Now these levers from Versa look interesting, the Versa VRS-8 drop bar levers let you run a Shimano Alfine or Nexus 8-spd hub gear on a road bike. Why would you want to do that? Well, when it comes to fit and forget drivetrains you can't beat a hub gear – if you want more than one gear that is. All the important gubbins is protected from the elements, road salt, gunk… and crashes inside the hub unlike a rear derailleur which is hanging down taking a continual battering from water, salt, ice and snow and the general wear and tear of everyday cycling.
Up until recently hub gears have been the province if heavier Dutch-style sit up and beg roadsters, hire bikes, and of course the Chopper. But the latest generation of hubs have come a long way, lead notably by the Rohloff Speedhub with its 14 speeds and lifetime guarantee. Rohloffs have found there way on to any number of expedition bikes, (James Bowthorpe used one on Santos for his recent round the world trips) as well as various types of lighter tourers and mountain bikes – Thorn have long been big fans. The downside of the Rohloff for many is its price tag and the fact that while undoubtedly a very fine piece of kit it's probably a little over-engineered for more everyday use for those on a budget.
Luckily Shimano and SRAM have plugged in to the mid-range, but up until recently you were restricted to flat bar set-ups if you wanted to run either Shimano Alfine or Nexus 8. These levers look to remedy that, they came out in the US last year, but are now being brought in to Europe by Sideways Cycles.
The Versa VRS-8 combined brake and shift lever are compatible with caliper, cantilever and road disc brakes, enabling a pretty looking drop-bar set up on touring, road and cyclo-cross bikes. Sideways Cyclles reckon this “is the answer to your prayers if you want to run Shimano’s internal hub system on your drop-barred bike.” They are sending us an Alfine equipped Surly Crosscheck in the New Year (the one pictured) so we can judge for ourselves – should be interesting.
The levers sell for £179 a pair, roughly on a par with what you'd pay for some Shimano 105 10spd levers, and are available in black or silver, including inner gear cable, inline cable adjuster and pinch bolt.
Aside from being low maintenance the other big advantage of a hub gear set up is that you can change gear when stationary, useful if you are cycling through stop-start city traffic. The perceived downside is that a lot more weight is concentrated over the back wheel – even if the system weighs roughly the same as a derailleur set up, which in turn means you need to build it in to a sufficiently strong wheel. That said, a road bike with hub gears and drops has cropped up in the US (guess whose levers it uses) and we can see that the idea would work over here too, especially for longer haul commutes or touring… we'd be interested.
To find out more call Sideways Cycles on 01270 883785 or email info [at] sidewayscycles.co.uk
Tony has been editing cycling magazines and websites since 1997 starting out as production editor and then deputy editor of Total Bike, acting editor of Total Mountain Bike and then seven years as editor of Cycling Plus. He launched his first cycling website - the Cycling Plus Forum at the turn of the century. In 2006 he left C+ to head up the launch team for Bike Radar which he edited until 2008, when he co-launched the multi-award winning road.cc - which he continues to edit today. His favourite ride is his ‘commute’ - which he does most days inc weekends and he’s been cycle-commuting since 1994. His favourite bikes are titanium and have disc brakes.