The "ROHLOFF HUB"- a long term experience!

We Martin and Nadine, from Germany are cycling around the world. After 60500 Km in 4,5 years we're now well over half way round; a good time for a review.


For all those, like me 5 years ago, who never have heard anything about the Rohloff hub, here some basic facts: The hub is an internal gear system for bicycles. With 14 gears, it has the same range as a 27 speed Shimano system (which has many doubles). The gears are changed with a grip shift, and different to its counterpart, the gears can be shifted at any time, even while standing. More advantages are: bigger range than a 27 gear system, stronger wheel, low maintainance.


I must admit, that it was quite painful to pay nearly as much money for the hub as I paid for my bicycle, but some friends convinced us, that this hub would be perfect for a cycle trip around the world and so we finally bought it.


On June the 1st 2003 Nadine and I left Germany for our cycle trip around the world. We just took our old mountain bikes, fixed some racks to them and exchanged our old gear system for the Rohloff hub. It took a couple of days until we got used to the system: to select a new gear while waiting at the traffic light or after a stop in the middle of a long ascent, you just shift down and head off again.


The hub runs with oil, and according to the manual we made the first oil exchange after 5500 Km in Russia. It was already a bit cold in Russia and so it took a bit, until the old oil came out of the hub, but the rest was easy going. After about 6500 Km in the snowy mountains of central Turkey, it became quite difficult for Nadine to shift. I checked her shifting cables and found out, that somehow I hadn't cut their ends very well and so one was a bit opened and scratched on the gear box, which caused the problem. I exchanged one of the two cables and everything was fine again all the way through Syria, Jordan, Egypt and back to Turkey.


In the meanwhile we had found out, that the recommended oil exchange each 5000 Km is just to be on the safe side, and that each 10000 Km is also fine. Our second oil exchange, now scheduled after 15000Km, was in the dessert of Iran close to Esfahan. This time we had about 35°C in the shadow and so the oil poured out of the hub. From Iran we cycled without any problems through Pakistan straight in to the mighty Himalayan mountains in India up to 5300m. On each ascend I was really thankful that I could change my gear instantly: what a luxury!


Back in New Delhi, we decide that it would now be time to exchange our chain for the very first time after 18000 Km! Together with the chain we also exchanged the rear derailleur. After everything was done we found out, that the pedals were going round while rolling the bike. This was not so before I changed everything! A bit confused I sent an email to Rohloff and a couple of hours later I got the solution. While taking off the rear derailleur, I got some tension on the casing, which caused the pedals to turn. The suggested solution was quite simple; just give a big smash with a plastic hammer onto both sides of the axis, but where shall I get a big plastic hammer in India? It took me one day, but finally if found a hardware shop in Delhi’s mess. The smash worked and we're off again towards Rishikesh.


From Rishikesh, back at the foothills of the Himalaya, we changed our way of travelling. Like already on the Danube River in Europe, we intended to paddle down the 1000 Km to Varanasi on the river Ganges. We've a 16,5ft folding canoe on a trailer with us, which we built up on the river bank. Our bikes fit into the canoe with just dismantling the front wheel. Although we knew, that you shouldn't lay the hub on its side, we didn't really care, because we had no troubles so far and thought it would be all right. But we're wrong! After a couple of days in the heat of India a little bit of oil started to drop out of my hub. We immediately brought the bikes in an upright position in the boat, which stopped the dropping oil.


From India we flew to Bangkok, because it is impossible to cross Burma. From Bangkok we cycled north to Laos, paddled down the Mekong River, cycled through Cambodia, Malaysia and Singapore to Indonesia. We're already 25200Km away from home and right in the jungle on Sumatra, when we did our 3rd oil exchange. For exchanging the oil you always have to give some thin cleaning oil into the hub and cycle it for a couple of kilometers before you sug everything out of the hub with a medical syringe. We got the hint, that it would clean the hub better, if we would cycle two days with the cleaning oil inside the hub, and so we tried it. This was working very well with Nadine’s hub, but after the leaking oil on the Ganges, my hub sealing was probably a bit weak. We had no real problem with the normal oil, but the cleaning oil was so liquid, that there was no oil remaining in my hub after the two days. We filled in the new normal oil and kept on cycling.


We just came down from a 3 days trekking tour from Lomboks (Indonesian Island next to Bali) Mt. Rinjani, when Nadine's shifting cabled stuck again. One cable was split in the middle (I've no glue how this happened), and so I exchanged again one cable.  I was really not happy to work AGAIN on Nadine’s shifting cables, but after 2 years and 27300Km nothing to worry about!


From Bali we flew to Darwin in Australia where we cycled straight through the Outback to Adelaide, before we cycled the East coast. We arrived just in time in Sydney for the annual Bike Show and fortunately we met the Australian Distributor from Rohloff. We were even more fortunate, because they were eager to have a look to our hubs after now 34700Km. They opened them just to find out, that they still looked quite unused inside and they use the opportunity to exchange the sealings. Nadine also got a new Rubber shifter because her's looked a bit used.


We arrived in Wellington in December 2005 when Nadine again moans that her shifting is going a bit strong. Now she got a complete new set of cables, but I was wondering, why Nadine already needed her 3rd set of shifting cables after "just" 37500 Km, while I was still on the first one! I had a closer look on her during the next couple of days and found out, that Nadine is shifting "all the time"! She is changing her gears up to 10 times more often than I do, and so it is no wonder that she uses more cables.


