The Rohloff Speedhub 500/14 is an internally geared rear hub that has been servicing the demands of bike travellers for a few decades now. Inside the oversized hub shell are 14 gears which offer almost the same gear range as a regular drivetrain. These gears all sit inside an oil bath that’s sealed away from the elements. Gear shifting is completed via an easy-to-use twist shifter. As the chain does not have to move between sprockets, shifting works out to be quicker and more consistent than a regular drivetrain.
Rohloff hubs are perhaps a bit more common than you think. According to a survey of 327 cyclists that have completed bike trips over 10,000km in length, about 30% of all riders had Rohloff hubs fitted to their bikes.
I’ve personally been using Rohloff hubs on my bike adventures for about a decade. You will have seen them on my KOGA WorldTraveller, Surly LHT and Co-Motion tandem. I’ve found them to work great when the riding conditions are good and even better when they are not. I think I’d have a hard time switching back to a derailleur drivetrain for cross-continental rides after all these years.
Note: This piece was originally published in December 2011 – it’s had a makeover for 2018!
16 Reasons To Travel With A Rohloff Hub
1. The Sealed Gear Unit
Rohloff gears are hidden away, protected by the safe confines of a sealed aluminium hub shell. That makes a Rohloff hub extremely resilient against mud, grit, dust, snow and sand, and as a result, quite hard wearing.
2. The Sturdiness
Rohloff drivetrains have less parts susceptible to external damage. There are no exposed derailleurs, delicate hangers, brittle cassettes or spring-loaded shifters that can fail.
3. The Wide Gear Range
The 526% gear range provides plenty of gears to get up and over all kinds of terrain. With a Rohloff hub, you’ll be able to climb at 4km/h or motor along at 45km/h. I recommend setting the external gear ratio (chainring and cog) to something around 2:1 for mountainous terrain and between 2.5:1 to 3:1 for flatter terrain. The minimum ratio that Rohloff allow is 1.9:1 (eg. 32/17, 30,16 etc) – these ratios equate to a lower gear than almost any conventional drivetrain!
4. The Maintenance-Free Design (Almost)
Rohloff hubs should get you through a minimum of 100,000km riding before failure; many people have been known to cover far more. The only maintenance that you need to complete is an oil change every 5000km. This job is quick and easy, I can do it in about 10-15 minutes including waiting for the oil to drain from the hub.
5. The Minimal Drivetrain Cleaning Required
Getting the brushes between your cassette teeth, derailleur pulleys and chainrings is time-consuming and annoying. You can avoid almost all of this nuisance with a Rohloff drivetrain (ok, you still need to clean a singlespeed chain, but it’s much easier).
6. The Ability To Shift Your Gears Without Pedalling
You can change gears without pedalling – a particularly handy feature for a loaded touring bike. For example, you can pick your gear before you take off at the traffic lights, or select the appropriate gear for starting on an incline.
7. The Ability To Change Many Gears At Once
You can change multiple gears in one go with a Rohloff hub; the limitation is the amount of movement you have in your wrist. I can change about eight gears at once, of which I’ve had to do under rapid deceleration! That’s sandy roads for you…
8. The Equally Spaced Gear Ratios
There is a constant 13.6% ratio change between every gear, making gear changes very predictable. Other internally geared hubs offer inconsistent ratio changes to compensate for their lack of gear range.
9. The Instant Gear Changes With No Chance Of Gear Skipping
As soon as you change the gear at the shifter, the hub is instantly engaged in the next gear and ready to go – there’s no dilly-dallying around here! With the gearbox being ‘indexed’, there’s no chance of a gear slipping either.
10. The Straight Chain Line
The chain line on a Rohloff drivetrain is perfectly straight, resulting in less chain wear. This equates to a longer chain life; I know people who’ve toured well over 20,000km with a single chain.
11. The Zero-Dish Wheel Build
Rohloff hub flanges are both the same height and are spaced equally from the frame on both sides. This results in even tension across every spoke which, in turn, build a stronger wheel.
12. The Efficiency
According to independent testing, Rohloff hubs are just as efficient as a derailleur drivetrain at transferring the power from your pedals to your rear wheel (~95% efficiency). In the mud, they would presumedly be even more efficient!
13. The Simple Shifter
Rohloff hubs use a dual cable system which requires both cables to either be pushing or pulling. Unlike a conventional trigger shifter, there are no springs or moving parts, eliminating it from potential failure. Once a Rohloff shifter is set up, the cables never have to be adjusted as the gear indexing occurs inside the hub.
14. The Shorter Spokes
Rohloff hubs have a bigger shell, resulting in shorter spokes and therefore a stronger wheel for any given wheel size. Wheel strength is key for touring, as the rear wheel often takes such a heavy beating. You can read how to build a strong Rohloff wheel in my resource HERE.
