Summary: The Shimano Alfine-11 internally geared hub is a high quality piece of machinery with great performance and a great value!
I received my Shimano Alfine-11 (SG-S7001-11) equipped Bike Friday Silk New World Tourist on October 8th 2019 (see YouTube review of Bike Friday) and since then have taken 34 rides up “my mountain”, each ride averages 2,300′ of vertical and 25 miles so in my first 3 months of use I have 78,200 feet (14.8 miles) of vertical climbing in 850 pavement miles. It is worth nothing that this kind of riding is brutal on a drive train as bike+rider weight is 250 pounds total and half of each ride is up a 6% slope up where stand on the pedals and honk my way up in first gear. Despite this heavy use and high torque, the gearbox has functioned flawlessly.
There is some concern from people about the durability of the Alfine-11 hub that I have discussed in the section at the bottom of this page titled “Alfine-11 hub and torque”. My strategy has been to beat the living daylights out of my gearbox by pounding up steep hills standing on the pedals in order to try and bust the gearbox during the 3 year warranty period. So far I have failed :)
This page is just my review and I dont pretend this is a comprehensive coverage of the design of this amazing hub. Here is comprehensive information on the Shimano Alfine.
Why I chose an internally geared hub
I have 40 years of bike commuting and touring experience and have put hundreds of thousands of miles on my fleet of bikes but this is my first internally geared hub and I have to say that I am very impressed. I do all my own bike maintenance so the fact that these hubs are easy to maintain was not a big selling point. For me, the big selling point is how damage resistant they are during transport. I check my bikes as luggage on the airlines several times a year and with a traditional derailleur bike you are faced with two unpleasant choices. You can completely dismantle the system which takes an annoying amount of time and leaves your hands greasy or you can leave it on and risk almost certain bending of both the front and rear derailleur. For me, the huge advantage of an internally geared hub is that I can just pop it into the airline travel suitcase knowing there is nothing for the airlines to bend! For me, a minor benefit is that during bike treks in mud, gravel, and muck found on long bike treks, I dont have to worry about constant drive train cleaning. One thing to remember is that there is no perfect drive train. Everything is a compromise so decide what is most important you you. There is a very good reason that you will never see a Rohloff Speedhub or a Shimano Alfine-11 in the Tour de France.
If the following are important to you then get an internally geared hub like the Shimano Alfine-11:
- Ease of maintenance
- Functions well in dirty and wet conditions
- Works well with electric assist bikes
- Virtually indestructible when shipped as airline luggage
- Ease of shifting (no complicated shifting pattern)
If the following are important to you then get a traditional drivetrain:
- Minimum weight
- Maximum drive efficiency
- Field repairability
- High gear range
- Lowest cost
Adjusting the Alfine-11
The Alfine-11 is so easy to tune that you should not take it to your bike shop! Put it in gear 6, then turn the barrel adjuster until the yellow lines match! Its that easy. My bike came perfectly adjusted from Bike Friday. After about two months, the cable had stretched a bit and required a 1/2 turn and it has been stable since then.
Changing oil in Shimano Alfine-11
They say the first oil change needs to be at 1000km. Dont consider this a recommendation or a suggestion, consider it gospel. In fact, I would strongly suggest doing it at 500km. The more often you change your oil, the longer the gearbox will last so I highly recommend you do it earlier and more often than suggested. Its a very easy procedure so I would also highly recommend that you do it yourself rather than taking it to a bike shop. Doing it yourself, you can insure that the proper oil is used and its actually a time savings to do it yourself. The very excellent instructions specify that you drain the oil, replace it, swish it around, drain it again, then fill. Before you drain it, I strongly recommend you take the bike for a hard ride of at least an hour where you exercise all gears to insure any sludge is kicked up into the oil . I actually suggest repeating the swish and refill procedure at least 3 times to insure you get clean oil. Unfortunately the “oil change kit” is WAY overpriced at about $60 but you need the threaded nipple because there is no way to change the oil without it. Not only that, the oil is expensive too and a liter of the SG-7000 oil is $90 I would NOT skimp and try to use something cheaper – penny wise and pound foolish. The team of mechanical engineers at Shimano did not want to add another oil type to their parts lineup. If the oil for the Nexus hubs would perform well in the Alfine-11, they would have just used that. Think of it this way, the maintenance on the Alfine-11 is so simple that even people with “no mechanical ability” can do it easily and safely so the money you are saving on bike shop visits makes the “expensive” oil and oil change kit look like a bargain.
Efficient riding with the Shimano Alfine-11 internally geared hub
The Alfine-11 is a beautiful piece of engineering. All you have to do is adjust the shifter from gear 1 to gear 11 and it gives you evenly spaced gears. Behind the scenes a lot is going on inside that hub to make the magic happen. If you want to figure out how the three stages of the gearbox work, check out Sheldon Brown’s Afine-11 page but be warned, it will take a few hours of study to figure it out. I would LOVE to see an animation of the hub at work. If you don’t really care to slug thru the engineering design, here are the main things you need to know about this three stage gear box:
- Only one of the three gear stages is used in gears 1, 7, 8, 9 making these the most efficient gears for power transfer.
