Thoughts on a Rohloff-Equipped Bike

I debated a long time whether to get a bike with a Rohloff hub, or a regular dérailleur system. In the end, not knowing much about bike maintenance and being inherently lazy, the appeal of a low maintenance piece of equipment won. If, in the unlikely event something went seriously wrong and the hub had to be sent to Rohloff for repair, I figured that since I am in no rush, I have the time to wait for it to be shipped back and forth if necessary. Since I was going to Africa where good bike mechanics and spare parts would be in short supply, I tried to bring a comprehensive list of spare parts.

Up until the 15,000km mark I would have unreservedly said that I made the right choice with a Rohloff bike. Maintenance has been limited to 2 hub oil changes and occasional cleaning of the bike and oiling of the chain. Periodically I have had to adjust the EBB to tighten the chain, but this is easy to do.

By 16,000km however, it became apparent that I would have to remove links in the chain as I had used up all the play in the bottom bracket. Also I would need to replace a worn sprocket and the chain (the front chain ring also now needs replacing). At the same time, the rubber twist-shift gear changer seized up. Being in Africa, finding a bike mechanic with even the basic tools can be hard. I also started to notice a wobble in the rear wheel (worn hub cap bearings). This all added up to quite a lot of work. If in Europe, I would simply have gone to a repair shop and left it in their capable hands. Instead, I had to get help from a bike forum, read the instructions manual and sweat a lot over trying to remove and adjust parts.

(see previous blog post for more details)

All of this was rather unexpected. For example, I had asked SJS for advice on what spare parts to take, but they thought I would get to Cape Town on the one chain and didn’t think I’d need to reverse or replace the sprocket. I therefore didn’t even have a sprocket removal tool with me and had to have it sent out.

The parts I am expecting to have to replace – the internal hub mech and also the cables – are so far ok. I have spares and although may struggle with the replacement since I haven’t done it before, am prepared to do it (I even downloaded the video and instructions onto my laptop before I left).

The worry with the wobbling wheel was that I was at the time unable to stop for long due to expiring visas. But I will not do more damage by cycling on it and so can continue until a more appropriate time to stop for a couple of weeks to send the wheel for repair if it gets worse. So not a problem for now.

I think I probably underestimated the maintenance that would be required on such a long trip, even with a Rohloff hub. Would a derailleur system have been better? That is hard for me to say. But the one advantage would have been that local bike mechanics would know the system and finding replacement parts would have been relatively easy (rather than having to get parts shipped from the UK).

By the end of this trip I will probably have had to change the internal hub mech and gear cables. I will then know more or less all there is to know about maintenance of a Rohloff equipped bike and so for another trip, would be much better prepared.

Overall I have had to do very little with the bike and have been very pleased with it. The main problems really came from lack of thorough research on my behalf (although I thought I’d been thorough!) and poor advice initially:
1.When ordering the bike SJS never asked whether I wanted presta or schrada valves and I never thought to specify. I ended up with presta valves. Almost every bike tourer will recommend the schrada valve since they are easy to find and can be pumped up at gas stations and the hole in the rim will then fit both valve types anyway. I know this too now! This was a school-boy error. Part of the reason for buying from SJS was their product knowledge, which I was lacking. True, I should of done more thorough research beforehand, but I feel that when spending so much money a little more attention could have been paid on their part.

2.If the advice I received had been that I would need to replace the sprocket and chain at some point, I could have kept an eye on it. I could easily have brought the spare parts back with me when I returned briefly to the UK for example. I would also have carried a sprocket removal tool for reversing the sprocket to prolong the use. As it was, I had been told the chain would probably last the entire trip and I didn’t notice the wear until after returning from the UK.

I think it is also worth mentioning that when I first received the new bike only 13 of the 14 gears were working. With a call to SJS they talked me through how to correct this using the cable adjusters and soon I had 14 gears. But, quite frankly, all 14 gears should have been working in the first place. I spent a lot of money with them and I should have had a fully functioning bike to start.

