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Shimano Alfine 11-Speed Internal Geared Hub

This past December my new Surly Necromancer Pugsley arrived at the local bike shop and among the customizing I had done before I took it home was the installation of a Shimano Alfine 8-Speed Internal Geared Hub. I wanted an internal geared hub because I planned on taking the Pugs to places where most cyclists fear to go—through mud, slush, snow, ice, sand and standing water. I also planned on riding in temperatures well before zero (Fahrenheit). I liked the Alfine hub so much that a few weeks later I had one installed on my Gary Fisher Big Sur mountain bike. Well, if two bikes with internal geared hubs were fun, three would be a blast. In February I had a Shimano Alfine 11-Speed Internal Geared Hub installed on an old Trek 1200—a road bike I only use for riding in rain, light slush, and when the roads are covered with salt (in other words, from mid-November through mid-April).

Shimano Alfine 11-Speed Internal Geared Hub

Shimano Alfine 11-Speed Internal Geared Hub

Most Shimano Alfine 11-Speed hubs are put on commuter bikes to cut down on maintenance. However, I put it on a road bike because I spend so much time riding in foul weather and since this hub is sealed I don’t have to worry about road salt, sand, mud and grime fouling up the gears. In the past few months I’ve logged over 1,000 miles with the Shimano Alfine 11-Speed hub and am extremely satisfied with the performance I get out of it and in this article I am just going to make a few general observations about the hub. If you are a gearhead and need exact gear ratios and technical specs you need to visit the Shimano Website.

Shimano Alfine FC-S500 Front Crankset (45T)

Shimano Alfine FC-S500 Front Crankset

The Shimano Alfine 11 Internal Geared Hub (SG-S700) weights about three ounces less than the Alfine 8 (3.5 pounds), but it is nearly twice the price. The Alfine 11 has a gear range of 409%, compared to 307% for the older 8-speed Alfine hub, so I decided to go with a single ring in the front and installed a Shimano Alfine FC-S500 Front Crankset (45T). This is a two-piece crankset that comes with an integrated bottom bracket and chainguard.

When I started riding with this hub it would sometimes shift for no clear reason. Eventually I figured out the problem—it always happened after I had shifted into an easier gear while going uphill. To solve the problem all I had to do was to stop pedaling when shifting gears while the hub was under a lot of strain (I’m only talking about missing a single stroke).

One of the advantages of having a single ring in the front is that it is nearly impossible to break a chain since it never has to move side-to-side. A single ring in front also means you don’t need a front derailleur, shifter or cables (this saves a bit of weight). Another advantage of a single ring in front is that in the winter you will never have to worry about the front derailleur freezing shut. Several times last year I rode through a bit of running water and when it splashed up on my front derailleur I couldn’t shift any more.

Versa 11-Speed Road Shifters

Versa 11-Speed Road Shifters

The old shifters on my road bike were not compatible with the Alfine hub so I put on Versa 11-Speed Road Shifters  (VRS-11) since Shimano does not make an 11-speed shifter for drop bars. The Versa 11 shifters/brake levers work well and shift smoothly, but they don’t feel as well made as the Shimano Ultegra shifters I have on my Trek Madone. Versa 11 shifters retail for $320, which is nearly as much as a good pair of Shimano Ultegra shifters. If your bike does not have drop bars you can use the Alfine Rapidfire Plus shift levers (SL-S700-S)—these shifters have an Optical Gear Display so you can see what gear you are in. The only thing I don’t like about the Versa 11 shifters is that they are hard to use when you are down on the drops—the shifter has a very long throw and unless you have fingers like a orangutang it is hard to move the shifter all the way over to get to an easier gear.

Alfine Chain Tensioner (CT-S500)

Alfine 11 Hub With Chain Tensioner

The Shimano Alfine 11-Speed hub retails for $675 and unless you have a lot of experience working on a bike I wouldn’t recommend trying to put this on yourself. Remember, you are going to have to rebuild your entire wheel with new spokes and nipples to use this hub, and then you will have to true the wheel when you are finished. Depending on the drop-outs on your bike, you might also need an Alfine Chain Tensioner (CT-S500).

