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Oil bath internals, extended range, lighter weight... bigger price tag

We reported earlier today that Shimano were going to show us their new Alfine 11 speed hub, and they did. It turns out that most of what was reported pre-launch was pretty much spot on, but for the sake of completeness we'll go from the top with the launch, and our impressions on a first short ride.

First up, it's an 11 speed system. The shifts are constant percentage increases, 17-18% per ratio, and that means that the total range is 409%, up from 8spd Alfine's 307% but not quite on a par with the 526% Rohloff Speedhub. However, the extended range brings it much more into both touring and MTB territory. Alfine 8 already has a small but committed following in hardtail MTB circles, and the 11 speed version is likely to be well received there. Alfine hasn't really been specced as a touring option before. If you're loaded up then you need a big gear range, and the new 11 speed hub gives you that.

Secondly, it's a completely redesigned hub from inside to out. Shimano haven't just shoehorned three extra ratios into the existing unit, they've worked from the ground up to make a better one. The 11 speed hub uses a helical system running in an oil bath, which should mean much lower maintenance – Shimano told us that we could expect the service interval to be lengthened by a factor of three. What's more, there's no stripping and greasing: the hub has an oil port, and changing the oil is simply a case of sucking the old stuff out with a syringe of some description, and pumping some new oil in with the same tool. In terms of longevity and basic servicing it should be a massive improvement over the Alfine 8, which means that it's likely to be a viable option for touring as well as town riding.


Redesigned shifter has two way release and two-ratio sweep

The hub internals use tapered sprockets which give a much smoother and lighter shift than the eight speed. What's more, the internals have been designed so that the action of the rapidfire shifter mimcs that of its derailleur siblings: thumbshift for a lower gear, trigger relase for a higher gear. As someone pointed out on our teaser article, arranging the hub like that would mean that a broken shifter or snapped cable would leave you in the top cog, and that is the case. It's a pretty unlikely case though, especially when you consider that the tension in the cable is pretty low. You might want to pack a zip tie so that if your luck did run out, you could fix the cable in an easier cog. The Rapidfire shifter will shift up two ratios at a time, and has two-way release too so you can push to shift down the block. If there was a block.


Alfine and Nexus sprockets are compatible, single cable operation

So what's it like to ride? well, we put in maybe a mile or two of riding so it's far too early to talk about durability and efficiency and things like that, but in terms of ride feel, make no mistake: this is a massive step up from the Alfine 8 hub. In fact it's such a dfferent beast that one of the most-asked questions at the launch was why Shimano has chosen to associate it with the eight-speed hub by giving it the same name; we didn't really get a good answer to that one, but we did get an honest one: "we're better at engineering than marketing", was one reply!

Step over the bike and push off and there's no indication that you're running a hub gear. It isn't whirry or clicky, it doesn't feel vague like the eight speed version can in some ratios. The shifting is fast and precise, much more like a derailleur Rapidfire than the eight speed hub. It took us a while to get used to the fact that it was reversed from the other hub, but it'll make sense in the long run.

Once you're out on the road the hub spins up to speed well – even with three extra gears, it's going to be about 100g lighter than the eight speed at about 1590g, that's 120g lighter than a Speedhub – and the range of gears is really impressive, not least because there didn't seem to be a dud one in the pack. Presumably there's a direct drive ratio in there but we couldn't from the test ride tell you where it was, the gear feel is pretty much exactly the same across the range. There were a couple of changes that weren't immediate, but the hub didn't slip, just whirred a bit until it skipped to the next ratio.

First impressions are of a very slick, very quiet, very well designed system. The Shimano boys were pretty excited about it and we can see why now. The obvious comparison is with a Rohloff Speedhub: you don't get quite the range or the level of engineering with the Alfine but it's going to be a lot cheaper. Exactly how much cheaper they wouldn't say at the launch: the company line was 'a bit less than twice as much as the eight speed version', which depending on your interpretation means somewhere between £300 and £400, so let's split the difference and say £350. For that kind of money you'd want something that's a good performer, and the Alfine 11 looks like it's going to deliver.

Dave is a founding father of road.cc and responsible for kicking the server when it breaks. In a previous life he was a graphic designer but he's also a three-time Mountain Bike Bog Snorkelling world champion, and remains unbeaten through the bog. Dave rides all sorts of bikes but tends to prefer metal ones. He's getting old is why.

18 comments

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STATO [477 posts] 6 years ago
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top reporting fella's!

