Hub gears can be found on all kinds of bikes, from tourers and tandems to mountain bikes, but it is on town bikes and hybrids that they are most common. For urban use, the narrower range of a hub gear isn’t a problem and the low-maintenance reliability that internal gearing brings is a real bonus.
While derailleur gearing is open to the elements and vulnerable to accidental damage, a hub gear’s moving parts are protected inside an oversize hub shell. Meshing pinions in the hub enable the wheel to revolve at a different speed from the sprocket.
A simple 3-speed hub has three options: second gear is ‘direct drive’, bypassing the hub’s internals; first gear is easier, offering a gear 75% as hard; and third gear is 133.3% bigger. If the wheel has a 20-tooth sprocket, that’s like having three differently sized sprockets of 27, 20 and 15 teeth.
Hubs with a greater number of gears are more complex. Some are effectively two or three 3-speeds in the same shell, while others are like having two hub gears driving each other. The most internal gears you’re likely to find on a Cycle to Work hybrid is eight, courtesy of a Shimano Nexus Inter-8 or Alfine 8-speed hub.
The Alfine 8-speed (an 11-speed is also available) is a refinement of the Inter-8 and the gear ranges are the same. With a 20-tooth sprocket, either hub is like having derailleur sprockets of 38, 31, 27, 24, 20, 16, 14 and 12 teeth. That should be enough even for a hilly commute.
Hub gears use indirect gearing: pedalling energy is transferred by spinning and meshing epicyclic gears, rather than directly from chainring to sprocket (in any gear other than direct drive, at least). On steeper hills you can feel this. It’s not much but it’s detectably less efficient than a well-maintained derailleur setup.
The key words are ‘well maintained’. Most derailleur bikes aren’t - and drivetrain efficiency and shifting accuracy degrades as a result. Hub gear drivetrains don’t require the same amount of TLC. A bit of chain wear or oily gunk is less important when the chain sits constantly on one chainring and sprocket, and when the shifts take place inside the hub.
Unlike derailleurs, you don’t have to be pedalling to shift gears with a hub gear. You can change from top gear to bottom while you’re waiting at the lights. It makes commuting in stop-start traffic easier, as you don’t need to anticipate pauses or set off in an over-large gear.
Rear wheel removal is slower, as most hub gears use axle nuts rather than quick release levers. You also have to disengage the gear cable. If this sounds like too much hassle, use tyres with some degree of puncture protection, like the non-studded ones we recommended as winter tyres. On the plus side, thieves can’t easily steal your rear wheel if your bike is locked in the open.
Hub-geared hybrids usually sit alongside derailleur-geared hybrids in a manufacturer’s range, often towards the top end as the hubs are more expensive. Most will readily accept the mudguards, rack and lights you’ll want for commuting – and some come with them. Given that practicality is where a hub gear scores, it makes sense for a hub-geared bike to be fully equipped with accessories.
Globe Daily 1
With its integrated front basket, the Daily 1 looks like a town bike as much as a hybrid. A lighter, aluminium frame, faster rolling 28mm tyres, and a more athletic riding position give it a livelier ride than a heavyweight sit-up-and-beg bike. The 3-speed Nexus Inter-3 hub is relatively light and efficient too, and provides enough gears for flat or rolling commutes. The Daily 1 comes with full-length mudguards and enough of a chainguard to keep the oil off your trousers. It’s also available with a step-through frame and a wider, women’s saddle.
Cube Hyde Pro
The standout feature on the Hyde Pro is its 8-speed Shimano Nexus hub, a wider range hub that you don’t often see on bikes at this price. Cube haven’t made any noticeable sacrifices elsewhere to include the Inter-8 hub: everything from the Easton stem to the Shimano V-brakes is resolutely uneconomised. The frame and fork are neatly assembled from aluminium, with fittings for mudguards and racks front and rear. Weight without is a sporty 12kg. The wheels are shod with shock-absorbing 37mm Schwalbe Road Cruiser tyres, which will shrug off potholes yet still roll well. There’s a Hyde Pro Lady version.
Giant Seek 0
The Seek 0 is the top bike in Giant’s Seek city hybrid range. The aluminium frame and fork are sleek and smooth because the tubing is shaped by high-pressure fluid. Fittings for mudguards and a rear rack are not obvious but they are there. The drivetrain use Shimano’s more durable, slicker shifting 8-speed hub: the Alfine. Brakes are entry-level hydraulic discs, which offer fantastic stopping power compared to rim brakes. You don’t have to move the rear brake’s calliper because, like many hub-geared bikes, the Seek 0 takes up chain slack with an eccentric bottom bracket.
Scott Venture 30
Falling just within the Cycle to Work threshold, Scott’s Venture 30 is a complete commuter that needs no additional investment. It comes with Scott’s ‘Urban Concept’ mudguard, rack, and kickstand pack, as well as Busch und Müller lighting powered by a Shimano hub dynamo. Its aluminium frame and fork mean that it isn’t a heavyweight dreadnought, while the Nexus Inter-8 hub offers a decent gear range. Brakes are simple and effective V-brakes. It has the best suspension a city bike can have: fat tyres. These 42mm Continental Contacts will plough through anything.
Cheap doesn’t have to mean nasty. Choose wisely and you can buy a decent new commuter bike for £250 or less.
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