spinning up the hills which average between 3 and 6%. For my sort of terrain, this gearing is therefore about right.
The Versa shifters are (as are most things!) a compromise. The longer, lower down shift lever needs a good swing (compared with the Ultegra STI) to shift and I had to keep reminding myself to do so - the degree of swing is almost what one would use on a double shift with the STI. It will shift only one gear at a time. However, once you get the hang of it it works positively each time. Up shifting is a matter of a touch to the upshifter lever situated above the down shifter. The position is ideal for the index finger knuckle when on the drops but needs a slightly more awkward reach when on the drops. Up shifting is therefore very easy, fast and at a touch (when on the hoods) while down shifting requires more movement of the lever. However, the system is
integrated into a lever on the drops and that is the biggest bonus, being able to shift without moving your hand off the hood or drop.
So far I have used the bicycle on my commute. This gives a good mix of terrain (over 2500' climbing in 36 miles). Speed wise, i cannot say there is much difference between old and new geartrains. The first day the commute took a total of 2h19 (avg 24.8kph). The next day was slower (23.5kph) due to bad headwinds. Realisticly, there probably is not much difference between the previous and current geartrain; at worst 1kph in the hills?
Overall, my impressions are favourable and for a winter commuter such as this has been used for it is fine and, I think, better than a Rohloff would have been since 1. I use drop bars and 2. it shifts better under pressure.Verdict
* So far so good - we will see how it survives the grit and muck in the winter. Price/Quality point about right.Pros
* Not difficult to build up and set up.
* Seems well made - time will tell.
* 11 well spaced gears with a good range. 53" 1:1 is good for hill climbing (the Rohloff has 1:1 on gear 11 which is better for flat riding)
* Shifts quite well under pressure (Better than Rohloff)
* The integrated Versa brake/shifter does what it says on the box and works well.Cons
* Up shift lever slightly out of the way when on the drops.
* Occasional glitches and disengegement when shifting.
* Expensive (but not nearly as expensive as a Rohloff and not much more than good quality triple)Appendix 1:
Gear ratios, gearing and speed at cadence.
(39x20 and 700c28 tyre assumed)
|| Gear||| Ratio ||| Inches||| kph@100rpm|| ||
|| 1||| 0.527||| 27.8||| 13.3|| ||
|| 2||| 0.681||| 35.9||| 17.2|| ||
|| 3||| 0.770||| 40.5||| 19.4|| ||
|| 4||| 0.878||| 46.2||| 22.1|| ||
|| 5||| 0.995||| 52.4||| 25.1|| ||
|| 6||| 1.134||| 59.7||| 28.6|| ||
|| 7||| 1.292||| 68.0||| 32.6|| ||
|| 8||| 1.462||| 77.0||| 36.9|| ||
|| 9||| 1.667||| 87.8||| 42.0|| ||
|| 10||| 1.888||| 99.4||| 47.6|| ||
|| 11||| 2.153||| 113||| 54.3|| ||