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cat1commuter [1418 posts] 6 years ago
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They could make an STI style drop bar lever.

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demoff [327 posts] 6 years ago
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Is Chipps lost?

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PaulH [1 post] 6 years ago
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The shifts are constant percentage increases, 17-18% per ratio
Are you sure that's right? They seem like big gaps, bigger than the 8spd.

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dave atkinson [6145 posts] 6 years ago
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no, i'm not sure that's right  1

doing the sums, they'd be about 15% for a 400% range

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Tony Farrelly [2856 posts] 6 years ago
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cat1commuter wrote:

They could make an STI style drop bar lever.

Yep, I asked them about that, seems like a logical step to me - "Shimano will neither confirm nor deny that they are working on an Alfine drop bar lever". I'm a glass half full person so I took that as a yes, the bloke from Madison who obviously knows more about Shimano than me took it as a no, but then maybe his glass was half empty. Personally I think it would be fantastic it would help create what would to all intents and purposes be a whole new category of bike.

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Patrick1964 [25 posts] 6 years ago
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How does the range work out with the new hub ? Is the lowest ratio lower than the 8 speed and the highest higher, or are there closer ratios between the existing range ?

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dave atkinson [6145 posts] 6 years ago
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Patrick1964 wrote:

How does the range work out with the new hub ? Is the lowest ratio lower than the 8 speed and the highest higher, or are there closer ratios between the existing range ?

don't know exactly how the gear ratios relate to the 8spd ones but the range as a whole is bigger: 409% bottom to top, as opposed to 307% for the 8spd. the ratios are a bit closer together. the test bike we rode had a fairly standard alfine setup (something like a 46/22) and it had some very low gears.

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neilwheel [130 posts] 6 years ago
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In six months time, this will be THE sought-after solution for today's fixie/SS fashion-victims.

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dave atkinson [6145 posts] 6 years ago
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You certainly can make a very nice, clean looking bike with a hub gear. Kona's Dr Fine is a good example

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James Warrener [1080 posts] 5 years ago
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cat1commuter wrote:

They could make an STI style drop bar lever.

+1 I would be interested then.

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David French [50 posts] 5 years ago
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I would have thought a drop bar STI for the hub would be a significant money maker! Personally I would love to have an audax bike which has the Alfine at the back with a front mech and tensioner like you can get on the Nexus hybrid system!

The only downside I could think of to a hub gear on a touring or audax bike would be that you'd need a really good back wheel and tyre from all the concentrated weight!

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nick_rearden [434 posts] 5 years ago
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David French wrote:

Personally I would love to have an audax bike which has the Alfine at the back with a front mech and tensioner like you can get on the Nexus hybrid system!

How about instead of the front mech and tensioner this new Metropolis PT internal planetary-geared chainset from the FSA folks recently announced. I've just asked them if they have any prices yet but you get the equivalent of a 28 and 45 tooth double chainset all from something that looks like a single 28 with its own integral chainguard.

http://road.cc/content/news/16959-people-bought-you-fsa-metropolis-brand...

Maths was never my strong point but I can't help thinking that a rear 11-speed internal geared hub with 400%+ range and a 45/28 front will offer gears for all occasions. I'm planning my nice black retro minimalist city bike now. Bearing in mind I live in hilly Bath. I can see why that wouldn't be so appealing in Ely or London or Chicago

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RatRockx [1 post] 5 years ago
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Found this a while ago but don't remember where:
- There's no direct drive.
- First increase is 29.2%
- All others between 13.1 and 14.0%

Exact ratios and easy compare to other hubs can be found on the 'drivetrain and hub'-page on my website:
www.rockx.net/cfw/cruisinn/hub.htm

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mike2000 [4 posts] 5 years ago
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You certainly can make a very nice, clean looking bike with a hub gear. Kona's Dr Fine is a good example

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hubroadie [1 post] 5 years ago
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I think the guys at Sussex are working on a STI shifter for the Alfine 11. They already make an STI shifter for the Alfine 8 called the Versa VRS-8. I have the Versa 8-speed STI shifter on my Dynamic Synergy road bike now and its great. When I last asked them, they said they were hoping to have a Versa 11-speed shifter availble by end of year.

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miffed [160 posts] 5 years ago
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Give me a alfine 11, a cross bike and a belt drive and I have my ideal next bike

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yvfhat [1 post] 5 years ago
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Why can't Shimano go the whole hog and put the chain into an oil bath? No more grinding paste on the sprocket or chainwheel, sounds like utopia!!