Folding Bikes Blog

Why Use an Internal Gear Hub?

You may have noticed that internally geared hubs are becoming more and more popular on bicycles nowadays. Even the newest addition to our line of folding bikes, the Boston 8 uses a Shimano Nexus internal 8 speed hub. Internal gears have been around since the early 20th century and became hugely popular in the 1930′s. So why did everyone switch to derailleurs? And why should you reconsider an internal hub all these years later?

The derailleur and the internal gear hub were actually invented around the same time. A 2-speed hub was patented by William Reilly of Salford, England in 1896 and French bicyclist Paul De Vivie invented a 2-speed derailleur in 1905 which he used on his rides in the Alps. The initial designs were both a bit clumsy and difficult to shift (no cables or handlebar mounted levers for on-the-fly shifting) but the two technologies yielded essentially the same result.  While advancements in derailleur technology meant bikes could have more gears, for years internal hubs were limited to about 3 gears, and could offer only a few speeds. They were still quite popular on utility and urban bikes and remained the gearing system of choice in European countries where bikes were used mainly for transportation rather than sport or leisure. They were reliable, almost maintenance free and practically bomb-proof. But at the time they couldn’t provide a wide range of gears.

While the derailleur and cassette still dominate today’s bike market, there has been consistent advancement in internal gear hub technology. Once limited to 3 gears, internally geared hubs are now offered in 8, 11 and 14 speed models. These new internals can even cover the same gear range as a 24 speed cassette and derailleur system. Now that internal gear hubs have broken free from the limitations of yesteryear there are many reasons to consider using one on your bike.

Reliability

One of the biggest advantages of the internal gear hub is that all the moving parts responsible for shifting are completely contained in a sealed unit – the hub. This means they’re completely protected from water, dirt, road salt and grime. With no outside contaminants to possibly muck up your shifting mechanism, you can always count on your internal hub to shift smoothly from one gear to the next. An exposed derailleur also runs the risk of being bent or broken, and a derailleur hanging down from your dropouts is fairly prone to being knocked out of adjustment. An internal hub, on the other hand, is pretty difficult to damage.

Maintenance and Longevity

Internal gear hubs are easier to maintain than standard derailleur systems. The main thing you need to do is keep the proper tension on your chain and lubricate it periodically. With a derailleur and cassette system you have to regularly clean your rear cogs and derailleur to keep them shifting smoothly. It’s not uncommon to have to adjust the limit screws on your derailleur from time to time either. And while keeping the chain and single cog on an internally geared hub clean is important, it isn’t nearly as much work.

Since the chain on an internal hub is always in a straight line and doesn’t have multiple gear wheels and pulleys to pass over, it also takes less wear and tear. Every time you shift from one cog the next with a traditional derailleur, the chain actually flexes and twists a bit. You’ll find you need to replace your chain much more often with this system and may even need to replace your rear cogs at some point. With your internal hub, even if you do need to replace the chain or single cog, it’s a lot simpler without the derailleur getting in your way.

Shifting

I may have saved the best for last here. Have you ever come to a stop on your bike and realized you’re still in much too high of a gear to start in? With an internally geared hub you can actually shift gears while stationary! Unlike a traditional derailleur system, you don’t need to be pedaling to change gears. This can be great for riding in stop and go city traffic and can also make it a lot easier to down shift on a steep uphill.

Now that you know all the advantages of the internal gear hub, you may be temped to start riding one for yourself. The good news for you is that we now have a full size folding bike with a Shimano Nexus 8 speed hub built right in. That’s 8 glorious gears all contained and protected in your rear hub.

Tell us What you Think

What kind of shifting does your bike have? Do you prefer an external derailleur or an internally geared hub? Have you tried out the Boston 8?

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26 Comments

  1. Bradley
    Posted May 26, 2011 at 3:36 pm | Permalink

    One thing that should be noted is that external gears can be shifted while some force is applied to the pedals (though it’s best for the system to reduce force), whereas (at least some) internal hubs wont shift until you stop applying forward force to the pedals. Am I right on this?

  2. Posted May 27, 2011 at 5:24 am | Permalink

    Certainly old internal hubs did require you to stop pedaling for at least a second to shift. Most of the newer ones are now designed to shift under load but just as you mentioned with external gears, they perform a bit better when you ease off.

  3. Mark Erickson
    Posted July 3, 2011 at 12:40 am | Permalink

    What about the CVT hub called the nuvinci (the latest being the 360n)? I understand it operates differently than the other hubs besides the infinite number of “gears”. How is it different from other hubs and would you consider offering more options such as this hub in the future. I love the Montague bikes, especially the military pedigree and ruggedness. More options direct from the manufacturer (other than just the pedals, bag, case and stand) would be welcome..::)))

  4. Posted July 5, 2011 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    The Nuvinci is an exciting new design that is just starting to become available. Although not readily available for bicycles in the past, other designs of CVTs (continuously variable transmissions) have been around for several years. The idea is to allow for infinite variation between the high and low range rather than being limited by the number of gears you have. You can smoothly increase or decrease your gear ratio by any increment you want. Original designs for CVTs had some problems with efficiency, shifting control and available gear range (and they were kind of expensive to make). The Nuvinci design is actually a simpler but more efficient version that is said to improve on the problems of earlier CVTs. It hasnt been on the market for long but we have been hearing good things. We’re always looking to bring new technology to our bikes and expand our line so we appreciate your feedback. We definitely like to hear what you guys want on our bikes. The Boston 8 with the Shimano Nexus hub is new for us this year so who knows what could come next!