Since you are probably reading this article because you are considering a Shimano Alfine 11 for one of your bikes, I would strongly suggest you also consider replacing your derailleur cables with a set of Gore Ride-On Sealed Low Friction Derailleur Cables. These sealed cables are completely protected from snow, mud, and dirt by continuous liners.

 

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Rebuilding An Old Mountain Bike (Trek 4300)

Ten years ago when I started cycling the first bike I bought was a Trek 4300, an entry-level mountain bike. That bike served me well for a few years, but as my cycling skills improved I bought more expensive bikes and the Trek 4300 became my winter bike—since it was an inexpensive bike I didn’t care that road salt would eventually destroy all the components. This past winter the local bike shop custom-built one bike for me and entirely rebuilt two of my other bikes. After spending so much time in the bike shop I finally decided I would try to rebuild the Trek 4300 myself.

Trek 4300 Mountain Bike Before the Rebuild

My Trek 4300 Mountain Bike After The Parts Were Stripped

With the help of the guys at the bike shop I bought all new parts for the rebuild. The only items that did not need replacing were the wheels. I have two sets of wheels for this bike anyway—one with snow tires and the other with aggressive knobby tires. Since the Trek 4300 was an entry-level bike it came with fairly inexpensive parts, but the aluminum frame has a lifetime warranty. When I did the rebuild I decided to move a few levels up the Shimano product line for most of the parts so I would end up with a better bike than I had to begin with.

Before you can start rebuilding a bike you have to remove all the old parts first. Since this bike had suffered through ten Chicago winters it is not surprising that all the parts were highly corroded. When I took the old parts off the bike I kept the cable housings so I could cut new housings to the same size. The hardest thing to get off the bike was the city sticker—the town I live in requires all bikes to have a sticker to help the police find the owner in case of theft. I am not sure what the sticker was made of, but it took me over an hour to get it off the bike! Once all the old parts were off I used Turtle Wax Premium Grade Rubbing Compound on the frame to remove scratches in the paint and Brasso metal polish to clean the chrome. After everything was clean I applied a good coat of Turtle Wax Super Hard Shell Paste Wax and the frame looked like new!

One item that I was not able to get off the bike was the bottom bracket—ten years of road salt made it very difficult to remove, so I had the guys at the bike shop replace it for me. The bike shop has a bottom bracket tool that can apply a lot more leverage than I was able to apply. They put on a maintenance free Shimano BB-UN55 Bottom Bracket with sealed bearings and a high quality spindle that should last for many years.

The first thing I put on the bike was a new Shimano 9 Speed Alivio Mountain Bicycle Crankset (175mm 44/32/22T). This crankset came with a chain guard and is much lighter than the set I had on before. The next items installed were a pair of Shimano Acera V-Brakes—the mud guard on these brakes was another nice improvement from the original brake set. The drivetrain was upgraded with a Shimano FD-M412 Alivio Dual Front Derailleur and a Shimano Alivio M410-SGS Rear Derailleur. I hooked the derailleurs up to a pair of Shimano Alivio 3×8 Brake/Shift Levers and put on a new SRAM PC-850 P-Link Bicycle Chain. The total cost for all the parts to this point was a little under $300.

There were three other items I added that were not absolutely necessary, but I thought were nice finishing touches. Even though the shifters came with a new set of cables, I decided to swap out the Shimano derailleur cables for a pair of Gore Ride-On Sealed Low Friction Derailleur Cables—these cables were the most expensive part of the rebuild, but since this bike is used for bad weather I think it is a good investment. Since this bike is used a lot in the winter I replaced to stem cap with a StemCAPtain Stem Cap Thermometer. The last item was a Lizard Skins Jumbo Chainstay Guard—a neoprene cover that fits over the chainstay to keep the paint from chipping and stop the noise caused by chain slaps. These last three items added around $100 to the cost of the rebuild.

Trek 4300 Alpha after the rebuild

Trek 4300 after the rebuild (on the shores of Lake Michigan)

Like most cyclists I enjoy riding and believe that bike repair is best done by trained professionals. One of the reasons I wanted to do this rebuild myself was for my education. Rebuilding a bike will teach you a lot about basic bicycle mechanics and once you do it you will feel a lot more confident about making a roadside repair when your bike breaks down 40 miles away from home.