After a beautiful summer on the South Island we're back in Wellington to celebrate our 3rd anniversary since we left Germany. After 40300 Km I decided that it would be a good timing to exchange my shifting cables now for the first time.


On our way north to Auckland we got caught by the oncoming winter and while cycling through the snow the screw, connecting the hub with OEM2 plate to the frame, just broke (41000  Km). No idea how this happened, but I exchange the screw and keep on cycling.


From New Zealand we flew to Santiago de Chile in South America with two lovely stopovers on Thaiti and Easter Island. Our next destination was Ushuaia, the southernmost city in the world on Fireland. A friend of us was visiting us while we were in the chilean Lakes Distrikt and we used this opportunety to exchange the front derailleur, the rear derailleur and the chain. Having cycled 44300 Km so far this means the second (Rohloff-) chain lasted some unbelievable 26000 Km! As I ordered the parts too late from a friend of mine he just could get a Shimano chain. So let's see how Shimano is doing! 


Heading south we were lucky enough to catch an El Niño year on the Carretera Austral, which meant more or less costant rain for 10 days on the Carretera Austral. The Carretera Austral leads from Puerto Montt for 1200 Km mostly on gravel road down to Villa O'Higgins and as it goes through remote mountain scenery with nearly no traffic it's one of the famous bike trips in the world. Nadine keept on shifting an so she needed some new shifting cables after  4628 Km, while 200 Km later it was time for our next oil exchange.


Our trip lead us trough remote mountains and the windswept patagonian step where the wind was once so strong, that we reached a highspeed of 47 Km/h without pedalling. But when the wind changed to a straight headwind a couple of days later it took us three very hard hours to cycle 15 Km! We arrived in Ushuaia in the middle of the summer just to find it snowing down there:


On our way north we passed through Buenos Aires to check out the famous Tango scene, but we also used our time in the huge and noisy capital of Argentina to exchange the two wheels of Nadines chain tensioner after 51700 Km.


We cycled north trough Uruguay, and Brazil to Paraguay when the Shimano chain was  completely worn out after just 10000 Km, so we had to exchange it unfortunately with another Shimano chain.


We crossed again the vast Pampa and arrived in Salta in northern Argentina when the rim of Nadines back tire was broken. After 55900 Km this was our first broken rim. We had already met quite a couple of touring cyclist and for most of them a broken rim was nothing unusual. As the tension of the spokes is the same for all spokes if you use a Rohloff hub this also influences the stability of the rim, which obviously means less trouble.

From Argentina we crossed the Andes over several passes with up to 4800m into Chile. But the toughest part of this crossing were neither the high altitude and the big distances without any supply of water and food, nor the nightly temeratures of -18°C, but the strong headwind. The wind was so strong that we managed to cycle about 6-8 Km/h on the flat parts and once we even had to walk our bikes dowhill! From Chile we again crossed the Andes into Bolivia where we cycled over the Salar de Uyuni, the biggest saltlake in the world about 3600m above sealevel. Passing Lake Titikaka we arrived in Peru and cut straight trouhg the middle of the country. The road lead us from one pass (over 4000m) down to a river valley (1800m) and straigth up the next pass for 3 weeks, so that we had to climb 20000m within 1500 Km, most of it on gravel road. In the meanwhile it was time for our next oil exchange after now 59200 Km.

As the bike mechanic in Salta was not really good we had quite a couple of broken spokes. Because I was running out of spare spokes I gave Nadines tire to another mechanic in Cusco in Peru to check the tension. When we got the tire back everything was fine for the first couple of Kilometers until I found out (after the next broken spoke), that all the spoles were loose! Also the mechanic must have tried the hub in a normal bike, and as there was nothing to fix the hub to the frame, the Helbelarm was bent. Unfortunately the bent Hebelarm brought some tension onto the caisin and some oil was leaking. If managed to bent the Hebelarm back and the oil stopped leaking! I love this self made bike mechanics!!!!

Having cycled 60500 Km through 35 countries, all my worries concerning the Rohloff hub have completely disappeared. Except the regularly oil exchanges and Nadine's shifting cables we had almost no maintenance to do. Trying to imagine how much work and money I would have had to invest into a normal gear system (especially with extreme shifting Nadine) I'm even more convinced that the money for the hub was well invested. Thanks to the fact, that everything is well sealed within the gearbox, neither sand nor the worst mud could do any harm, and we had quite a bit of both! Considering next to the low maintenance also the comfortable and quick shifting, which made things pretty easy in the Himalayan mountains and the Andes or in the chaotic Asian cities, the Rohloff hub is perfect for long distance travellers or cyclists who like it hassle free.


Maintenance during the Travel

Distance Martin Nadine
5500 km oil exchange oil exchange
6500 km   new shiftung cables
15000 km oil exchange oil exchange
18000 km rear derailleur and chain exchanged rear derailleur and chain exchanged
25200 km oil exchange oil exchange
27300 km new shiftung cables
34700 km oil exchange oil exchange, new shiftung cables
37500 km new shiftung cables
40300 km new shiftung cables  
41000 km srew OEM2 plate broken  
44300 km rear derailleur and chain exchanged rear derailleur and chain exchanged
46200 km new shiftung cables
46500 km oil exchange oil exchange
51700 km new whell for chain tensioner
54600 km chain change chain changel
55900 km   new rim
59200 km oil exchange oil exchange
59800 km broken lever