What if I said that gearboxes have been around for a very, very long time and that both Shimano and SRAM have made thousands and thousands of them? I'm talking about internally geared hubs, of course, which have been patented since the late 1800s.
There have been mountain bikes that have had an internally geared hub mounted on the frame, with GT's iT1 downhill bike being the one that comes to some people's minds. But, for the most part, internally geared hubs have remained the tools of niche riders on niche bikes.
The German's at Rohloff have ruled the roost in this regard, with their Speedhub being the gold standard when it comes to stuffing a bunch of really small parts inside of a hub shell and making them work for decades on end.
Kindernay XIV Details
• 14-speed internally geared hub
• Hydraulic shift system
• 543-percent gear range
• Evenly spaced steps of 13.9-percent
• Detachable flange design
• Compatible w/ 12mm thru-axles
• Claimed weight: 1,500-grams (w/ the SWAP hub flange), 365-gram shifter
• MSRP: KR 9.990,00 / $1,200 USD
Norwegian company Kindernay might have something for Rohloff, however, with their upcoming 'XIV' 14-speed internally geared hub that employs a neat hydraulic shifter and even neater detachable hub flange system. A what now? We'll get to that.
The XIV hub, which takes its name from the number of gears it has (X is 10, I is 1, V is 5. IV is ''1 less than 5'' = 4, and hence XIV = 14), offers even steps of 13.9-percent between each gear and a total range of 543-percent. That's pretty similar to Rohloff's 14-speed Speedhub that offers a 526-percent range and evenly spaced 13.6-percent jumps, but it looks like Kindernay's hub may come in a bit lighter, at around 1,500-grams for the hub (with the SWAP removable hub flange), and another 365-grams for the hydraulic shifter.
And it's that hydraulic shifter that could see Kindernay's hub appeal to more people. Rather than Rohloff's twist-shifter, the XIV hub is operated by a thumb paddle-shifter using hydraulic fluid. They're calling it 'HYSEQ' which is short for ''hydraulic and sequential,'' and Kindernay says that it provides firm, tactile feedback and can be used to shift through one or many gears in a single push, pedaling forwards or backward, or even standing still. The shifter can also be mounted on either side. Rohloff does have other shifter options out now, but Kindernay's easily removable hydraulic system looks interesting.
Kindernay's XIV internally geared hub. The black aluminum webbed section is the removable SWAP flange.
The hub's detachable flange design, called SWAP, is probably just as interesting as the HYSEQ shifter. ''Just like other components on the bike that are actually two different parts that can be put together, SWAP makes the gearbox and fully laced wheel detachable from each other,'' the company says. In a nutshell, both sides of the hub flanges are machined as a single piece, and the hub itself slides through and is bolted into the center of the one-piece flange unit. This means that the entire thing can be swapped into a different and already laced up rim if you ever needed to do such a thing, say if you wanted to go to a different wheel size or rim width.
The hydraulic shift piece that mounts around the hub axle is said to be easily removable, and the entire hub slides out from the SWAP flange to leave a fully intact rim, spokes and flange unit.
Internally geared hubs are known for their reliability, and Kindernay is claiming that the XIV is built for far more than city riding: ''The Kindernay XIV is tough and ready, designed to handle rough mountain biking: enduro, freeride, DH, and trail riding,'' they explain on their website. "Outlasts your bike – move it on to your next bike, or sell it and upgrade to a next-gen version."
Now the bad news for anyone itching to try one of these hubs: Kindernay says that the first XIV hubs won't be available until the middle of 2017. And how much are these things going to cost? They're listed at a pre-sale price of KR 9.990,00, which is about $1,200 USD if you do a direct conversion, and that price will go up once the XIV hits production.