15. The Carbon Belt Drive Compatability
Belt drivetrains are fantastic! Belts are silent, belts are lightweight and belts are clean (no lube/degreaser required). I normally get over 30,000km out of a belt before needing to replace it too – try getting that out of a chain! You do need to have a belt compatible frame to run this option; I’ve got a big list of them HERE. You can also read all the nitty-gritty on belt drivetrains in my carbon belt drive resource.
16. The Chain Can’t Fall Off
Given the singlespeed drivetrain, you should never experience dropped chains, chain skip or chain slap on your chainstay. All the benefits of singlespeed life but with 14 gears!
9 Reasons To Not Tour With A Rohloff Hub
1. The Noise
I think the biggest downside to the Rohloff hub is the noise that occurs in gears 1 through to 7, but especially in that 7th gear. I’ve gotten used to the light whir of these gears over the years, but I sometimes find myself avoiding gear 7 so that I can enjoy the peaceful surrounds. Rohloff hubs are perfectly quiet from gear 8 through to gear 14.
2. The Price
There’s no beating around the bush here – Rohloff hubs are expensive. Expect to pay US $1600 or 1100€ just for the hub and shifter (complete bikes start at 2500€). You’ll need to factor in the cost of a new wheel build too. I’ve always justified the cost of buying a Rohloff hub knowing I won’t need to replace anywhere near as many cassettes/chains/chainrings. The sheer number of kilometres I do (probably) makes them cheaper in the long run.
3. The Need To Send Rohloff Hubs In For Repair
Should the internal gearbox fail or you crack the Rohloff hubs outer shell, you will need to send it off to a service centre to get fixed. Provided your hub is under warranty, Rohloff normally covers the shipping anywhere in the world. This may be a deterrent for you if you’re travelling to remote locations, but in my experience, both these things are quite unlikely to happen. The only major problem I’ve had over the last 10 years was a cracked hub flange (which was likely my fault, see no.4).
4. The Need To Maintain Even Spoke Tension
When your spokes become uneven throughout the wheel, it puts a lot of stress on the tall aluminium hub flanges of a Rohloff hub. It’s important to check your spoke tension periodically, and avoid cycling with broken spokes. The result of riding with broken spokes and uneven tension is the chance of the flange breaking (see no.3).
5. The Need For Angle Drilled Rims (26″ Only)
With the short spokes of a Rohloff 26″ wheel, it’s best to use a rim from Ryde with angled spoke holes. This reduces the stress on the spoke heads at the rim and ultimately stops any spokes from breaking. You can read more about this HERE.
6. The Spare Parts Need To Be Shipped In
Need a new cog or some hub oil? You can’t just go to any bike shop to pick up. Most of the time I have to plan ahead of time and order my replacement parts online. Hot tip: I’ve found that road inner gear cables matched to standard outer brake cables work fine as replacements.
7. The Fact You Can’t Shift Under Load
While it’s not best practice to shift under load on any drivetrain, a derailleur has a much higher tolerance for it. There is a technique to shifting on a Rohloff hub where you back off on your power for a split second to make the shift. This takes a bit of time to master but becomes second nature in no time.
8. The Twist Shifter
The twist shifter divides people. The good news is that there are lots of aftermarket options as well as hacks for drop-bar bikes (check out the Rohbox). If you use flat bars you can choose aftermarket trigger shifters too. After getting used to the twist shifter, I now prefer it as I can dump up to 8 gears at a time.
9. The Extra Weight
Rohloff hubs are heavier than the equivalent high-end derailleur drivetrains. But it might not be as much as you think. I’ve calculated that a Rohloff drivetrain using chain drive adds 500 grams when compared to a 2x Shimano SLX drivetrain, and about 900 grams when compared to a 1x SRAM GX Eagle drivetrain. You can see the weight differences in detail HERE.
Other Rohloff Resources On CyclingAbout
23 Ways to Run Rohloff Shifters on Road Handlebars
2016 Rohloff Thru-Axle Rear Hub and Upgrades
Complete List of Gates Belt Drive Touring Bike Manufacturers
Gebla Rohbox: Combine Road or Mountain Shifters With Rohloff Hubs
How to Build a Strong Rohloff Wheel
Rohloff Frame Options For Custom Rohloff Builds
Rohloff Hub Oil Change Instructions and Service How-to
The Bpod PSH’R Trigger Brings Hydraulic Shifting To Your Rohloff Hub
Understanding the Different Types of Rohloff Hub
What’s The Difference In Speed Between Gearbox Systems? Rohloff, Pinion, Shimano