Why the Rohloff Speedhub is (secretly) inferior

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meandros
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Why the Rohloff Speedhub is (secretly) inferior

Postby meandros » 25 Oct 2019, 11:10am

I have been servicing Shimano IGHs for years and using only Alfine Inter-11 on all my bikes. I'm very familiar with the inner workings and the materials used in these hubs.
This year, out of curiosity, I got my hands on a Rohloff of my own and started tearing it down. First major issue with these hubs is the way the cog is mounted in that it always leads to stuck/welded shut cogs. To solve the issue, Rohloff simply designed an adapter to fit a splined cog. However, for the older hubs that got stuck threaded cogs, Rohloff will not take responsability and will not even sell the pieces that were damaged by their own faulty design! They want you to spend lots of time and pennies on sending the _entire_ hub to their service for a job so easy. That is absurd and shows the thinking behind this company which is NOT customer friendly at all. They will not help and they require a lot of personal information before attending to the issue presented to them.

Having taken apart dozens of Alfine and Nexus hubs and seeing them in all stages of wear and tear and having disassembled the Rohloff as well, down to the axle, analizing the quality of materials used and the manner of assembly, I can safely say the materials used in the Rohloff are of inferior quality to the steel used in Alfine hubs. The Rohloff is lighter because it uses weaker materials such as aluminium for the carriers and even plastic for roller bearing sleeves and contact pins etc. Rohloffs not only leak but also require regular seal replacement. The original oils used are inferior and cause the accumulation of debris/muck that require the complete disassembly of the hub in order to have a proper cleaning.

The hub has considerably more drag than the Alfine 11. I came across a graph that said the opposite, but in real world use, the Alfine runs circles around it regarding responsiveness and operational noise. The construction of the Speedhub is also less tidy than the Alfine's, requiring skilled hands and/or original tools to get it right. The individual cogs inside the Speedhub 500/14 are not held together in compartimentalized sub-assemblies as the Alfine, instead they are just fit together loosely using their original tools (that only Rohloff has!). Luckily, there are tutorials online with brave souls having attempted and succedeed in slaying this beast and one attempting it can get pretty close but ultimately solely relies on the skill of their hands as the timing for the cogs is a nightmare (Rohloff use paint that comes off to time the cogs, once that is gone, and it always is with older hubs, one is pretty much... stuck: this was my case and the whole procedure of putting the times cogs back in gave me some more gray hairs. Shimano have the timed cogs in sub-assemblies that do not require re-timing them, unless one really commits to it.

I have never come across an Alfine 11 that skipped for any other fault than the cable tension/setting being off. If Shimano could somehow get the shifting to be more easy to setup and reliable in very cold climates (Rohloff's 2-cable solution is primitive yet effective - which should be the logo for them!) I reckon Rohloff would go out of business within the decade. As it is, Rohloff AG are hanging on to an inferior product solely because they have the service cornered and refuse to sell individual internal parts. Just to note, I adapted the Rohloff driver to fit regular Shimano 3-splined cogs (simply the best!).

The external bits and stuff are ridiculously expensive and not so easy to get for most of the world. Even the disc rotor has a special mount (4 bolts) and is cheaper to have one CNC'd than buying the original stuff.

In conclusion, I am thoroughly disappointed with the Rohloff Speedhub: it is inferior to the competition and they have a strangle hold on the service such that it requires a premium just to have the thing fixed because of their own design fault. Having been through this, I think the Alfine 11 is both affordable and very reliable, easily fixable and parts available. One thing is most certain to me:

The Speedhub myth is busted!
Last edited by meandros on 25 Oct 2019, 11:58am, edited 1 time in total.

pwa
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Re: Why the Rohloff Speedhub is (secretly) inferior

Postby pwa » 25 Oct 2019, 11:53am

But they work, reliably and with no fiddling to get them indexing, unlike numerous Shimano systems on this Forum over the years.

Brucey
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Re: Why the Rohloff Speedhub is (secretly) inferior

Postby Brucey » 25 Oct 2019, 11:54am

Deliberately provocative no doubt; I agree with some of the points you raise but by no means all. In addition there are things you didn't mention.

Acetal is a commonly used material for roller cages; there is no better in fact for this type of bearing, in this service. [Shimano have just changed to using acetal for several bearing clips in their hubs....] Aluminium is a great material for some parts and if it is done right that includes planet cages in IGHs. [Shimano tried using aluminium in some IGHs, but since (for various stupid reasons) they couldn't be sure that the planet pinions wouldn't spin their pins, they soon abandoned this idea....]

The alfine 11 has its good points but it is riddled with design compromises; I have not yet stripped one that had seen hard use where there wasn't "quite a lot" of swarf in the oil, and much of it seems to come from the thrust reaction arising from the use of helical cut gears in the primary two-speed reduction gear. These loads appear in all gears 1-6. I've seen plenty (of Alfines 8,11 and Nexus 8) where if you set the hub 'correctly' the gears would slip, and only a deliberate misadjustment would allow good running with no slippage.

