Why is the Rohloff SPEEDHUB 500/14 so expensive? Is it really better than other internal gear hubs out there like Shimano’s Alfine 8 or 11 or the Nuvinci/Enviolo N360 or N380? Is there another gear hub on the market worth using?
With over twelve years selling these high-end, German-made hubs on the American market, we often hear from customers wondering whether the benefits justify the premium price tag. While we feel that a variety of internal gearing systems are superior to derailleurs, there is no other gear hub that can be substituted for the Rohloff SPEEDHUB in terms of durability and long-term performance. Accordingly, it is our only recommendation for those customers looking to push the limits of their drivetrain with heavy usage.
This Tech Talk breaks down the differences between a few of the most popular internal gear hubs available, allowing you to decide whether or not the Rohloff is the only solution for the way you ride.
To keep things focused, we will limit the scope of this comparison to the Rohloff SPEEDHUB 500/14, Shimano Alfine 8 & 11, and Nuvinci/Enviolo N360 & N380. These hubs represent high-end (Rohloff) and mid-range (Shimano and Enviolo) options within the internal gearing market. Lower-cost options currently available are rarely suitable for the types of bikes we work with.
Note that Kindernay is not included because we have not yet had the opportunity to try one. We are eager to test one, so keep your eyes out for a future review.
What advantages does the Rohloff SPEEDHUB 500/14 have over other internal gear hubs?
- A wider gear range: Bikes with a wider gear range are easier to pedal comfortably both up and down hills, with a bigger difference between the “easiest” and “hardest” gears. The SPEEDHUB has 526% range, more than the 1x12 derailleur systems currently popular with mountain bikers, and comparable to 2 and 3x systems commonly used in the past. By comparison, the next closest option is Shimano’s Alfine 11 with 409%, followed by 380% on the Nuvinci/Enviolo N380, 360% on the Nuvinci/Enviolo N360, and 307% on the Shimano Alfine 8.
- More gears to choose from: The SPEEDHUB offers 14 gears, compared to 8 or 11 in the Alfine hubs. Having more gears gives riders the additional flexibility to maintain a steady cadence and maximize their biomechanical efficiency across a wider variety of terrain.
Note that Nuvinci/Enviolo hubs have no gear steps, and instead offer a smooth transition from easiest to hardest gear ratio, whereas all other gear hubs noticeably shift through their gears one at a time.
|Note the lack of distinct gears on the NuVinci shifter|
- Even gear steps: The SPEEDHUB offers 13.6% steps (with very minor variations) for a consistent feel that steadily increases required effort as you shift through the gears. By comparison, the steps between gears on Shimano's Alfine hubs vary widely, with some as low as 13.1% and others as high as 29.2%. Again, Nuvinci/Enviolo hubs do not have discreet gear steps.
- Better efficiency: Designed as a high-performance alternative to traditional drivetrains, the SPEEDHUB operates at 95-98% efficiency, which is comparable to a new, well-adjusted derailleur system. Other gear hubs operate with lower efficiency, with power loss on the order of 3-12% depending on the hub and gear being used. Given that the human engine is very small, and the fact that people spend substantial money to achieve even minor improvements in performance, a disparity of multiple percentage points of efficiency is quite substantial. E-bike users should note that more efficient drivetrains increase the range of electric bikes.
|SPEEDHUB efficiency varies by gear, but always exceeds that of other internal gear hubs|
- High torque capacity: The SPEEDHUB can handle an impressive 130Nm of torque, making it well-suited to the higher inputs seen in off-road use or loaded touring, and with cargo bikes, tandems, and e-bikes.
- Lower gearing: With the right sprockets, the SPEEDHUB can officially be geared lower than any other gear hub that we know of. This makes it possible to climb steep climb hills off road and climb long and/or steep climbs with a fully loaded bike without damaging the hub.
- Better load capacity: The SPEEDHUB can handle an immense amount of load, including loaded touring tandems and heavily laden cargo bikes. Nuvinci offers a heavy duty version of their hub for cargo bike use, but the Alfine hubs were developed for urban commuters, and are not recommended for heavy duty use. For off road applications, this load capacity also makes the Rohloff unit suitable for aggressive trail use, including jumps, drops, and other high-speed impacts.
- Longest lifespan: The SPEEDHUB will go forever under normal operating conditions - or at least a full human lifespan. Over the past 20+ years, some riders have logged over a quarter of a million miles on their hubs with no signs of deterioration. During this time period, no hubs have “worn out”. While we do not have specific data on Shimano or Nuvinci/Enviolo hubs, the our experience suggests these hubs were not designed to handle this much use.
All things considered, the SPEEDHUB stands out as the gold standard compared to all other gear hubs currently available. Sure, the hefty price tag is due in large part to the hubs being manufactured in Germany’s expensive labor market. However, the use of higher quality materials, more stringent manufacturing methods, and very tight tolerance requirements also account for a significant part of the premium you pay, and these factors are what make the Rohloff a superior product.
|The gold standard, indeed|
So, are these advantages worth the extra cost? Will another internal gear hub work for you?
Maybe. The answer depends on where you ride, the type of riding you do, how low your gearing needs to go, how strong you (or your motor!) are, and whether you care about how much of your power (or battery charge!) is being lost through the drivetrain. Of course, cost is a practical consideration that very few of us have the luxury to ignore.
Feel free to contact us for options if you are building a more casual-use bike and want to get away from derailleurs, but realize that there is no substitute for a Rohloff hub for high performance riding!