  5. David Elden
    Posted December 30, 2011 at 9:07 pm | Permalink

    Where can i find information on the the gearing range of the- with the Shimano Nexus hub as used on the Boston. What would be a suitable make for Montague mountain bikes.

  6. Posted January 3, 2012 at 9:13 am | Permalink

    The Shimano website has a wealth of information about their hubs at:
    http://www.shimano.com/publish/content/global_cycle/en/us/index/products/0/nexus.html

    You can also send us an email or if you have very technical questions you may want to email Shimano directly.

    All of our mountain bikes use vertical drop outs so if an internal gear hub was fitted, a chain tensioner would be needed. All models have standard 135mm rear dropout spacing so any hub that is the proper width could be used.

  7. Ronnie
    Posted January 10, 2012 at 6:56 pm | Permalink

    Having moved from Denmark to the US one of the most irritating things is that no local bike stores carry bikes with gear. I dont understand this. Hub gears are vastly superior when using your bike for commuting.

  8. Posted January 11, 2012 at 6:22 am | Permalink

    They certainly are nice for commuting, especially in the winter. Hopefully more cyclists/stores will realize the benefits, and keep more in stock.

  9. gIACOPO
    Posted January 24, 2012 at 12:08 am | Permalink

    I’ve had a Rohloff and Shimano 8 and 11 speeds. The Rohloff has a superior gear spread and an ultra low granny gear. This is important to me as I’ve got to ride over steep hills daily. It is a serious tool, the only gripe being that it can get a little clunky in some low gears. The new Shimano 11 speed is pretty good but not even close to the Rohloff. The 8 speed Shimano shifts more smothly than the 11 speed, but it doesn’t have a low enough first gear to suit me.

  10. Fernando
    Posted February 11, 2012 at 5:49 pm | Permalink

    Can my 2011 Crosstown can be retrofited with an internal gear hub like the Nexus 8 or Alphine 11? if so can you give me some guidelines?
    Thanks for the opportunity of asking this questions, I love my tow Montague folding bikes!

  11. Posted February 13, 2012 at 7:35 am | Permalink

    Hi Fernando,
    It is possible to fit an internal gear hub on a Crosstown. However, like most bikes that use a traditional derailleur, the Crosstown has vertical rear dropouts. Internal gear hub and single speed bikes usually have horizontal or semi-horizontal dropouts which allow you to slide the rear wheel back to put tension on the chain. With vertical dropouts, the derailleur maintains the chain tension. So, you can use an internal gear hub but you will likely need a chain tensioner. The Crosstown has standard 135mm rear dropout spacing so there are a lot of different gear hubs that would fit.

  12. gabor k
    Posted March 29, 2012 at 6:07 pm | Permalink

    Please tell me…
    I want to buy an X-RF8 Sturney Archer internal hub..
    Will I able to change gears while I pedal?
    Will it damage the parts inside the hub if I change gears under load? I wonder about that?

    gk

  13. Posted March 30, 2012 at 6:12 am | Permalink

    Hey Gabor,
    Most modern internal hubs are built so they can be shifted under load. I don’t believe it will cause any damage to the parts but I would recommend contacting Sturmey Archer directly with questions about their hub.

  14. Martin
    Posted May 31, 2012 at 9:40 am | Permalink

    I’ve been looking for a really low maintenance rugged bike for ages. Preferably one that folds. I use it for commuting in a town but the bike still takes almost as much of a beating as a mountain bike should. I find I could easily work with just 5 or 8 gears but just don’t seem to get anything that simple.

    Ideally I’d love something like the paratrooper as a ruggedized urban bike that I can stash under my desk at work (in the bag). Considering so many of us live in small flats where a normal bike would be a problem this would ultimately be a great all round solution. I’m not sure many of these commuter bikes are tough enough.

    So an internal hub bike but a tough one would be ideal.

  15. Michael Fröman
    Posted July 18, 2012 at 10:41 pm | Permalink

    When will we see the Paratrooper with an internally geared hub? Also will we ever see a 29er Paratrooper? It seems you have the geometry covered with your commuter bikes. Are there any plans to expand the options and capabilities of the all terrain bikes?

  16. lucy
    Posted September 30, 2012 at 2:31 am | Permalink

    Does anyone know what would be the comparison gears if you had a 8i and compared it to say a 21D would be? How does the range of power compare?

  17. Posted October 1, 2012 at 9:21 am | Permalink

    Thanks for writing, by 21D are you meaning derailleur?