I purchased all the parts for this rebuild from the local bike shop. I could have saved a few dollars by buying the parts online, but the local bike shop was very helpful in making sure I had the right parts. If you are one of those people who finds the parts you want at a local store and then buys them online to save money, well, I think you are lower than pond scum. The bike shop was even kind enough to give my rebuilt bike “the once over” to ensure that everything was installed properly (it was).

 
 

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Creating A Road Bike To Handle Foul Weather

Riding in foul weather is really hard on your bike. In my area of the country it’s not the snow that bothers you, but all the junk that goes along with it. Every winter our roads turn white—not from the snow but from numerous layers of road salt (on a quiet night you can sit in your garage and listen to your car rust). The highway department also uses a lot of sand to give motorists better traction on icy roads. Salt and sand will eat through all the components on your bike, even if you wash it off after each ride. I also spend a lot of time riding in the rain and that can be just as hard on a bike. It’s not the water falling from the sky that hurts your bike—it’s all of the grit and road grime that splashes up on your chain, cables, brakes, derailleurs and crankset.

Trek 1200 With A Shimano Alfine 11 Internal Geared Hub

Trek 1200 With A Shimano Alfine 11 Internal Geared Hub

Last week I had the local bike shop (Zion Cyclery in Zion, Illinois) rebuild my old Trek 1200 road bike. By rebuild I mean they replaced everything except the frame, handlebars and headset. The sad fact is that I could have bought a new Trek Madone for what the overhaul cost, but I already have a Madone and what I really need is a great bike for riding in foul weather.

The Trek 1200 is an aluminum frame road bike with Shimano Tiagra components that I bought back in 2005. The Tiagra product line is on the lower end of Shimano’s shop quality parts and is best suited for “advanced recreational” riders (still better than anything you will find at the “big box” stores). I was able to get over 10,000 miles out of these components, and most of that was in bad weather. Unfortunately, road salt had eaten through the chrome plating on all the components. Since the Trek 1200 has a lifetime warranty on the frame I decided to keep it and build a “new” bike with higher quality components that could withstand the harsh conditions I often ride in.

The biggest expense on this overhaul was the Shimano Alfine 11 Internal Hub Geared (SG-S700). The hub has a much wider gear ratio than the Alfine 8 found on two of my other bikes, so I decided to go with a single gear in the front and installed a Shimano Alfine FC-S500 Front Crankset (45T). The Alfine 11 weights a bit less than the Alfine 8, but it is nearly twice the price. Since all the gears are internal I don’t have to worry about salt, sand, road grime or rust. My old shifters were not compatible with the Alfine hub so they put Versa 11-Speed Road Shifters on (at the moment Shimano does not make an 11-speed shifter for drop bars).

If you ride in bad weather your brake pads will end up having grit embedded in them and this can wear down bike rims rather quickly. The original rims on my 1200 had worm down, so we went with new Mavic Open Sport rims and used brass nipples on the spokes (better for wet weather). Since the front rim was going to be replaced they dropped in a new Shimano 105 front hub (a higher quality hub than the original). Both the front and rear brakes on the 1200 were pretty well-worn, so new Shimano caliper brakes were installed. The Continental Touring Plus road bike tires I had on the bike were still in good shape, so I didn’t change them out.

Finishing touches included Lizard Skins DuraSoft Polymer Handlebar Tape. This handlebar tape is not only extremely comfortable, but offers incredible grip in wet weather (remember, this is going on a bike that is only used in foul weather). I also had Gore Ride-On Derailleur Cables installed. These sealed cables are maintenance free and shift smoother than anything else I’ve ever tried.

Was the cost of the rebuild worth it? It’s too early to tell yet. However, when I got home from my first long ride after the overhaul my bike frame and all the components were covered with road salt. It had snowed the day before and by the time I went out the road salt had been ground to powder by highway traffic and even something as light as my bike kicked up a lot of dust. This layer of dust (salt) reminded me of why I needed to have the bike “weatherproofed” in the first place.

 

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