The Ventana Wolfram 27.5+ wasn’t really on my radar for a bikepacking bike as much as I was curious about the Pinion 12 Speed Gearbox. I wanted to test a so called “maintenance free” drivetrain and see just how applicable they’d be for bikepacking. Just to be clear, I didn’t try the bike because I was interested in the specific Ventana frame as had been my reason for trying the various other bikes that day. It was the last bike of the day and I was fairly burnt out so I’m afraid I didn’t do such an in depth ride on it as I could have done because I was tired.
The Pinion C1.12 Speed Gearbox is designed to be a lower maintenance system than your standard drivetrain. It comes in at close to a pound heavier than your standard mountain setup, at 2100g but offers a ridiculous 600% gear range. For comparison, the new SRAM Eagle only has a 500% range. The Gearbox fits within the bottom bracket area of specialty built bikes and comes with a grip shifter. Power was sent to the wheel via a Gates Belt Drive that I’ve seen in action on such races as the Tour Divide. Having never tried it long term, it seems to be a pretty reliable drivetrain although you should carry a spare belt just in case on longer rides. Finding replacement belts can be a nightmare in an ultradistance race. In order to really judge Gates Drive I feel like you’d need to do a really long ride on it to explore the nuances.
I was warned by the Pinion representatives that the Gearbox and shifting would take some getting used to. They were right. The thing about the Pinion Gearbox is that you can’t shift under load as you can but shouldn’t with a regular drivetrain. In short, this meant that you either had to stop pedaling or ghost pedal if you wanted to shift. I experimented with the shifting on the way to the cross country course and it wasn’t hard to get the hang of. The range is what really got my attention. I started looking for things to climb while I threw it into first gear and crawled up rock faces with ease. The ratios between gears is an even 17.7% through the whole range and I did have some difficulty knowing just how far to downshift when coming to the top of a G-out. More than once I shifted into too low of a gear and spun out in an uncomfortable fashion when I went to give it some power. That being said, I’m not used to using a grip shifter and the more I rode the bike the smoother I got with it.
Coming up to technical sections was another story though. Under normal circumstances, I preemptively shift into the gear I want before or as I’m entering a technical section. With the full size ergo grip outfitted on the bike and then the grip shifter mounted further inside, I found it hard to shift to the gear I wanted quick enough to move my hand back before I hit said section. I had this problem multiple times and it could potentially be fixed by having a narrower grip and to move the grip shifter out further on the bars so I don’t have to move my hand to shift. The shifting was very useful for taking pictures though because I could set the bike where I wanted, sift to the highest gear without pedaling, and the crank was just as good as a kickstand. When I wanted to get rolling again I could shift to the gear I wanted and be off. There was no need to pick the bike up and spin the crank to shift it. By the end of the cross country loop my ghost pedaling and planned stuttering on the pedals so I could shift became fairly smooth but I still had difficulty picking the exact gear I was looking for. I suppose that would come with more practice. Still, 6 miles was enough to convince me that a Pinion gear box is not for XC racing, or really any racing other than possibly something as long as the Tour Divide. I think the proper application would be closer to touring, your casual gravel grinder, truck bikes, or just about any casual application. I have seen aftermarket thumb shifters available for the Rohloff hub that I imagine could be used on a Pinion setup. I might be interested in something like that depending on what I’m using the bike for.
I just want to be clear, I don’t mean for it to sound like I think the Pinion C1.12 Gearbox is terrible, it’s just different and might take some getting used to that I didn’t have time for that day. If I were riding from Alaska to Argentina at my pace on a loaded down bike, I’d definitely use that drivetrain. Would I use it on the Tour Divide? Perhaps. Would I use it on the Colorado Trail? Definitely not. While the range is fantastic and it’s a rugged setup, the Colorado Trail is very technical, and I’m not sure if I’d get used to the shifting enough. That being said, I only rode 6 miles on it and my opinion of Pinion might change after more practice.