My precious Alfine hub will soon be at peace with its maker, but I’ve still got some healing to do. My experience with Alfine has been a roller coaster ride that has left me wary of internally geared hubs. Not to mention anxious, moody, and prone to sudden outbursts of sobbing. Combined with my DualDrive and Sturmey-Archer experience I guess you could say that I’m thrice bitten… fourfold shy? I’ve lost count. What follows is my therapy.
It all began innocently enough. I’d grown weary of my crappy drivetrain performance, particularly my SRAM twist/grip shifters. Nothing seemed likely to improve matters much until I discovered Di2 and with it the promise of Alfine: Clean, rapid, self-contained shifting while pedaling or stopped. Ability to shift gearing up or down by replacing a single sprocket. Perfectly straight chain line. This was seductive stuff and I was hooked.
But I’d been around the block a few times. Previous forays into IGH had left me heartbroken. SRAM DualDrive got me excited and then dashed my hopes by clattering down the road like a hillbilly honeymoon. The Sturmey-Archer CS-RF3 rattled just as much. So my romance with Alfine began with much trepidation. Would it turn out to be just another rusty coffee can dangling behind my trike from a piece of string?
When the answer turned out to be an unqualified no, I was smitten. Alfine did its job silently. Over bumps that would have my old SRAM X9 derailleur skipping and clanging, the Alfine and my suspended ICE frame responded with a barely detectable and satisfyingly solid, low-frequency thud. Even the pawls were silent, without the pervasive click-click-click of a conventional freewheel hub. The only time I heard noise coming from this hub was when I was in an enclosed space like a tunnel that reflected sound back to me. Even then, I barley heard the click of the pawls and only in a couple of gears. Backpedaling sometimes increased the pawl noise slightly, but it was still barely audible. Finally! An IGH with all of the virtues (plus eleven gears and electric shift!) and none of the noise.
Until the problems began, within 100 miles of use. Not OCD problems like a little rattle in the rear, but “I’m not sure I’m going to make it home without shredding my hub” problems. Skipping after having been in the same gear for several minutes. Briefly popping out of gear. And the final straw: not going into 2nd gear without a couple crank revolutions of grinding, if ever. This one made for some pretty sketchy crossings at busy intersections.
The romance is over—I broke it off. I’m waiting to hear Shimano’s prognosis on my hub. I’ll admit I have a reputation among family and friends as the clearinghouse for defective merchandise but I can’t imagine an explanation from Shimano that would make me want to go down this road again. Particularly after my conversation with Shimano customer support.
I give Shimano a lot of credit. On a good day, Alfine is incredible. On paper, it solves a lot of problems for the non-spandex crowd. (No, I don’t wear spandex. You’re welcome.) Combined with Di2, Alfine pushes the envelope for everyday cyclists in a very good way. Maybe next iteration, Shimano.
Update: The following posts document my gradual disillusion with Alfine.
The Trouble with Alfine (this post)
Rest in peace Alfine