As you guys know, I’m a big fan of gearbox drivetrains. Almost all of my journeys around the globe have been without derailleurs and chains. But in a head-to-head battle between the two most popular options, the Rohloff Hub vs Pinion Gearbox – which one comes out on top?
This will likely be the internet’s most thorough analysis of these bicycle gearbox systems – but did you expect anything less? We’ll assess 18 different criteria to find out, once and for all, which is the ultimate bicycle gearbox!
I am going to focus on the 18-speed version of the Pinion gearbox for this comparison, but it’s worth noting that you can get them in 6, 9 and 12-speed versions too.
1. Gear Range
Your bike’s gear range determines the speeds at which you can pedal your bike. Gear range gives us an idea for how easy it will be to climb hills, cruise along on the flat and whether you’ll have enough gearing to pedal on the downhills too.
A Rohloff has a gear range of 526% while the Pinion offers 636% – the widest gear range for any bicycle!
Using a Rohloff hub with a low drive ratio, you can comfortably pedal up a hill at 5KPH in the smallest gear. When you shift to the largest gear, you will top out at about 45KPH. The Pinion gearbox, with its extra 21% gear range, provides 21% more top-end speed – so you can still pedal right up to 54KPH.
Winner: Pinion P1.18 (1)
2. Gear Steps (Jumps)
The Pinion gearbox and Rohloff hub have even gear steps (or jumps) of 11.5% and 13.6% for the latter.
The best way to understand what these numbers mean is to translate them to cadence, which is the number of times your cranks spin per minute. When you change the gears on your bike, your cadence becomes faster or slower for every shift. Ideally, we want the smallest possible cadence changes because it allows us to maintain the cadence we prefer, without a big change in speed.
With a cadence difference of 9RPM for every shift, the Pinion gearbox is as good as it gets for a wide-range bicycle drivetrain. It’s slightly harder to find the perfect cadence with the Rohloff hub, as the cadence difference when you shift gears is 11RPM.
For reference, a 2X11 derailleur drivetrain offers an 11RPM difference, and 1X12 has a 13RPM difference.
Drivetrain Gear Change Average Cadence Differences:
Pinion P1.18: 9RPM
2X11 MTB: 11RPM
3X10 MTB: 11RPM
Rohloff Speedhub: 11RPM
1X12 MTB: 13RPM
2X10 MTB: 13RPM
Pinion C1.12: 14RPM
Winner: Pinion P1.18 (2)
3. Drive Efficiency
We have run lab tests to determine how much of your pedal power is lost in different gearbox drivetrains.
The Rohloff hub is the most efficient available, with an average efficiency of 94.5% across all gears. The Pinion has a few more losses in the system so it averages out at 90.5%.
When it comes to the Pinion gearbox, it is understood that the large crankshaft seals, faster rotating internal cogs, smaller front chainring and faster chain speed are the most likely sources of the extra friction.
Winner: Rohloff Speedhub (1)
The Rohloff hub works out to be about one kilogram lighter than the Pinion gearbox. The hub and associated components are around 700 grams lighter, but there is also around 300 grams extra frame weight required to house the Pinion gearbox.
Winner: Rohloff Speedhub (2)
5. Drive Noise
The Rohloff hub is notorious for producing noise in some of its gears, in particular, gear seven. The Pinion gearbox is not completely quiet – it still makes a slight whirring sound – but it’s certainly less pronounced, especially in the lower half of the gear range.
Winner: Pinion P1.18 (3)
6. Gear Pickup
Gear pickup determines how quickly your drivetrain engages when you start pedalling. On most bikes, you’ll notice a small clunk when you apply power to the pedals, which is usually the pawl system in your rear hub engaging. Ideally, we want instant engagement, but bike hubs usually offer between 24 to 36 engagement points per wheel revolution.
The Rohloff and Pinion have a different number of engagement points depending on the gear selected. The Rohloff has the most engagement points of the two – between 16 and 54 – while the Pinion has between 14 and 22.
But the Pinion gearbox also needs to engage at the rear hub when you pedal, so ideally, you’ll want a hub with the most engagement points possible to minimise any drivetrain ‘slop’. The Onyx hub wins this competition with its instant-engagement sprag clutch design.
Winner: Rohloff Speedhub (3)
When you change gears with the Rohloff shifter, there are varying levels of shifting resistance as you engage different sections of the gearbox. The Pinion shifter has a lighter shifting action across all gears, making it a bit nicer to use.
Winner: Pinion P1.18 (4)
8. Oil Changes
Both gear systems operate inside a sealed oil bath, and you’ll need to change this oil periodically. It’s a very easy job to do yourself and it won’t take you more than 10 minutes. Pinion want you to change the oil every 10,000km of cycling, while Rohloff calls for 5000km intervals.
