I have loved gravel riding ever since I was a kid. Growing up on several hundred acres of family land and having a family that operated sawmills and logging companies gave me access to a lot of unpaved goodness. Back then, it didn’t matter if I was on a BMX fixed gear bike or a Sears 10 speed, I had a gravel-grinder. Fast forward more than a few years, and I was still riding gravel on what I had available which was my fully sprung mountain bike or cross bikes borrowed from friends. That all changed when I committed to riding the 2014 Trans Iowa. After registering, I knew I needed a more appropriate and dedicated gravel rig. With Trans Iowa in mind, I wanted my bike to be robust. Comfort was stressed over low weight, and reliability trumped speed. No matter your conditioning, a mechanical at 320 miles into T.I. is still a DNF. After first reading about the Rohloff Speedhub 500/14, that soon became the most difficult decision of the build. I spent well over a month researching everything I could find on these hubs and agonizing over what could potentially be a quite costly mistake. Rohloff Speedhub Cost was not the only concern. I was also reluctant to commit to something that is heavier than a standard drivetrain. In addition, I was apprehensive the gear range would not be enough for my local gravel routes which heavily feature short but steep ascents, and I worried about trusting a piece of equipment that pretty much guarantees it’s game over should it fail on course. The weight penalty (claimed by various sources to be between 1 and 2 lbs) was something I was comfortable with. In addition, the proven reliability of the Rohloff and the fact that it is pretty much impervious to mud and the elements convinced me to build the bike with a Gates Carbon belt and Rohloff Speedhub. I have now put about a year, and several thousands of miles, on the hub. It has proven to be a great investment. It has been bulletproof and incredibly low maintenance. Combined with a Gates belt, it is the perfect bike for taking out when the weather and roads are really nasty. What would be a 45 minute clean-up on a standard drivetrain requires only about 5 minutes with a water hose for this set-up. Concerns over destroyed derailleurs are a thing of the past. Rohloff Speedhub My gravel rig is steel and I run fairly fat 2.1” 29er rubber. I also have a Dynamo front hub to power my lights. Weight is only a secondary concern, and the extra added by the Rohloff has not been noticeable for the most part. There are certain situations, such as lifting or hopping the bike, when I notice the extra weight on the rear. It also sometimes makes for a lighter front end when riding with a heavily-loaded seat pack. In addition, the cables and shifter for the hub can sometimes prevent usage of a handlebar bag or roll especially if the shifter is mounted on the top of the bars as is more common. This can make getting a nice weight distribution when bikepacking difficult. The gear range covered by the 14 speed hub is really quite amazing. I have lows that can get me up long Rocky Mountain ascents with a heavy bikepacking load, and highs that let me fly on flats and descents when the bike is light. Running a 55/19 ring/sprocket combination gives me the equivalent of a 46/11 big gear and a super-low 26/32. The even spacing of the gearing makes picking the right gear easy, and the lack of crossover gears means the Rohloff has as many distinct gears as a 27 speed standard mountain group. The fact that you can shift into any gear you want instantly means your gear selection is only limited by how far you can twist your wrist. Another quickly appreciated aspect of the Rohloff’s shifting is the instant engagement when stopped. Any gear can be chosen while stopped and the Rohloff is engaged and ready when you start moving. The Rohloff does need a short stall in the pedal force while shifting. This is something you get used to very quickly, but can sometimes cause a loss in momentum on sprinter hills, especially if you choose the wrong gear on your first shift. OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA A perhaps underemphasized plus to this set-up is its quietness, especially in the higher range gears. There’s nothing like the tranquility of cruising down a carless country road with the only sounds being your breathing and the gravel beneath your tires. Even in muddy conditions that would have other drivetrains squealing for mercy, the belt-driven Rohloff quietly propels you into happiness. I have sometimes gotten a very slight belt hiss after extended usage in dry, dusty conditions, but this is easily remedied with a light shot of silicon spray. Based on my experience with the Rohloff so far, I am extremely happy with my decision. The hub has been extraordinary. The use of the Gates belt has elevated it even higher. The hub/belt combination scoffs at weather that would wreak havoc on chain/derailleur set-ups, it is extremely low-maintenance, offers a very impressive gear range, and the lack of chain means no greasy mess next time you need to change a tire. The Rohloff/Gates just might be the ultimate adventure bike drivetrain.
Pros Cons
Low maintenance Shifter position can prevent usage of bar bags
Works great in all conditions Heavier than a derailleur drivetrain
Wide gear range Cost (approx. $1500 for the 135mm disc version)
Quiet Parts are not as readily available and shops are not as familiar with the Rohloff
Instant gear engagement
No more chain tattoos or black fingers
 

25 Comments

  1. I have over 12k miles on mine and it has been incredible. A little heavy in the rear for trail riding, but otherwise a beautifully functioning piece of engineering. It replaced my car.

