We've been trying out the Alfine hub for about a year now and thought it was about time to put down in writing a few observations. This started out life as a few notes on the bottom of the Blizzard snow-bike article here but there is so much we made it into its own article. If you're after one of your own, head on over to our shop, click here.
It's great not having to worry about derailleurs, flimsy and expensive cassettes, cleaning your bike, even oiling your chain very often - everything just works all the time. They're not perfect but for the money are an amazing bit of kit for a minimum-maintenance bike.
What colours are available?
Alfine hubs are available in black or polished silver. The silver hubs look better in real life than the black ones. The black ones look better in all the Shimano photos.
Is the Alfine heavy?
The weight of an Alfine hub comes out about 400-600g more than an average normal gear setup, and it's all concentrated at the far end of the dropouts. You get used to it pretty quickly but initially it makes hopping over stuff a bit harder.
What bits do I need to get it working?
You need a wheel with an Alfine hub in it, an Alfine fitting kit which contains various small pieces including non-turn washers for every type of dropout, a sprocket (see below on calculating size) and a shifter. If you don't have horizontal drop-outs then you'll also need a chain tensioner. You'll probably also need a centerlock disk or a centerlock->6 bolt adapter if you already own a spare 6-bolt disk.
What is the gear range of an Alfine hub?
The gear range is 306%. What this means in real life is that it's good but not quite as big as a normal cassette with a double chainring. If you choose a chainring and sprocket so that your lowest Alfine gear is the same as a normal granny gear, then your top gear will be about a 32 chainring / 13 sprocket combination.
How do I choose what chainring and sprocket size to use?
Let's assume you have a 32T chainring lying around that you want to use. You also want a gear that will get you up a hill the same as a standard 24:32 granny gear. The 24/32 is a gear ratio of 0.75. The lowest gear on an Alfine hub is a 0.53 ratio. So (32/0.75)*0.53 = 23T sprocket. Unfortunately Alfine sprockets are only available up to 20T but if you really need a gear that low there is a Nexus sprocket that will fit. In that case your biggest gear ratio would be (32/23)*1.62 = 2.26, the same as a 32:14 gear.
What does all that mean in plain English?
It means that if you use a 32:23 setup on your Alfine you'll be spinning quite a bit along the flat. If you can compromise on a bit of steep hill climbing you'd probably be better off with a 20T sprocket and 32T chainring which would give you most of the range of a double chainring setup but sacrificing the lowest couple of gears. Stronger riders might like to use the 18T sprocket for extra flat/downhill pedalling ability.
Is the freewheel noisy?
No, it's silent. Pedalling take-up is instant too as it uses a clever clutch mechanism.
What's the gear spacing like?
There are a couple of big jumps and a couple of slightly small ones. The ratios are: 0.53, 0.64, 0.75, 0.85, 1, 1.22, 1.42, 1.62 if that's any help.
Can I use a double chainring with an Alfine hub?
If you use a chain tensioner (or rear mech!) with enough capacity to handle the difference in chain length, then yes. We haven't tried it but reckon the Alfine chain tensioners will probably be OK for a 24T/32T double chainring. Triple chainrings will probably mess up your chainline a bit.
What shifter do I need?
The Alfine shifter, available in black or silver, is a "rapid rise" trigger-style shifter. The "rapid rise" can be confusing at first but you'll soon get used to it. You can use a Nexus "gripshift" style shifter instead if you prefer.
How do I get the wheel in and out?
Getting the back wheel out can be a faff, especially if you need a chain tensioner for a vertical dropout frame. It's a fiddly process of lining up the bit the cable goes into while aligning the non-turn washers which are there to prevent the axle rotating in the dropouts. You'll need to carry a spanner to remove your wheel when fixing punctures.
Is it efficient?
Pedalling the Alfine feels smooth and efficient. It takes a bit of running-in but there is no noticeable drag once it's settled in. It's probably not as efficient as a well-oiled traditional transmission but
What maintenance do I need to carry out?
The Alfine is low maintenance but not no-maintenance, it's certainly not a sealed-for-life Rohloff. Shimano recommend an overhaul every 2 years but they originally intended it as a city bike hub so we'd recommend more often. If it feels at all graunchy give it a spring clean.
Where can I find out more technical information about the Alfine hub?
There is a huge amount of servicing information available here: http://hubstripping.wordpress.com/alfine-shimano/
How much do all the parts cost ?
prices as of feb 09 and subject to change:
1. Alfine hub with NoTubes Arch rim and Competition spokes - £270.56
2. Alfine Shifters (black or silver) - £34.25
3. Alfine sprockets (18t, 20t)- £7.82
5. Alfine fitting kit - £10.76
6. Alfine chain tension (if needed) - £15.65
total - £339.04