- Two stages of the gearbox are used for gears 2 ,3, 4, 10, 11
- All three stages are used for gears 5 and 6 making them the least efficient gears.
Lets summarize with this shifting diagram:
I’ts important you don’t freak out about this. Because gears 5 and 6 use all three stages of the gearbox, there is more friction in these gears but that does not mean you should avoid them. Its better to have a little extra friction than to blow a knee out by using too low a pedal RPM. It does mean that if you are on a long ride and want to get there as soon as fast as possible then choose gears 7, 8, and 9 if you can.
Alfine-11 hub and torque
There are some reports on the internet that the Alfine-11 “does not handle torque well”, whatever that is supposed to mean. Here is a great example from singletrackworld forum.
“They don’t like torque” is a vague and meaningless statement completely void of actual information. There is a name for a bike that “does not like torque”, it’s called A CHAIR. It’s torque on the cranks that makes the bike move. No torque, no movement. Saying the Alfine does not like torque is the same as saying that a wheel “does not like to roll”. What does “don’t like” mean and what happens when it “doesn’t like it”??? In what gears does it “not like” the torque? Precisely how much torque does it “not like” and what happens when you exceed this torque threshold? From Sheldon Brown comes the only reasonable technical description I have seen of this possible issue:
“The helical stage 1 gears were presumably added at a late stage (the EV tech doc shows straight-cut gears), I suppose to make the hub nice and quiet. However this generates an axial thrust load which can cause problems with retention of sun gear 1 on the axle (as jb has described in the reliability thread). Arguably, whoever designed the gear train screwed up here, in that when you pedal hard, the sun pinion S1 is forced rightwards against the retaining clip, rather than leftwards against a fixed shoulder. Maybe there is a good reason for this, but if the helical gear had been cut the other way (or left straight-cut), this fault might not occur in the same way or perhaps at all. The problem is especially likely if you routinely pedal hard in gears 1-6.“
Let me try to put the above into plain english. A helical gear is one with diagonal teeth. With a normal gear there is no axial load but because the teeth on a helical are diagonal, there is an axial force and its this force that is trying to push the sun pinion into a retaining clip – something that would eventually wear and cause problems. The above text came from a bike mechanic so it seems quite trustworthy. Although I have not disassembled my hub to inspect it, my suspicion is that they have discovered this issue and made modifications to fix it. If they have not fixed it then being religious about oil changes (below) to prevent wear is so important.
Since I can only guess what these inarticulate people are saying, I am guessing it is one of three things:
- “The Alfine-11 does not shift well under high torque”. Correct. No internally geared hub shifts well under high torque and you should not be doing this under any circumstances. Even if it does kinda shift ok under pedal pressure, you are causing unnecessary wear and tear by doing this. An internally geared hub shifts best with no pedal pressure. If this still does not make sense to you then ask yourself if you shift a manual transmission car without the clutch. It is possible and I have done it many times but it requires careful RPM matching of engine speed to road speed to do it without damanging gears. Your internally geared hub is a manual transmission car without a clutch so you need to stop pedaling or at least eliminate pedal pressure to shift.
- “Its hard to bike up a steep hill with an Alfine-11”. If this is true then its no fault of the Alfine-11. The Alfine-11 has a 92% efficiency in 1st gear. If its hard to bike up steep hills then its the fact that the bike you have purchased has the wrong gear ratios for you and your needs. The Alfine-11 has a 409% range between the lowest and highest gear. You can’t have everything. If you want to go really fast on the flats then you will have a *really* hard time going up steep hills. Don’t blame a poorly designed bicycle on the Alfine. I worked closely with Bike Friday to get the gear range I needed. I chose a 60 tooth Gates Centertrack chainring and a 26 tooth cog to give me a 22″ low gear and a 92″ high gear.
- “The Alfine-11 falls apart and breaks under high torque”. From my experience I can tell you that this is NOT what people mean when they say that the “Alfine does not handle torque well”. I have brutalized my gearbox by climbing up 78,000 feet of vertical in first gear standing on my pedals to honk up the steep mountains without any problems at all. Not only that, I am a very heavy rider with bike+rider coming in at over 250 pounds. When I changed the oil, I very closely examined the metal particles in the old oil and they were all the expected very fine dust sized particles with no shards or chunks indicating abnormal wear. If this is happening to people then I suspect its because they are not changing the oil as often as recommended or they are not using the recommended SG-7000 oil.
My best guess is that people who complain that “the Alfine-11 does not handle torque well” have not changed the oil early enough of frequent enough which leads to excessive wear on the bearings of the helical gear in stage 1 which leads to the problems.
Rohloff vs Alfine-11
I actually plan on purchasing the Rohloff equipped Bike Friday Llama so that I can do a fair long term use comparison. From what I have read, its pretty clear that the Rohloff Speedhub 14 is superior to the Alfine-11 in performance. The issue is that the Rohloff Speedhub 14 is more than 3x the cost of a Gates belt equipped Alfine-11. Is the Rohloff better than the Alfine, I think so. Is it 3x better, I seriously doubt it. If you want the best and money is no object, get the Rohloff. If you want value, get the Alfine-11. I look forward to putting 10,000 miles on each so I can give you a durability comparison.