Touring bike manufacturers are slow at adopting new technologies, which is often ideal given touring bikes should be as simple, reliable and field-repairable as possible. After all, you never know where your touring bike will end up!
Up until now, the height of touring technological wizardry was the 14-speed Rohloff hub. This internally-geared hub has proven itself simple and reliable enough, squeezing all 14 gears within the hub shell, reducing maintenance and wear across the whole drivetrain.
Pinion Gearboxes For Bicycle Touring
Pinion have been engineering 9, 12 and 18-speed gearboxes that work on similar principles to the Rohloff, albeit with a wider gear range and a more centralised location. European touring bicycle brands are jumping onboard pretty quickly – Pinion say that over 50 different manufacturers now build bikes around their gearbox system.
The guys at Pinion are no amateurs. They are two former gearbox engineers for Porsche with a great idea for a production gearbox on a bicycle…
What Is The Pinion Gearbox?
The Pinion gearbox is a fully sealed oil bath of cogs located at the crankset which offer 9, 12 or 18 different gears covering a wider range than most triple cranksets. The Pinion system bolts directly onto frames designed to accommodate the technology, meaning there is no chance for a retrofit to your current frame.
– 18 gears, evenly spaced with an 11.5% increase per gear. This means smaller gaps between gears compared to Rohloff’s 13.6%
– 636% increase from the smallest to biggest gear: this is wider than a conventional 30spd setup (620% maximum), a Rohloff hub (530%) or Shimano’s Alfine 11s (409%)
– 54mm chain line. The most ideal single speed chain line (same as Rohloff)
– Oil change interval of 10,000km, or one year. The life expectancy is 60000km+
– Six screws hold the gearbox onto a frame
– 3064g for the gearbox, crank arms and the hub/rear cog
– 174mm Q-factor (crankarm to crankarm width)
Why Has This Got The Potential To Be A Game Changer?
The Pinion gearbox, in my mind, is an evenly matched alternative to using a Rohloff hub (I reserve the right to change this when I’ve properly ridden it).
Both gear systems are an alternative to a conventional derailleur drivetrain which still offers a low cost, high efficiency, low weight and, of course, easy field repairs. What the gearbox and gear hub systems offer over the conventional setup are a fully sealed system from grit, no need for gear tuning, simple singlespeed drivetrain setups, long wear life and belt drive compatibility.
New for 2014: 9 and 12 Speed Versions
Pinion have released three new versions of the Pinion gearbox. The P1.12, P1.9XR and P1.9CR. Inside the gearboxes, the P1.18 employs a 6×3 transmission, while the P1.12 is 4×3, and the P1.9 XR and CR are both 3×3. Fewer gears means less weight: the P1.18 is 2700g, the P1.12 2350g, and the two P1.9 boxes 2200g.
– P1.12 – 12 gears. Slightly less than 600% gear range. Focussed towards standard mountain biking and touring.
– P1.9XR – 9 gears with an extended range. 568% range. Focussed towards enduro mountain bikes and e-bikes.
– P1.9CR – 9 gears with a compact range. 364% range. Focussed towards urban bikes.
Comparison to the Rohloff Hub
– Wider gear range and more gears (P1.18, P1.12 and P1.9XR)
– Narrower gap between gears
– Easy to swap out entire system if there is a failure (compared to dismantling/rebuilding a Rohloff wheel)
– Heavier gear system (500-800g difference)
– Wider Q-factor than most standard cranks
– Requires a specially designed frame
What Is The Ideal Bike For A Pinion Gearbox?
Mountain bikes get the most out of the low centre of gravity and central location of the Pinion gearbox. They also benefit from the increased ground clearance (sometimes a problem for larger chainrings), the singlespeed drivetrain (which is hard to derail) and the lack of a rear dérailleur to get caught on rocks.
The rest of the advantages are also shared on touring bikes, such as the wide range of gears, the fact that the gears are sealed from the elements and the lack of chain chatter.
Pinion are touting their P1.18 gearbox towards long distance bicycle tourers, who will be able to take advantage of the extra range that the gearbox over a conventional drivetrain or Rohloff.
Does It Add Weight?
According to Patria, a Pinion-specific frame is between 100-300g heavier, depending on the type of chain/belt tensioning system.
Rohloff: Rohloff hub and shifter (1985g), Shimano XT cranks inc BB and single ring (760g), cables (250g) = 2995g
Conventional drivetrain: Shimano XT cranks inc BB (863g), shifters and cables (283g), derailleurs (160g+225g), rear hub (350g), cassette (296g), additional chain links due to longer chain (50g) = 2226g
Pinion Gearbox: Pinion P1.18 inc cables (2640g), shifter (96g), cranks (420g), rear hub (303g), chainring (37g), rear cog (42g), c-plate (235g) = 3538g
The Pinion gearbox comes out around 500g heavier than a Rohloff equipped bicycle, and adds over 1000g to the derailleur gear setup. Once we factor in the additional frame weight of up to 300g (depending on manufacturer), we are looking at 500g+ more than a Rohloff touring bike, and 1500g+ more than a Shimano XT touring bike.
When comparing Pinion gearboxes with fewer gears (the P1.9 for example) to the Rohloff hub, the weight difference is negligible.
Which Brands Should You Look To For Pinion-Ready Frames?
47 Grad Nord, Alutech, Axevo, Axxis, Azub, Belt Bikes, Bendixen, Bottcher, Bus, Velomo, Cheetah, Eighteen, Endorfin, Falkenjagd, Flitzbike, FXX Cycles, Gudereit, IDWorx, Ilogix, Jeronimo, Kocmo, Koga, KTM, Kubis, Max Cycles, Maxx Bikes, MiTech, MTB Cycletech, Musing, Nicolai, Norwid, Patria, Pilot, Poison, Portus, Protobike, Quantor, Rennstahl, Rewel, Salamandre, Santos, Schindelhauer, Seli Rahmenbau, Simpel, Saiger, Stevens, Tour de Swisse, Tout Terrain, Velo de Ville, Velotraum, VSF and Wheeldan.
The Pinion system is available on complete bikes and framesets from the above manufacturers. Price will therefore be slightly different depending on manufacturer. Looking at Tout Terrains latest price list, the Silk Road jumps from €3390 for the Rohoff Gold to €4490 for the Pinion Gold.
So at the moment it is considerably more expensive for a complete with a Pinion rather than a Rohloff, but this will change over time…
The Pinion gearbox system is a suitable alternative to a Rohloff, however is not necessarily better for bicycle touring. The real benefits of a Pinion gearbox over a Rohloff hub are better suited to the mountain bike market.
It will be interesting to see how the Pinion system is used and tested over the next few years. Small tweaks to the system over time will make it more efficient, longer-lasting and lighter. Bicycle tourers could potentially benefit greatly.