How does it compare? And what about that shifting?
Compare to what, exactly? There aren't exactly a load of gearbox-equipped bikes out there for me to say that the Taniwha is better or worse than, but I bet you're more interested in how the Zerode fares against a top of the line all-mountain sled with a derailleur, anyway. You probably want to know if this bike is the 'The One' that will deliver us from the oppression of our derailleur-based society, and if the Zerode makes derailleurs seem like the antiquated joke that they sure look like.
Well, it's not, and it doesn't.
The Slash is a top-end 29'' wheeled enduro race bike, while the Slayer is one of the best pedaling enduro bikes on the market. Both are much more well-rounded than the Taniwha, even if the latter feels more solid and stable when it's extremely rough and fast.
There's a lot to love about the Taniwha, especially how dump truck-solid and stable the bike feels when things are hectic. And it tracks the ground better than some of us keep track of our first love that long ago moved on, got married, and looks happier with that dude who owns a jet ski and lifted Dodge than she ever did with you. But you know that it's just the idea of her that you're so infatuated with and that there are damn good reasons why she's with that Steve idiot instead of your non-jet ski owning ass.
I feel the same way about the Taniwha - like a lot of us, I love the idea of a gearbox bike, but things aren't so rosy in the real world.
Gearbox devotees like to talk about how weight isn't everything, and that a gearbox bike hides its heft well because it's centralized between your feet. There may be something to that - the Taniwha's rear suspension is quite the thing, after all - but there's no hiding the fact that this $9,500 USD bike weighs 34lb 4oz without pedals. If you spent nearly ten grand on a Slash, Slayer, Enduro or whatever else, they'd likely weigh five or six pounds less, and probably feel like they weigh ten pounds less on the trail. I'm sorry, but it does matter, and the Taniwha comes across as sluggish and uninspiring in many scenarios compared to any high-end enduro bike.
I want a machine that lights a fire under my ass to sprint for a gap, or to make the most out of all the natural poppers and lips... the Taniwha doesn't do this as other bikes do, and I often had less fun riding it because of this fact.
There's a lot to like about the Pinion 'box, but having to essentially back off to zero watts so you can shift to an easier gear isn't one of them. You also need to ease off the power to get into a harder gear, although not by nearly as much.
''But you can shift whenever you want, Levy,'' you say. Well, no, not even close. Sure, you can grab a gear while coasting or back-pedaling or while the wheels are off the bike and you have a bubble tea in one hand and the twister in the other, but you can't shift to an easier gear if there's even a hint of load on the drivetrain. And when does one often want to shift into an easier gear? While pedaling up a hill, of course. ''You can't shift under heavy load while using a derailleur, either,'' you say. Bullocks. I do it all the time and have no issues other than causing some bad sounds, but you also only need to back off a touch to nail a shift up to an easier gear under load. With the Pinion gearbox, you essentially need to drop down to zero watts to make it happen.
Mountain biking can be a scrappy, unpredictable sport, and having to shift at inopportune times is part of the game... unless all your ascents are gravel roads, that is. Mine aren't.
Pinion has taken heat for only offering their gearbox with a twist shifter, but I got used to it quickly. Would I prefer a trigger shifter? Of course, but this isn't a deal breaker for me.
You can adapt to get the most out of the Pinion C.Line gearbox, and I found myself using two different approaches to shifting that helped matters. When faced with the need to grab an easier gear on a tricky singletrack climb, I'd preload the twist shifter ever so slightly - remember, the indexing is in the 'box rather the twister, so it just feels kinda like the changer is up against a hard stop when you do this. Then, when the time was right and I was able to ease up on the pedals without dabbing or coming to a complete stop, the gearbox would shift into a lower gear, at which point you can begin to put the power down again. All of that can happen in only a few feet of distance on the trail when you get it down pat, and it begins to feel like far less of an inconvenience that it sounds like. Still, I can shift pretty much whenever the hell I want with a derailleur as long as my cranks are spinning around. Also, the throw of the twist shifter feels excessive when you want to grab more than one or two gears at a time; tighter spacing and more pronounced indexing (which happens in the gearbox) would be a nice change.
The second approach is, er, less delicate, and involves simply gassing it so you have some momentum and the chance to lift off so you can make the shift happen. Or you can man up and not look for that lower gear, but at well over 34lb with pedals and angles that emphasize going the opposite direction, I bet you're gonna want it.