I hope this doesn’t sound too anti-SJS. I am actually very happy with the bike. But I do feel that for a company who has a reputation for good customer service (and a big reason why I bought from them) that I was let down in this respect. In their defence however, when I emailed them about the wobbling wheel I received an almost immediate and thorough response from Lisa, which was greatly appreciated.

In terms of the Rohloff hub, I think it’s a great piece of equipment. I would happily tour with one again. Rohloff product support have also been very helpful with advice.

I think I would have had to do more with a derailleur system based on my small amount of knowledge of them from mountain-biking in the UK and how often I have to send it to the repair shop for a service and replacement of parts.

But another time I will be better prepared and my spare parts list would differ considerably.

For commuting or even shorter (say up to 10,000km) tours the Rohloff bike would need almost nothing doing to it. I’m on a long tour and travelling on rough terrain and so probably am working the parts hard and shouldn’t really expect them to go on forever.

7 Responses to “ Thoughts on a Rohloff-Equipped Bike ”

  1. Thanks for the update on equipment, its helpful to the fellow bicycle touring community.

    Could you provide detail on the exact tire and rims you are using?

    Thanks

    and happy cycling,

    andrew

  2. Helen,

    You are not alone in your dismay with SJS. I experienced the same issue with tyre valves when ordering a new bike last year, their service was woeful and at times downright rude.

    If they are still trading on their formally good reputation for good service then it can`t be long before customers vote with their feet and proceed to make a substantial investment with another bike company. My family and friends who have had either dealings or phone correspondance with this company have been stunned by their approach to customer service. They wasted a great deal of my time, although to their credit they did reimburse the full cost of the bike.

    Keep up the trip , I have been following your journey from the outset. In the past I sponsored Alastair Humphries and Dan Martin. Years ago as on overland driver I drove some of the routes you are now following.

    Regards from Cape Town,
    Martin.

  3. Great to hear all is good Helen, power to your pedals!!!

  4. Hi Helen,
    Nothing wrong with having a moan about customer service. SJS should know better as they are the only shop you can buy Thorns from, i think. And as Thorns are built for going the distance then maybe there’s a breakdown in coms with Thorn and SJS, or you spoke to someone that has only gone round the block on their bike. Anyway it’s a good leaning curve and by the time you do the Americas it’ll be you dishing out all the expertise.
    By the way, you probably know this but i think you got a mention on http://www.thebigafricacycle.com
    Bye.

  5. Hi Helen,
    I agree that SJS should have been more detail oriented with your purchase, especially considering the enormity of your journey. Glad to hear you figured it all out and were able to continue! An impressive journey it is. Best wishes to you.

    Lloyd

  6. Hi Helen, thank you for these two reviews, I think they were very interesting, being myself a Thorn bike owner and having found your site through Thorn Cycles’ links page. I hope the people at Thorn/SJS will also have read it and taken note of your remarks. My bike came with the same small valves and I agree that this just does not make sense (it would be interesting to have a reaction from them). I am very impressed by your achievement so far and your determination on this trip, and found your blog highly interesting – sometimes even unputdownable – and a few of your photos absolutely outstanding. I wish you many more exciting adventures on your journey and will be sure to check your updates!

  7. Hi Helen

    Just come across your website and read your comments about hub gears with interest. I’ve never quite understood the issues with derailleurs. I can understand people’s hesitation in using them on an aluminium frame where snapping the replaceable dropout could be an issue, but on a steel frame they strike me as the most sensible option. I love the fact that you can see the ‘gearbox’ and tweeking and indeed replacing is relatively easy. They’re also incredible simple – the XT rear mech on my Kona is 10 years old and still functions brilliantly. Hub gears are fine so long as they work, but if they go wrong it’s a specialist job. They’re also, especially in the case of Rohloff, incredibly expensive. My entire 3.5 month cycle tour of Europe cost only slightly more than a Rohloff and the tandem we rode cost £300 on ebay!

    Anyway, hope the rest of the trip is relatively hassle-free and blessed with good fortune.

    Cheers
    Chris

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