Rohloff Test

A Rohloff Cheapo

Last October I started to put the German bike supply system to a test.

Our local bike shop had had the opportunity to sell two seriously expensive electrically assisted bikes which are all the rage over here (and many of which have been tested as life endangering failures by the German equivalent of “Which?” magazine, btw) under the proviso that they´d accept a very strange bike in part exchange, so they did, luckily for me. The very strange bike was equipped with a Rohloff 14sp hub, Magura HS33 brakes, a rather nice Shimano/Busch und Müller lighting combo and some other useful stuff. So what was strange about that?

That it still was a cheapo. It was made for a large volume selling chain store dealing in bicycles (couldn´t very well call it a cycle chain store, could I) who fished for bargain hunting customers with the big names on the bike, but nonetheless managed to produce an unrideable (as in undrinkable, opposed to non potable) vehicle. First, in order to attain their price point, they saved a lot on labour, throwing the thing together in a way which allowed me hardly to leave anything untouched.

Next, the cheap presumably Chinese frame and especially the telescopic front fork were of such a quality as to bring tears to the rider´s eyes. The front fork wouldn´t budge when riding, but when applying the brakes it would nearly throw me over the handlebars because it dived to the bottom straight away. The carrier rack was so narrow as to be unusable, the sprung seatpin had no end of side play, and so on. This was, for instance, what the Rohloff cable entry hole in the down tube looked like:

RRKabelführgIntern

Rain water would enter without any problem, and standing the bike on the handlebars after a few rainy rides would have water gushing out of several of these holes. The hole had sharp edges, too. The chain was so badly aligned that there would be a constant noise from the rear sprocket. Both left and right hand chain stays had a thread each underneath for the Rohloff cable stop. The fashionably short front mudguard was that fashionable that dirt would be thrown up everywhere when cycling in averse weather conditions. I swapped it at once for a stainless ´guard I had taken off a fifties bike as being unoriginal.

Buying a Rohloff and not Using It

So the bike had been ridden a max of 50 miles by its first owner; small wonder. You could tell looking at the rim brake surfaces, brake blocks or those nooks and crannies on a modern bike you can´t get dirt out of if you life depended on it. After five years the first owner just wanted to get rid of the bike and next, so did the bike shop: It was October. We agreed on a price which was considerably less than what you usually pay for a used Rohloff hub alone, my plan being to ride the bike over the winter, then break it for its more expensive parts, sell them at a profit and junk the rest, unless I liked my first Rohloff 14sp hub, in which case I would try to get a decent frame. So the first part of my system test had been successful: How cheap can you get a Rohloff equipped bike? Very. It had taken the best part of 15 years, but still.

The next part of the test was: Can you make a good bike out of a chain store cheapo? After a Saturday afternoon´s worth of wrenching and a few hundred kilometers the answer was No. I had replaced the carrier rack with one from my used spares box, and the seat pin had been swapped out for a non-sprung one, plus a good Brooks Conquest, also from my box, but no way.

I kept riding the bike regardless because I must admit that the Rohloff and the modern Maguras grew on me very quickly. I like hub gears, always have, and this one must be the zenith of them all. Contrary to what some people say I find changing gears easy (the secret seems to be to leave the cables rather slack), and the noise and vibration the lower half of the gears emit can also be greatly reduced when a steel frame is used. Sure, the energy needed to produce the noise and vibration felt through the soles of my shoes must come from somewhere, and on a bike there is only one source of energy, but the hub gear concept is neat and clean, and I like that. On the whole, I´m not becoming one of those Rohloff addicts, or disciples, or whatever you want to call them, but for me, the hub´s shortcomings do not outweigh its advantages.

The Way to a Decent Rohloff Bike

I decided to get a good, hard wearing and not too fancy frame about half way through this year´s very long winter, so the next part of the system test followed: Sourcing a lugged steel frame in 65cm c/t with Rohloff OEM dropouts. I don´t like the excenter method of chain tensioning, neither can I stand the long torque arm or an external switching box. Neatness, that´s the hub gear principle. No problem if you want to spend a couple of grand, a number of frame builders will be pleased to oblige. There are beautiful OEM dropouts available, but they all have their prices of course.

Things look rather different, however, if you want something down to earth you can for instance leave well locked in town while doing your shopping. Used frames – forget it; 65cm is just too exotic. Re new frames our local, provincial bike shops drew blanks for various reasons, most simply not regarding steel to be a suitable material for framebuilding at all, a number of them obviously not willing to look a little deeper into the matter than their ususal wholesalers´ catalogues. (Are they in for a surprise; they are completely overlooking the recent steel renaissance.)

I had nearly given up, the system failure seemingly not allowing me to get a decent, but un-fancy and un-hype-name Rohloff bike going. Note this, my budget for the frame/fork was up to 500 Euros, which to my mind isn´t nothing. So I had all but made my mind up to break the bike, squirrel the Rohloff away and recoup as much as possible of my money through selling the rest.

This was when the system´s saving grace in the form of freshly opened Dortmund cycle shop Radbude showed up.