The things that go wrong with Rohloff hubs are actually very often parts that are easy to replace. I bought one (as a wreck more or less) a couple of years ago. It wasn't that difficult to work on internally, as it turned out. It needed four cartridge bearings (two of a common type, two that were special order but still not expensive) , some oil seals, a gasket, a good clean inside and new cables, and then it was good to go again. Total bill for parts (excluding sprocket and chain) was less than £50. If two of the bearings (the cheapest ones as it happens) had been replaced in good time much of the collateral damage could have been avoided.

My view has always been that the Alfine hubs are 'good for the money they cost' but actually have as many issues as any other IGH does when you scratch the surface. I've been inside these hubs, ridden them, and I still think the Rohloff is a better hub.

cheers
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PH
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Re: Why the Rohloff Speedhub is (secretly) inferior

Postby PH » 25 Oct 2019, 11:57am

meandros wrote:The Speedhub myth is busted!

Lots of theory, what's your practical experience? My hubs, Shimano and Rohloff are for riding not playing with.

meandros
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Re: Why the Rohloff Speedhub is (secretly) inferior

Postby meandros » 25 Oct 2019, 12:21pm

Dear Brucey,

Thanks for taking the time. As always, your points are valid and there is no doubt that, apparently, the Speedhub is the "better" hub but my point is that is due to a sole design difference between the two: indexing. If Shimano take the time to refine their one cable approace and take the indexing to the hub then it would be more evident the Alfine is the best hub. A fiddly, inferiorly assembled, overly-complicated hub design such as the Speedhub has it's saving graces by an overy-simplified twist shifter (the Alfine shifter is more ergonomic). Now, I'm sure this is a Shimano fixation as they churn out all sorts of shifters and it's harder for them to go the opposite way and simplify just the Alfine's; I mean, even with all it's design compromises, as you write, change that one crucial bit and the whole thing turns around. And while we are at it, let's not forget Shimano's other fixation: cup n' cone bearings. One interesting bit though: if I close the A8/11 with just a bit of play in the axle and use the centerlock ring to tension it back up, the whole spin is way smoother, with equal pressure on both sides of the rolling bearings cages. What I am trying to get at really is that the Shimano takes way more experience to set up _correctly_ and the manual is not actually very precise on the whole setup procedure but on the other hand it is extremely well build and using such high quality materials and assembly that even with those design compomises it makes up for a cheap hub for the money (if the Rohloff's price is justified), capability and availability. I mean, I have saved some extremely rough hubs, I mean rough and I got the pictures to prove it too :)


p.s. just as a side note regarding lubrication. I think it is safe to say both the Alfine or Speedhub recommended methods and products are sub-standard and the SFG method you propose, Brucey, is actually way more appropriate for this type of mechanism.

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Re: Why the Rohloff Speedhub is (secretly) inferior

Postby Brucey » 25 Oct 2019, 12:36pm

if that were the sole difference... but it isn't. I've already mentioned the helical gears in the shimano A11 hub. The shimano A11 hub feels noticeably more 'spongy' in the lower gears and that is partly the size and layout of the gear train and partly the use of roller clutches. You don't see the effects of this on machine-run efficiency tests but when riding uphill on an A11 hub I usually feel like I'm using one gear lower than with many other gear trains and that 'mashing' -or riding out of the saddle- is just a waste of effort.

In this respect I think A11 best suits a rider that isn't very powerful and tends to spin not mash.

Rohloff feels slightly spongy in low gears (vs the most direct drivetrains) but nothing like the A11.

BTW I have persevered with some rough hubs, including one that that was so bad that it wouldn't use 3/16" balls in the ring bearing any more; it needed 7/32" ones.... :shock: :shock:

cheers
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Ivor Tingting
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Re: Why the Rohloff Speedhub is (secretly) inferior

Postby Ivor Tingting » 25 Oct 2019, 12:49pm

My first Rohloff hub has been functioning faultlessly for just over 25k miles now. Because of this I bought a second hub for another set of wheels which is every bit as good. I question whether the OP is actually the original or first owner of the hub(s) he claims to have dismantled, for if he was then he need only contact Rohloff for them to service it and diagnose the reason for it's alleged failure whether user inflicted or a genuine component failure.

I think the OP is either a disgruntled former Rohloff employee or works for Shimano.