Winner: Pinion P1.18 (5)
While both gearboxes are priced incredibly high, the Pinion gearbox is undoubtedly the most expensive gearbox option.
The price difference varies a little between manufacturers, but Rohloff bikes are usually somewhere between €600 and €1000 cheaper for the equivalent bike build.
Winner: Rohloff Speedhub (4)
10. Product Refinement Period
With over 20 years of production, Rohloff has had a lot of time to iron out any kinks in their product. In comparison, the Pinion gearbox is a spring chicken, with about eight production years. While not a definitive measure of product refinement, the fact that people have been able to put huge distances (380,000km+!) on Rohloff hubs has certainly helped to develop the product.
Winner: Rohloff Speedhub (5)
The Pinion gearbox comes with a five-year warranty, while the Rohloff hub comes with just two years.
In addition, if there is a failure, it’s much easier to swap out a Pinion gearbox than it is to dismantle and rebuild a new Rohloff wheel.
Winner: Pinion P1.18 (6)
12. Retrofitting and Interchangeability
As the Rohloff hubs do not require a specially-designed frame, there are enough adapter accessories so that the hub will fit almost any bike. That makes them the perfect retrofit if you’re looking for a low-maintenance drivetrain.
You can also own just one Rohloff hub that will transfer between bikes. I’ve actually used one of my Rohloff hubs on three different builds!
Winner: Rohloff Speedhub (6)
13. Wheel Swaps
Many modern bikes have the ability to run multiple wheel sizes. A mid-fat bike is a perfect example. It can fit 26×4.0″, 27.5×3.0″ and 29×2.25″ wheels – all on the one bike!
If you wanted one super-versatile bike, you could use a Pinion gearbox and have two or three different wheelsets that you switch out depending on the terrain. In comparison, you would need multiple Rohloff hubs to provide the same versatility.
Winner: Pinion P1.18 (7)
14. Mountain Biking
If you’re looking to use a gearbox for mountain biking, you’ll want the Pinon.
A crank-based gearbox makes the most sense, by centralising weight on the bike and reducing the unsprung mass at the rear wheel – you can improve the overall suspension performance and ride dynamics of the bike.
In addition, Pinion gearboxes use smaller front chainrings, providing more ground clearance from rocks and roots.
Winner: Pinion P1.18 (8)
There is friction between the hub seal and rear cog on a Rohloff hub. As a result, you’ll find your cranks spin when you push your bike. This can put your pedals in a very awkward location when negotiating narrow tracks – so the Pinion is definitely the better option here.
Winner: Pinion P1.18 (9)
16. Electric Bikes
Almost all of the top-tier eBikes use mid-drive motors. And there is a strong case for this setup, in particular on steep gradients, where the motor can use each of your gears to optimise the torque, and therefore, optimise the range.
As the Pinion gearbox occupies the space of a mid-drive electric motor, the Rohloff hub is usually the way to go on an eBike.
Rohloff actually offers a Bosch-compatible gear shifter that tells the motor to reduce its output torque when shifting, providing one of the smoothest gear shifts of any electric bike.
Winner: Rohloff Speedhub (7)
17. Cable Changes
Pinion gear cables seem to wear out much quicker than Rohloff cables for some reason, but under daily use, you should get at least one year from either set of cables.
Gear cable changes are a much more simple process for the Rohloff hub, which is demonstrated in the tutorial video that runs for half as long.
Winner: Rohloff Speedhub (8)
18. Aftermarket Shifters
Both the Rohloff hub and Pinion gearbox come with a twist shifter, which I love, but there a few aftermarket shifters too.
In terms of Rohloff options, Cinq makes both integrated drop bar shifters and trigger shifters for flat bars. Gebla makes the Rohbox, which is a very neat shifting system that allows you to use 11-speed SRAM or Campagnolo shifters to change your Rohloff gears.
In comparison, there is only one aftermarket shifter for the Pinion P1.18, and that’s a drop bar twist shifter by Co-Motion.
Winner: Rohloff Speedhub (9)
Summary: Rohloff Hub vs Pinion Gearbox
This head-to-head resulted in a tie, with each gearbox system ending up with nine points.
There are clearly pros and cons to both gearbox systems, so ultimately, you’ll need to go through this article and weigh up the metrics that are most important to you.
For a faster and lighter build, the Rohloff is definitely the most compelling option, especially if you prefer drop bars. For a mountain bike build, you’ll definitely want the Pinion gearbox.
Otherwise, there really is no clear cut winner here – both systems offer ultra-reliable, long-distance drivetrains, and frankly, are both engineering marvels of the bike world.