My Pinion gearbox review...
The reason I went for a Pinion gearbox was because I went through a period of 18 months where I destroyed 6 rear derailleurs on the different bikes by either catching sticks in them or in one case slipping between some rocks and wedging the derailleur in between. The other option was Rohloff IGH but I didn't like the idea of the weight being located at the wheel. So I waited nearly 8 months for a frame with a Pinion gearbox.
The set up was pretty straight forward. I gave it to the bike shop and they did it! The mechanic who worked on it said it was okay except for trying to grab the ends of the cable to secure when there is very little space available. The frame came with the cable already threaded through the gearbox.
After the first ride I adjusted the cable tension at home. I thought it would be a good idea to set it up myself to make sure I could do it. The instructions were very clear, with excellent diagrams. The cable is a single piece about 3m long. I did not go through the process of winding it though the gearbox but it looks easy enough. I secured the cables at the shifter, as per the instructions, and it all worked well. There is very little space in the shifter for grabbing the cable ends, especially after they have already been cut. I had to grab the end with some tweezers, then some long nose pliers to pull them firmly and them tighten the clamp up. Overall, about a 15 minute job including removing and replacing the cover. The barrel adjusters have to be in a specific location to start with and they have plenty of thread on them to adjust in both directions as needed.
All of the online reviews I'd read discussed shifting to an easier gear had to be done by reducing the load on the pedals. This didn't quite prepare me for the change in technique I'd have to make. You can shift to an easier gear under a very, very slight load, but generally you have to back off completely. It's taken me a few rides to get used to and I was very skeptical about how it would ride in technical terrain, but I didn't miss a shift on the last techy ride I did. You do lose a little momentum when climbing and trying to shift, but it's about the same as when I'd shift a derailleur now. Shifting to a harder gear can be done at any time without any issues.
There is a little bit of noise in the 7th and 13th gears. A quiet clicking. This is discussed in the manual as being normal and it doesn't seem to affect the performance at all. It isn't distracting either. There is also a distinct feel of the gear engaging when you start pedalling. If I have been rolling along and then start pedalling you can feel the gears engage again. This is apparently normal as well, just a little odd feeling after riding derailleurs for so long.
The shifter itself feels really well made. I haven't used gripshift since Gripshift was the actual brand! It took no time at all to get used to. 2 minutes in and I was shifting freely in the correct direction each time. The change between gears is a consistent 11.5% and changes are almost undetectable! It is super smooth. The ratios all feel good so far without feeling like a jump has been too large or too small between gears. Low gear is low enough to climb everything I would normally climb when my Firebird was set up 1x10 (32t chainring 11-36 cassette) and with the 2x10 Liteville (26/38 chainrings 11-36 cassette). The other end of the gear range is sufficient for fats fireroad stuff as well.
The weight of the gearbox is located low in the frame and the only time I really feel it is when trying to lift the rear wheel. It's not the same heavy feeling of a Rohloff at the rear wheel, but it's a noticeable difference to a standard rear derailleur. Changing direction quickly doesn't seem to be affected by the position or weight of the gearbox. It actually feels a bit more stable when plowing through rougher stuff.
The whole unit feels very stiff as well. I can't feel any flex in the cranks coming from Shimano Saints and XTR cranks on the other bikes. The bb area feels very firm. I do think that the gearbox has had an affect on the rear tyre size I can run, as the position of the bb pivot has been moved slightly from the regular model frame to accomodate the gearbox and the 2.2" Conti RQ/TK doesn't have heaps of extra space like the Liteville or Firebird have. I wouldn't run a larger tyre in the rear due to the space, but I wouldn't run a larger rear tyre anyhow.
Being able to shift without pedalling is a great feature. I can go into a corner in whatever gear I want and come out in the right gear for that surprise pinch climb that has popped up. It can change as many gears at once as you can shift.
So overall, I can't see me going back to a regular derailleur if I don't have to! If Pinion or someone else was able to keep the current or expand the gear range in a lighter weight package that would be fantastic. If something could be retrofitted to current frame designs and maintain the stiffness and functionality that would be great too. A light weight version for road bikes would even see me move away from Di2! The only negative for me has been getting used to shifting under load but now that is all good.
Gearboxes have to be the way forward. I was hoping for a full carbon Firebird with a Pinion gearbox, but the Nicolai has certainly done a great job replacing the old Firebird.
Now that's what I was looking for :-D
Great review and write-up crank1979, you've covered all the positives I was hoping to hear on the performance and function of the Pinion.
Thanks for taking the time to put that together, really well written and presented.
Agree! Excellent review.
A couple of questions:
- Can you grab a gear or three for a downshift at the shifter, ie have it ready to pop into place and then back off the cranks for a moment so it can shift, or is it such that if you tried that you'd just make a cable slip or something similar and you have to back off, then grab your gears?
- Do you love love love it OMG so worth it the drivetrain I've been waiting for, or is it, seems to work and well, won't be replacing wrecked derailluers any more?
- It seems to me I read somewhere that there is a "freewheel" or freewheeling mechanism of some sort at the gearbox as well as a singlespeed freewheel at the hub. If that is the case, I wonder what happens if you set it up fixie and just let the chain turn when coasting? I wonder would this help the engagement lag?
- any idea what's up with the chain tensioning device I've seen pictured? Is this just to facilitate chainring/cog size changes?
Thanks for the review. Hope the thing lasts forever and solves all your problems.
You can shift without having to pedal and it will be in whatever gear you have selected. I've found so far that you can shift as many gears as you can twist the shifter.
Originally Posted by oldgearstillrolls
I love it. I'd love it more if it was half the weight, but gearboxes are definitely the way forward.
The gearbox has a freewheel and so does the rear hub. That is one negative I've found. It makes back pedalling to lube the chain hard because the chain won't spin!
