Muddymoles: Mountain biking (MTB) in the Surrey Hills and Mole ValleyMuddymoles: Mountain biking (MTB) in the Surrey Hills and Mole Valley

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Shimano Alfine rear hub review

Posted by Tony | December 10, 2008 | 29 comments so far

Shimano Alfine rear gear hub
After riding singlespeeds for a few years, my knees started complaining about the stresses about 18 months ago. Not particularly wanting to go back to riding gears over the winter I looked at the limited alternatives. The obvious choice was a Rohloff 14 speed hub but despite having a great reputation for reliability they are super expensive for a winter mud machine. Or does that just make me tight?

EDIT. Feb 2010. The only question that remained in my mind at the time of this review was what was the long term reliability of the Alfine hub. Well it’s almost two winters worth of riding later and the cones feel a bit notchy so it’s getting a service. £25’s worth of service (Thanks CycleWorks!). Otherwise shifting is still beautifully smooth and it’s all on the same chain/chainring/sprocket. So not invincible but not too bad.

Fortunately for my wallet, at about this time Shimano released the Alfine, an upgrade of the Nexus 8 speed hub, with improved internals and most importantly a disc mount. Initially Alfines were like hens teeth (SJSC had bought them all) but Guy at Pearson Cycles pulled a few strings at Shimano to get me a hub.

Guy’s an old mate and he seriously took the mick—he’s a roadie at heart and was having trouble believing anyone would want to put anything as heavy as an Alfine on their bike. I think he was further taking the mick when he built up the hub with a full ‘freeride’ Mavic 327 rim, possibly Mavic’s heaviest rim.

His advice was not to put this wheel onto a bike but to give it to a boat owner to use as an anchor. And so the Bike Anchor™ was born.

Next thing was the build up. I bought one of the excellent slot drop–out On–one Inbred frames; which is strange since as it turns out most of the moles seem to ride On–Ones of one flavour or another. The hub fits just like a singlespeed, but with a full length cable from the 8 speed shifter.

I used the grey axle spacer and bring the cable down the chainstay (out of the muck). A Middleburn Hardcote 32t chainring, an 18t sprocket and a track chain complete (I’m pretty certain) a strong drivetrain. This equates to a gear range of about an 11t–32t rear sprocket coverage when using a 32t middle ring.

As an aside, I only just noticed last week that the crank is a Suntour (remember their drivetrain stuff?) off my first Orange ‘Aluminium O’ which makes it 17 years old!

The rest of the build was fairly ordinary, Tora 318 fork, Tektro hydraulic stoppers, USE suspension seatpost. The final touches are slime tubes in the wheels—you don’t want to be taking off the hub on an evening ride in the depths of winter. There’s also Panaracer Trailrakers for winter riding and a lovely 15mm Snap–On ratchet spanner for adjusting the 15mm hub bolts.

Oh and don’t forget the obligatory bell. After 18 months the only change has been the removal of my ‘badge of shame’ (flat bars, a 120mm stem and bar ends) and the replacement with a 90mm stem and an oversized riser. Thanks for the ‘advice’ Matt!

So I’m sure that the two questions that you are thinking about (and that everyone wants to know) are

  1. Is it reliable?
  2. What is the shifting like?

Well reliability has been great, touch wood, so far. Even if it blows up On–One are selling new ones for £120.

I sometimes come home from a Wednesday night ride, leave the bike covered in mud and just bang off the excess before taking it out for a ride at the weekend. Next spring I might take out the internals and give them an oil bath, which seems a sensible thing to do but that’s all I’m planning.

Shifting—this is weird at first, for two reasons. Firstly its reverse–normal which takes a while to become instinctive, especially when you are swapping bikes. You find yourself grabbing a higher gear in an emergency when you want the opposite until you’ve reprogrammed your mind.

Secondly shifting in all but the direct gear (4th) can be so quick and smooth that you can sometimes shift again because you don’t think that the gear has changed. Remember that you don’t need to be pedalling to change gear either, a very handy feature.

Basically Alfine hubs—recommended.

You can see a couple of photos of my Inbred 456 with Alfine rear hub on Flickr.

Filed under Components, Reviews in December 2008

Tony

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  1. DaveW says:

    I do like the idea of this – I’m currently trying out this singlespeed lark and if I don’t get on with it plan to build up something similar – 8 gears is enough really. Maybe on a Dialled Love/Hate or Orange P7 frame

    (Sorry to be pedantic, but surely that aint a 456 as it has a slot dropout…)

  2. Tony says:

    Hi DaveW

    I do like the look of the Love/Hates and was very tempted to get one but went for a slot dropout Inbred since they ride great, are cracking value and it keeps everything simple.

    P7 dropouts look a little weedy for my power/levels of lard!

