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Over the last decade, Pinion gearboxes have proven to be a tough and reliable alternative to both derailleur gears and internal gear hubs.
Pinion gearboxes are offered with 6 and 18 gears, are weather-sealed from the elements, are super quiet, are belt-drive compatible, and require very little maintenance – just an oil change every 10,000km (6200mi). They can potentially last a lifetime too; many users have already exceeded 100,000km (62,000mi).
The 2024 update addresses two key issues that have long prevented the widespread adoption of gearboxes: shifting under pedal load, and the need to use a grip shifter to change your gears.
In this article, we’ll look at the new shifter options and why they are a game-changer in this space. I’ll explain how these gearboxes shift under load, and we’ll discuss why this update tips the balance and is a derailleur killer for many riders.
The 2024 Pinion Gearboxes
The 2024 range might look identical to the Pinion C-line gearboxes but they have been redesigned to cope with stronger shifting forces, there is a new crankset design, there are integrated sensors, and the way the electronic shift cables feed into the gearbox is different too.
You can identify these new gearboxes by looking out for an “i” in the product name (eg. C1.12i), and importantly, they are not compatible with a grip shifter.
The Problem With Grip Shifters
Grip shifters have long been a sticking point for both existing gearbox users and potential new customers alike.
Some people simply don’t like grip shifter ergonomics, but more practically, they can be hard to rotate when they are wet or muddy, or when you have sweat or sun cream on your hands. They can also be a problem for those who have wrist conditions, wrist injuries, or as a result of hand fatigue from endurance cycling.
Additionally, there has never been a great way to mount grip shifters on drop bar bikes… until now.
You might have already seen the Pinion electronic trigger shifter, as it was released last year for e-bikes, and is also used with the new combined Pinion Motor Gearbox Unit.
However, the mountain bike trigger is now available for those who prefer to ride without battery assistance, and there are new drop bar shifters too. These shifters are wired to a tiny battery near the gearbox and complete gear changes in just 0.2 of a second. Like all gearboxes, you can shift gears whether you’re pedalling or not.
You might think electronic shifting is completely over the top, but it’s actually essential for shifting under pedal load. This is because the gearbox can now engage the next gear when your crankset is at the vertical position, which is when there is a natural slump in torque.
The shifts don’t feel quite as immediate as a derailleur, but they’re definitely faster than other gearboxes that require you to briefly let off pressure from the pedals. And a cool thing is that you can move from the lowest to the highest gear in about two seconds flat, which is surprisingly useful when a trail instantly pitches up.
The New Trigger Shifter
The trigger shifter has a very familiar shape, and its rubberised haptic button surfaces have an excellent grip and feel. As it’s electric, you can decide which button shifts up and which shifts down.
On a battery charge, the shifter will make approximately 20,000 shifts, which will likely last multiple months for most users. The battery is small and waterproof and can be mounted either inside or outside the frame. It’s fully charged in under three hours.
With pedal and wheel sensors, new semi-automatic shifting modes are also possible. For example, when coming to a complete stop, the gearbox can automatically shift to a start gear. Or when coasting, you can ask the gearbox to make automatic shifts based on your speed and pedal cadence. The gearbox will then have the perfect gear lined up for when you next need to pedal!
These gearboxes use a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) interface and can be connected to the Pinion Smart Shift app. This is where you can configure the shifting behaviour and button assignment, and see information about the charging status and firmware updates.
There is also an optional Sigma display that will show your gear indicator, charging status, cadence, and even turn-by-turn navigation via Komoot.
Currently, the only brands to announce using the new trigger shifter are Priority Bicycles, Viral Bikes, and VSF Fahrradmanufaktur.
The TRP Drop Bar Shifters
The trigger shifter is certainly welcome news, but the drop bar shifters might even be more exciting as they bring Pinion gearboxes to gravel bikes.
Drop bars allow you to ride in a more aerodynamic riding position that’s simply more efficient for covering distance. They also offer multiple handholds, they can be better for splitting traffic in cities, and some find the hand and wrist angles to be extra comfortable too.
Pairing drop bars and gearboxes is usually clunky at best. There are a handful of aftermarket shifters that are designed to do the job, however, the shifter throw is often long, and the shifts are usually just one shift per movement.
Yes, you can install Pinion grip shifters onto some drop bars, but then you don’t have easy access to the shifter while riding in the brake hoods. The cables sometimes even require extra maintenance as they incorporate additional springs and ratchets into the system.
The new TRP/Pinion electronic shifters have an excellent shape and pair with TRP hydraulic brakes too. Both the brake line and the cable to the Pinion Smart Shift Box run invisibly under the bar tape or inside your handlebars for a super neat look.
The only confirmed bike model with the drop bar shifter is the Pilot Scram.
What Are The Downsides of A Pinion Gearbox?
With the ability to shift under load, and the shifters now sorted, Pinion gearboxes will probably tip the balance over derailleurs and be the ultimate drivetrain for many cyclists. Imagine never adjusting your gears, destroying a derailleur, replacing a cassette, or even cleaning and lubing a chain.
So, what are the downsides?
Firstly, the Pinion gearbox price will remain high for the foreseeable future due to the product quality and overall production volumes. Expect around US $3000 or €3000 to be the starting price for a complete Pinion bike.
But it’s worth noting that the gearbox space is heating up and Korean start-up All-to is aiming to produce a competitor at a significantly lower price.
There is still a weight disadvantage of approximately 1.5kg compared to a derailleur drivetrain. However, keep in mind that bike weight matters much less than you think, and this is especially the case if you ride on flat terrain, if your body weight is on the heavy side, or if you’re already carrying lots of luggage, food, and water anyway. After all, a kilogram is often just 1 or 2% of your combined bike and body weight.
There’s also a case to be made in terms of performance for a heavier gearbox drivetrain on a full-suspension bike. When you remove the cassette and derailleur weight from the rear swingarm, the rear suspension will respond quicker to ground forces (less unsprung mass). This means better small bump sensitivity and even more grip.
A bigger concern for some is that gearboxes will never be as efficient as a clean and well-lubricated derailleur drivetrain. Some quick napkin maths suggests a derailleur bike will have you cycling between 0.4 and 0.8km/h faster* depending on the gradient, and with the same power output. But keep in mind that mud and grit can very quickly cut into this speed difference.
*6% difference in drive efficiency, 80kg rider, 15kg bike+gear, 200-watt power output, gradient between 0 and 10%.
The 2024 Pinion gearbox is a derailleur killer if you prioritise long-term durability, a wide gear range, and an ultra-low-maintenance design.
With the new trigger and drop bar shifters, you no longer need to compromise with a grip shifter. And better yet, these new shifters allow you to change gears under a pedal load.
Yes, they are expensive, but have you seen the price of SRAM XX derailleurs (US $650), chains (US $150), and cassettes (US $600)?
It will take a few years, but due to these changes, I suspect more gearbox mountain and gravel bikes are on their way. I’m also fascinated to see how other gearbox and internal gear hub manufacturers stay competitive in this space.