  18. Jim
    Posted November 3, 2012 at 4:39 pm | Permalink

    I’ve got a Triumph bike with a Sturmey Archer 3 speed hub from 1964. It works great. My other bike, I hauled on my bike rack one day, and I guess I bent the derailleur, because I only got about 5 feet away before the chain jammed and the cog on the pivot part fell off. It’s kind of fixed now. My 3 speed is reliable. The low gear isn’t real low though, I was thinking of looking at a beach cruiser style bike, and putting an internal hub into it… Anyways, I enjoyed this article, thanks.

  19. Posted November 5, 2012 at 6:25 am | Permalink

    Thanks for writing in! Internally geared hubs are great for that assurance of knowing you won’t need to perform much maintenance on it for years and years. Those early Sturmey Archer hubs really are hard to find, and still incredibly dependable even after many years of use.

  20. Anna
    Posted February 26, 2013 at 5:17 am | Permalink

    Hi,

    I have a similar question to Lucy.

    What would be the comparison of gears between say a 5-speed internal hub and a derailleur with 15 gears (I know there aren’t technically 15 true gears). What is the range of power?

    Are there any tables on the internet?
    I live on the Yorkshire moors and it is really hilly. I have a 15 gear derailleur but need a new bike. I like the old fashioned styles but am not sure what number of gears would be enough to get up the hills!
    I guess it depends on my leg strength but I probably use all or almost all of the derailleur gears for the hills round here.

    Thank you

    Anna

  21. Posted March 4, 2013 at 1:40 pm | Permalink

    Hey Anna,

    It would be hard to answer your question without more information about the two setups. For example, which 5 speed hub it is, the size of the front chainring and rear cog, the size of the chainrings and cogs on the derailleur bike. Sheldon Brown’s website is a great resource for reading about internal gear hubs. You could use his gear calculator to compare the gear ratios of certain hubs to derailleur setups (http://sheldonbrown.com/gears/). You just need to enter the relevant info and you can get gain ratios, gear inches, speeds at certain RPMs.

  22. Bang
    Posted March 27, 2013 at 6:04 pm | Permalink

    I used to commute by electric assisted 20” Yamaha PAS with 3-speed hub. The routine is 20km roundtrip with no uphill, however I have found out the 3-speed is not enough. So a month ago I shifted to Shimano 8-speed on a Centurion Siena and the pedaling is so pleasant. I love internal hubs not only because of above listed advantages but also the technology inside. Really really admire the idea and structure.

  23. EasyRider
    Posted May 14, 2013 at 11:58 am | Permalink

    Hub-gears are So relaxing; excepting old Raleigh 5-speeds. If the bottom gear is too high or low, change the size of yr drive sprocket. 3-speeds allow u to use more leg-muscles per gear, so u get fitter. A 4-speed lets age know it’s there, so you can be more sedate in yr pedalling. The weight of an 8-speed keeps yr back end down when u brake.
    As for shifting under load, I don’t do it from respect for the cogs inside the rear hub. I think of it as like a manual gear-box: momentary loss of power as the gear-changer works instantly, then u continue powering on. Compared to locking a derailleur chain across 3 or 4 chain-rings, at the slightest provocation; there’s no comparison.
    Derailleur gears and chains last days, weeks, months. Hub gears last years, decades, a century. So green.
    A total chain-case and a drum brake at the front complete the comfort.

  24. Queenie
    Posted September 28, 2013 at 7:29 pm | Permalink

    For fear of obesity complications, I tried to put additional features to my 10 year old sons’ bike like the derailleur system for him to continue on his biking interest. The derailleur system one day got tangled up due to a bad adjustment and got his knees bruised by that. To avoid another incident like this, which might extinguish any further interest in biking, I replaced it with the Internal Gear Hub and things really went on smoothly. Thankfully, he wasn’t traumatized by the derailleur fail. I believe derailleurs have their own advantages, but for me, its gonna be IGH for the time being.

  25. Kevin
    Posted December 10, 2013 at 4:50 am | Permalink

    In 2002, I bought a 1970’s Shimano 3-speed hub (the version without the oil filler) brand new in its box and had it fitted to a 26-inch wheel. With the hub came the original Shimano ‘floor’ console and gear stick (with the round black gear knob). I then bought a second-hand bike and fitted the system. I ride about once a month and it is a lovely gearbox on a smooth, level bicycle path. I have to stand on the pedals to climb some hills, but that’s probably because my 46-year-old legs aren’t as strong as they used to be (that will change soon—I have a Downtown 8 on the way, which I intend to ride several times a week).
    Being an older gearbox, it requires a pedal-pause for gear shifting; and if I need to change gear while the bike is stationary, I always give the right pedal a kick-back. I can understand the devotion to simple, lightweight deraileurs; but wow, they sound like a rock concert during gear shifts!
    After my Downtown arrives (hopefully less than a week from now), I’ll probably share some thoughts on the new bike and gearbox.

  26. Roemer Timbre
    Posted July 18, 2014 at 10:52 am | Permalink

    Can I know what is the tension in pulling the wire to change gear from gear 1 to gear 2 to gear 3?

One Trackback

  1. [...] Geared bikes come in two varieties: internal gears where all the shifting action happens inside a “hub” or your traditional derailleur system.  (Here’s a good explanation of the pros and cons of each.) [...]

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