    Tony

  3. dom says:

    I’ve just bought a Cannondale Bad Boy 8 Ultra, with Alfine 8 speed hub. When setting off from lights in any gear above 4th, I get a lag or spongyness on the pedals as I apply pressure to ride away, even though I haven’t changed gear. I get instant traction when setting off in 4th or below. Is this normal?

    Also when pedaling backwards in 5th and above I get a lot more noise from the hub/rear cog, but when in 4th and below I get near to no noise.

  4. tony says:

    Hi Dom

    It doesn’t sound right although telling whether you have spongyness on a MTB with Panaracer Trailrakers and mostly riding in the winter mud is tricky. But I have never seemed to have noticed that effect. I’d suggest trying another one (at the shop you bought it) to see if it’s you particular hub or a general hub issue. All that said, against, it doesn’t sound right.

  5. Dean says:

    Hi Tony

    I’ve been thinking of changeing to an internal hub gear system. I looked at the Rohloff but as you said, it is expencive.

    I ride an Orange pro 5 do you know if the alfine would work with it being full suspension.

    I ride on some fairly rough terrain and I also do some jumping, do you know if it would stand upto this.

    Thanks Dean.

  6. tony says:

    Hi Dean

    I very much suspect that the Alfine wouldn’t work with an Orange Five (the many muddymoles with Five’s would probably be horrified at the very thought). You would have to use a chain tensioner and also look if the dropouts could handle the directionsal spacers. The other thing that would be an unknown would be how the suspension would handle a big lump at the end of a swingarm – no idea! No full susser manufacturers seem to produce one – there probably is a good reason why. I’d go for a hardtail frame with a hub gear. Tony

  7. Dean says:

    Hi Tony

    Just thought I’d let you know I had the alfine hub fitted to my orange 5, it works fine. Though I had to have a chain stay (Went for the Rohloff chainstay) and a chain tensioner fitted. It’s a bit heavier than deraileur gears but I’m really happy with how it performs.

    Dean.

  8. tony says:

    Cool. Dean it sounds like you are going to have one of the most unusual bikes out there. A geared full susser – have you created a new niche! My Alfine has sat covered in mud since my last really muddy ride in Feb. I’ll get around to cleaning it sometime before next winter. The joys of hub gears.

  9. simon says:

    I’ve fitted an alfine to an Identiti Mr. Hyde. Both frame and hub work brilliantly! I also have an Orange 5 which, having read the above comments, I will fit one too also.

    4th seems to be the ‘roughest’ gear. I think the instructions mention gear noise.Haven’t got the other problem with the gears.

    Conclusion:- Wouldn’t go back to mechs of any make. 8 gears is plenty.

  10. tony says:

    Hi Simon

    4th is the direct drive which apparently (I’m no engineer) is the reason why it’s rougher than the others. I think you change to/from the hub gears (reduction or multiplication) at this point, this has an effect too.

    Glad to see that you are getting on well with it. I haven’t ridden the Inbred for two months (since a particularly muddy ride). It’s more like California than England out there on our trails and hence the Inbred winter bike has not seen much service. I did clean the bike this weekend though (two months of dried cack!). It took ages to get the chain moving smoothly again due to the rust and crap on it but the Alfine was absolutely fine. Excellent.

  11. Dean says:

    Hi Guys

    I’ve posted some photos on flickr of my orange pro 5 with alfine hub.

    http://www.flickr.com/photos/38521204@N03/3544046068/

  12. tony says:

    Hi Dean

    That looks very neat. Maybe Matt should bin that fragile XO rubbish off his Orange for something more robust 🙂 although I won’t be holding my breath!

  13. Matt says:

    Dean, can’t fault the colour of the bike, good choice!

    I’ll stick to my X0 though, thanks very much – my Five is already heavy enough with Pikes on the front even though your Alfine set up is waaay more reliable.

    I reckon people would be quite interested to hear how you get on with an Alfine hub on a full suspension bike.

  14. Dean says:

    Hi Matt

    The alfine hub works perfectly on a full suss bike but you do need a chain tentioner and a chain stay fitted, you wouldn’t need either of these if the alfine was fitted on a hard tail.

    I have an alfine chain tentioner fitted but the chain stay on the crank ring is from rohloff.

    It’s great on the trails, no slipping gears, quick clean gear change and it performs really well on the jump park especially where the jumps are close together so you can change gear quicker, go faster and jump higher, at least that’s been my experience.

    There is no quick release but removing and refitting the rear wheel is fairly straight forward. I have vertical dropouts on my 5, with vertical dropouts alfine use a small plastic guide on each side of the hub to prevent the hub axis rotating (That’s the blue and green plastic things each side of the hub)

    It is a bit heaver than a derailleur system, I notice this if I pick the bike up but I can’t say I notice this when riding. You also need to carry a 15mm spanner if you want to remove the rear wheel.

