9,949 miles to be precise. I was on a short tour along the Trail of the Couer D’Alene’s in Northern Idaho when I noticed some odd vibrations in my drivetrain. Nothing audible but it felt like something was caught in my rear derailleur cage. It felt the same in either gear on the Schlumpf which reinforced the idea that the problem was elsewhere. I couldn’t find anything amiss anywhere in the drivetrain and eventually it went back to normal, smooth operation. This happened a couple more times but always snapped out of it and eventually stopped acting up.
I’m pretty judicious about lubricating my Schlumpf SpeedDrive using their lube though I gather most any kind of lube will work. If anything I over-lube. When I got home I squirted in 2 ml more lube, I was pretty close to the 6 month mark, and went on a local ride. Climbing the first hill, the scuzziness in the drivetrain was back. This time when I took a look there were metal shavings all over the chain. As I limped home it never “snapped out of it” again. On closer inspection at home I noticed a whole bunch of lateral play in the Schlumpf. I’m pretty sure it’s done.
I contacted Utah Trikes who had installed the Schlumpf about six an a half years ago, hoping that they were a repair shop for the hub. They’re not. They told me a new hub would cost around $800 and is currently on backorder, it might take several months to get one. I emailed the factory in Germany and so far have only received the “we’re really busy, expect delays” reply. So much of that these days.
I was joking just a few weeks ago on this blog about how much I liked my Schlumpf but that my tune might change if it failed tomorrow. Tomorrow has arrived and I think I’m done with Schlumpf. It bothers me that a piece of equipment this expensive apparently can’t be repaired. At least not in a timely matter. 10,000 miles would be a decent lifetime if it wasn’t a throw-away when it finally died. Maybe it’s not as bad as this, I’m still investigating options, but initial indications are not good.
It doesn’t help that this is the last in a long line of issues I’ve had with internally geared hubs (IGH). After initially loving DualDrive, Sturmey-Archer, and Alfine hubs I eventually gave up on them all. In the case of Alfine it gave up on me. I’ve slowly come to the conclusion that the relatively minor advantages of an IGH compared with a DI2 externally-geared system are far outweighed by their cost and reliability issues. I think at this point the only thing that would bring me back to IGH would be belt drive and that’s just not a thing for recumbents. If somehow that did happen, Rohloff is about the only hub I’d consider. And with that I’d be going from zero to two mechanical cables which would be a pretty tough sell for me.
For now I think I’ll slap a conventional bottom bracket on and ride with my single chainring for awhile. The gear range is fine for my commute without overdrive and gravity will suffice for now on downhills. Once removed I may try to disassemble the Schlumpf myself and see if I can fix it (but can I get parts?) or maybe I’ll send it to Utah Trikes and see if they can get it repaired through the factory. I don’t know.
Maybe I’ll add a motor– I’ve been kicking that around but was stuck because with the Schlumpf I can’t add a torque-sensing bottom bracket for pedal-assist. Seems I don’t have that constraint any more. With a motor I’m not as concerned about the low end of the gear range so I could add some teeth to the chainring to improve my top end without resorting to my least favorite piece of cycling technology short of chain tubes: the front derailleur.
The problem wasn’t the Schlumpf. It was my idler that is now getting new bearings. But it wasn’t even the bearings though they are a little rough– the chain was getting wedged between the cog on the power-side idler and the outer plate of the idler. This has never happened before and I’m not sure how it’s even possible, will have to investigate. In the meantime I think I’ll send the Schlumpf off for an “overhaul” since I’ve already removed it from the trike and it is pretty sloppy at this point.
The good news is that my fears about servicing the Schlumpf have been allayed. The Schlumpf factory got back to me and offered to fix or replace the hub. They sort of implied for free (aside from shipping) but that may have just been a bad translation. They also gave me the name of a shop in Seattle that services Schlumpfs, thinking I may send it there.
So for now the Schlumpf remains my only success story with internal gears. But it’s a huge success: two front gears with near-perfect spacing for my needs, crisp shifts, no clumsy front derailleur, no cables. And hopefully still going strong at 10,000 miles. I’ll report back on the outcome of the overhaul in a future post.