From my limited knowledge and research Shimano IGH owners report more problems than Rohloff hub owners. If a Rohloff hub were to fail during a long tour, unlikely, then Rohloff support and service is apparently first class, not that I have ever had to use it, but in contrast I suspect Mr Shimano would say tuff, time to buy another hub with all the problems that would entail where ever you have been stranded. For this reason many RTW cycle tourists who can afford a Rohloff hub choose them, some don't, but many do for good reason. I have never come across a long distance or RTW cyclist riding a bike with a Shimano Alfine or Nexus hub. Not saying no one has, but I have never come across or heard of one.
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rualexander
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Re: Why the Rohloff Speedhub is (secretly) inferior

Postby rualexander » 25 Oct 2019, 4:36pm

Well, there's a 50 page thread regarding the Alfine 11 and its reliability, or to be more precise its unreliability, viewtopic.php?t=64432
I don't see a similar lengthy thread detailing Rohloff problems.
Sure some folk have had trouble with their Rohloff, but not very many.

meandros wrote:...... First major issue with these hubs is the way the cog is mounted in that it always leads to stuck/welded shut cogs........

Clearly not true. It does not always lead to stuck cogs. I've never had a problem getting my sprocket off in ten years.

meandros wrote:..... Rohloffs not only leak but also require regular seal replacement.....

Also not true, some may leak a small amount but not all of them, and even if they do it's not a problem, and regular seal replacement is not something I've ever had to do.

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Mick F
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Re: Why the Rohloff Speedhub is (secretly) inferior

Postby Mick F » 25 Oct 2019, 4:46pm

rualexander wrote:Sure some folk have had trouble with their Rohloff, but not very many.
I'm no expert on them, but I do know we had a good long and informative thread about Rohloffs cracking up.

The spoke flanges cracking and breaking off.

Give me time, and I'll find the thread.
Maybe someone can remember the title and when it was.
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Mick F
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Re: Why the Rohloff Speedhub is (secretly) inferior

Postby Mick F » 25 Oct 2019, 4:56pm

I think this was it.
viewtopic.php?f=5&t=11282
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Re: Why the Rohloff Speedhub is (secretly) inferior

Postby Mick F » 25 Oct 2019, 4:58pm

3570_DSC02996_1.jpg
3570_DSC02996_1.jpg (22.43 KiB) Viewed 953 times
Mick F. Cornwall

Brucey
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Re: Why the Rohloff Speedhub is (secretly) inferior

Postby Brucey » 25 Oct 2019, 5:20pm

Ivor Tingting wrote:….. I have never come across a long distance or RTW cyclist riding a bike with a Shimano Alfine or Nexus hub. Not saying no one has, but I have never come across or heard of one.


Image
Vin Cox's bike, upon which he set a new RTW record about nine years ago. It is equipped with an Alfine 8s hub

Alfine 11s hubs which see hard service seem to have hubshells which fail near the disc mount

cheers
Last edited by Brucey on 25 Oct 2019, 10:58pm, edited 1 time in total.
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The utility cyclist
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Re: Why the Rohloff Speedhub is (secretly) inferior

Postby The utility cyclist » 25 Oct 2019, 6:05pm

With the wider OLN of disc racing frames if Shimano could design a carbon fibre shelled 'racing' gear hub with 14/15 gears in it (operated wirelessly of course) it could be the next big change in racing bikes. More aero (no front or rear derailleur), far more reliable mechanically in extreme conditions so chains coming off should never if rarely occur and a straight through selection of ratios that should make even the fully synchro of Di2 seem a bit redundant.
Aside from test riding a few 3 and 4 speed hubs when fixing up bikes the only modernish hub gear has been an 8 speed IGH and that seemed okay but still feels clonky compared to a well set up friction shifter system or STI system (8 speed campagnolo was a dream the first time I tried it).
Rohloff always came across as very, very expensive, even when comparing lifetime costs, even against Shimano 10 speed, £540 even in todays market can get you 100,000 miles fairly comfortably, less if you bought the Tiagra cassettes when they were virtually giving them away at £15 each) and certainly to 8 speed, the up front cost is difficult to justify for what it offers for many but it does give something a derailleur system doesn't which is appealing but it's still very much a niche product for a certain type of rider.

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Re: Why the Rohloff Speedhub is (secretly) inferior

Postby Brucey » 25 Oct 2019, 7:33pm

'Cost?' -it depends how you value your time really.

On an IGH bike I rarely have to do more than oil the chain (very occasionally) between replacements (at several thousand mile intervals) and that is on a machine that lives outdoors 24/7. IME most derailleur systems just stop working altogether or become liable suffer catastrophic damage if you subject them to similar levels of neglect. You certainly don't get the assumed life out of most derailleur transmissions unless a fair amount of cleaning and fettling is undertaken.

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Re: Why the Rohloff Speedhub is (secretly) inferior

Postby brynpoeth » 25 Oct 2019, 8:33pm

A Rohloff hub costs much more than an Alfine, is the difference justified? How many of each type are in use?

There is quite a lot about Rohloff problems on here but scattered over several threads, not mostly in one thread as for the Alfine

Perhaps the OP could give a bit more background (declare an interest?) as mentioned by Ivor
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