    One other thing if your pushing really hard on the pedals, especially up hill and you change into a higher gear sometimes you have to ease of pedalling slightly to allow the gears to change.

    I think the plus points out weigh the negative with the alfine, that just about sums things up.

    If any one is thinking of fitting one to a full suss and you have any questions give me shout.

    Dean.

  15. Tyler says:

    Hi,

    has anyone tried one of these hubs with a twin chainring upfront. Im looking at doing it and just wanted some thoughts……

    Thanks

  16. tony says:

    Hi Tyler

    I presume you mean a Sram HammerSchmidt? This would work with an Afline to effectively double the gear range however I think that you need ISSG (or whatever) chainguide tabs on your frame to run it, hence I can’t do it. Looks interesting but it’s no somethime I’m too bothered about for this bike since I can get up everything Surrey has to throw with the Alfine. Let us know if you try one!

  17. Tyler says:

    No, it wouldn’t be a hammerschmidt, just a normal husslefelt 2 chainring crankset.

    Where abouts do you live in Surrey? Ever been up Swinley Forest?

  18. tony says:

    Hi Tyler

    The trouble with putting on the standard double chainring is that you have to put on a really big chaintensioner and it sort of defeats the point of the excerise of having a hub gear! With a Hammerschmidt you can use it without a tensioner on a sliding dropout frame I think.

    We ride from Bookham in Surrey over the Northdowns/Leith Hill/Pitch etc.. and we’ve ridden around Swinley quite alot recently – search the website.

  19. Paul says:

    I’ve just got an Alfine on a Mavic rim with all the kit needed to install from Superstar components – I’m thinking it could be just the thing for winter riding in Northamptonshire – nice heavy mixture of mud, clay and sand that wrecks anything exposed!

    It’ll be fitted to a frame with vertical dropouts – I’m hoping that I can route the cable the same way you have so as to avoid as much muck as possible – did you have any issues with the routing affecting the changes or putting extra strain on the “arm”?

  20. tony says:

    Hi Paul

    I saw the SuperStar deal too – definitely the cheapest way to get into Alfine ownership. Great deal. The routing I came up with didn’t seem to put any strain on the shifting and since it’s a clear routing it should be the smoothest of changes.

    Good luck

    Tony

  21. Paul says:

    Hi Tony – successfully fitted to my “ratty” Giant Yukon – only had time to have a couple of quick spins round local route – impressed – back end gets a bit heavy but I still managed to bunny it (with Spuds on!) – Alfine feels like a quality piece of kit – though the changer “arm” etc feels a bit tatty – but replacements are cheap enough. I managed to rotate everything point the cable up the seat stay. Think I will need to fiddle the chainline a bit – how did the On-One work out as I see the theoretical chainline for the Alfine is 43mm and the On-one was designed for a 50mm chainline ……….can you see where I’m going with this? Me wantee On-one!

  22. tony says:

    Hi Paul

    I’ve been generally very impressed with the Afline. A couple of seriously muddy rides per week right through the winter without any problems. The chainline on the On-One isn’t quite perfect but it’s close. Having seen how many On-Ones the Moles have you’ll have a good idea what we think of them!

  23. Muddymoles says:

    Ahhh! chainsuck!!!

    What is chainsuck and why do some bikes suffer from it more than others. The answer is not as simple as you’d think

  24. Muddymoles says:

    Shimano Alfine 11-speed internal gear hub – Spinal Tap?

    Shimano announce an updated Alfine internally geared hub, with 11 speeds and broader gear range. Oh and it’s lighter too.

  25. Dean Carless says:

    Hi Guys, I’ve been running my Alfine 8 on my Pro 5 for 3 years now and I’ve had no problems with it still works fine.

    I think I’m going to go back to ridding a hard tail Orange P7 maybe? Will most likely have an Alfine 11 fitted. Any thoughts on the 11, Thanks Dean.

  26. tony says:

    Hi Dean

    The Alfine 11 is lighter, with better bearings, easier to service and has more gears. Not much not to like there. Although there have been a few more reports of hub failures than with the 8sp. I’d check to see what people are saying about the latest 11sp. Plus of course it’s a lot more expensive.

  27. Dean Carless says:

    Hi Tony

    I managed to pick an new 11 up for £250 for the hub which I thought was quite good. I figured for this price it was worth a punt. I collect the P7 tommorow but I think initially I will run the 11 on my 5, will keep you informed, Thanks Dean.

  28. Pingback: Ahhh! chainsuck!!! | Mutterings, Lifestyle | Muddymoles: Mountain biking (MTB) in the Surrey Hills and Mole Valley

  29. Pingback: Shimano Alfine 11-speed internal gear hub - Spinal Tap? | News, 2010 | Muddymoles: Mountain biking (MTB) in the Surrey Hills and Mole Valley

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