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).
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.
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.
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.
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.