  2. Is that a Reeb Sam’s Pants?

      • Alex, beautiful build man! Great vision to choose a Sam’s Pants. The slightly raised head tube design, really looks comfortable for long hauls. I’m eyeing the Niner RLT steel (unfortunately, not internal hub/gates belt compatible). It looks a great gravel bike and has great reviews, but the head tube is really low, like cyclocross/racing low… And in every reviewer’s photos they’ve flipped the stem up, which makes me think the geometry is wrong for most people’s intended use. Any folks reading this have any thoughts/experience on the Niner RLT steel?

  3. Seriously? Have I just read another Rohloff review? Another Pros and Cons? WTF? Rohloff has been on the market since 1998! Writing about it features, weight, reliability and blah blah blah, being “reluctant to commit” on a cycling related website is like writing about first MacBook Pro (2006) or first IPod (2001) on a tech blog. There have been hundreds of thousands units released and millions reviews written. How is it possible, that people still write this useless “reviews” of a great product that had long ago proven to be great. Rohloff works. Period. Now go cycling.

    • Yes, you have. What you fail to mention is the impetus for this article in the first place. I have had countless questions regarding the hub both during and after the gravel races I took part in last year. Also, other articles published about my bike’s build in general have led to questions about the hub that were specifically addressed here. Perhaps the lack of your acknowledgement of this is an oversight in your omniscience, but it more likely just displays the pompousness of your assumptions.

      When I was researching the hub, I did not find “millions” of reviews. Instead, those that I did find concentrated on on-road touring with a few instances of mountain biking related reviews. And finding a review of the Rohloff’s appropriateness to 300 mile gravel races was impossible. Our core audience is composed largely of off-road adventure cyclists, endurance gravel/dirt racers, and bikepackers. Evolutions of the hub since its introduction such as disc brake and belt drive compatibility as well as frame manufacturers for the gravel scene building frames that accommodate the Speedhub have increased their appeal to this group.

      Finally, it was not until 2014 that Rohloff introduced the Speedhub for fatbikes which are very popular among our readers. Therefore, it is prudent that we provide reviews of products that are being adapted to these bikes and this audience.

      In the interest of providing comprehensive evaluations and reviews to the variety of cyclists this site caters to, we do feel articles such as this are warranted. Feel free not to read if you disagree.

      • Jim W Summers

        Alex, I enjoyed the review. I too knew of the Rohloff and had read reviews of it. However, I had not considered it as an option for off road touring such as the Divide. So I was happy to read about how it well it worked from you and the others who posted comments. It is still a pile of money though. Maybe if I ever get to buy another MTB…?

        Currently, I am using a Gunnar. I do cheat and doubt the Rohloff could run gearing as low as I need. I am 68, have a fake knee, a fake hip, arthritis in several places, too heavy, and also like comfort. I have to carry more medical stuff along that most, so I am moving a lot of weight. My cheater is the Mountain Tamer Quad 4th chain ring. It allows me to avoid straining the fake joints and to spin up inclines that much more fit riders have to push up. I may not be going any faster sometimes, but I am riding the bike. See that option at: http://abundantadventures.com/quads.html.

        I am getting down to 20 gear inches (I think) with a 32 or 34 rear, 20 front, and 26″ wheels. Can the Rohloff do that or better? Then it might be a viable option.

        Thanks.

      • Well I appreciated the story. I’m thinking of a Rohloff for my Moulton TSR 27. I’m 50 and already arthritis and old injuries are slowing me down. Commuting, local rides and day rides are where I’m at, with the hope of getting back to light touring. I haven’t found a great number of good reviews so thank you for this.

    • Wow….MAT is a very angry person, he needs a hug.

      Thanks for the write up Alex =)

    • As I’m fairly new to cycling, I’ve just recently discovered the Rohloff. For me, it’s nice to see current reviews and usage notes. Seeing a review from 1990 isn’t going to necessarily going to make me feel as confident as seeing current users (namely bikepackers) using the item. Thanks for the review, Alex. And yes, let’s all now go cycling!

    • Mat,

      Learn English properly before you use expletives on someone’s blog. It’s rude.

