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Pinion is a bicycle gearbox manufacturer from Germany. In recent years, the 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, 9, 12, or 18 gears, are weather-sealed from the elements, are belt-drive compatible, and require very little maintenance – just an oil change every 10,000km. They are expected to last for hundreds of thousands of kilometres of use. I don’t even think Pinion knows the true limit.
But there has always been one part of the system that could be better: the shifter.
The Pinion Grip Shifter
For more than a decade, the Pinion gearboxes came with a grip shifter, rather than a trigger-type shifter like you would find on a mountain bike.
Grip shifters have long been a sticking point for users of the Pinion gearbox. That’s because these shifters can be hard to rotate when they are wet, or when you have a minuscule amount of sweat or sun cream on your hands (gloves definitely help here). They can also be a problem for those who have wrist conditions or injuries.
Some people simply don’t like the design and ergonomics of a grip shifter, while others find water and grit ingress at the side of the gearbox can cause headaches. The Pinion gear cables can also develop a lot of friction over time.
Additionally, there has never been a great way to mount the grip shifter on a drop handlebar.
But these downsides are now easy to overcome.
The Pinion TE1 E-Trigger Shifter
Pinion unveiled electric trigger shifting for urban e-Bikes last year.
While this shifter is powered by an e-bike battery, its shape is similar to other trigger shifters, and its rubberised haptic button surfaces have an excellent feel. The button assignment is fully customizable and it has semi-automatic shifting modes. It also makes sure to shift when your crankset is in the 6 and 12 o’clock positions (to make proper shifts under pedal load!).
And now, this technology is available for non-E-bike gearbox bikes too.
Pinion Smart Shift For MTB and Non-E-Bikes
Pinion Smart Shift is essentially a shifter wired up to a battery, and a small motor unit (just for changing the gears).
Shifting takes just 0.2 seconds at the push of a button. The system will change gears while pedalling, when stationary, and under load.
On a full battery charge, the shifter will make approximately 10,000 shifts, which according to Pinion, will last over 100 hours of riding. The battery is waterproof to IPX7 and can be mounted either inside the frame or outside. The battery is fully charged in under 3 hours.
With pedal and wheel sensors, new semi-automatic shifting modes are possible. For example, when coming to a complete stop, the gearbox could automatically shift to a start gear. Or when coasting down a steep hill, the gearbox could automatically go to the highest gear.
The Smart Shift system has a Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE) interface and can be connected to the Pinion Smart Shift app. This app allows the shifting behaviour and button assignment to be customized, along with information on charging status and any firmware updates.
There is an optional Sigma display that will show your gear indicator, charging status, cadence, and even turn-by-turn navigation via Komoot.
Drop Bar Bikes With Pinion Gearboxes
The Smart Shift system is drop bar friendly too. This is big news because it truly brings Pinion into the gravel bike world.
For those who are not aware, pairing drop bars and gearbox shifting (or internal gear hubs) is clunky at best. There are a handful of aftermarket products that are designed to do the job, but the shifter throw is often long, and the gear shifts are usually just one shift per movement.
Not only that, but they require significantly more maintenance as they incorporate additional springs and ratchets into the system.
Then there are all the different ways of mounting grip shifters on drop bars – divisible handlebars, bar-end adapters, small accessory bars, and more. While you can get used to these options, you don’t have easy access to the shifter while sitting in the brake hoods. That means that every time you want to shift, you will need to move your right hand to a different part of the handlebar. Not ideal.
With Pinion Smart Shift comes a new drop bar electric shifter – and this has got to be the best way to pair a gearbox and belt drivetrain with a gravel bike (Shimano Alfine Di2 is also good).
The TRP HYWIRE electric shifters look to have an excellent shape and pair with TRPs hydraulic brakes too. Both the hydraulic brake line and the cable to the Pinion Smart Shift Box run invisibly under the bar tape or inside your handlebars.
I suspect these new shifters alone will open Pinion up to significantly more bike brands in the gravel, commuting and touring spaces.
Can You Retrofit Smart Shift To Your Pinion Bike?
Converting existing Pinion gearboxes to Smart Shift is not possible.
Unfortunately, Pinion Smart Shift gearboxes differ internally from the grip shift gearboxes. The Smart Shift gearbox is modified to cope with stronger shifting forces, the system has a different crankset, there is an integrated cadence sensor, and the way the cables feed into the gearbox is different too.
What About Electric Shifting For Rohloff Hubs?
I asked Rohloff for a comment about electric shifting on non-E-bikes.
Unfortunately, Rohloff does not have anything coming soon, as their electric E-14 shifting for e-Bikes relies a lot on the mid-mount motor to do the controlling. I have seen various people make their own motors though, and will report on any developments.
Grip shifters have long been a deterrent in the adoption of gearbox bikes. They are not great when wet, they can chew through cables and are sometimes not ideal ergonomically. Not only that but there has never been a great drop bar solution.
The Pinion Smart Shift not only solves these problems but adds semi-automatic shift controls and the possibility of gear indication and cadence.
The product improves the shifting experience on flat bar bikes but also brings lots of possibilities for drop bar bikes. I really like the look and feel of the new TRP HYWIRE brake and shift levers.
Right, I’ll be sitting right here to watch the new crop of drop bar gearbox bikes rolling in…