The tensioner will help with chainring/cog changes, but also because the chainstay length changes when the suspension cycles through it's travel.
duh... full suspension. I always think in terms of hardtails as that is what I ride. Thanks for the reply.
Any further bike reviews on the Helius vs the firebird ?
Im in Texas and thinking im going to replace a mach 429 with a Rohloff, with a Helius with a pinion. (my pivot frames fragged)
Ill stick the Rohloff on my other bike, pivot stopped making bikes that a Rohloff could easily bolt up to. All the new ones are 142x12 fat axle now it seems.
But also means you won't derail the chain by back pedalling on difficult terrain. the 2 freewheels do mean it sometimes engages noisily but not an issue.
Originally Posted by crank1979
You can, in theory, run fixed at the rear but I believe Pinion don't recommend it. the Nucleon used to run that way and you do of course get more chain wear (as it's constantly moving) and also have something running past your ankle when you freewheel. I think 2 freewheels are an acceptable compromise but pick a rear hub with quick pick up
Nicolai still offer the option of a QR, Rohloff Compatible, rear end on most of their frames. if you do want a second frame to put the Rohloff on.
Originally Posted by Williamsven
Since getting the Helius AC Pinion I jhave also been given a Rohloff equipped Scott Scale carbon that I've converted into a comuter.
Originally Posted by Williamsven
Build quality wise they are both very well made systems. The Rohloff hub looks fantastic and of high quality. The Pinion gearbox is the same. I think the Pinion shift looks a little better and it also feels better in the hand. There are more parts to be made with the Pinion system because it includes the cranks, chainring and rear cog. Mine are the CNC'd cranks, although I would prefer the forged versions. They don't feel like they give anything up in stiffness compared to XTR cranks and are still looking good. The chainring and cog are working well.
The shifting action is slightly different on both set ups. With the Pinion I can change to a harder gear (or multiple harder gears) under load by twisting the shifter, but to change to an easier gear (or multiple gears) I have to back off for a split second. My legs are the clutch for the gearbox in this situation. With the Rohloff I have to back off slightly for all shifts. While I have the Scott Scale with the Rohloff set up for commuting I think this, road and touring are the perfect style of riding for the Rohloff. The Rohloff also isn't as precise to get into gear as the Pinion is, but the Rohloff did have about 14k km on it when I got it where the Pinion gearbox was new.
Whether it is just the noise in the bottom 7 gears or actual drag, there is a lot of perceived drag in those gears on the Rohloff. On the Pinion there is a clicking noise in 7th and a lesser amount in 11th (I think) that also make it feel like there is some drag. Overall though, the Pinion feels a lot smoother and nicer to shift gears.
One of the biggest differences is in the weight distribution. Even on the commuter I can feel the extra weight on the back wheel. The Pinion gearbox, while making the overall weight of the bike heavier, doesn't seem to affect the bike handling.
I think the Pinion is the better product overall and is better suited for mtbing, but the Rohloff is a great product and suits road/touring/commuting just as well. I wouldn't mind a Pinion equipped commuter though.
I've got no regrets about the change from the Firebird to the Helius. The suspension action is a little different in feel. I can feel the rear get stuck on square edge stuff very rarely on the Helius, but more than on the Firebird. Other than that the Helius feels brilliant. Plenty of traction when climbing and descending. I find the frame geometry of the Helius AC better suits my riding style, with the biggest improvement being when cornering.
I think coming from a Mach 429 you'll probably notice more of a difference than coming from a Firebird. I bought the Helius AC Pinion specifically to replace the Firebird so it's built up with a heavier parts spec than I have on my Liteville 301 or Mach 5. However, if I think you'll appreciate the action of the Pinion gearbox over the Rohloff hub and also the improved suspension characteristics by moving the weight low down in the centre of the frame.
Now if Shimano or Pinion would develop a lighter, Di2 shifting style gearbox I think that could be perfect!
Thank you so much for the reply.
I have two Rohloff currently, I went Rohloff so I could run a half link chain. After a year of breaking a chain twice a month, and a X-9 every few months... I wish i had gone rohloff sooner. I could have bought another bike just in broken bits. The one I ride most of time time was on my Mach 429, I too always had to lay off torque for a split second to shift. Its nice to know the pinion will probably shift faster. The Pinion seems to be a developing technology and the Rohloff remains unchanged for many years. They may eventually have to evolve it as the entire mountain market seems to be going to 142x12. ( for now )
My mountain rohloff is going on back up HiFi29er. That rohloff I got used and I know has probably 10,000 miles.
My other Rohloff is on a full suspension disk brake recumbent, The previous owner, Mark Weisbecker rode the bicycle around the PLANET, LITERALLY. ( some of course unpaved ) I bought it after he did so, and I saw his photos. It still rides GREAT ! ( although some scratches ) its a German made Velotechnik GTE, THAT bike tracks and corners like nothing else I have ever ridden, even corners as well as BMW, Ducati or Moto Guzzi motorcycles. The Velotechnic along with a few other german things with wheels, have me convinced German handling is where its at.
Ive noticed on that I do have to back off on torque for a split second longer on the recumbent than I do with the mountain bike. Perhaps its that the chain is eight times as long and has some spring energy in it ? I don't know.. It just feels like I have to back off a split second longer.
I LOVE my two rohloff. I never want any derailleur again. I am reading nothing but great stuff about the Nicolai & Pinion, the only thing is it sounds like it will have a little bit of pedal bob and a little bit of bob climbing as opposed to the DW-Link.. too bad they dont make a Pinion on a DW link bike yet. And if, if it ever breaks good god its going to be a far thing for service or parts.
Let me know where I can find the extra 5K to build a SECOND Nicolai I will GLADLY Do so !
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