    • Mat, your and angry dick

  4. Greg Strauser

    Alex, I got a Rohloff built onto a Stans Flow rim two years ago when I was preparing for Tour Divide 2013. I paired it with a Spot Brand Honey Badger with Gates Belt Drive. As you’re probably aware, Ollie Whalley used a Rohloff/Gates pairing in his TD’12 Grand Depart victory. I’ve got two solid years of 38-mile bicycle commutes, 3x Allegheny Mountain Loop 400, the TD’13 finish, and the first 2,500 miles of last year’s inaugural Trans Am 2014. I left the route after 10 days just north of Silverthorne, CO. My Rohloff lessons learned: The hub is indeed bomber. I’ve trudged through mud, clay, snow, and underbrush that gave fellow riders sporting derailleurs a difficult time. It gets just a bit sluggish in cold (below freezing) weather. Everything still works in the cold, it’s just got a slightly higher resistance from the oil bath’s viscosity. It will do great for you in the Trans Am. My downfall was pushing too hard trying to stay with faster riders on much lighter bikes. The heavier rear end took a toll on both my physical and psychological performance. Compared to the very remote Tour Divide, Trans Am felt more like a never-ending bicycle commute, so I bailed in Colorado and spent time with my family. I own that performance shortfall. It was me that faltered, not the Rohloff setup. Enjoy your miles!

  5. Very cool that someone besides Shimano or SRAM make a cool product like this. However, I wonder what the weight and retail cost would be if they did? Unfortunately, I’m too cheap to fork up the money and too much of a weight weenie if I did choose to burn the bucks.

  6. Don Hoshaw

    I am somewhat of an unconventional type bike touring individual. I did the Southern Tier (St. Augustine, FL to San Diagonal, CA) in 2013 and 1,200 miles of the Trans Am in 2014 on a Specialized carbon Roubaix with Old Man mountain racks and Shimano gearing. This year I started where I left off the Trans Am (Carbondale! IL) in 2014 and finished the remainder (3,242 miles) that I had left over on a Co-motion Pangea, with a Rolhoff hub and Gates belt drive. As you stated, it was bullet-proof. Not one problem during the whole trip. This compared to my Shimano gearing, which had to be tweaked twice by bike shops across the Southern tier and totally changed out once during the first part (2014) of the Trans Am.
    I did appreciate your article, since I am now looking to buy a Titanium Mountain Bike to do the Great Divide. I was happy to see that the Rolhoff and Gates Drive holds up to a dirty environment – something I wasn’t able to test my touring bike with paved roads, no matter how wet it got (and it got extremely wet this year).
    I will also share that I am 62 and had a knee operation just seven weeks prior to completing the Trans Am. The low end gears on the Rolhoff allowed me to pedal up every single Pass without ever getting off my bike.

  7. Did not you consider the gebla box in order to run the shifting by sram or camp road levers ? That shoul leave the room for the front bag

  8. I wanted to add my 2 pence worth to this thread. Great review and great choice for your rig. I had a heavy duty expedition mtb touring bicycle built up with a Rohloff 11 years ago and whilst the frame has been stripped down and canablised the rohloff is now doing duty on a kid dieback tandem. I regret not having the frame split to run with the gates belt drive system but alas I did not know what I know now. Still it was the best piece of bicycle related kit I have bought. So much so that a number of subsequent bikes have been added to the Stable all featuring the rohloff. I am sorely temped by the Fat bike Rohloff hub for the ultimate winter rig, but I fear my girlfriend would kick me to the curb if I came home with one. Love only stretches so far. the Rohloff still seems to be a bit of a rarity and of course this can only be down to cost, but I have NEVER had an issue with mine and I throughly recommend it as the ultimate gearing system for anything other than über lightweight road racing bikes.

  9. Great review. Awesome looking bikepacking setup. I too run a belt drive rohloff in the much faster red option. I have a bunch of 1000k plus brevets in NZ plus two TD’s in 2014 and 2015 and I’m heading up to a little more than 20000k total distance on mine. All under very challenging conditions. Not a completely trouble free experience. I have had the drive-side seal go on mine but it has never let me down in the heat of battle:-) In a little under two weeks I will embark on the first running of Tour Aotearoa – 3000k down the length of NZ. I’ve finished every event and always more towards the pointy end of the field:-) I put this down in part to being confident that my gear will get me there. When the distances are large and the body and mind are under pressure great gear makes a difference:-)

  10. Great review. And I agree with an earlier statement that it is important to read ‘current’ reviews as products change.

  11. Pingback: Pics of Cross or Gravel Rigs - Page 3

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