Riding in inclement weather can really be a pain! Not only do you have to put up with snow, rain and mud during your ride, but when you get home you have to spend time cleaning the drivetrain on your bike to keep it from rusting. If you would like to spend more time riding and less time cleaning you should replace the rear cassette, hub and derailleur on your bike with a Shimano Alfine 8-Speed Internal Geared Hub. This past December I bought a new Surly Necromancer Pugsley and had the guys at the local bike shop (Zion Cyclery in Zion, Illinois) put a Shimano Alfine 8 on it before I took it home. After a few weeks of using the Alfine 8 in the snow and mud I decided to have them put one on my Gary Fisher Big Sur mountain bike as well.
The Shimano Alfine 8 is a dependable, smooth shifting internal geared hub that doesn’t let snow, mud, rain or slush interfere with its operation. Shifting with the Alfine 8 is so smooth and quiet it is almost magical—and you never have to worry about a misaligned derailleur or bent hanger. I’ve had no problem shifting even when the temperature was bellow zero. Weighing in at over 1600 grams the Alfine 8 is not exactly lightweight, but since you lose the weight from the derailleur and cassette it is not too bad.
If you would like to swap out your old drivetrain for the Alfine 8 there are a few things you need to consider. First, you will need to completely rebuild your rear wheel to install the Alfine 8. Rebuilding the wheel means new spokes and nipples (use brass or anodized nipples since you are probably going to be riding in wet weather). The Alfine 8 is available with either a 32 or 36 hole count, so if your old rim does not match up you will have to buy a new rim as well. Second, if your bike has vertical dropouts you will also have to buy a Shimano Chain Tensioner. The Alfine 8 has a disc rotor mount (for disc brakes), but the disc is not included. This hub is bolt-on only—you cannot use a skewer.
Many people use the Alfine 8 while running a single ring in the front. I use two front rings on both of the bikes that have the Alfine 8 installed. On my Surly Necromancer I was able to keep the stock Mr. Whirly offset double 22/36 crankset, but had to buy a new crankset my Gary Fisher Big Sur.
The Shimano Alfine 8 is available in either black or silver and retails for a bit over $300. This price does not include the shifter, cog, cog snap-ring, axle nuts, non-tun washers or cassette joint—most of these parts are included in the Shimano Alfine Small Parts Kit (but not the shifter and cog).
While you are upgrading your bike you really ought to replace your old 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.