I guess the question that needs to be asked is just how much of an emphasis a potential Taniwha owner is going to put on climbing, or just shifting under load, period. At the risk of riding headlong down Stereotype Street, I don't think it's out of line to assume that a guy on a 160mm-travel all-mountain bike that weighs 34 pounds and change might not be nearly as fussed as I am about how and when to shift the Pinion gearbox, and there's nothing wrong with that thinking, either.
If that sounds like you, then I think you'll see more upside than downside to the Zerode's derailleur-free drivetrain. After all, the promise of 10,000 miles before the Pinion gearbox even needs a five-minute oil change is pretty appealing. As for me, I can't remember the last time I killed a derailleur or even bent a hanger, so this whole thing is a real hard sell, especially given the shifting idiosyncrasy. I don't think I'm alone, either... We ran a Pinkbike Poll back in 2016 questioning the reliability of derailleurs
, and over 6,500 of the 10,000 replies stated that it had either been more than two years since they broke a derailleur, they couldn't even remember the last time they broke one, or that they've never even had an issue. And over 9,000 readers also said that they rarely have troubles at all, or that they're at least moderately happy with their current drivetrain.
Here's another way to look at it: if this were a test bike that had a derailleur-based drivetrain that shifted like the Pinion gearbox, I wouldn't be a happy camper. So why is it acceptable in a more expensive, heavier package? Harsh, maybe, but it's the truth. Neil Flock, owner of Cycle Monkey, did make a counterpoint to that thought: ''If a person who only ever drove an automatic car tried to drive a manual, would they be likely to leave with an impression that a manual transmission doesn’t really work?
Touché, Neil. He also pointed out some pretty reasonable sounding benefits to running a gearbox in his retort: ''A gearbox doesn’t shift exactly like a clean, well-adjusted derailleur. It shifts differently, which takes some adaptation, but once you have learned the muscle memory for shifting a gearbox, you unlock a myriad of benefits. These include almost no routine drivetrain maintenance, shifting never comes out of adjustment, fewer things to damage in a crash, the ability to shift where a derailleur cannot: coasting through corners or across rough terrain, the ability to shift through large groups of gears nearly instantly when the trail changes direction rapidly - THE fastest multi-gear shifting on the market, and class-leading suspension performance due to reduction of unsprung mass,'' he explained to me in an e-mail.
His comparison of automatic and manual transmissions does hold some water, too, as neither are designed to work or feel the same, and many of us are just fine with that: ''It’s one thing to be disappointed when a derailleur bike doesn’t act like a derailleur bike. This bike isn’t intended to act like a derailleur bike and makes huge gains because it doesn’t!
Flock brings up an excellent question: is the shifting worse than with a derailleur, or is it just different? Zerode's own Rob Metz and Ali Quinn both argue that the bike is about much more than simply how it shifts, and they stress that they're not trying to compete against the traditional drivetrain, either. ''We didn't set out to make the derailleur die. We just wanted to build the perfect bike for the kind of riding we love; something confidence inspiring that encourages you to get off the brakes, and that is unashamedly most at home on fast, rough, and steep trails,
Metz says. And they've certainly accomplished that goal, regardless of how the bike shifts. Metz's continues: '' A bike with absolute reliability that won't let you down mid-race stage or four hours into a backcountry epic. In this setting, the gearbox is about a whole lot more than just shifting. It's the suspension game-changer of unsprung mass; it's low center of gravity corner railing and its 10,000 miles between services.''
Whether you think the Pinion 'box shifts worse or just differently compared to a normal drivetrain will come down to what you expect from your bike.
Rob also argue that how the bike shifts is less important than how it performs as a whole, and that performance is only possible through the use of a gearbox. ''It's not surprising that the gearbox conversation always circles back to shifting; after all, that's its basic function. It's different, and it's almost always the first thing people notice about the bike,
'' a point that he and I clearly agree on.
''Some love it immediately, and some take a while to get accustomed to it. But after a while, muscle memory takes over, shifting fades into the background, and the true benefits of the gearbox shine through. At the end of the day, no one high fives each other about the perfect shift, but that perfect roosted corner, that drop you've always been nervous about hitting or just waiting an extra ten seconds at the bottom of a hill for your mates is what brings home the real smiles.''