RBasleep

RBawake

Tobit Linke, its owner, not only knows that steel can be a very feasibe frame material (he tried on PBP, among other long rides), but he also was willing to spend some time looking for a frame which would suit me. He has a lot of interesting stuff you won´t easily come across in your run of the mill bikeshop and caters for the enlightened cyclist who is willing to spend a quid more.

RBwindow

This is a short film my son made:

It was the third try which scored, and I ordered a new off the peg bike frame, something I hadn´t done in about 25 years. Lugged, oversize tubing, shiny black, no transfers or stickers of any kind. Well made, in the heavy German tradition, just what I wanted.

Problems and their solution

After a while it arrived, and off I went to Dortmund with the cheapo bike in the boot, to have Tobit swap round the parts. He had to show me the ropes with the Maguras as well as with the Rohloff, both being firsts for me, so there was some work in it for him, too. We also reused the bottom bracket/crank and the handlebar/extension assemblies from the cheapo.

RBWorkshop

After we had done this, I proudly went home to assemble the rest of the bike. I even found a 30mm seat pin in my box, but then disaster struck. I have been re-using used stainless bolts all my bike wrenching life, which is close on 30 years now, without a hitch, but the cheap chain store bike had one last nasty surprise for me. When trying to mount the rear mudguard, a stainless screw just gave when its thread was halfway down the thread in the frame, the head coming off without any effort at all. Tobit later told me that this is not an infrequent occurrence when working on cheap bikes, so I assume I have been pampered, missing out on all of these nasties.

RBWorksh2

Anyway, off I went to Dortmund again, very much p/o, to have the offending half of the bolt drilled out or otherwise dealt with, and asked Tobit to finish the bike, which he did, using some rather clever tricks. I usually take pride in being able to do 95 per cent of the work necessary to keep me going on the bike, including wheelbuilding for my randonneurs, so having someone build my bike was new to me. Of course, there were things left to do like locks, the bottle cage, speedo, some brake fine tuning after the new blocks had settled in and other stuff Tobit couldn´t know about, so I still can say that the bike has been partially built by myself.

RBShirtssaddles

I must say that I like visiting Radbude; it´s nice to have a cycle shop again which sells this sort of bikes when they can get at them:

RBOlmo

The Bike

So, after all this, what does the bike look like? Here are some snaps.

The frame was obtained through a wholesaler from Krüger, a manufacturer situated near Bielefeld, who mostly caters for the cycle industry. I am trying to get an appointment at the workshop and will report if it works out.

The frame seems to be well made, rugged, and not overly refined, but the price is very good, and the frame seems to be well worth its money. There are loads of useful braze ons, and hardly anything has to be banded on, which is great. One thing I don´t like are the kick stand threads on the left hand side dropouts. I can´t help thinking what happens if the droput is bent. That´s why I used the standard stand from the cheapo.

The ride is surprisingly lively, and I have not succeeded in inducing front end shimmy, which is something. The bike feels quick at low speeds, and I hope that once the tank track like Marathon Plus tires are replaced by something lighter and more responsive, it will be at high speeds too.

I would have preferred a more traditional geometry, but the slope in the top tube is not too bad and the Rohloff OEM dropouts make for steep seat stay angles anyway; something which can´t be easily helped.

I like the large diameter cable eyes under the top tube and the fork; they easily accomodate Magura pipes and all sorts of other stuff.

Kfullrhd

Kbb

Kbottlecage

Kcableroutbrazeon

Kforkbrazeons

Kforkcrlwrheadlug

Kftmudflap  Khubsprocket

Kreakbklock

Kreardo

Kseatcl

Kttcableeye

With the system test completed, I hope I will be riding this bike for a long time. However, there´s possibly one more stage to the test: Is it possible again, after many decades, to have a bike with all German main componets today? Once the rims will have worn out or the strange spoke pattern will have given rise to problems, I will replace the Shimano dynamo hub with a Son. I also could put in a German made bottom bracket bearing and a carrier rack. So let´s see what happens next.

Advertisements

2 Comments

  1. Posted August 17, 2013 at 5:52 pm | Permalink | Reply

    I’ll be very interested to read about your Rohloff experiences. This concept of this hub has intrigued me for a while now but I’ve not had an opportunity to try one out.

  2. Posted August 18, 2013 at 7:03 am | Permalink | Reply

    I´ve had about half a year of experience already; positive, mostly, but even during this short time I have encountered a number of people with the same request. Many people say that they would like to try a Rohloff, but, just like me, shy away from the initial cost of acquiring one, especially now that Shimano have introduced the 11sp Alfine 700 hub which costs just about half of a Rohloff. I was just dumb lucky to be able to buy the cheapo bike last year.

2 Trackbacks

  1. By Rohloff Test, Part 2 « starostneradost on November 17, 2013 at 8:19 pm

    […] putting the German bike supply system to the test in https://starostneradost.wordpress.com/2013/08/17/rohloff-test/, I had a bike which was pretty good, and I felt proud of it. However, the grating noise and […]

  2. By Rohloff Update « starostneradost on November 1, 2014 at 5:53 pm

    […] cases like this, (see https://starostneradost.wordpress.com/2013/08/17/rohloff-test/ and https://starostneradost.wordpress.com/2013/11/17/rohloff-test-part-2/) the less one has to say […]

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s